A duel involving two conservative Republicans with political experience is dominating a contest for a state Senate seat in the northeast stretches of Snohomish County.
Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, is facing the challenge of Republican Elizabeth Scott, of Monroe, a former two-term state representative, as well as Democrat Claus Joens, of Marblemount, and Independent Jamal Rabieh, of Sedro-Woolley.
They are vying for a four-year term representing the 39th Legislative District, a sprawling legislative territory encompassing stretches of rural Snohomish and Skagit counties, and a sliver of King County.
It includes the cities of Arlington, Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar and Index. More of the district’s registered voters live in Snohomish County than the other two counties.
Wagoner was appointed to the position in January, succeeding Kirk Pearson, a Monroe Republican who is now the state director of the U. S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office.
Wagoner, 57, is a retired U.S. Navy commander. He was in his third year as mayor of Sedro-Woolley when appointed. He served five years on the City Council before that.
This year he served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for budget and tax policy, and the Economic Development and International Trade Committee.
Scott, 52, of Monroe, served two terms in the House from the 39th district. A Tea Party favorite, she was first elected in 2012 and won re-election in 2014 with nearly 63 percent of the vote.
In 2016, she decided to forgo a third term and run for Congress. But she contracted whooping cough and withdrew from the race in May 2016. She began working last year to get back into elected office.
In September, she tried unsuccessfully to get appointed to the House seat vacated by John Koster, of Arlington. In January, she vied alongside Wagner for the Senate post.
Wagoner and Scott are closely aligned on many of the issues in the campaign. They pledge to oppose tax increases, defend the rights of gun owners, back charter schools and cut down on classroom testing.
Water rights is one of the major concerns of Skagit County voters.
Both disagree with lawmakers’ decision earlier this year to exclude Skagit County from a new law that is a response to the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision. While the law created a path for property owners to drill wells and access water, the exclusion of Skagit County has meant landowners there are unable to obtain water needed to develop or improve their property.
On the campaign trail, Scott has vowed to fight for property rights and stand up to the “urban bullies” behind the legislation. She’s had some not-so-veiled criticism of Wagoner for not doing more to protect the interests of district residents.
Wagoner voted against the bill and spoke out against it on the floor of the Senate. He has said it is “disingenuous” to blame him for what occurred when she did not devise any solutions to the issue during her House tenure.
Where the two tend to differ is in their approach. Scott is a principled and uncompromising conservative.
Wagoner is as conservative but in his short time in office has pursued a more collaborative approach.
The other two candidates in the race are working to get their name out and await a chance to face one of the Republicans in November.
Joens, 55, is a business teacher at Concrete High School.
Like his Republican opponents, he vows to work to restore water rights in Skagit County and oppose encroachment on the rights of gun owners.
Joens also wants to improve sports fishing, bolster salmon fisheries and raise the legal age for using marijuana to 25. He wants to expand legal rights of parents and ensure child support payments, when required, are made either by a responsible parent or the state.
“I hunt, I fish and I support the Second Amendment,” he said.
Rabieh, 30, works for a security company and is making his first run for political office.
He’s on the ballot as an independent. He said he joined the Democrat Party in 2016 to support Bernie Sanders for president and left after Sanders did not get the nomination.
He, too, said the top issue in Skagit County is getting the water rights issue fixed. He’s campaigning for a single-payer health care program and against an income tax. Regarding housing, he said the Legislature must find a way to stop the rising costs.
“I am running the underdog race but it is definitely not impossible,” he said.
Entering the campaign’s final week, Wagoner reported $69,623 in contributions followed by Scott with $39,220. He listed $43,222 in expenditures compared to her total of $35,014, according to online records of the Public Disclosure Commission.
Joens and Rabieh each had raised and spent less than $2,000.
Wagoner enjoys the public backing of 21 members of the Senate Republican caucus. He also has the endorsement of Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, the ex-House minority leader and former seatmate of Scott’s, and Koster.
Leading Scott’s roster of endorsements is Republican Snohomish County Councilman Sam Low, who voted to appoint Wagoner to the Senate. She also has backing from several area government leaders, four state House members and Slade Gorton, a former U.S. senator.