Local elections: Not much choice

by Andrea Miller

When Walla Walla voters enter the poll booths in the coming county elections, they will not be burdened with the choice of numerous candidates.

Only one name will be listed on the ballots in upcoming area elections for positions such as auditor, clerk, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and assessor. Bob Biles, candidate for county commissioner, cites numerous reasons for this trend in local politics. He said that, for the most part, “people just don’t want to do it.” Biles said that once the position is filled, the incumbent has a great advantage in future elections. For example, if a sheriff’s deputy were to run against the sheriff and lose, the deputy would lose his job. Similarly, the incumbent has a certain amount of knowledge and information ascertained from already holding the position that helps his credibility in the election.

Biles also said that when voters enter the polls in elections like these, they vote for either the Democrat or the Republican ticket, as opposed to voting for the candidates and their platforms. According to Biles, partisanship should not be the concern when choosing candidates for positions like the County Coroner. In Walla Walla and the whole of eastern Washington, most voters and candidates are Republicans. As such, it is tough for Democrats like Biles to succeed in the elections. He said that many possible candidates assume that “it’s not worth it” for them to run and lose because of their partisanship. Biles says that he knows of at least two Democrats currently holding office in the county who run under the Republican ticket in order to get a win at the polls.

The Cascade Mountains do more than divide just the geology and geography of the state. What Biles referred to as the “Cascade Curtain” separates the very Democrat-influenced western half from the very Republican-influenced eastern half of Washington. Local politics in those areas, according to Biles, are 180° from Walla Walla. Whereas Walla Walla has only a handful of Democrats, the number of Republicans holding office in western Washington is quite sparse. These geographical and political trends make it hard for any members of the underdog party to find success in local elections.

Biles acknowledged that being listed as a Democrat on the ballot will hinder his chances in the election, but he felt that it was his “civic duty” to run. In a time when the growth management of Walla Walla county needs to be restructured, Biles thinks the current commission is headed in a “bad direction,” and taking the risk of running against the incumbent is the first step he can take in making a change.

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