Donors pick sides over growth rules

By Warren Cornwall

Herald Writer

Money is pouring into Snohomish County Council contests at an unprecedented rate, as Republicans and Democrats jockey for control of the council in the Nov. 6 election.

Candidates in the two major parties have amassed more money than in any other county council battle of the past decade.

Republicans are leading in the fund-raising race, with $210,000 among the three candidates, according to the most recent state records. Their major contributors are tied mainly to the construction and housing industries.

The three Democrats have raised $150,000, with environmental groups and activists the biggest source of large donations, followed by unions, political parties and government workers.

The difference in major contributors highlights the pivotal role the council plays on development regulations.

The three seats up for election have over the past four years joined together on several important votes affecting land-use. This year, council members in those districts voted as a block in a series of 3-2 votes tightening development limits.

Two of the incumbents, Democrats Dave Somers and Mike Ashley, are seeking re-election. Councilwoman Barbara Cothern opted not to run again, and council staffer Dave Gossett has taken her spot on the Democratic ticket.

Growth-control advocates have welcomed the council’s recent decisions. But several votes have angered people in the housing industry.

The Republicans

The housing industry has responded by opening its checkbooks for Republican county council candidates. The industry and people affiliated with it account for three-quarters of the money given by big donors to Republican council campaigns, according to a Herald analysis.

The state Realtors association and the Affordable Housing Council, the political arm of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, gave the most, hitting the limit of $2,400 for each Republican candidate.

Martin Robinett is one who gave generously. The Everett developer has donated $1,100, and two companies of which he is part owner have given $1,800, according to state campaign filings.

Robinett said he wrote the checks because the current council has swung too far toward limiting growth. That’s threatening the county’s economic viability and the availability of affordable single-family homes, he said.

"The council we have now is anti-jobs," he said.

District 1 Republican candidate John Koster and District 5 candidate Jeff Sax have been the chief beneficiaries of those large donations. The two have out-raised all other candidates.

Koster has collected $97,000, while his chief opponent, Ashley, has brought in $52,000. Sax has raised $90,000, to Democrat Somers’ $52,000.

Sax said the support shows that businesspeople agree with his belief that the current county council is trying to stop growth and is hurting the business climate.

"We need more homes," he said. "The constant restriction on building anything and the constant delay I think has prompted a pretty strong response from businesses in Snohomish County."

Somers, however, said it was a sign that development industries see in Sax someone who allow more growth with fewer regulations.

"It’s obvious they want to get rid of me, and they’d like somebody in there that will do their will," he said.

The Herald analysis looked at people or organizations that donated more than $1,200 to Republican or Democratic campaigns.

It did not capture the full scope of the contributions by different interest groups, because of difficulties assigning donors to those groups. For example, the Robinett family has interests in a number of development companies that each donated separately to Republican candidates. On the other side, members of an environmental organization could donate money without listing their affiliation.

The Democrats

Environmentalists, meanwhile, have taken the lead as major donors to Democratic campaigns. Groups or activists accounted for 35 percent of the money from major contributors, followed by unions with 27 percent and government workers or politicians with 24 percent.

Citizens for Environmental Responsibility, or CER-PAC, was the largest single donor, giving $6,600 to the three candidates combined. The political arm of the Washington Conservation Voters has given $4,500.

Steven Greenebaum, the PAC’s executive director, said the group formed in 2000 to counter the financial power of industries such as the housing industry. The group gave money to Democrats in the general election because those candidates had a moderate approach to growth, he said.

"You’ve got three people who realize that business as usual has brought us gridlock, overcrowded schools and subsidized sprawl," he said. While the opponents, "want to go back to the way it was."

Somers said the support reflects his interest in environmental issues, from water quality to salmon to growth management.

"A quality environment is important to me," he said.

However, Sax took it as a show of support from groups seeking to handcuff growth.

"We have a group of environmental PACs and some very involved individual environmental people who would like to see growth stopped in Snohomish County," he said.

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

Snohomish County likely to feel more like winter, beginning Monday

Get ready for a mix of rain and snow this week, along with cooler temperatures.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Ryan Rafter appears in court for sentencing Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Man sentenced to life in prison for murder of Everett father

In April 2022, Ryan Rafter, 42, shot Christopher Buck, 29, to death after breaking in to his home to steal drugs.

Driver strikes, kills Marysville man who was crossing I-5 in Seattle

The man’s car had broken down near Mercer Street. Troopers reported that he was struck when he tried to cross the freeway.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police: Darrington woman stabbed, buried 5-year-old daughter

The woman reportedly told investigators she was hearing voices before she killed her young daughter on Valentine’s Day.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

A person walks out of the Snohomish County Corrections building on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish County Jail review finds no fault in Florida inmate’s death

David Koeppen, 38, was the third inmate in two months to die in the jail. He was being held on murder charges.

Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, left, a member of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, speaks Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, looks on at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. After the speech, Inslee signed a bill sponsored by McCoy that seeks to improve oral health on Indian reservations in Washington state. The measure is the first bill the governor has signed this legislative session and it allows tribes to use federal funding for dental therapists. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Curriculum on state tribes to be renamed after late Tulalip legislator

On Tuesday, John McCoy’s former colleagues in the Senate honored the late lawmaker by passing House Bill 1879.

Man stabbed, killed inside Lynnwood-area condo

Detectives were looking to identify suspects in a killing Monday night at the Brio Condominiums.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.