EDITORIAL: Election results raise questions

Last week’s primary election wasn’t decisive but, like a well-fought round in a heavyweight fight, it was a good lead-in to the final round in November.

Most surpring in Island County politics was the performance of incumbent Commissioner Bill Thorn. Although a Democrat in a Republican district, it was still a shock that Thorn lost the primary beauty contest to political newcomer Bill Byrd, a Republican from North Whidbey.

The commissioner primary election was different in that only people living inside District 3, including North Whidbey and Camano Island, were allowed to vote. Therein may lie Thorn’s salvation. As a Democrat, he’s popular in the more liberal District 1 encompassing South and Central Whidbey and will likely pick up votes there in the county-wide election in November.

Byrd may have benefitted from his name, which is synonymous with politics in this country. Who knows, perhaps there’s a big West Virginia vote on Whidbey Island we didn’t know about until now. The name familiarity no doubt helped, along with the fact that Byrd is a likeable man who speaks well and has lived a successful life. Being a conservative in District 3 certainly doesn’t hurt his chances.

Thorn, however, has had a successful first four years in office. He helped the county get through tough economic times without making drastic budget cuts, and he offered some bones to liberals such as ending herbicide spraying on county roads. Combined with the fact that he’s a Camano Islander in a district that has always been controlled by Camano Island, you have to like his chances in November.

But Byrd surprised us once, and if Thorn doesn’t get out and make his case on the campaign trail Mr. Byrd could surprise us again in November.

Voters also produced a surprise in the race for Island County Prosecutor where incumbent Democrat Greg Banks attracted fewer votes than Republican challenger Kelly Barlean. This can be explained in part by the fact that more Republicans likely voted in the primary because that’s where the interesting races were. But Banks’ problems go beyond voter turnout.

His biggest obstacle is the police who have publicly backed Barlean. Oak Harbor and Coupeville police support Barlean, while Island County deputies haven’t expressed a preference — a fact more damaging to Banks than to Barlean.

In the wake of Sept. 11, this is not a year to have a heroic element of society backing someone else. But police support is not a requirement to win the office of prosecutor. In more tranquil times, in fact, it could be a hindrance. We need a prosecutor who is clearly independent and holds dear the need to protect individual rights while bringing criminals to justice. This is a difficult concept to explain in the current paranoid atmosphere, but if Banks can make the case he stands a good chance to be re-elected.

For Island County Clerk, appointed Republican incumbent Jane Koetje has an unexpected fight on her hands in the form of Democrat Sharon Franzen. Franzen, a last-minute write-in candidate, received far more votes than needed to qualify for the November ballot. Voters sympathized with Franzen’s story that she was a long-time deputy clerk fired by the newly appointed clerk for political reasons.

Koetje will have to work hard to overcome the sympathy factor. She made a mistake in the primary by not explaining why she terminated Franzen. But she’s a bright, energetic candidate and she can likely hold on to her job if she can convince voters she’s not the ogre Franzen’s supporters make her out to be. Meanwhile, Franzen has to show she has more to offer than a sad story. The clerk’s office needs strong, positive leadership and she must demonstrate she’s the best person to hold the job in the future.

Finally in Island County, incumbent Treasurer Maxine Sauter fended off an intraparty challenge from Republican Marty Matthews. But Democrat Linda Riffe nearly matched Sauter in the vote total. The race will likely be decided by Matthews voters. Will they decide in November to stay within the party and support Sauter, or opt for change and vote for Riffe?

Of such questions are interesting elections made. And the general election of Nov. 5 is stacking up to be quite an interesting election in Island County.

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