Term limits will soon take a toll on the Pierce County Council, as a pair of seasoned leaders, Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, and Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, were blocked from seeking reelection this year.
In the Aug. 7 primary, voters face their first test deciding who will replace Roach and Talbert in representing council Districts 1 and 5, and collecting a $108,000 salary for the next four years.
The newcomers on the seven-member council must be ready for an array of intersecting challenges — from a mental health crisis and homelessness to an opioid epidemic and public safety understaffing.
And what will the council do to foster job growth and a reasonable cost of living in Pierce County, given the herculean (or should we say Amazonian?) competition and inflationary pressures from our neighbors to the north?
The problems aren’t new, but the solutions must be. Amateurs need not apply.
District 1 covers a vast swath of East Pierce County, including South Hill, Orting, Lake Tapps and the plateau area all the way to Crystal Mountain. District 5 encompasses Tacoma’s Eastside and South End, plus unincorporated areas including Midland, Parkland and Spanaway.
District 7, which takes in West and North Tacoma and the Peninsula, is also on the ballot this year, but with an incumbent and just one challenger, nothing is decided until the November runoff.
Of the four candidates running for District 1, we recommend Milt Tremblay and Dave Morell to advance to the general election. Both are moderate Republicans who understand a district that’s part rural hinterland, part sprawling suburbia.
County Council seems like a logical next step for Tremblay, a former White River School board member and current Buckley City Council member of seven years. He’s clearly spent time thinking about issues such as public transportation, growth management and transitional housing for the homeless.
Tremblay, a 67-year-old retired builder and University of Washington Tacoma strategic planner, also knows how to get projects done, from refurbishing the state Capitol dome to piecing together the UWT campus. Those would be valuable skills for a county government with old buildings and decaying infrastructure.
The same could be said for Morell, a commercial subcontractor who’s lived in South Hill since 1977.
Public safety is top of mind for the 59-year-old Morell, a long-time elected commissioner for Central Pierce Fire & Rescue. He also speaks as one with a good grasp of Council District 1’s diversity: “The rural folks want to be be left alone and the suburban folks want to get to work on time.”
Morell served one term in the state House (2001-02), where he was known as a strong advocate for community mental health and drug treatment.
A third Republican in the race, Sharon Hanek, has a useful accounting background. She’s assembled a credible county political resume by chairing the Charter Review Commission in 2016 and now serves on the Planning Commission.
But some of Hanek’s positions tilt too far right for us, and some people she lists as endorsing her campaign give us pause. She also declined our third-party background screening.
The sole Democrat running for District 1 is first-time candidate Lorra Jackson, a South Hill mom with the insights of someone who commutes to work in King County. She’s eager, affable and a quick study, but as we noted earlier, this isn’t a job for beginners.
For Council District 5, Democrat Marty Campbell has earned his frontrunner status. Like Talbert, he has a firm foundation of two terms on the Tacoma City Council, ending last year. Also like Talbert, he’s proud of the Lincoln District revival and successful community-building on the Eastside.
Campbell, 47, is a South End resident with the heart of a liberal activist and mind of a small businessman. He works as community association manager at the Tacoma Housing Authority’s Salishan development; before that, he owned Stadium Video and Buzzard’s Discs.
He pledges to bring a “spirit of entrepreneurship” to District 5’s empty storefronts and vacant lots, and he’s well suited for the task.
Voters who think Campbell doesn’t lean far enough left have an alternative in the primary election: Suzanne Skaar. She’s a 39-year-old vocational rehabilitation counselor, a member of the South End Neighborhood Council and a champion for working-class families and affordable child care.
Where Campbell voted for Tacoma’s phased-in $12 minimum wage increase a few years ago, Skaar was part of a group that wanted the wage raised to $15 immediately. Today, both say Pierce County is falling short of a livable wage.
The only Republican to file for District 5 was Justin Van Dyk of Tacoma. He didn’t respond to our interview invitation, and doesn’t appear to be actively campaigning.
Every frontrunner needs a foil, and we think Skaar, who lost a bid for City Council in 2015, should fill that role in the general election against the formidable Campbell.
Checking their records
The TNT Editorial Board is partnering again this year with Verify More, a nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog that coordinates background screenings with candidates’ consent.
All screenings came back clear for Pierce County Council candidates Milt Tremblay and Marty Campbell. Candidates in the process of signing up are Dave Morell, Lorra Jackson and Suzanne Skaar. Candidates not offering consent are Sharon Hanek and Justin Van Dyk.
To see the database, go online to verifymore.org