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Sheriff: Nou's lead secure; Johnson's lead for second spot on ballot holds

The primary election is Aug. 17. The two top vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation or preference, will advance to the Nov. 2 general election.  - Contributed photo
The primary election is Aug. 17. The two top vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation or preference, will advance to the Nov. 2 general election.
— image credit: Contributed photo

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-- U.S. House, 2nd District: Rematch between Larsen, Koster.
-- 40th District, position 1: Precarious lead for Newman.
-- 40th District, position 2: Morris, Swapp advance to general election.
-- San Juan County election results.

San Juan County Sheriff's Detective Brent Johnson's hold on a general election ballot spot continued to hold as ballots were counted Wednesday.

With 400 ballots to be counted Thursday, Johnson was still the second-place finisher in the race for sheriff. He had 1,247 votes, Probation Officer Brad Fincher has 1,151, Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Asher had 1,121, and Sheriff's Deputy Felix Menjivar had 735.

Sheriff's Deputy Rob Nou held a commanding lead, leading the five-candidate field with 2,086. The two top vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 2 general election.

When voting closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, the vote count was Nou, 1,495; Johnson, 1,066 votes; Fincher, 956; Asher, 945; and Menjivar, 618.

As of Wednesday, the voter turnout was 60.41 percent. All told, 11,490 ballots were mailed out in this election.

Wednesday, County Councilman Bob Myhr had 514 votes and Lopez Port Commissioner Jaime Stephens had 486 to lead in the primary for the Lopez/Shaw seat on the San Juan County Council. Jerry Gonce, a retired city manager, was third with 355 votes.

On Orcas Island, voters were rejecting a $27 million bond measure for improvements to the elementary and high schools and for construction of a new middle school. The vote was 1,013 yes, 1,182 no.

And there was an interesting development in the race for prosecuting attorney. Incumbent Randy Gaylord, the only candidate to file, ran into a surprising amount of opposition; there were 307 write-in votes, almost 9 percent of the votes cast by Tuesday. If any one of the write-ins receives 1 percent of the votes cast in that race, that write-in candidate will advance to the general election, county Communications Manager Stan Matthews reported.

Wednesday, Gaylord had 4,104 votes.

The sheriff earns $97,514 a year and manages a staff of 36 full-time employees and a budget of $2.3 million, which includes: $719,219, dispatch; $472,888, Enhanced E-911; $398,920, jail; and $209,615, Emergency Management.

Nou, a former administrative sergeant and police chief who was endorsed by The Journal and The Sounder, was at an EMS drill on Lopez Island when voting closed Tuesday night.

"I'm trying to keep some sense of normalcy in my life and not get twitterpated," Nou said before the election.

But on Election Eve, he was "feeling confident" based on feedback he was getting on the islands.

Nou joined the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy after four years as police chief in Burns, Ore., and has 29 years of law enforcement experience, much of that as an administrative sergeant with the Yamhill County, Ore., Sheriff’s Department. He’s managed or supervised drug-abuse awareness programs, a multi-agency traffic accident investigation team, traffic safety enforcement grant projects, and a city police department.

In Oregon, Nou lobbied for state funding for Healthy Start and Early Head Start programs, saying tough law enforcement is essential “but we’ll win a victory over crime only when our commitment to putting dangerous criminals in jail is matched by our commitment to investing in our children.”

Nou knows the challenges of running a tightly-funded and tightly staffed department. As police chief, Nou and four full-time officers provided law enforcement in the county seat of the largest county in area in Oregon. His 911 center served the entire county.

Nou moved to Lopez Island in 2008 and has been active there as an EMT and with the Lopez Island Prevention Coalition. He worked hard to become known to voters on other islands, presenting himself as being "thoughtful, reasoned, and prepared to do the job."

"I've kind of put myself out there, tried to get the message out there with the time and resources I had to work with, and tried to offer an option to folks. If that message was resonant, the outcome will be one way."

The top concern among voters on the campaign trail: "One of the overriding questions concerned drug issues and how to deal with the drug abuse problems within the islands. That's the No. 1 question," he said.

A personal concern: He'd like to see the standards raised for candidates for sheriff in Washington state. Although he didn't mention anyone by name, one candidate for San Juan County sheriff is not a sworn officer with law enforcement experience. If elected, the candidate would have to attend the academy within a year, taking him away from the job.

In Oregon, where Nou served as a sheriff's sergeant and police chief, a candidate for sheriff must obtain a letter from the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training certifying that he or she meets qualifying requirements before being able to run.

"It strikes me as kind of ironic in a way, that to choose a sheriff, you go through this electoral process that may or may not have much to do with somebody being qualified to do the job," Nou said. "Until jumping into this, it never really struck me that that was how this process works. The office of sheriff requires a pretty broad body of knowledge in order to do the job and to be effective."

Johnson's first run at elected office was an eye-opener for him. Election Eve, he said he was pleasantly surprised at the number of islanders who took time out to ask questions about issues that affect the Sheriff's Office, about the ideas he has for managing the department, and who were genuinely interested in knowing more about each of the five candidates seeking to fill the position Sheriff Bill Cumming has held for 24 years.

"As a whole, the people have been grand," he said. "They came up to us and shook our hands at so many different events, and there were so many people who wanted to know who I am and the ideas I have about running the department. I think a lot of people were amazed about all the things we have to do to follow the law. That was one of the interesting parts."

During the campaign, Johnson, lead detective the past eight years, noted that budget woes could diminish the resources the department has available to properly train officers and support staff, such as dispatchers. He advocates bolstering those resources through greater use of the sheriff's work crew, boosting the ranks and duties of volunteer reserve deputies, partnering with other law enforcement agencies, and aggressively seeking state, federal and foundation grants.

Combating drug and alcohol abuse appeared to be on the minds of many over the course of the primary campaign, which, he said, turned out to be a mostly civil one.

"It started to take a turn and there was a cloudy, negative part for a while," he said. "But the department as a whole is sound, and I will continue to be a part of it however this thing turns out."

With little experience in political campaigning to draw on, Johnson said the day before the primary that he was unsure which two candidates would advance to the general election. He has a booth set aside at the San Juan County Fair, however, and will be busy campaigning there should he be one of the top two.

"I'll be there if I'm one of the top two," he said. "After that, I'll be trying to make contact with voters who supported another candidate and let them know they're welcome in my camp and that I'd like to speak with them."

-- With reporting by Scott Rasmussen and Richard Walker

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