More candidates, please
At Friday's candidate-filing deadline, at least one of three county council seats looks competitive (the 1st District seat of retiring councilmember John Koster.) The embattled mayor of Lynnwood, Dan Gough, faces three challenges. Most other races are paint-dry snoozers. Snohomish County citizens are satisfied with their elected officials or too disengaged, preoccupied or cynical to run themselves.
In Everett, Mayor Ray Stephanson didn't draw an opponent. Councilmembers Paul Roberts and Jeff Moore are running unopposed. In Stanwood, not even one of five council seats is a race. And Gold Bar, a city that may soon disincorporate? No one filed to run for mayor.
The lack of competition may reflect overall happiness with the status quo and faith in individual elected leaders. An off-year election and the lingering malaise of the Great Recession -- who has time to doorbell when there's a mortgage to pay? -- also play a role.
A couple systemic reforms could change the landscape. Snohomish County might follow King County's example and make council seats nonpartisan. It's a tweak that would require an amended charter and vote of the people. The benefit would be to attract independents who tack to common sense and avoid party dogma. In practice, these races still become partisan (you usually know the Republican and the Democrat.)
The most meaningful reform for Everett, the county seat and its largest city, is establishing district elections. The mission would be to ensure that every section of the city has a strong political voice, from the Everett Mall to Silver Lake to Riverside. The ideal formula is five members elected by individual district and two elected at-large (citywide.)
The first benefit is practical. With fewer precincts and a smaller electoral footprint, grassroots candidates stand a shot at winning with shoe leather and dedication. Running citywide, however, requires serious campaign dough to target registered voters (and ideally those with the best voting records) through direct mail.
For opponents of district elections, there is concern about unintended consequences, of bickering and balkanization. These are legitimate fears, although urban politics, like democracy, is a messy business. A couple at-large council members offer ballast, with district members advocating not only the needs of their individual districts but also, ideally, the greater good.
Cities, fire districts, and school boards in Snohomish County often attract consummate public servants. For their service, we're very grateful.
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