Three of the five seats on the Snohomish County Council are up for election this year. And each of the three districts represent the urban-rural split that requires a council that works collaboratively for the good of the entire county of more than 770,000 residents.
Two, Districts 1 and 5, which represent the more rural regions of the county, attracted three or more candidates, sending the race to Tuesday’s primary election to determine the top two candidates for the Nov. 7 general election.
Snohomish County Council, 1st District: The 1st District includes much of the county’s northern half, including the cities of Stanwood, Arlington, Darrington, Marysville and Granite Falls.
Republican Nate Nehring of Stanwood was appointed to the post in January, following fellow Republican Ken Klein’s resignation to join County Executive Dave Somer’s administration. The County Council selected Nehring from three candidates, chosen by the county GOP from a field of nine applicants, two of whom are running against Nehring in the primary.
The Republicans seeking to unseat Nehring are Robert Sutherland, an Air Force veteran from Granite Falls who worked in biochemistry and has run for Congress twice and county executive once; and Chris Ihler, a Marysville resident, who has worked in online retail and has served on the campaigns of other Republicans seeking office.
Democrat Ray Miller of Marysville, also an Air Force veteran and a certified chemical dependency counselor, also seeks Nehring’s seat.
Nehring’s challengers, specifically Ihler and Sutherland, have made much of Nehring’s age and limited experience. Now, 22, Nehring was 21 when he was appointed and had worked briefly as a high school science teacher and had also served as vice-chairman of the Stanwood planning commission.
Ihler also alleges that Nehring’s appointment was the result of nepotism because he is the son of Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring. The nepotism charge doesn’t stand scrutiny, as Jon Nehring, serving in a nonpartisan post, had no involvement in the county GOP’s selection process. Name familiarity would have been the only advantage but was not enough on its own to be the reason he was the choice of the party precinct officials and four County Council members.
And Nehring has had a little more than half a year now to answer the criticism of his youth and limited experience. Nehring is careful to explain his votes on the council, for example a vote for free-market reasons in opposition to restrictions of marijuana shops that the council’s Democratic majority passed in February.
Nehring also has shown himself to be an advocate for his district, visiting residents in its communities, listening to their concerns and representing their interests. Darrington town council member Kevin Ashe, another of those passed over for the county council seat, has described Nehring as accessible and someone who understands Darrington and its dependence on natural resources and recreation.
Nehring also has quickly demonstrated his ability to work collaboratively with the rest of the council and the county executive, an attitude that neither Sutherland nor Ihler have convincingly portrayed during the campaign.
Miller, who has largely stayed above the fray, does deserve voters’ consideration. He has been an effective advocate for veterans, particularly those struggling with homelessness, and is knowledgeable about addiction and related issues. Miller also served on the county’s most recent charter review commission.
But Nehring has shown that party leaders and the County Council made the right choice in selecting him for the 1st District seat. Voters should have the same confidence in electing him to office.
Snohomish County Council, 5th District: The 5th District roughly encompasses the county east of Highway 9 and south of and including Lake Stevens and the communities of Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar and Index.
Republican Sam Low, a former Lake Stevens City Council member, won election to the district in November by defeating Hans Dunshee, the Democrat appointed to the position following Dave Somers’ election as county executive. He is challenged by Democratic Party challengers Kristin Kelly and Tara Schumacher.
Kelly, also of Lake Stevens, has previously served as program director of Futurewise, a statewide land-use advocacy group and is currently an official with the Pilchuck Audubon Society, addressing smart growth practices.
Schumacher runs a design consulting business and has worked with a number of community groups including YWCA, Habitat for Humanity, Sierra Club, Washington Trails Association, Boys & ^Girls Club and League of Conservation Voters.
Schumacher, a county resident for 19 years, has led a residents group addressing growth and traffic issues in the fast-growing Maltby area.
Kelly, in terms of knowledge of land-use issues, has few equals and has been a very effective voice for the environment and for smart controls on growth that threaten the county’s rural areas, including farms and forest. Among the victories was a successful challenge of a 6,000-home mini-city at Lake Roesiger. A county resident for 26 years, Kelly has twice served on the county’s charter review commission.
Both women, through their efforts from outside of government, have shown their commitment and knowledge and should be considered for other opportunities to contribute from within government.
But Low impresses us as the best fit for the district and has demonstrated his ability to work within the council, his district and the larger county.
Low played a leading role in pursuing a compromise and getting support among recreational, environmental and logging interests regarding a timber sale near Wallace Falls State Park. For nearly 10 years, a 187-acre timber sale of second-growth forest had been held up over concerns for trails and scenery near the park. The compromise, which the County Council unanimously approved, would have set aside 25 acres near the park from the sale for four years, allowing time for a land swap or other options to be investigated.
The state Board of Natural Resources rejected the compromise, but before the timber sale went through, the County Council on a 3-2 party line vote, took action to take control of the 25-acre parcel of land, which is owned by the county but managed as state trust land. Low voted against the action because it failed to make up for the land lost from timber production as was the intention of the compromise. Low deserves credit for brokering the compromise and for standing on principle to protect a resource that supports logging and mill jobs and generates revenue for local school, hospital and fire protection districts.
When Low ran last year, the editorial board endorsed Hans Dunshee. We have no reservations in now endorsing Low for the 5th District.