San Juan County voters gave strong indication that experience matters, as council incumbent Jamie Stephens grabbed a decisive lead over political newcomer Brian McClerren Tuesday in the race for the District 3 County Council post.
But the race was no runaway, as McClerren collected 43 percent of votes counted in the initial April 23 election tally. Stephens, chairman of the council, claimed 57 percent of ballots counted in the early results, 3,021 votes in all. McClerren had 2,260 votes as of Tuesday.
Updated results are expected by Wednesday, 5 p.m., with as many as another 1,300 ballots expected to be counted before the final results are certified on May 7.
Still, Auditor Milene Henley said later tallies rarely change the trend to a degree that overturns the trends established in an initial count of a local election, and predicts that Stephens will win the District 3 race.
"I don't expect the outcome to change," she said.
As of Tuesday, voter-turnout for the April 23 election stands at 49 percent, with 5,818 ballots processed and a total of 11,952 registered voters. Another 1,300 ballots would push the turnout up to 60 percent.
"Sixty percent would be astonishingly high for a spring election," Henley said.
Tuesday's election follows on the heels of a series of changes to the county charter approved by voters in November, which reduced the size of the county council from six elected officials to three, redrew the legislative districts of the council from six to three as well, and instituted countywide elections for each of the newly created council positions.
In addition, changes to the charter turned those three council offices into full-time positions, eliminated the position of county administrator, and delivered responsibility for both legislative duties and day-to-day management of the county into the hands of the council.
As full-time legislators with executive powers, the three council members chosen in the April 23 election will each earn $75,000 a year, plus benefits.
In a first-ever bid for public office, McClerren, positioned himself as a reformer and advocate of young working families, campaigning against increasing regulations and unnecessary county spending, and calling for greater economic opportunities.
"A new generation of young people has not appeared to replace an aging workforce," he said during the campaign. "We are facing an economic crisis."
Through he drew the endorsement of and financial support of the only political action committee in the election, Trust Islanders, McClerren trailed Stephens in fundraising and campaign spending. He spent $6,470 of his campaign fund, while Trust Islanders contributed $6,381 in promoting the McClerren campaign.
Elected in 2010 to a two-year council term, Stephens drew endorsed by the local Democratic party. A former port commissioner, and water/sewer district commission, and board member of the Lopez Family Resource Center and Lopez Community Land Trust, Stephens raised nearly $20,000 and spent $15,628 during the campaign.
An active voice and support of San Juan Islands recent designation as a National Monument, Stephens ran on a record of public service.
"I believe that healthy communities depend on jobs through a vibrant, diversified economy; strong connected neighborhoods; and protection of the natural environment," he said.
— Scott Rasmussen