Primary election will offer key hint in race for County Council

  • By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, July 26, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

LYNNWOOD — An election four years ago was the first time Democrats had won the seat for the Snohomish County Council’s southwestern district.

Now, the Republicans are trying to take it back. Next month’s primary election should give a sneak peek at who has the upper hand heading toward Novem


Democrat Stephanie Wright, a former Lynnwood City Council member and public school teacher, wants to hold on to the District 3 post she was appointed to last year. Wright got the position after fellow Democrat Mike Cooper resigned to become Edmonds’ mayor. Cooper beat his GOP opponent handily in 2007, after long-serving Republican Councilman Gary Nelson was forced out by term limits.

This time around, Republican Kathy Vaughn wants to take back the seat for her party. Vaughn’s resume includes 17 years as a nonpartisan Snohomish County PUD commissioner as well as experience owning mortgage and construction companies.

Both candidates identify roads and mass transit as a way to accomplish job No. 1: improving the economy.

Wright highlights a cautious approach to the county budget. She said she learned hard lessons from Lynnwood’s troubled finances.

“I think I’ve done a good job on Lynnwood City Council, I think I’ve done a good job on the County Council and I think my record speaks for itself,” Wright said.

Vaughn argues her experience with the PUD, including battling the now-defunct energy behemoth Enron Corp., gives her the better skill set for the job. She sees her opponent’s association with Lynnwood’s financially strapped city government as a strike against her.

“People know me,” Vaughn said. “I’m proven leadership and I think the county needs leadership right now.”

The council’s District 3 covers Edmonds, Lynnwood, Woodway and nearby areas of unincorporated Snohomish County. The job pays $102,779.05 per year.

Wright and Vaughn will both automatically advance past the top-two Aug. 16 primary to the Nov. 8 general election.

Wright grew up on Priest Point in Tulalip, but has lived in Lynnwood for nearly 17 years. She taught high school in the Northshore School District and worked as a librarian at Woodinville High School. She was elected to the Lynnwood City Council in 2007.

Since being appointed to the county job in August, Wright said, she’s gained a better appreciation of county government by spending time with employees and working on volunteer projects.

She spent July 4 doing a ride-along with sheriff’s deputies. On Father’s Day weekend, she toiled with other volunteers, hacking away blackberry bushes at the county’s future Lake Stickney park. She said county security guards can attest that she usually shows up to the office at least one day of the weekend.

“Yes, this is what I do for fun,” she said, laughing.

Vaughn moved to Lynnwood in the mid-1960s, when the city was better known for farming than as a retail hub. That soon changed.

“I have lived here for 45 years,” she said. “I’ve watched the community grow.”

She said she grew up in Ballard in a blue-collar, union family. She earned her high school equivalency after leaving school to get married. Her business education came first-hand, through decades of running construction and mortgage companies with her husband. That allowed her to see the housing cycle from start to finish, from turning dirt to securing a home loan.

Lately, Vaughn’s business, Goldmark Financial Corp., has felt the economic pinch. She said it’s downsized to just three loan officers, herself included, from a dozen a few years ago.

“The council needs to focus on the economy,” she said. “We have to come up with solutions that will attract businesses to come in again.”

Vaughn’s three six-year terms as an elected PUD commissioner brought hard-nosed negotiations for energy contracts. Her work helped the PUD escape from a $180 million contract with Enron, the notorious energy company that imploded in scandal in 2001.

“We didn’t have to pay,” Vaughn said. “I fought for that. They were crooks; they were criminals.”

The PUD did pay an $18 million settlement, but avoided being on the hook for the full amount of its contract with the energy company.

The utility’s budget of more than $700 million, Vaughn notes, is similar in size to the county’s overall budget. Vaughn said she championed conservation at the PUD, as an alternative to building more energy capacity, even in the late 1990s and the heyday of cheap power.

The district Wright and Vaughn hope to represent includes Point Wells, an unincorporated area next to Woodway where a developer has proposed building 3,500 condos. Wright said the county needs to work with neighbors and the property owner to try to find a mutually agreeable solution about the scope of the project, currently reachable only by a two-lane road. Vaughn said she has concerns about access to the area and wants to take a closer look. The county also needs to remedy zoning problems for the project that a state growth-management board identified in April.

The state Public Disclosure Commission on Monday showed Wright with $16,600 in campaign contributions and Vaughn with $9,685.

Stephanie Wright
Age: 38
Occupation: Snohomish County Council (appointed in 2010); former teacher-librarian in the Northshore School District (resigned on taking the County Council job), former Lynnwood City Council (resigned on taking the County Council job)
Residence: Lynnwood
Party: Democrat
Education: bachelor’s degree from Washington State University, master’s degree in teaching from Seattle Pacific University, library media specialist certificate from the University of Washington.
In her words: “I think everybody is in agreement that we need to be very cautious and not be optimistic right now” (on the county’s finances).
Priorities: economic development, public safety, transportation.

Kathy Vaughn
Age: 61
Occupation: Snohomish County PUD commissioner since 1994; owner of Goldmark Financial Corp.; executive board of Energy Northwest, a public power consortium.
Residence: Lynnwood
Party: Republican
Education: high school
In her words: “I would like to review the (county) budget and find more efficiencies where we could improve.”
Priorities: the economy and jobs; transportation; avoiding new taxes.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,

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