As reluctant as I am to project the outcomes of local elections, having been lamentably wrong before, I’m less reticent about analyzing results. Or at least making observations, hopefully of the informed variety. Not having to explain or defend wayward predictions of course gives me something of an advantage in the punditry department — I can act like a know-it-all without having made a commitment to pre-election prognostication.
That said, I have been paying attention to things around here the past few years and feel confident drawing some conclusions.
Let’s begin with the mayoral and town council races in Twisp, which drew unusual attention in that there were races at all. Three candidates who were — in the view of many Twisp residents — like-minded if not deliberately coordinated, challenged incumbent Mayor Soo Ing-Moody and council members Mark Easton and Alan Caswell.
If they were coordinated, it wasn’t especially evident in terms of their campaign activities, although Vern Nations, Leone Edson and Kevin Hickman voiced generally similar, if not particularly detailed, opinions about the need for change. In any event, they should be applauded for stepping forward to make a race of it and giving voters options. That doesn’t happen enough in local elections.
None of the challengers breached the 30 percent mark in voter support. That appears to be a solid endorsement for the town’s current course under Ing-Moody, and the Town Council and administration.
Aside from an unusual proliferation of yard signs, the challengers didn’t seem to do much overt campaigning, counting on supporters to know where they stood. Nations vaguely called for “common sense” governing — but compared to what wasn’t clear. It’s probable that not showing up at the only public forum to which all local contenders were invited hurt Nations, Edson and Hickman in the eyes of many voters. While Edson and Nations offered reasons for not appearing, Hickman simply declined to face the public and mounted no visible campaign.
That strategy was oddly effective. Of the three challengers, Hickman drew the most votes. While it can’t be said that a campaigning-averse approach is effective, keeping quiet seemed not to work against Hickman.
Meanwhile, none of the three Winthrop Town Council incumbents were opposed — a placid election cycle compared to the upheaval of a few years ago. The town is not without issues, but a hard-working council and mayor have handled them with equanimity without falling into lockstep acquiescence.
There are a couple of ways to look at the high-profile (by local standards) contest for a position on the Okanogan County Fire District 6 board of commissioners, featuring long-time commissioner Darold Brandenburg and challenger Ken Doran, himself a professional firefighter. Doran mounted an aggressive and visible campaign, but Brandenburg won by a handy margin, reflecting his personal popularity as much as anything, I suspect.
That’s a double-edged sword for Brandenburg. While he is well-liked, he and the other two commissioners are still under heavy pressure and face high expectations to finally deliver on the long-delayed replacement of the district’s fire station in Winthrop.
I think the vote that will really tell how the public feels about the district’s progress will come next year, when the commissioners expect to propose another levy to support construction of the new fire station. Two levies have failed in recent years, and much public skepticism remains about the district’s plans for the new facility. Doran forcefully expressed that skepticism, and he is not alone in that.
The race for a seat on the Methow Valley School District board of directors was essentially friendly competition between incumbent Frank Kline and challenger Leverett Hubbard. At the same time, Hubbard made a respectable showing in an issue-free contest, drawing about 48 percent of the vote. That may hint at some desire for change among a group of devoted and capable board members who are generally seen as unanimously supportive of the district administration’s recommendations. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — having watched too many communities be riven by warfare among school board members, or between the board and administration, I value the Methow School District’s relative stability. Still, schools are the spark point for many social issues these days, and the valley is not immune to those pressures.
I didn’t think the county’s proposed sales tax increase to support upgrading countywide emergency communications systems was necessarily a slam dunk, but it is gratifying to see the margin by which it is being approved. It was backed by a detailed, straightforward, fact-driven campaign that made a powerful case for the tax increase. Fire District 6, are you paying attention?