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Voters can incumbents, oppose new taxes

Almost no candidate nor booster of a tax issue in Island County had reason to go to bed Tuesday night with a good feeling about the election.

Incumbents lost or saw the day and this weekend with inconclusive results from the polls, while on South Whidbey a fire district levy failed to meet voter approval for the first time in years.

With about 20,000 Island County votes counted and about 5,000 to go Friday, some of the people on this year's midterm ballot were hoping for last-minute miracles, while others were getting ready to go back to work. Overall, Tuesday was not a good time to be an incumbent. Victims at the polls as of Friday appeared to be Island County Commissioner Bill Thorn, County Clerk Jane Koetje and Treasurer Maxine Sauter, as all three fell behind in the vote counts.

At the same time, County Prosecutor Greg Banks was leading a close contest with sitting state Rep. Kelly Barlean. By Friday, Banks led by about 2,000 votes in a race that pitted the incumbent's experience against the challenger's name recognition. That was a bigger margin than election night and one that gave him confidence that he will be prosecuting cases for the county for the next four years.

"I've learned that in elections, the best you can do is guess," he said.

Until the vote tally is completed and certified next week, best guesses may be all some candidates have to go on. While those running for state or federal office -- such as Congressional frontrunner Rep. Rick Larsen and 10th District legislative candidate Barbara Bailey -- can be reasonably assured of victory based on voting trends in multiple counties, results for Island County offices are less sure. Bill Thorn, who won a race for county commissioner four years ago by 38 votes over then-incumbent Tom Shaughnessy, said Thursday that opponent Bill Byrd's 300-plus vote lead is not guaranteed to hold.

"Historically, they've been close," Thorn said of elections in his commissioner district. "I didn't expect this to be any different."

Behind by margins of 2,000 votes or more by the end of the week were Koetje and Sauter. Sharon Franzen, a veteran deputy clerk whom Koetje fired last summer, was poised to be the new county clerk this week, while Oak Harbor High School administrator Linda Riffe was on her way to ending Sauter's 16-year tenure as treasurer.

County voters did not show a clear preference for one party over another, as they favored three Democrats in six contests. Republicans were strong in the bigger races, as county voters picked Clinton's Norma Smith over Rep. Larsen and Bailey over LaConner mayor Eron Berg by small margins. Districtwide, however, Larsen led Smith by more than 5 percentage points. Bailey was also up about 5 percent in her voting district.

Ballot issues, especially those concerning tax money, had more Island County voters on the same page. More than 60 percent of voters in Fire District 3 voted against a levy that would have raised district property taxes by 11 cents per $1,000 of valuation.

Prior to the election, FD3 Chief Don Smith said the levy's failure would not have an immediate effect on the district. However, he said the district would not be able to afford to build a new central facility on land it owns on Thompson Road without the money. He also said the district will start to fall behind on banking vehicle replacement money.

At the state level, Referendum 51, a measure that would have imposed a 9 cent gasoline tax to pay for transportation improvements, was voted down by about 62 percent of state voters. Initiative 776, which fixes vehicle license tab fees at $30, was on its way to passage by a 6 percent margin.

In Island County and statewide, voters defeated Referendum 53, which would have changed how employers pay unemployment taxes, and approved House Joint Resolution 4220. That measure allows fire districts to run four- to six-year levy issues that exceed the 1 percent tax increase cap established by I-747 in 2001.

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