EVERETT — A battle of ideas is raging over an open Snohomish County Council seat.
Megan Dunn, a community organizer in Everett, topped a crowded primary field of seven Democrats this summer.
Her rival, Mukilteo City Councilwoman Anna Rohrbough, hopes to make history. Success would make her the first Republican ever elected to represent District 2 since the county changed its form of government back in 1980.
To pull off an upset on Nov. 5, Rohrbough will have to win hearts in Democratic strongholds in and around Everett, Mukilteo and Tulalip. Results from the last presidential election show how hard that could be. Hillary Clinton swept the area in 2016, carrying virtually every large District 2 precinct by mostly wide margins.
Ballots are set to be mailed Thursday.
Dunn, 43, led last year’s successful Everett Districts Now campaign to start electing city councilmembers by geographical districts. The progressive Democrat’s run for county office rests on a platform that champions affordable housing and pro-environment policies.
“I’ll be bringing a fresh perspective as someone who has worked on regional policy issues and local policy issues for the past 20 years,” Dunn said recently. “A lot of my professional work has been in environmental policy and working in pesticide reduction.”
Rohrbough, 47, works as a leadership coach. She was elected to Mukilteo city government in 2017.
In the county race, Rohrbough has made crime a central issue. In candidate forums and political ads, she has called for the county to stop enabling drug addiction and other bad behaviors. She has repeated a theme of fiscal restraint, and plugged workforce training programs as a way to boost the economy.
“We have to start making it uncomfortable for our criminals,” Rohrbough said in a recent interview. “… There’s this whole faction of able-bodied addicted people that are just running around on our streets and getting away with the crimes that they want to commit. You know what? Shooting up heroin is a crime. Carrying around heroin is a crime. Living on our streets is a crime.”
Rohrbough, like Dunn, favors expanded treatment programs, especially for the mentally ill. She stresses accountability: “We can’t enable it. We have to disrupt the behavior.”
The two are competing for a four-year term representing District 2, one of five districts. The three Democrats now on the council include District 2 incumbent Brian Sullivan, who must step down at the end of the year because he has served a maximum of three consecutive terms. The District 3 seat covering southwest Snohomish County also is on the ballot this year.
Whoever wins Sullivan’s seat will spend the coming years charting strategies as the county’s population of 819,000 continues to grow. To accomplish that, they’ll be looking to land-use polices and transportation funding, among other tools.
In the August primary, Rohrbough was the far and away winner. She took nearly 35% of the vote. The Democrats divided the rest.
Dunn’s share was just over 13%, putting her 210 votes ahead of third-place finisher Jennifer Gregerson, Mukilteo’s mayor and a foe of Rohrbough’s in city politics.
Rohrbough has tried to associate Dunn with Seattle-style leftist politics. She says she and her opponent have different priorities.
“It doesn’t matter how many jobs we bring, how many things we do, if we don’t feel safe in our homes, if we don’t feel safe raising our kids here, what’s our quality of life?” Rohrbough said. “To me, protecting our environment isn’t just our air, land and water. It’s also the environment we live around. And I think we do have a sense of pride living in Snohomish County and I want to make sure we keep that.”
Dunn accuses Rohrbough of using wedge issues to “activate her Republican base.” She said their differences extend to working style.
“Anna’s very aggressive,” she said. “Mukilteo has a history of dysfunction and infighting. This is a council position where you need to be able to work together.”
As of Friday, Rohrbough enjoyed a fundraising edge. She had amassed more than $51,000 in cash. Most of it came from frequent Republican donors and homebuilders. Those who gave her $1,000 included aerospace executive and Mukilteo City Council candidate Peter Zieve, Everett real estate investor Andy Skotdal and the political arm of the region’s largest homebuilders group.
Dunn by last week had compiled more than $38,000 in cash. Her big supporters included Everett City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, environmental attorney Peter Goldman and the electricians’ union.
Some of Rohrbough’s campaign money paid for a series political ads on The Daily Herald website, heraldnet.com. Dunn takes exception to them.
The ads are written in the form of newspaper articles that highlight key issues for Rohrbough’s campaign: crime, workforce training and treatment for substance abuse or mental health problems. One features a downtown Everett auto-repair business whose owner has donated to Rohrbough’s campaign.
Dunn calls the ads deceptive.
“I think they cross an ethical line because they are designed to look like newspaper articles,” she said.
The Herald newsroom has no role in producing the sponsored content. The campaign ads share the same font and general appearance of news stories, though they’re now labeled as coming from Rohrbough.
A mistake may have created confusion when the first such sponsored article appeared in September.
“Due to a production error, the ads initially were mislabeled as being produced by The Herald Staff, an error we regret and for which we apologize,” said Josh O’Connor, president and publisher of Sound Publishing, The Daily Herald’s parent company. “Herald editorial staff played no role in the production of the ads. When made aware, we took immediate steps to address the issue and to ensure that going forward such content is clearly labeled as paid political advertising. Newspapers have long been a forum for political advertising and The Herald website is no different.”
O’Connor said the newspaper does not fact-check political advertising, but “we do expect sponsors of political advertising to adhere to state laws regarding false political advertising.”
Rohrbough stands by the ads.
“I don’t feel uncomfortable about it at all,” she said. “I think it’s real stories, real people, and we’re just trying to get the message out about why we’re running.”
For all their differences, there’s at least one electoral issue on which the candidates agree. They both oppose Initiative 976, the $30 car tab measure.
Herald writer Joseph Thompson contributed to this report. Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @NWhaglund.
What’s at stake?
The candidates are competing for a four-year term representing Snohomish County Council District 2. The district, one of five, covers Everett, Mukilteo and Tulalip, plus nearby unincorporated areas.
County Councilmembers are set to earn nearly $127,000 in 2020.
Meet the candidates
Experience: Program director with the nonprofit Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides; led the Everett Districts Now campaign to establish geographical city council districts; past SEIU researcher and database manager; formerly worked as a postpartum doula.
Experience: Mukilteo City Council, elected 2017; leadership trainer and coach with The John Maxwell Team; Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation board member; Economic Alliance Snohomish County ambassador.