GOP Rep. J.T. Wilcox defeats Libertarian challenger Nielson; Rep. Graham Hunt also winning in 2nd LD

Voters in the state’s rural 2nd Legislative District were returning both Republican incumbents to the state House on Tuesday night.

Rep. J.T. Wilcox, a business consultant from the Yelm area, is headed to a third term. Libertarian challenger Steven Nielson from Orting was trailing by more than a two-to-one ratio in early returns, and he conceded.

In the other House race, first-year Rep. Graham Hunt of Orting was also well ahead of Democratic challenger Greg Hartman of Graham.

The 2nd District, which overlaps Pierce and Thurston counties, includes Orting, Eatonville, Roy, Yelm, Rainier and rural areas southeast of Lacey. It leans libertarian and Republican.

Wilcox spent more than $90,000 while Nielson pledged to spend $5,000 or less. At various times, Nielson attacked Wilcox as an insider beholden to special interests that lobby in Olympia and donated heavily to his re-election.

“I think I fit the district,” Wilcox said. “That’s the easiest way to do a good job in the Legislature is when you fit the district and you can be yourself.”

Nielson said he was hampered by Wilcox not wanting to debate, but he said his performance was the best for a Libertarian candidate since Washington’s top-two primary took effect last decade, making it harder for third parties to get on the November ballot.

The incumbent campaigned on state budget restraint and making K-12 investments first – ahead of any other budget item – to answer a state Supreme Court ruling without raising taxes. Wilcox would look at what money is left, what programs could be cut and only then consider what taxes might need to be raised.

Nielson, who works as a quality engineer for a Kent aerospace firm and is secretary of the state Libertarian Party, favored new school reforms.

Hunt, an insurance agent, was appointed in January to replace longtime Republican Gary Alexander, who resigned his position late last year and retired from politics after losing a race for Thurston County auditor. Hartman is a retired Renton firefighter who ran in 2012 and fell short against Alexander.

Hunt spent nearly $70,000 to Hartman’s nearly $44,000. Hunt embraced the House GOP’s pay-for-schools-first mantra, while Hartman said some tax breaks for industry needed to be examined for closure. They also disagreed on the urgency of raising taxes to make state highway improvements with Hunt more interested in making changes to administrative operations before considering revenues.