Snohomish County exec race unites unlikely allies
Times Snohomish County bureau
EVERETT — Both campaigns for Snohomish County executive are forging unusual alliances.
Edmonds City Council President Dave Earling, a Republican, has picked up an endorsement from Washington Conservation Voters as well as from County Councilman Jeff Sax, a conservative property-rights advocate.
At the same time, state Sen. Aaron Reardon, D-Everett, is endorsed by traditionally Democratic groups like the Snohomish County Labor Council and the Sierra Club, along with the Affordable Housing Council, the political arm of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, a pro-growth group that backed candidates who established the new Republican majority on the County Council.
Reardon and Earling are moderate, experienced candidates who demonstrate a shift in Snohomish County politics. In 2001, Sax and fellow conservative John Koster unseated incumbents on the County Council, kicking off a partisan power struggle between the council and the Democratic-held executive's office that has dominated the past two years.
The blurring of partisan politics in this year's executive race has brought Snohomish County's big issues — the economy, growth management and criminal justice — to the forefront.
The winner will take over Snohomish County, which has an 8.5 percent unemployment rate and is faced with the shrinking presence of Boeing, one of its largest employers.
As the county tries to evolve from bedroom community to burgeoning economy, its regions are competitive — north county versus south county, urban versus rural, longstanding Everett versus fast-growing Snohomish, Arlington and Lake Stevens.
The winning candidate also will jump into a budget struggling to pay for human services and a half-completed county-campus redevelopment project that includes a new administration building and jail and a refurbished courthouse.
The executive's job pays $122,203 a year.
The position was created in 1980, when the county adopted a charter form of government and Willis Tucker began what would be three terms as executive.
Incumbent Bob Drewel also has served three terms and must step down because of term limits.
If Reardon wins, the County Council would choose another Democrat to fill his seat in the state Senate.
Earling's position on the Edmonds City Council is up for election this year. Two candidates have filed for the seat.
Reardon says his first move, if elected, would be to create a business plan for Snohomish County — outlining what it can do to attract industries and retain jobs.
He chaired the state Economic Competitiveness Council in 2001 and led a task force in the House that dealt with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the end of economic "boom times."
He also cited his five years' experience working for the Downtown Seattle Association, where, he says, his position required him to create partnerships and "bring people together."
Earling questioned whether Reardon has exaggerated his job at the association.
"The aura that my opponent tries to portray is this one of vast experience, a combination of leadership experience, management experience ... (but) if you take a look at his private-sector record, it doesn't have the kind of breadth that he says it does," Earling said.
Earling says the county should be "paying attention to different types of economic engines," especially the biotech industry, which already has established itself in Snohomish County, he said, and construction. He suggested the county use its community colleges to build its economy.
Earling proposes an annual "summit" of county business stakeholders to help end divisiveness in the county. The group could agree on for economic development per year, he said.
Both candidates said they support Sheriff Rick Bart's quest for more patrol deputies, but neither would specify how to pay for them. Both suggested scrutiny of criminal-justice spending, which now takes up nearly 70 percent of the county's $165 million general-fund budget.
Earling said he supports a proposed methamphetamine "strike force" but said, "I'd never pit the meth-strike team against something else" in the budget, as some politicians have done. The strike team has become too much of a political pawn, he said.
Reardon talked about making the sheriff — and other department heads — justify their needs by showing the outcome of programs on which the county spends its money.
Growth is one of the county's most divisive issues, and neither candidate will align himself with either side. Both Koster and Sax have written letters supporting Earling, and his former opponent in the primary, conservative Republican Betty Neighbors, is endorsing him. But Earling seemed wary of associating himself with them.
"They're very intent on seeing a Republican elected as the next county executive," Earling said.
Reardon says Earling earned conservative support by telling the conservative Republicans what they want to hear.
"Is he going to be anything more than a speed bump on the freeway to an ultra-conservative County Council?" Reardon said. Earling maintains he makes up his own mind.
The Washington Conservation Voters endorsed Democrat Kevin Quigley in the primary, and Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for the group, said Earling got the endorsement for the general election largely because of his work on regional transportation issues.
Reardon says despite that group's support for Earling, he's the "greener" candidate. "My environmental record ... has been stellar," he said, citing an early endorsement he received from the Sierra Club.
Diana Phillips, chairwoman of the local group of the Sierra Club, said the organization endorsed Reardon because of his "widespread" environmental values.
In Olympia, he sponsored legislation in 2000 that would have increased cities' requirements to notify residents about stream pollution — the bill died in the Senate — and in 2001 worked to stop the state Department of Natural Resources from using Smith Island as a dumping area for toxic sludge.
Reardon said he will "empower" farmers if elected. He said farmers have been getting "lip service" for the past five years but no real action.
"I think it's been five years of bad public policy," he said.
He would put an agricultural director in the executive's office, he said, and look for ways to make farming viable.
With the final week of campaigning under way, each candidate is taking shots at the other.
Reardon criticized Earling's history with Sound Transit; Earling was board chairman when plans for a light-rail line between Northgate and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport went over budget and had to be called off.
"His only management experience is running Sound Transit into the ground," Reardon said. "I don't think Snohomish County wants to be managed like Sound Transit."
Earling said his experience with Sound Transit shows he knows how to make tough decisions. He pointed to the agency's successes in Snohomish County, including a bus system and road and transit projects.
Earling has promised this is the last public office he'll seek, an effort to show a contrast to Reardon, who's run for three offices in the past four years.
"It's clear in my mind that Aaron views himself as an upwardly mobile politician," he said.
Reardon said Earling is the only person to bring up his employment record. In the primary, he said, he won most of the precincts in his legislative district, which he said is evidence voters don't have a problem with his running for office again.
Responding to criticism that he's too young to be county executive, Reardon pointed to Robert Kennedy, who was attorney general in his 30s, and the late U.S. Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, who served as Snohomish County prosecutor when he was 26.
Earling has raised more than $208,000 for his campaign.
Reardon has raised about $170,000, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records.
Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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