In our opinion: Incumbents, Lam, Mauck best choices in county elections

The editorial board is endorsing the incumbents who are running for re-election in county races.

Newspaper endorsements are a time-honored tradition in this country. But with the current state of polarization, many newspapers no longer venture endorsements in these larger races but focus instead on campaigns for local government, where governing is a hands-on, ground-level affair.

Local government is where guidance to voters is most valuable since citizens often have little awareness of local elected officials, especially if they are quietly doing their jobs well.

With that in mind, the News-Times editorial board is endorsing the incumbents who are running for re-election in Island County races. Their challengers should be commended for raising important issues and making democracy shine on the local level. Nonetheless, they haven’t been persuasive in arguing that there’s a need for change.

In two other county races, candidates are vying to replace officials who are stepping down or retiring.

In the race for treasurer, Tony Lam is clearly the best person for the job. He is current Treasurer Wanda Grone’s invaluable chief deputy and she has endorsed him despite the fact that he’s a Democrat and she’s a Republican. She points out that the office is highly technical and statute-driven, a place where partisan politics has no role.

Richard MacQuarrie, a Republican from Camano, is a successful manager of a sales team in a large company. He’s very agreeable, smart and has some good ideas about increasing transparency, but he’s not a substitute for the person who already runs the office well.

The race for assessor is much harder to call. Republican Kelly Mauck, the former undersheriff, is facing T.J. Kubisiak, who is running with no party preference. They both would likely do a good job in office, but Mauck is our choice because he is a known entity. He is a quick learner and was known for being transparent, competent and articulate as undersheriff. He is endorsed by Democrat Commissioner Melanie Bacon, who worked with him when she was HR manager, which is significant.

Kubisiak, on the other hand, actually has experience working in the office and is endorsed by the current assessor, Bernie Upchurch and former Assessor Dave Mattens. He worked part-time and left because he didn’t want to work full-time. We wonder if that has changed.

The most high-profile race with an incumbent is undoubtedly for commissioner. Commissioner Janet St. Clair, a Democrat who lives on Camano Island, digs deep into issues, engages in conversations with a wide range of people, keeps her district informed and cares about doing the right thing. She helped guide county government through the pandemic with few hiccups and surprisingly little political ballyhoo. She can be a little thin-skinned but remains professional.

Challenger Tim Hazelo, a North Whidbey Republican, is engaging, has strong opinions and would perhaps be a more exciting commissioner, but he has a temperament more suited to Congress or talk radio. He’s good with slogans but not so much when it comes to giving specific details about his plans. Yet his conservative message appeals to a wide swath of the community and he is likely to do well in the election.

The other high-profile county race is for sheriff. Rick Felici, the incumbent sheriff, is facing fellow Republican and longtime colleague Deputy Lane Campbell for the second time.

The word that best describes Felici is “reasonable,” as in having sound judgment and being fair and sensible. He doesn’t enjoy the politics of running for office, steadfastly runs a clean campaign and stays away from social media gossip and innuendo. And that’s what you want in a sheriff. After rising through the ranks of the office, he’s settled at the helm as a competent leader and administrator who understands the changing needs and expectations of law enforcement.

After more than 30 years on the road, Campbell understands the job of being a patrol deputy like few others. He’s frustrated by what he sees as a lack of communication from the department leadership. He understands firsthand how staffing problems affect deputies and would bring a sense of urgency to hiring practices. What he lacks is experience in leadership and administration, which would be a big change from hands-on law enforcement.

More worrisome, Campbell said he will be a “constitutional sheriff,” which is a belief that federal and state government authorities are subordinate to the local authority of county sheriffs and that a sheriff has legal authority to defy laws he deems to be unconstitutional. Sure, he’s right that not all laws are enforced — like those against adultery or jaywalking — but that’s different than claiming authority in an ironically unconstitutional manner.

County Clerk Debra Van Pelt and Auditor Sheilah Crider are veterans of their offices and well respected in county government. Their challengers bring up some issues that we hope they will address, such as the working environment in the clerk’s office, but there is no reason for change.