Editorial: Somers up to challenge for third, final term

Facing two opponents, the county executive makes a detailed case to cap a long career at the county.

Dave Somers

Dave Somers

By The Herald Editorial Board

Having missed out when no one challenged incumbent Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers for his office in 2019, voters four years later have the chance to review Somers’ record while considering the candidacies of two challengers.

Somers will face Democrat Christopher Garnett and Republican Bob Hagglund on the Aug. 1 primary election ballot, which will determine which two will move on to the Nov. 7 general election.

Somers is running for his third term as county executive. He defeated fellow Democrat John Lovick in 2015, then ran unopposed in 2019. Technically, the county’s term limit covers three consecutive terms for the executive and county council members, so an official could run for election after time away from the office, but Somers, 69 and a Monroe resident, said that’s not his plan. He previously served on the county council from 1998 through 2002, and again from 2006 through 2015. Somers’ professional background is in fisheries biology and habitat restoration.

Hagglund, 57, who also serves as chairman for the county Republican Party, considers himself a “Jackson Republican” — referring to the Everett native son and Democrat, Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson — an allegiance he admits doesn’t sit well with some of his party colleagues but serves his priorities. Hagglund’s professional background is in data science and analytics in health care, manufacturing and software development for corporations and governmental agencies. Hagglund lives in Lake Stevens

Garnett’s professional background is in property management and real estate, including apartments and affordable housing. The 33-year-old Lake Stevens resident has certification in fair housing law, equity and inclusion and risk and crisis management, as well as degrees in criminal justice and business.

Regarding what each would hope to accomplish in the coming four years:

Garnett, noting the size of the county’s budget and the county’s emergence from the pandemic, said it’s important for the executives’ office to use the next four years to find the right people to work on the county’s issues, in particular affordable housing and public safety. An accounting is necessary, he said, of the programs that are working and those that aren’t.

On affordable housing, Garnett said current policy and incentives are helping developers but not renters and homeowners, so he’d like to foster more discussion among the players, including developers, property owners and managers to work toward providing more affordable housing.

Hagglund said he wants to use the office to buck a trend, locally and nationally, that has focused more on personalities than on policy and address what he sees as despair in the larger community. He questions some of the county’s priorities and would focus more of the budget on what he says are the immediate needs of addiction and homelessness, noting the recent allocation of $20 million for renovations to the county’s park at Kayak Point as money that could be better spent.

On housing affordability, Hagglund said he would put the emphasis on improving wages and the economic standing of individuals and families while working to ease the cost increases caused by excessive regulation.

Responses from Hagglund and Garnett presented both as experienced and knowledgeable about the issues the county faces, with interest and perspectives that would serve them in office; Garnett especially so on housing and development issues and Hagglund on using technology and his management experience to address the county’s diverse needs.

But Somers’ previous two terms in the executive’s office — and his years on the county council — position him as most qualified to assess the county’s more pressing needs and its opportunities to prioritize the work of the next four years.

Somers said he and his staff have spent several months mapping out a plan for a final term, starting with topics that already are a focus, such as the fentanyl crisis and homelessness, including how to use revenue from the recently adopted mental health tax to provide services, including opening the two hotels purchased for use as supportive housing shelters and finding social services providers to run both.

Somers said his office also is working with the sheriff’s department to ramp up the work of the office of neighborhoods. That office, while the sheriff suspended its coordination with the office’s social workers during the pandemic, continued that work but will again pair those workers with deputies on patrol. The administration also has worked with the sheriff’s office, the prosecutor’s and public defender’s office and the county IT department to get a “dashboard” of crime, court and other data running that can provide analysis to better guide resources, policies and programs.

On housing affordability and development, the county led with an ordinance to allow accessory dwelling units — “mother-in-law apartments” — on residential property to increase available housing, but is also working with cities in the southwest urban growth area to annex unincorporated land to encourage more residential development.

Somers said he also plans significant work on environmental issues, including working with the BNSF railroad on culverts to improve salmon habitat, the sustainable aviation fuels program at the county-managed Paine Field and the broader development of new aviation technology, including hydrogen and electric batteries there. Regarding the county’s parks, even with a a multi-use agreement in place for Lord Hill Regional Park for hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, Somers said he’d like to find park land to serve the mountain bike community better.

Somers also has led Snohomish County’s three representatives on the board of Sound Transit as the agency prepares to bring the Link light rail system into Lynnwood and in coming years to Everett. In that role he has kept the board — weighted heavily toward officials in King County — focused on the core mission of the system’s spine from Snohomish to Pierce counties. His voice on the board for the next term will be vital as route plans develop and funding and property is secured for the line.

Somer’s unchallenged run for office in 2019 was a lost opportunity for voters to review his first two terms. He can now make the case for a third. Hagglund and Garnett, in running for the office with the intent of winning, have served voters by prompting a conversation on the above issues and many others.

Having put his past accomplishments and his plans on the record, Somers has made a convincing case for a third and final term.

2023 primary election, Aug. 1

The primary election for local offices is Aug. 1. Ballots, which were mailed July 12, must be returned to drop boxes or postmarked by Aug. 1. The voters guide was mailed July 11. Voters also can consult an online voters guide at vote.wa.gov.

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