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Elephants show their muscle in Island County election

The Aug. 17 primary election was a smashing success for Republicans in Island County and may signal a conservative takeover of a number of county offices in the upcoming general election.

The Island County Republican Party campaigned against Proposition 1, the county’s proposed property tax levy lid lift, with overwhelming success. The measure is failing with 71 percent of the votes against it.

Bill Carruthers, chairman of the county Republicans, said that poor economy and high unemployment weighed heavy on voters.

“The people are sending a message that the commissioners need to look closely at the budget,” he said.

But Camano Island resident Kelly Emerson, a Republican challenging Democratic Commissioner John Dean, believes that the voters are sending a much more pointed message to the commissioners. She said the vote was a referendum on their leadership.

“I think they are trying to say that they have had enough with the unnecessary spending, the lack of prioritizing and overall mismanagement,” she said.

Emerson is ahead of Dean in the election by 59 percent to 41 percent. Only voters in District 3 can vote for a commissioners in this primary.

In a statement, Dean pointed out that only a small percentage of county residents voted in the contest between he and Emerson.

“I don’t believe the primary election reflects the islands’ final decision on the future of local government, and I now look forward to hearing from the remaining 88 percent on Nov. 2,” he wrote.

The Republicans dominated in other contests as well, which has many people worried that voters are supporting the “R” over qualifications.

“I’m concerned that people haven’t done their research or due diligence before voting,” Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said.

Banks, a Democrat, has made it a policy in the past to stay out of county campaigns because he has to work with whoever wins. But this year, he’s so alarmed by voter support for inexperienced candidates that he’s considering weighing in with an endorsement or two.

Dean also is concerned about partisan politics trumping common sense.

“Many people feel Tuesday’s election failed the democratic process when the majority of voters declined to exercise their right to vote and when the majority who voted apparently did so without fully weighing candidate qualifications,” he wrote. “The majority who did vote are apparently so mad, they are willing to elect anyone with the ‘right’ affiliation, even if there is a more-qualified candidate. I ask voters to choose the most qualified public servants and managers. The future of the islands depends on it.”

Voters didn’t support the commissioners’ appointment to the county clerk office. It appears that Democrat Patricia Terry, who was appointed clerk last year, was eliminated in the primary, coming in third among three candidates.

Carol Ann Fortune, a Republican from Oak Harbor, has 44 percent of the vote. Debra Van Pelt, a Democrat and current deputy clerk, received 31 percent of the vote. Terry has 24 percent.

Carol Ann Fortune said she was a little surprised by her success, especially since she has spent very little on the campaign while her competitors have dotted the island with signs. She said her status as a Republican and outsider helped her. Her only relevant experience, according to the voters’ guide, was working her way through Brigham Young University as an administrative assistant and an early morning janitor while earning adegree in English.

“I’m pleased, but it’s not over yet,” she said, adding that she plans to “dig in” on the campaign.

Her husband, Shane Fortune, is running as county treasurer as a Republican and came out ahead of his opponent, Democrat Ana Maria Nunez, the current deputy treasurer. It’s a close one, with Shane Fortune garnering 9,659 votes and Nunez gaining 9,518.

Shane Fortune, a substitute teacher, has run on the unusual campaign of “Tax Cuts Now,” even though the treasurer has no authority over setting taxes or the budget. But it’s a message that obviously resonated with many voters.

In other races, Republican Mary Wilson Engle, a county appraiser, is doing very well against her boss, Democratic Assessor Dave Mattens. She has 58 percent of the vote, while he has 42 percent.

Coroner Robert Bishop, a Republican, is ahead of his no-party-preference challenger, Paul Thompson, by a margin of 67 percent to 33 percent.

The Island County auditor reports that county voter turnout was at 46 percent, while the state turnout was just 35 percent. As of Friday morning, auditor had 3,200 votes left to count.

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