by Doug Mah, Doug Mah and Associates and Thurston Chamber Public Policy Director
Next year, 2022, we expect the Commission for the Port of Olympia to be very different. That is because two of three commissioner positions are on the ballot this year and incumbent Commissioners Bill McGregor and E.J. Zita indicated that they will not be seeking reelection. Assuming the incumbents don’t change their mind, that means we’ll have two new port commissioners. Changing two-thirds of the port commission could bring many new ideas for the only public entity that specifically states its mission is “to create economic opportunities by connecting Thurston County to the world by air, land and sea.”
There is a possibility that we could see an equally large change in the make-up of the Olympia City Council. In Olympia, five of seven city council members are on the ballot this year. However, only current councilmember Renata Rollins has indicated that she will not be seeking reelection. It could mean big changes for the Capital City if the four remaining incumbents are “swept” out of office by “disgruntled” voters.
Equally significant is the coming change in the City of Tumwater. Mayor Pete Kmet has indicated that he will not be seeking reelection. A new Mayor could bring significant change since Tumwater is a non-charter code city, where the Mayor is the elected chief executive officer and is expected to administer or carry out policies adopted by the seven-member city council. This year three of seven councilmember positions are on the ballot. Plus the City Council will appoint a new councilmember to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Councilmember Tom Oliva.
In Yelm, which is also a non-charter code city, we have the potential for a very dynamic situation. Current Mayor JW Foster has indicated that he will not be seeking reelection. Like Tumwater, this is a significant change. Adding to the potential for change is that four of seven city councilmember positions are on the ballot. And, not to be outdone, The City of Lacey has a majority four of seven councilmember positions on the ballot this year.
Coming out of 2020 we have witnessed two things: elected leadership matters and our voice at the ballot box counts. Local, “off-year” elections, typically don’t generate public interest like elections for Presidents, Governors, Congressional or State Legislative Offices. In fact, in the last local election in 2019 the Thurston County voter turnout was less than 44 percent. Far lower than 84 percent turnout for the 2020 Presidential election. This year, expect turn out will be higher as the local stakes will be higher.
We expect a healthy debate about the future of our communities since the majority of Councilmember positions are on the ballots. We should embrace the excitement created by new ideas, challenges to the status quo, new voices for those that are unheard, and the new and compelling energy to address our most pressing community concerns and problems. Change will occur if the voters want it.