When you watch too much Jon Stewart, you run the risk of ending up like 87-year-old Dave Olinger. At least that’s what his wife says anyway.
The North Whidbey resident is running as a write-in candidate for Island County sheriff in an effort that’s both serious and symbolic, but also intentionally provocative and a bit tongue-in-cheek.
Olinger originally wanted to run as a member of the nudist party, but settled for the Democratic party after finding that the state didn’t recognize the au naturale crowd as a political organization.
That didn’t stop Olinger, however, from stripping his shirt off and posing with a Japanese rifle for a photo shoot with the South Whidbey Record. He said his intention was to mimic Vladimir Putin, whose shirtless poses have been lampooned internationally.
“I’m pretty ferocious,” Olinger said.
Olinger was unhappy that a number of seats for elected positions in Island County were unopposed by Democratic candidates, so he decided to do something about it. He grabbed the microphone at a recent Island County Democrats event and announced his plans to run as a write-in candidate for Island County sheriff. Or for any other open position.
“He’s a well-intentioned person concerned about a very real problem,” said Aaron Simpson, chairman of the Island County Democrats.
Olinger is a Democrat to a nearly stereotypical extent; a ponytail, perhaps, would sent him over the edge. He regularly watches PBS and such liberal bulwarks as Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert and, of course, satirical news host Jon Stewart.
In fact, his unusual campaign style could make him a natural subject for the Daily Show and it’s clear that Olinger is aware of it.
He called the Whidbey News-Times to declare his candidacy this week. The day after his interview, he called back to check — mischievously — if the newspaper had heard from Jon Stewart yet.
His wife, Kay, takes his hijinks in stride.
“I just think he watches too much Jon Stewart,” she said.
To make it on the ballot for the general election, Olinger only needs to win 1 percent of the vote cast for the sheriff position in the Aug. 5 primary, according to Island County Deputy Auditor Michele Reagan. Voters just need to write in “Dave Olinger” for the position. Based on results from the 2010 primary, he will need about 180 write-in votes to qualify to be on the ballot for the general election.
“I’ve got new eyes and new ears, so I thought it was the right time to give it a try,” he said, referring to his new glasses and hearing aids.
Olinger is challenging incumbent Mark Brown, who’s seeking his third term at sheriff. He said he likes and respects Brown, but he’s upset that Brown runs as a Republican.
“Why would anyone want a Republican sheriff?” he asked, rhetorically. “I can’t understand if he’s a good man, why is he running as a Republican? Does he think he has to appease the Tea Party?”
Nevertheless, he said there’s room for Brown in an Olinger administration.
“If he will stay on, I’ll make him my number one deputy,” he said.
Brown said he welcomes people to run for any public office, but he hopes residents take voting seriously.
“People need to take a good look at any candidate,” he said, “to see why that person wants to run and if the person is qualified.”
Olinger argued that he is qualified. He tried to volunteer to join the U.S. Navy during World War II, but was rejected because of a medical bed-wetting problem. He said the U.S. Army, however, later drafted him and he became a marksman, a good skill to have as sheriff.
“It was around the time of the Battle of the Bulge,” he said. “They were running low on skinny guys.”
He ended up serving in post-war Japan. Afterward, he earned a degree from Berkeley; he pointed out that he took a course in constitutional law, which seems relevant to the position.
He worked as a surveyor and draftsman and then as a school teacher for six years, including one year as a driver’s education teacher. Again, he said the latter is a handy skill for a sheriff. He was then a social worker for 20 years in San Diego.
“What I really wanted to be is a political philosopher,” he said. “That’s really what I am, but nobody was hiring.”