Bob Hagglund, left, and Dave Somers, right

Bob Hagglund, left, and Dave Somers, right

Somers, Hagglund face off in county executive race

Somers, the Democratic incumbent, is being challenged by Hagglund, who chairs the county’s Republican party.

EVERETT — A long-shot Republican candidate is trying to keep Dave Somers from serving a third and final term as county executive.

Somers cites what he considers a strong economic record and his work to tackle the issues of homelessness, illegal drugs and housing. He would like to see federal, state and local dollars move toward those areas. Responsible growth and protection of both the environment and agricultural land are other major priorities.

Bob Hagglund is running on what he calls a “crisis of hopelessness,” and is pushing for fiscal responsibility and a move away from government-funded solutions. He wants to build more homes using farmland. He is also running on a public safety platform and wants to see criminals in jail.

Hagglund tallied just over 37% of the more than 134,000 tallied in the August primary. Somers received over 52%. A third candidate, Christopher Garnett — another Democrat — received just over 10% of the vote.

Somers and Hagglund will be on the ballots set to be mailed out Thursday. Election day is Nov. 7 and ballots must be returned by that day.

Somers has raised over $156,000 this year for reelection. Hagglund has raised just $2,100.

The county executive position is limited to three consecutive terms. Terms are for four years. A candidate could come back and serve again after serving three terms, as long as the forth is not consecutive with the other three. The job pays $205,560 annually.

Here’s a look at the candidates.

Dave Somers

Mental health, homelessness and drug abuse are among the top priories for Somers, who served on the County Council before becoming executive in 2016.

“One thing that has become evident to me is that we have a kind of mental health crisis,” he said. “It’s caused by economic factors, cost of housing, inflation and an abundant supply of cheap drugs. Not everybody on the street is on drugs. It’s clear that maybe a third of them are.”

Somers said emergency rooms, jails and detention facilities are not set up to deal with drug rehabilitation. Money toward doing so is increasing, he said. Another issue, Somers said, is that the state system for dealing with some of those issues has “kind of fractured and gone away.” State budget cuts toward programs targeting opioid abuse have been blamed for exacerbating the drug crisis.

About three quarters of Snohomish County’s general fund goes toward public safety, Somers said.

“It’s hard for me to say we’re safer, it’s easy for me to say that we are working really hard on it,” Somers said. “It’s a primary focus every day for us.”

Snohomish County has joined a lawsuit with other counties against the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to provide adequate mental health care.

“Local governments don’t have the tools and financial means to deal with this. It’s a huge, huge problem,” Somers said. “We work with our nonprofits. A year or so ago the county council passed, I recommended and they passed, the mental health sales tax. So we have local funding now to go in and help fund local agencies and nonprofits and groups in the area.”

He added: “The whole network of services that are needed to help people that are struggling with homelessness and addiction and mental health and other challenges is very fractured. We’re working hard to stitch it together and cooperate, coordinate and collaborate.”

Somers also said there is not enough shelter beds for people experiencing homelessness and mentioned two hotels the county has purchased to turn into shelters. In 2021, Snohomish County Council approved a 0.1% sales tax to fund housing and behavioral health services.

‘There is absolutely not enough housing. We’re working on it with the tax dollars we have,” Somers said. “We’ll take some of those mental health sales tax dollars and we’ll put it to housing. We fund shelters that other people are doing.”

Responsible growth — both housing and economic — are a major part of Somers campaign pitch. Snohomish County’s population increased by 16.5% from 2011 to 2021.

Somers, who lives in Monroe, pointed to limiting urban sprawl as a priority and an area where he feels the county has been successful. Somers is a University of Washington graduate and began his county career as a fish biologist.

He also pointed toward county efforts aimed at preserving farmland. Snohomish County is also about to embark on updating its comprehensive plan, as it does every 10 years.

Large, sprawling suburban developments turn animal habitat and agricultural land into concrete and structures. Every 10 years, Snohomish County embarks on a comprehensive plan update to decide what land will be turned into urban development and what parts of the county will not.

“We’re going to be doing some infill to allow for more density, townhouses. A lot of the lower-cost housing in many areas is not single-family detached, it’s multifamily apartments, it’s condos,” Somers said. “We need areas in the county to have that.”

Bob Hagglund

Hagglund, the chair of the Snohomish County Republican Party, is worried about crime, specifically its victims.

“I think the problem is we’re in the process of ignoring the fact that crime actually has victims,” Hagglund said. “We’re so worried about the people who commit crimes and how they feel, then we’re not as concerned about the victims of crime and the climate that creates is going to start creating a climate where our business environment is not conducive to growth.”

Hagglund, who lives in Everett, is a strong supporter of Marysville’s 30-day mandatory minimum jail stay for drug crimes. He opposed releasing prisoners from county jail during the early days of the pandemic and applauded work to keep it open.

“During COVID time, there was pressure to close the jail and our sheriff didn’t,” said Hagglund, a health care data scientist. “They did it for a short time and they were able to bring things back to business as usual and they still didn’t have an outbreak of COVID.”

The Snohomish County jail never closed during the pandemic, though Sheriff Adam Fortney did denounce a decision to release inmates from Washington State prisons. There were outbreaks of COVID in county correctional facilities.

Housing and development are big issues for Hagglund. He said politicians have forced a choice between farmland and rural development.

“We built an entire city, Mill Creek, out of thin air in farmland. Yes, it was farmland, but we had a need for housing,” he said. “We have tons of farmland, a lot of room — we could have literally millions of people more every decade in our state, but we seem to be stuck in that rut.”

Environmental factors are also part of the issue, he said. Hagglund said there doesn’t have to be an “either or” choice for strong environmental policy and urban growth.

He said he would use tax revenue from the county’s growth to fund environmental policy. He did not specify what environmental policies he would support.

“The environmental pressure, it just seems false, it seems like there’s more of a desire to push people toward public transportation than actually fix the roads,” Hagglund said. “We used to be able to do these things where we could develop highways, we could expand things as needed to accommodate our people. The problem is we put people second now behind the environment in a way that doesn’t even really make sense.”

Hagglund said public transit needs to “be a little more market-driven as far as the price” and that he would look to reduce public funds towards public transit. Community Transit, which is publicly funded, received over $280 million in 2023, community transit officials said.

A health care data scientist, Hagglund works from home, he said, but feels commuters should be paying “full price” for public transit. Community Transit’s primary funding comes from sales tax, which is voter approved. Sales tax accounts for around 70% of Community Transit’s funding, with an additional approximately 4% coming from rider fares. Grants, advertising and interest make up the remainder.

“You don’t need to have government-subsidized commuters,” he said. “I mean there’s no reason for it, the buses are full.”

Correction: A previous version of this story included inaccurate Community Transit budget data.

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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