GOP duel: County Councilman Sam Low to challenge Rep. Robert Sutherland

Low won re-election in November. He’ll take on Sutherland, a two-term incumbent, in a revamped 39th District

Sam Low

Sam Low

LAKE STEVENS — Snohomish County Councilman Sam Low is launching a campaign for a state legislative seat that would pit him against Rep. Robert Sutherland, a fellow Republican whose embrace of Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud has cost him support among party moderates.

Low, re-elected to the council by a resounding margin in November, announced his candidacy late Sunday night, saying that “now is the right time to give the voters a choice in who they want to represent them in Olympia.”

He will challenge Sutherland, of Granite Falls, in the 39th Legislative District, a Republican stronghold.

Low said he had not considered running until the state Redistricting Commission issued its final map for legislative district boundaries in mid-November. It shifts Lake Stevens out of the 44th District and into the 39th. Monroe, Gold Bar and Sultan will be moved out of the 39th and into the 12th. More than two-thirds of residents will live in Snohomish County and the rest in Skagit County.

The district will still lean Republican but incoming voters are viewed as less philosophically conservative than those in communities carved out of the district.

“The new 39th District is an area I know really well. With so many new voters to this District this seemed like the right time,” he said. “I know the issues of East Snohomish and East Skagit Counties and I believe I have the right temperament and experience to represent this area effectively in Olympia.”

Low said he intended to reach out to Sutherland.

“We have a top-two primary system and so having two Republicans to choose from in a traditionally Republican 39th District seems like a great choice for the voters,” Low said.

If successful, Low said he intends to continue serving on the County Council. It is legal for legislators to also hold other elected offices. State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, did double duty as a Mason County Commissioner for 11 years. Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, is also an elected member of the Everett School District Board of Directors.

Low, 51, is married and the father of five children. He grew up in north Everett and graduated from Everett High School. The former owner of a painting business was elected to the Lake Stevens City Council in 2013. He won a seat on the County Council in 2016 by ousting the incumbent, Democrat Hans Dunshee.

Two months ago he garnered nearly 61% in beating Democratic challenger Brandy Donaghy. Ironically, weeks later he voted to appoint Donaghy to fill a vacant state House seat in the 44th Legislative District where she lives.

He is chairman of the 21-member state Transportation Improvement Board, an independent state agency that distributes a portion of gas tax collections to cities and counties for street construction and maintenance projects. Low also serves on the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.

Low is seeking to position himself as a moderate Republican — he calls himself “balanced” — who will focus on transportation, public safety and fiscal responsibility.

“I have always been known to be fair, hard working and bipartisan,” he said.

Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-39

By contrast, Sutherland is a staunch conservative and highly partisan. He seems to revel in attention stirred by his verbal jabs at liberalism and Democrats, and direct attacks on 2020 election results and vaccine rules for lawmakers.

He traveled to conferences in Arizona and South Dakota where attendees bantered on conspiracy theories pushed by the former president but debunked by the lack of evidence. Sutherland requested and received reimbursement through the House for participating in the cyber symposium in South Dakota.

This session, Sutherland is pushing bills to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote, allow only official watermarked paper ballots to be accepted and permit voters to review their ballot via an anonymous QR code.

He’s also one of six GOP lawmakers who are challenging House rules regarding vaccination.

Sutherland does not author many bills. He’s prime-sponsored nine in his first three sessions. None have received hearings or been signed into law.

His effectiveness is a reason longtime Republican lawmaker Dan Kristiansenis backing Low. Kristiansen is the former House Minority Leader who held this 39th District seat for 16 years until retiring in 2018.

“The incumbent has his small set of issues he runs on. My concern is he has not been able to garner a lot of support on his issues,” he said. “I’ve known Sam a long, long time. He brings a lot of experience to the table. I think he is a guy who can be exceedingly effective.”

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is also endorsing Low. Nehring is chairman of the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, a statewide group giving voice to GOP moderates.

“This isn’t meant to disparage or be anti-Robert in any way,” he said. “It is about Sam. I think he could be more effective on the issues, particularly transportation, which for us in Marysville is critical.”

“If Robert wins the primary, I would endorse him against the Democrat,” Nehring said.

As of Sunday, no Democrat had announced. Formal filing is in May.

The primary is Aug. 2.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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