For the 31st District: Dahlquist, Hurst, Stokesbary

We’re not sure if it’s the water or what, but the political culture of the 31st Legislative District has a slightly madcap quality.

Straddling Piece and King Counties, and encompassing Sumner, Bonney Lake, Enumclaw, Buckley and part of Auburn, the 31st produces quirky candidates who revel in being political mavericks.

It’s a conservative district where conventional Democrats have tough going – yet state Rep. Chris Hurst of Enumclaw, who bills himself as an “Independent Democrat,” has been winning elections in House Position 2 for 14 years.

The former detective and police commander is a proud member of the “roadkill caucus,” a group of centrist Democrats who have often put the brakes on the Seattle-liberal impulses of the House Democratic majority.

Hurst has been challenged this year by “Independent Republican” Phil Fortunato, a longtime Auburn resident served a term in the Legislature from 1998 to 2000. Fortunato has not made a case for unseating the incumbent; we again endorse Hurst.In the race for the open House Position 1, Enumclaw City Councilman and educator Mike Sando, a Democrat, is facing Auburn Republican Drew Stokesbary, an attorney and policy aide for the King County Council.

These are both good candidates, but we think Stokesbary better reflects the conservative 31st and would be more likely to part ways with his caucus than would Sando, a past president of the Enumclaw teachers union.

Unlike many Republicans, Stokesbary understands that a gas tax increase might be needed if projects such as completion of state Route 167 are to be funded. That practical perspective will be needed in the coming session.

The Senate race is very much a referendum on the incumbent, Pam Roach, who faces Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw, a fellow Republican.

Sen. Roach is a package deal; there’s no way to get the good without also buying the bad.

She’s been a champion of open government and an advocate for her constituents when local issues flare up. Lest her campaign be tempted to rip that last sentence out of context and put it on signs, we’ll quickly add that she is notoriously combative on a personal level and has antagonized many of her colleagues in the Legislature.

A key test of character for those who possess power is the way they treat subordinates. Roach has failed this test.

A bully, she has repeatedly verbally abused legislative staff members to the point that she was subjected to an independent investigation and formally reprimanded by the Senate in 2010. To prevent her from further harassing employees, she was barred from direct contact with Republican Caucus staff and ordered not to speak to nonpartisan staff members of committees she did belong to. These extreme measures were provoked by extreme misconduct.

Senate Republicans later lifted the sanctions, but only because they needed her vote.

Roach’s opponent, Dahlquist, shares her conservative views but not her aggressive, bullying style. We think temperament is decisive in this race. The district should send Dahlquist to the Senate.

Read more endorsement editorials at www.thenewstribune.com/endorsements.