Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll: After tough campaign, Dammeier now has a more important task – to lead

New Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier speaks at his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday night.
New Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier speaks at his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday night. Courtesy: Pierce County

On the morning after being sworn in as Pierce County’s new executive, Bruce Dammeier was enjoying the view.

“Right now, it’s sunny,” the Puyallup Republican said by phone from his new office. “There’s a bright sun coming in on the seventh floor.”

Let’s hope it was a positive sign for the future.

On Tuesday night, at a swearing-in ceremony at Clover Park Technical College, it became official: Dammeier is the first Republican to hold the office of county executive in 16 years.

By all accounts, the proceedings — which Dammeier described as “very humbling” — went down without a hitch.

Well, there was one small hiccup.

True to his Puyallup roots, Dammeier served scones. And, while attendance was good, there were more leftovers than expected.

One attendee, Dammeier admitted, wasn’t familiar with the Puyallup Fair delicacy.

“I said they’re basically the doughnut of Puyallup,” Dammeier told me.

The answer provided my first chance to push back on Pierce County’s new executive.

Having grown up in P-Town myself, I reminded Dammeier that Happy Donuts are the doughnut of Puyallup. Scones are something different.

Graciously, he listened, and accepted the input.

Could this be another positive sign for the direction Dammeier’s administration will take?

While that’s probably a stretch, it is safe to say that the gestures Dammeier has made since the certification of the election have left his new colleagues on the County Council hopeful about what his leadership will mean.

Several of them I spoke with applauded the diverse group of seasoned advisers he appointed to his executive team, led by former Democratic state treasurer and lawmaker Dan Grimm. And Councilmen Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, and Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, said Dammeier has spent time in recent weeks listening to county staff and council members.

The question of how Dammeier will work with the seven members of the County Council is an interesting one.

During an at-times combative campaign — when Dammeier faced off against both Roach and Talbert — the state legislator’s “outsider” message frequently left opponents grumbling. Both men found themselves targeted by some of Dammeier’s political mailers. Talbert, especially during the general election, routinely took issue with what he described as “negative campaigning.”

For his part, Dammeier said, “Campaigns are about drawing contrast, and showing contrasting visions.”

“I clearly ran on a platform of change,” he said. “I think that resonated with the voters.”

The outcome of November’s election suggests Dammeier has a point. But whether he went too far at times remains a matter of debate.

Councilman Derek Young, D-Gig Harbor, said Dammeier’s finger-pointing rhetoric during the campaign displayed a lack of understanding of the roles and responsibility of county government, while failing to acknowledge the role state government played in creating some of Pierce County’s problems. Young contends the former state senator knew better.

Still, Young is among those encouraged by Dammeier’s first moves.

“I think the new executive has done a really good job of trying to show that he wants to be a leader for all of Pierce County, and that he wants to have a good relationship with all of the council,” Young told me. “Obviously, time will tell, but all the steps he’s taken right now are things that I would be trying to do.”

Roach said he harbors no ill will.

“It’s water under the bridge, and I’m looking forward,” explained Roach, who said that while he may not always agree with Dammeier, he expects to have a good working relationship with him.

“It comes down to representing your constituents, and if you can’t get over your personal issues or grudges, you really can’t do the job to the best of your ability,” Roach said.

Talbert, on the other hand, is taking what can probably best be described as a wait-and-see approach.

“For me, I think it’s important when I’m a candidate to present the person who’s going to hold the office. I don’t differentiate between who I am as a candidate and who I am as an office holder,” Talbert said. “Bruce did and said things during the campaign that were wrong, that were not true, that were what could be described as negative campaigning. … But that was his choice.”

“What I’ve heard or learned of him as a legislator is different than what I saw during the campaign. He has a reputation as a being someone you can work with,” Talbert continued, expressing a desire to move forward.

“So I’m hopeful that the person that I think Bruce Dammeier is, is the person who’s going to be leading the county.”

In politics, hurt feelings in the aftermath of heated elections are par for the course.

But for the people of Pierce County, results are now all that matter — something Dammeier and his new colleagues all acknowledged.

“Is there a little bit of awkwardness? Yes,” Dammeier said of now having to govern with people he vigorously campaigned against.

“But I think we all realize that want to act in the best interests of the citizens of Pierce County.”

If that’s true, it provides even more reason for optimism than a sunny morning in early January.