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Thursday, September 11, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Property Rights Spotlighted In Council Race -- Johnson Faces Challenge From Somers In Contest Focused On County's Growth

Seattle Times Snohomish County Bureau

Some people wear their feelings on their sleeves. While marching in parades this summer, Democrat R.C. "Swede" Johnson wore his on his back.

"Supports individual and property rights," read a slogan printed on his shirt.

"The Democratic Party was offended that I would have blasphemy on my T-shirt," recalled Johnson, 54, who is running for a second four-year term on the Snohomish County Council. "My moral feelings I hold very dear. I will not compromise my morals and values for anyone."

Those values are at the crux of Tuesday's primary-election contest between Johnson and fisheries biologist Dave Somers, 44.

Because no Republicans are in the race, whoever wins will represent the mostly rural southeastern part of the county, unless a write-in candidate turns up before the Nov. 4 general election.

In the eyes of many Democrats, the Republicans already have a candidate in Johnson, one of the council's more conservative members. The county Democratic Party's Central Committee - as well as Democrats in the 21st, 39th and 44th legislative districts - have endorsed only Somers, who lives near Monroe.

Democrats in the Everett-centered 38th District, considered "old guard" and supportive of party solidarity, have endorsed Johnson, a Snohomish resident and retired residential-service engineer for the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD).

In 1993, Johnson's support for the property-rights movement helped him oust another Democrat, environmentalist Councilman Peter Hurley, by a bare margin. Heavily supported and financed by developers and backed by some Republican voters who crossed party lines, Johnson defeated Hurley in the Democratic primary and then won the general election.

On the council, Johnson has voted for growth-management policies that place fewer restrictions on property development and include fewer environmental protections than Hurley, or Somers, likely would have supported.

"If the government imposes zoning or restrictions on property, then they should be well aware of the legal ramifications if you are taking (the owner's) rights away," Johnson said.

In Somers' eyes, Johnson hasn't been sensitive to local groups that want to protect their communities from rapid growth that's overcrowding schools and jamming roads.

"We need to make sure that new growth is paying its fair share so taxpayers don't get stuck," said Somers, president of Pacific Watershed Institute, a nonprofit research and education corporation, and a former Tulalip Tribes fisheries ecologist.

Somers said he'd bring to the county the consensus-building skills he honed while setting up and participating in the state's Timber, Fish and Wildlife agreement, adopted 10 years ago by a coalition of timber-industry representatives, environmentalists, tribal members and state officials.

According to this year's election filings, Johnson's campaign purse is the largest of all County Council candidates and is again dominated by contributions from development-related sources.

As of earlier this week, he reported raising about $56,500, including about $40,000 from real-estate development, consulting and construction interests, and timber companies.

Somers had reported about $14,000, with his largest contributions being $1,000 from the Tulalip Tribes and $700 from the Washington Conservation Voters.

Developers pour in money

About $11,000 of Johnson's funds came from three Everett business addresses used by Richard Boyden and Hank Robinett, prominent real-estate developers and investors, and several of Robinett's adult children, who also develop and invest in real estate. Robinett and his wife, Donna, donated an additional $1,000 using their Snohomish home address.

County laws forbid an individual or business from giving more than $550.

The listed Boyden-Robinett donations were given under the names of 29 companies, investment groups and individuals.

"I'm very proud to support him," said Hank Robinett. "Every time I cut a check, I'm not ashamed of it."

Robinett, a Republican, said he encouraged Johnson to run as a Democrat four years ago as a strategic way to rid the county of Hurley's liberal politics.

Johnson calls himself a "Jackson Democrat," evoking the memory of the late U.S. Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, an Everett native.

Johnson's council district, which includes Monroe, Snohomish and other communities along Highway 2, was once considered solidly Democratic but has shifted to the right.

Johnson defends contributors

Johnson defended his campaign purse, stressing he's known his big contributors for more than 30 years. Many he met through his former job at the PUD.

"These are people who are known in their communities," he said. "They are entrepreneurs, and they are business people. Every two to four years these people are called two-headed monsters, rapers and pillagers, and these are the same people the Lions Club and the school districts ask to contribute to the community."

Johnson said they support him because they like what he's done, not because they expect a payoff.

"If you think you can buy me for 550 bucks, good luck," he said.

Somers, however, said he thinks the county has become much more "pro-development" since Johnson took office. In addition, Johnson has appointed two developers - Patrick McCourt and John Robinett, nephew of Hank Robinett - to the county Planning Commission.

"Those donations aren't free," Somers said. "The developers wouldn't be contributing this much if they didn't think they were getting some benefits."

Diane Brooks' phone message number is 425-745-7802. Her e-mail address is: dbro-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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