EDITOR’S NOTE: Phillips, Jarrett in executive race

For the first time in more than a decade, there’s a real race for King County executive. It couldn’t come at a better time. The county is hopelessly mired in runaway costs and sinking revenues.

Old ways of thinking, old ways of doing business, are not going to right the ship. Nor will the old-style, partisan politics that are still very much evident even in this nonpartisan race.

The executive race in 2009 needs to set the stage for a transformation of the way King County operates. We keep hearing the county is a regional government. If that’s so, then there’s no need to talk about foot ferries that would serve only small populations (including in cities, such as Renton) or about human rights in Iran.

All this doesn’t mean that someone already in position of county leadership can’t step up and do the job as the county’s top dog. I am a firm believer in institutional memory. I am also a firm believer in learning from our mistakes. The boundaries of common sense and the law (remember a provision in the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance that was struck down by the state Supreme Court?) have been sorely tested by some sitting members of the County Council. Let’s hope they remember the lesson. And I don’t need someone new to learn the lessons all over again.

Which brings me back to the five viable candidates (out of eight) running for King County executive in the Aug. 18 primary. There are only two qualified to advance to the general election in November. One is a County Council member Larry Phillips.

Yes, dare I say it, he’s a Democrat, but that’s almost a prerequisite if you want to get elected in a countywide race. Phillips is one of the senior Democrats on the council; he has the institutional memory. He has learned the lessons of failed policies (I hope), finding (or at least willing to acknowledge) that all-important political middle ground (I hope).

He is a leading advocate of land-use planning, which is important in preserving rural unincorporated areas, where the county is the government. He’s an advocate of the environment and is a great friend of the Cedar River.

Importantly, he has slowly stepped out of the shadow of the charismatic Ron Sims, the longtime county executive who was called to duty in Washington, D.C., by President Obama. Some have considered Phillips an understudy for Sims.

But Phillips of Seattle is going to have lessen his ties to organized labor, a tough thing to do for a Democrat who’s looking out for the working stiff and for contributions. He may have to lay off county workers and he may have to increase the cost of their medical benefits in order to pay for the county’s core missions. But, that’s no different than what’s happening in the private sector.

The second person who should make it to the general election ballot is state Sen. Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island, also a Democrat who not too long ago was a member of the Republican Party. He likes to say that when he was a Republican, people said he sounded like a Democrat. You can imagine what people say now that he’s a a Democrat. A Republican, of course.

But in my view (and in his) that puts him in the middle of the political spectrum. Maybe that doesn’t make for exciting headlines, but I think it helps to put the “non” in nonpartisan.

I like Jarrett’s vision for county government, what he considers its core mission. He spelled out this vision – and how he would pay for it – in a detailed white paper. Here’s his bottom line:

• public safety, including police, jails and courts

• public health, which includes a health center in Renton

• regional parks, including Petrovitsky Park

• environmental quality

• public transportation, including bus service where it makes the most sense

Stick to these and we have a regional government.

Also, Jarrett brings a sharp financial pencil to the table. He has learned how to cut and control costs in the private and public sectors. He has the mindset that we need to bring financial responsibility to county government, a mindset more typical of a Republican.

Phillips and Jarrett will give us a choice between two candidates who could step in and do the job. They could begin the transformation of county government beset by spending beyond its means (the economic reality) and by promises it can no longer afford to keep (the political reality).


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