EVERETT — Sam Low is eager to prove he’s listened to constituents with an open mind since he won a short term last fall representing the Snohomish County Council’s District 5.
As the Republican tries to hold on to the seat for a full four-year term, he’ll face two Democrats who are focused on urban growth and the environment. Low talks of his hard work and varied resume, as he tries to show balance.
Challengers Kristin Kelly and Tara Schumacher say they would be more attuned to quality-of-life issues that have upset people in some fast-growing parts of east Snohomish County. While they paint Low as overly friendly to developers, he counters that they’re too narrowly focused on their own areas of interest.
“I listen to everybody,” Low said. “I meet with everybody.”
The top two finishers from the Aug. 1 primary will advance to the general election in November.
Roughly 150,00 people live in the district, which includes Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar and Index, as well as neighborhoods east of Everett’s Silver Lake, Maltby and other unincorporated areas. The job pays $117,534 per year.
Low, 47, lives in Lake Stevens, where he previously served three years on the City Council. He’s worked as a pastor, a teacher and, more recently, ran his own painting business, which he shut down to focus on the county job.
He won a special one-year term representing District 5 in November by beating appointed Councilman Hans Dunshee, who came from a high-ranking position as a Democratic state lawmaker. Low garnered more than 52 percent of the vote.
“I think I’m the right fit for this district,” Low said. “It can’t just be one or two issues.”
Low highlights his breadth of interests, including fiscal matters, public health and public safety. He’s been working with his former Lake Stevens city colleagues to secure federal and state dollars to upgrade the U.S. 2 trestle, a project that could cost up to $1 billion.
On the council, he supported a $72 million plan to remodel the county courthouse. He’s excited to work on his first county budget this fall.
Kelly, 64, has spent the past 15 years working full-time on land-use issues. She’s the executive director of the Pilchuck Audubon Society and used to head up local efforts for Futurewise, an organization that promotes sustainable growth policies. Among her past victories was helping mount opposition to plans for a mini-city with 6,000 homes in an area east of Lake Roesiger with little infrastructure.
“Deep down in my heart, I’m an environmentalist,” she said. “I’m proud to say that.”
Kelly also set out more than a decade ago to moderate some of the growth that’s now affecting people in and around Lake Stevens. As homebuilding ramps up, Kelly worries the area’s farms, forests and rivers could face new threats. She’s also concerned about the ability of roads and public safety to keep up.
“If we don’t have someone leading the way, it’s all going to go away quickly,” she said.
Kelly has lived in the county since 1989 and used to co-own a grocery in the Lake Stevens area. She has been elected twice to the county’s Charter Review Commission, a group that convenes every decade to review the structure of county government.
Pilchuck Audubon is one of three groups suing the state Department of Natural Resources over the Singletary timber harvest. The 166-acre timber cut near Gold Bar sold at auction in May. The plaintiffs want to force the state to perform more in-depth environmental studies before any logging takes place.
The size of the harvest was earlier reduced by 25 acres to protect trails to Wallace Falls State Park. The sale stands to net more than $1 million for local and state government coffers, but also would open up vast tracts of timber for future logging.
Low put in extensive work trying to bring the factions together. He wants to see the harvest move ahead.
“It shows that I can compromise,” he said. “It shows that I can bring different groups together.”
Schumacher said the compromise was appropriate and is no fan of the lawsuit.
“Now, instead, we, the taxpayers of our county, are having to spend our hard-earned money on lawyers,” she said.
Schumacher, 51, is making her first run for public office. She started the Maltby Citizens Coalition to deal with some of concerns for homeowners in the area, where she’s lived for 19 years. Conflicts between industrial and residential areas have been a flash point.
Another is the clogged intersection at Highway 522 and Paradise Lake Road. Neighbors there are up in arms about a proposed 360-unit apartment complex that promises to worsen the already bad traffic.
“I think all of the things that are happening in Maltby are a very concentrated example of what’s happening in Snohomish County as a whole,” Schumacher said.
Whether in her neighborhood or on the outskirts of Lake Stevens, she believes communities are suffering from poor planning.
“It doesn’t feel like there’s a long-term plan,” she said. “It feels like the Wild West and there’s a big land grab.”
Low says he’s been responsive to the concerns in Maltby. He arranged an open-house meeting there in February with the county’s top elected leaders.
“I didn’t run from the problem,” he said. “I brought county government to Maltby.”
Kelly said her background helps her recognize the problems at the zoning stage, when they’re easier to confront. Once a developer applies for permits in Maltby or elsewhere, a project can be hard to stop.
“People run out of money — and the people who run out of money are not the developers,” she said.
Low’s nearly $64,000 in fundraising as of Friday dwarfed that of his opponents. Developers are his biggest backers, which is common for incumbent County Council members, especially on the GOP ticket.
Kelly raised just over $2,000. Schumacher, whose formal campaign kick-off was still to come, had not yet reported any donations with the state Public Disclosure Commission.