Referendum on status quo in race for Snohomish County Executive

Oct 31, 2011

Tough times demand tough leaders.  But what kind of tough?

Voters from places as diverse as Stanwood, Edmonds and Everett are deciding who will serve as Snohomish County Executive.

Incumbent Democrat Aaron Reardon is seeking a 3rd term. His Republican challenger is Mike Hope, a state lawmaker who is a former Marine Corps reservist and works as a Seattle police detective. 

Two sides of the economy

Snohomish County is the state’s third-largest county by population, one of the fastest growing in terms of jobs and it’s where Boeing has kept its biggest aircraft assembly lines.

Yet the area is also suffering in the great recession – with some of the state’s highest unemployment and foreclosure rates.

The debate

Take the small rural city of Stanwood, near Camano Island.

On a recent Wednesday night, voters attending a local candidates forum in a middle school gymnasium here are puzzling about how to get businesses back into empty storefronts, and how to pay for an effective fire department.

The contenders for Snohomish County Executive take their turn on the stage. Both candidates wear business suits and cowboy boots. A moderator from the American Association of University Women gives the challenger the first word; she says they're moving alphabetically.

The challenger

Mike Hope gives an impassioned statement about his vision of Snohomish county as a bright spot in the economy – but we’re not there yet.

“I know people in my community that have lost their jobs. And they’re looking for leadership," Hope says. "They want to see somebody that has answers. They don’t want to see managing to the status quo."

The Republican lawmaker and police detective cites his home in Lake Stevens as an example– he says there’s a foreclosure across the street and one right next door.

The incumbent

Aaron Reardon says there's no denying that times are tough. But the Democrat in the race says he’s still proud of his record of fiscal discipline.

“We’re the only county, the only county in the entire Puget Sound region, that can say we have a balanced budget and a surplus," he says. "And we have not raised general fund property taxes in eight years.”  

At the same time, Reardon says he’s focused on economic development – things like a plan to help the farmers and food processors near Stanwood stay afloat. He also says he's worked hard with other local officials to keep the high-quality blue and white-collar jobs that Snohomish County is famous for at Boeing’s biggest factory, in Everett.

Reardon says he wants to be re-elected because Everett is his home town. He was born and raised in the county seat and says his administration has helped make it a better place.  

"No one else in this region has matched the gains we’ve made in Snohomish County," Reardon says. "We’re creating more jobs than anybody else in this entire region. And we’re creating jobs with a higher average annual wage than we’ve ever created in the past.”

The mud fight

Hope says he knows he’s up against a strong incumbent.  But he’s ambitious. He’s run a hard-charging campaign, accusing Reardon’s office of corruption and mismanagement. Reardon’s camp has swung back, digging up the unflattering details of some early missteps in Hope’s career as a rookie police officer.   

For a 10-minute dose of the rancor that many are calling a dog fight, check out this debate on King 5's Upfront with Robert Mac. 

All that aside, Hope says he’d bring a new, more open bi-partisan style to the county’s highest office. He wants to collaborate with all the small town mayors and city councils in the county to make sure the infrastructure and services are in place to accommodate all of the region’s rapid growth. 

Hope says those skills are something he’s honed both as a cop on the beat in West Seattle and especially, in his past three years in Olympia.

“It’s not easy to pass legislation as a minority legislator," Hope says. "But we not only have passed significant legislation, we’ve passed a constitutional amendment. With 85 percent statewide – the only way you get that done is by working with others and not worrying about who gets credits for things and moving forward on that – that’s leadership.”

Hope is referring to the Lakewood Police Memorial Act, which gives judges the option of denying bail to dangerous criminals. He co-sponsored the bill in the wake of the murder of four police officers by convicted felon Maurice Clemmons in 2009.

But incumbent Reardon says he isn’t worried about losing his job.

Since it was first chartered in 1979, the Snohomish County Executive’s office has never been held by a Republican.