It would have been nice to see more competition for the positions that were on the ballot, but at least the Methow Valley races that were contested added some interest to the just-completed, off-year general election.
Absent a substantive controversy, local seats on school boards, town councils, fire district commissions and hospital boards — as well as the smaller public entities such as cemetery boards — often go unchallenged, leaving the incumbents with little incentive to campaign or reassert their willingness to serve and defend their record.
(Across Okanogan County, there were many more one-candidate races than competition. In the only countywide opening, Prosecuting Attorney incumbent Melanie Bailey, appointed in January 2021 to fill an unexpired term vacated by Arian Noma, filed for reelection for the remainder of the term and was not challenged).
The two local town council races that had competition didn’t revolve around huge community-splitting dust-ups, but did raise leadership questions that voters needed to hear.
In Winthrop, incumbent Mayor Sally Ranzau’s name was the only one on the ballot, pretty much guaranteeing reelection. But write-in candidate Seth Miles made a respectable showing by putting some last-minute effort into his campaign. Write-in candidacies are always long shots, not just because it takes an extra effort on the voters’ part but also because candidates who don’t file for office can be perceived as less serious.
Miles criticized Ranzau’s handling of the town’s response to the COVID crisis, and raised questions about various town projects that seem to be stalled or taking a long time to complete. Those points, whatever their validity, resonated with quite a few people in town, given the relatively small pool of voters in Winthrop.
At the same time, the two Winthrop Town Council positions that were on the ballot were both uncontested, suggesting that there is not much overt discontent with how the council is operating. Or just lassitude on the part of unsatisfied residents.
In the last Twisp Town Council/mayoral elections, a group of philosophically linked challengers did not fare well against the incumbents, who all drew around 70% of the votes. This time, challenger Dara Perez made a strong showing against incumbent Aaron Studen, trailing only by a handful of votes after the first count and staying close through the final tallies.
Perez has been attentive to town operations and raised questions about how some programs and policies have been handled, particularly the town’s efforts at generating more citizen involvement and feedback. It’s doubtful the concerns she raised will entirely fade away.
Two new entrants to public office will fill vacancies left by incumbents’ decisions not to seek reelection. Katrina Auburn will join the Twisp Town Council, replacing capable incumbent Hannah Cordes, who decided not to run again. Auburn, like Cordes, brings a businessperson’s perspective to the council’s deliberations.
Miles Milliken, the sole candidate to file, replaces incumbent Les Stokes, who did not seek reelection to the Okanogan County Fire District 6 board of commissioners. On that three-member group, one vote can make a big difference, at it has in the past. After some years of discord, the district seems to be operating smoothly now and looking forward to its new fire hall in Winthrop.
The one contested race for a seat on the Methow Valley School District board didn’t develop into much as the on-again, off-again, on-again candidacy of seemingly reluctant candidate Michelle Randolph never gained traction against longtime incumbent Gary Marchbank.
Whatever the motivations of the candidates, it’s always better to have choices on the ballot. Incumbents need to know they are being watched and put on notice that their actions matter. In Winthrop and Twisp, we saw a promising glimmer of public interest. We could use more of it.
All of the candidates are to be commended — the incumbents who signed on for another tour of duty, and the challengers who made the effort. Campaigning for pubic office is a lot of work; holding office takes even more commitment if one is serious about it.