State House District 19
The 19th District House race between incumbent Jim Walsh and challenger Erin Frasier could be a stand-in for the national referendum on government known as the 2018 midterm elections. President Donald Trump and his supporters are on one side, pushing the notion of disruption of government to the point of destruction of government.
And that’s why we’re endorsing Erin Frasier, a first-time candidate who is thoughtful and well spoken and believes government can be part of the solution to some of the problems that ail rural Washington — as opposed to Walsh, whose default lens sees government as an impediment.
In temperament, Frasier seems like the type who is willing to work with whoever can help benefit her rural district. The 19th has had a history of moderate Democrats — Arlie DeJarnatt, Sid Snyder, Mark Doumit, Brian Hatfield, Dean Takko and Brian Blake — who have been credible players in that middle ground between their Republican colleagues and the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Frasier seems as if she’ll fit on that list.
They have markedly different styles. Walsh is blunt, bordering on confrontational. Frasier is more about consensus.
We’re tired of hostility in politics. The country can’t take much more. The 19th is one legislative district in one state, but it’s as good a place to start as any.
The Grays Harbor County auditor’s race has a pair of highly qualified candidates. We believe either of them is capable of doing the job. That said, we are endorsing Chris Thomas, who is just finishing his first year, having been appointed when previous auditor Vern Spatz retired.
Thomas seems to have kept things steady through the transition and moved it forward in at least a couple of ways. He thinks in broad strokes that could lead to innovation in the office. For instance, he’s introducing a system that allows citizens to pay fees by credit or debit cards. Seems like a simple enough change, but it didn’t happen until he got there.
Another major accomplishment on his watch has been installation of new tabulation equipment. We’re impressed that Thomas gives the credit for that to those in the office who started it before he got there.
He has an inclusive management style and talks about addressing major systemic solutions designed to get more from less — the major challenge of every government agency and small business.
The Auditor’s Office is in charge of elections — its most important function. In that, Thomas’ opponent Joe MacLean has a clear edge. MacLean works for the state Secretary of State’s Office and trains other election workers statewide. He has several years experience and was recruited to Olympia because he did a good job in the Okanagan County Auditor’s Office.
Offsetting that is that Grays Harbor already has a highly qualified elections supervisor in Scott Turnbull, who has many years of experience in election administration in King, Pierce and Pacific counties. He was hired from Pacific County not long before Thomas was appointed.
MacLean has more experience in the various phases of the Auditor’s Office, but the Elections department is already in good hands and Thomas will catch up with the practical side of the job, and he’s already shown that he’s doing well on the management side of it.
Superior Court judge
Here again, both candidates are qualified.
The incumbent, Ray Kahler, was appointed to fill Judge Mark McCauley’s seat upon retirement and now has to run for election. The challenger, David Mistachkin, is a private defense attorney who served a stint as a District Court judge and is now a pro-tem judge for several municipalities, sitting on their courts from time to time.
Again, there is big difference in styles. Mistachkin is loquacious and seems always in high gear. He works extremely hard and has proved to be a very good courtroom defense attorney.
Kahler is measured and studious with a reputation for exhaustive research and thoroughness. For that reason, we are endorsing him for Superior Court judge.
A major issue in the race has been Kahler’s handling of a Montesano case in which a young woman was nearly abducted, saved by her own screaming and fighting back. This was a bench trial, meaning Kahler, not a jury, would decide. A very shortened version of the story is that Kahler had reasonable doubt on the most serious charges because there was no evidence or testimony that indicated the man had a gun and, therefore, force or a threat of force wasn’t present.
There was an immediate social media storm and on its heels, a motion from the prosecutor asking the judge to reconsider. Kahler did, and in his legal research found cases that allowed him to find the defendant guilty on one of the tougher charges and sentence him to eight months.
His critics say Kahler caved in to pressure. We see it like this: First, he offered up what he knew would be a deeply unpopular verdict because he truly had reasonable doubt, given the circumstances that had to be present to prove the charges. And second, he was willing to entertain the possibility that he’d made a mistake and then did research that challenged his original finding.
That sounds judicial enough to us.
The county clerk’s position is another with a pair of good candidates. The candidates are Janice Louthan, who, as chief deputy clerk, is second in command of the office, and Kym Foster, who works for the Grays Harbor County Washington State University Extension Office.
We are endorsing Foster. She has no direct experience, but she has pledged to make the office a less foreboding place to the legal and law enforcement community — along with regular old citizens — who have to do business there.
The office has developed a reputation as off-putting and sometimes unhelpful. It went way off the rails two years ago when the current Clerk Cheryl Brown took advantage of her position inside the office and helped get the word to her pastor that police had an arrest warrant for him. Officially, it was public record and she was not charged with a crime. But it spoiled an element of surprise police were counting on and put the case at risk.
We don’t hold Louthan responsible for that, and those who say she should have quit over it or done more to impede her boss weren’t there and are probably asking more of her than they’d have done themselves.
But we think the Clerk’s Office needs a change of culture. They handle Superior Court paperwork there, and when citizens come in it’s on serious matters, involving complicated things.
We don’t want people in that office giving legal advice, but we have seen instances when just a little empathy and helpfulness would have steered someone to the answer they needed.
For the record, Janice Louthan has been helpful and professional in her dealings with The Daily World over the years, but we don’t think it’s realistic to think she can change the culture in the office after having worked in it for 20 years.
Members of the Grays Harbor News Group’s editorial board are Stan Woody, Doug Barker, Angelo Bruscas, Michael Lang and David Haerle.