We endorse: Dammeier, Talbert for Pierce County executive

From the editorial board

Republican Bruce Dammeier (left) and Democrat Rick Talbert are The News Tribune’s picks to advance from the Aug. 2 primary to the November general election.
Republican Bruce Dammeier (left) and Democrat Rick Talbert are The News Tribune’s picks to advance from the Aug. 2 primary to the November general election. Courtesy

Choosing a Pierce County executive is too important for a major political party to wave a white handkerchief of surrender, like Republicans did four years ago.

The job description includes balancing a $900 million budget, overseeing 3,000 employees and acting as a check against a powerful sheriff, a self-aggrandizing prosecutor and a County Council riven by partisanship. The executive, who is paid $184,000 a year, also serves as advocate for Washington’s second-largest county.

It boggles the mind that Republicans let incumbent Pat McCarthy have an easy second coronation in 2012, all but blowing a kiss and performing a curtsy without even putting up a token challenger against her.

This time there are three Republicans and one Democrat vying for the job. Of the four, Republicans Dan Roach and Larry Faulk are to be commended for past records of public leadership, but voters should pick between Republican Bruce Dammeier and Democrat Rick Talbert to guide the county into its challenging next chapter.

Mounting concerns over homelessness, mental illness and crime are butting up against other costly imperatives, such as fixing traffic congestion. Economic development also demands attention so the county doesn’t sink further into merely being Seattle’s bedroom community.

Dammeier and Talbert have the experience, respect and collaborative temperament to make headway on these problems over the next four years. We endorse them in the Aug. 2 primary election.

As a Tacoma native, Puyallup resident and Lakewood small business owner, Dammeier has a comprehensive view of things.

While nearing the end of only his first term as a state senator, he’s hardly a flash-in-the-pan. He has taken the long, slow road of public service — 8 1/2 years in the Navy, eight years on the Puyallup School Board and a total of eight years in the House and Senate.

Dammeier, 55, combines an accessible public charm with a potent behind-the-scenes throw-weight. He was called up during late-game budget negotiations this year to fill in for the ailing Sen. Andy Hill, the Republicans’ key budget writer.

Perhaps the best testament to Dammeier’s competence was his role on a bipartisan team last year that flipped the script on the McCleary school funding mess. A group of senators proposed to radically reform the way levies are collected, which historically benefits property-rich school districts at the expense of poor ones.

Their plan remains an essential piece of the grand bargain on K-12 funding that lawmakers must complete in 2017, though Dammeier won’t be in Olympia to see it through.

He promises to bring his problem-solving skills to a county government culture he calls “calcified.” It would be hard to bet against him.

Talbert, 50, provides the only Democratic alternative for county executive, but he happens to be a good one.

A former two-term Tacoma city councilman now in his sixth year on the County Council, Talbert is a Lincoln High alum and a lunchpail Tacoma liberal. He says he aspires no higher than public service at the local level. Some might call that career-limiting; we call it laudable.

Sitting on the city-county health board and the Pierce Transit board gives Talbert a wealth of insights across the local policy spectrum. He also helped sift the wreckage from former Police Chief David Brame’s murder-suicide of his wife, Crystal, and turned it into something positive: Talbert is a founder and continued steady presence for the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.

He shows similar fervor when calling for the County Council to adopt a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for mental health, like every other metropolitan Washington county. As county executive, he would have a bully pulpit from which to evangelize for this overdue change.

Roach, 43, is a stolid, former 10-year state representative who joined the County Council in 2011, the same time as Talbert. The Bonney Lake Republican casts himself as a public safety defender, and pushed to hire five property crime deputies this year. Credit him, too, for his work on a committee that found potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in jail savings through pre-trial release.

But Roach was council chairman in 2014-15, a hyper-partisan period characterized by needless gridlock on issues such as marijuana legalization and pointless posturing over an “In God We Trust” plaque.

Roach had his chance to lead, and the results left much to be desired.

The fourth candidate is Faulk, a patron saint of lost causes such as bringing the Seattle SuperSonics to Tacoma and pandas to the Point Defiance Zoo.

We admire Faulk’s no-quit civic spirit and wide-ranging public, private and nonprofit resume. But the 80-year-old Steilacoom resident leans heavily on the single term he spent in the state Senate in the late ‘60s.

We think Dammeier and Talbert are superior choices for shaping the future. Choosing between them in the general election won’t be easy.