We endorse: Stokesbary, Walthers for Legislative District 31

From the editorial board

For Legislative District 31 straddling north Pierce and south King counties, The News Tribune endorses (from left) Rep. Drew Stokesbary for House Position 1 and Lane Walthers for House Position 2.
For Legislative District 31 straddling north Pierce and south King counties, The News Tribune endorses (from left) Rep. Drew Stokesbary for House Position 1 and Lane Walthers for House Position 2.

It says something about the conservative underpinnings of Washington’s 31st Legislative District that the November ballot will not include a Democratic choice for one of its two House seats. The other race features a nominal Democrat who uses the label only when preceded by the word “Independent.”

In this this district straddling Pierce and King counties covering vast territory in the shadow of Mount Rainier, voters must choose between Position 1 incumbent Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, and Libertarian John Frostad of Milton.

Frostad, a self-employed acupuncturist, has thoughtful positions on health care issues and is hoping his libertarian values, such as decriminalizing drug use, will catch the attention of progressive voters. But it might be a hard sell considering he says Washington government “is a place where good ideas go to die.”

Because we believe good ideas still stand a chance in Olympia, Stokesbary receives our hearty endorsement.

His Boy Scout demeanor might fool voters into thinking he’s too green to govern, but the 31-year-old Stokesbary has plenty of gravitas, to include an economics degree from Duke University and a law degree from Notre Dame.

His education was put to good use in his first term in the House where he served on three committees: Appropriations, Judiciary and Finance. He was also appointed to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee and the Oversight Committee on Trade Policy.

In addition to being analytical and articulate, Stokesbary has a nose for sniffing out stink. He’s gutsy, too. He took the lead this year in a failed effort to impeach federally indicted state Auditor Troy Kelley. And last year, he introduced a bill (still pending) that would ban lawmakers and statewide elected officials from fundraising 15 days before a special session. He wants to disincentivize lawmakers from quitting before getting their work done during the regular session.

But it’s equitable school funding that tops his list of government gone wrong. As a representative of four school districts, Auburn, Enumclaw, Sumner and White River, he aims to eliminate the unfair funding gaps between districts by advocating for a levy swap, which he says will rid the state of the “unconstitutional and unconscionable method” of paying for schools.

For the open Position 2, 31st District voters must replace longtime Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw. We’re still scratching our heads wondering how neither of two bright Republican hopefuls, Morgan Irwin and Pablo Monroy, failed to garner enough primary votes to advance.

The general election will pit Republican Phil Fortunato, an Auburn resident and owner of an environmental consulting business, against Independent Democrat Lane Walthers, of Enumclaw, a full-time firefighter/EMT for East Pierce Fire and Rescue.

Rural voters should like Walthers’ on-the-job- experience. As a first responder, he has been in the trenches. As he says, his job has given him a profound appreciation for the concerns of vulnerable people in his district.

He’s also better versed in transportation concerns, such as perennial traffic jams between Buckley and Enumclaw, having logged many miles on the district’s roads. He cites fixing infrastructure and transportation as his main reason for running.

Fortunato, who served one term in the House from 1999 to 2000, has the endorsement of leading conservatives in the 31st and would give the Legislature a small business perspective. But ultimately, the on-the-ground pragmatism of Walthers wins our nod.

Besides, with the deadlines facing legislators in 2017, they might appreciate a career firefighter with a proven ability to keep cool in times of crisis.