Incumbents should never go unchallenged, at any electoral level from cemetery district on up. Nice principle to evoke, but it usually doesn’t work out that way in a lot of local elections, or sometimes at higher levels when conventional wisdom is that the current office holder just can’t be unseated.
Conventional wisdom has had its rear end kicked more than a few times. Seemingly entrenched and invulnerable office-holders have found themselves on the wrong side of 50 percent when the polls close. Which is why the democratic process is best served by healthy political contests that give voters a choice.
Without making any political observations about the two Okanogan County commissioners who are up for re-election this year — Sheilah Kennedy in District 1 and Ray Campbell in District 2, which includes the Methow Valley — it is encouraging as a matter of principle to see that each has drawn three challengers. It’s going to be interesting to see how the races develop as four candidates vie for each seat, with two in each district advancing from August’s primary election to November’s general election. (The primary elections for county commissioner are by district; the general election is countywide.)
The county commission has dealt with some controversial, high-profile issues of late, alienating a good many constituents and other county officials alike. The commissioners are empowered to make those decisions, but they are also expected to answer for them before the electorate. Kennedy and Campbell may ultimately prevail — incumbents usually have an advantage by virtue of familiarity if nothing else, and they each have their ardent supporters — but they won’t do it by default. They will have to campaign, defend their records and explain their actions. That gives challengers a potential advantage, because they can question and criticize the incumbents’ actions in office and promote themselves as a sensible alternative.
Give all the candidates some props for putting themselves out there. Running for office isn’t easy for anyone. Incumbents have to decide whether it’s worth it to go through one more demanding election cycle to earn another term. Challengers have to find the motivation, time, support and money to make a meaningful effort. And these days the social media maelstrom can be a cruel distraction as well as a useful campaign tool.
In the commissioners’ races, the voters will have to do a little work as well by getting to know the candidates and educating themselves on important issues. Voting is a right, but it’s also a responsibility.
Holding elective office shouldn’t be a sinecure, and re-election is not an unfettered mandate. Nor should incumbents spend all their time worrying about the next election. Every two, four or six years, depending on the office, voters deserve the opportunity to have a choice rather than accept a fait accompli.
Okanogan County voters have choices this year. However the elections turn out, a contested race is always a better race.
Rebuilding the force
The Town of Winthrop has made a first step toward restoring a fully staffed police department with the recent hiring of a new marshal. That’s reassuring, but restoring full public confidence in the department and the town’s ability to retain police officers may take a while.
Winthrop has been without its own police force for six months, and before that it had just one sworn officer who served as the acting marshal until his resignation last December. Three other officers, including the former marshal, had left in late 2014 and the first six months of 2015 for a variety of reasons.
Winthrop still has a position of deputy marshal to fill. It’s not easy for small rural towns to attract and keep good police officers. The pay is usually not as good as in bigger jurisdictions, and it may not be a good personality fit despite the best intentions of everyone involved. At the same time, jurisdictions like Winthrop and Twisp deserve the same quality of professionalism and protection that the bigger towns and cities do.
Winthrop’s residents will likely welcome the new marshal with optimism, support and typical small-town graciousness. But given recent events, they may also hold their high expectations in reserve.