The seven members of the Pierce County Council comprise what is arguably the most powerful group of elected leaders in the 253 area code.
They’re certainly the most handsomely rewarded, earning more than state legislators and the Tacoma City Council. Their annual pay, now set at $108,000, would jump past $110,000 under a 2.5-percent raise for all county elected officials recommended by a citizens salary commission.
Taxpayers should expect a high level of experience, competence and trustworthiness for all who occupy these seats, including the three up for grabs on the Nov. 6 ballot. This isn’t amateur hour.
That’s why we endorse Dave Morell for District 1, Marty Campbell for District 5 and Derek Young for District 7.
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Of those three contests, voters in District 7 — which covers Gig Harbor, Key Peninsula, Fox and McNeil islands, Ruston and corners of West and North Tacoma — have the most qualified duo of candidates to choose from. It’s also the only race in which an incumbent is trying to keep his job.
Young, a 42-year-old Democrat ending his first term, seeks four more years on the County Council after 16 years as a wunderkind on the Gig Harbor City Council.
Land-use and growth-management issues are Young’s forte, a vital skill set in a mixed rural-suburban district blessed with more shoreline than nearly any place in Washington.
He’s also a vocal leader on mental health; he pushed for a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax hike that failed by one vote in 2016 — not the council’s finest hour, especially after a study sponsored by Young exposed the depth of Pierce County’s mental health crisis. Lately, he’s taken a prominent role in the fight against opioid abuse.
When things get chippy at council meetings, Young always conducts himself as one of the adults in the room. In his interview with us, he praised his election foe, David Olson, for “keeping the temperature down and keeping things civil,” a trait Young is known for.
Olson, a 59-year-old Gig Harbor Republican, is an excellent candidate in his own right. The one-time Navy diver moved to the district to raise his family 13 years ago and quickly plunged into public life. We respect his service to country and for often-thankless duty on the Peninsula School Board the last five years.
But Olson, who now works as a bank officer, doesn’t make much of a case how he’d be an upgrade over the incumbent. He expressed few qualms about Young and his policies, aside from increasing impact fees on developers. We see Olson as a potential frontrunner for the same seat in 2022, when term limits will force Young out the door.
Speaking of term limits, the other two posts on the ballot this year are wide open because the eight-year clock ran out on council members Dan Roach and Rick Talbert.
In District 1, Dave Morell of South Hill would be a fine replacement for Roach, a fellow Republican. The district stretches from Bonney Lake to Crystal Mountain and takes in a large swath of unincorporated East Pierce County, which tilts heavily GOP.
A commercial subcontractor by trade, Morell has a long record of civic involvement, including a term in the Washington state House in the early 2000s. Four decades in the community, highlighted by several years on the Central Pierce Fire & Rescue Commission, give him a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling district.
Morell, 59, wants to extend transportation links, establish employment centers, equip sheriff’s deputies and protect landowners. Advocacy for community mental health and drug treatment was one of his calling cards in Olympia; a sister who survived heroin addiction remains a motivating force.
Lorra Jackson, the Democratic challenger, lacks the community roots (three years on South Hill) and elected experience (none) to rival Morell. What she does have are the insights of a 40-year-old mom who commutes to King County, not unlike many District 1 residents, plus an intriguing background in financial compliance analysis, electrical engineering and fine arts.
Don’t be surprised if Jackson’s name surfaces for future political opportunities.
In District 5, Democrat Marty Campbell is a shoo-in to take over for Talbert. A two-term Tacoma City Council veteran, Campbell, 47, seems almost destined to represent the dense core of Tacoma’s Eastside, South End (where he lives) and unincorporated neighborhoods running to Parkland, Spanaway, Midland and Summit.
He used to own video and music stores, and now manages the Salishan Community Association. His mashup of private-public-nonprofit acumen gives him credibility on a range of issues, from affordable housing to business-and-occupation taxes.
We’ll stick with the description of Campbell in our primary election endorsement: “the heart of a liberal activist and mind of a small businessman.”
If Campbell comes straight out of central casting, his opponent arrives via the costume change room. Justin Van Dyk, 30, has run for office and lost on several occasions, previously as a progressive and a Young Democrat; he’s since refashioned himself an anti-tax Republican.
Van Dyk declined to meet with us this time, but we did interview him during his bid for City Council last year. Kudos for his volunteerism in the city where he grew up, including service on the 2013 Tacoma Charter Review Committee. But he’s clearly not ready to fill one of the seven foremost political offices in the South Sound.
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. To see the database, go online to verifymore.org