Auditor, Superior Court judge candidates clash over issues
October 17, 2008 · Updated 12:16 PM
t Races not usually carefully scrutinized getting a good look
Candidates for the contested Kitsap County Superior Court and auditor positions had a rare face-to-face meeting on Wednesday afternoon, providing a contrast between their positions while touching upon the major issues that have surfaced during the campaign.
Judicial candidates Bruce Danielson and Jeanette Dalton began the session at the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, followed by auditor hopefuls John Clark and Walter E. Washington, who is the interim incumbent.
After the forum, all four candidates said that some issues have not been explored or expressed during the campaign but voters have enough information to make an informed decision — even if they have to dig a little bit to learn about the candidates and the issues.
“The voters have the information to make a decision, but they will need to look for it,” Washington said.
Both contests are for positions that are not generally discussed or scrutinized to a great degree.
This year, however, the auditor’s race centers around details and budgeting authority, while the judge candidates have argued whether an arbitrator has judicial experience and the value of local practice.
Danielson has served as an arbitrator in King County, the value of which has been challenged by Dalton and her supporters.
Both candidates began these jobs in 1989, Danielson presiding over cases assigned by the King County Superior Court and Dalton acting a substitute judge in several counties.
“As an arbitrator I have handled a wide variety of cases,” Danielson said, “and I have needed to employ a variety of skills. When you handle a divorce there can be elements of land-use law and property law. You need experience in different areas. It is not all about one thing.”
“During my 24 years of experience I have gained a 360-degree perspective of the legal system,” Dalton said. “I have prosecuted aggravated murder cases and worked as a defense attorney, to make sure that everyone has been treated fairly. I have worked as a pro-tem judge and made sure that trials run smoothly. I am ethical, earnest and hardworking, and I can make a seamless transition to the bench.”
A question from the audience, presumably from a Dalton supporter, asked about Danielson’s jury trial experience. As is the case with both of these contested races, candidates discount the importance of the experience they don’t possess.
Another case in point is Danielson’s insistence that his work as an arbitrator is equivalent to Dalton’s as a pro-tem judge. Since this becomes a matter of opinion, there is no factual resolution.
Similarly, Clark’s assertion that budget authority should reside with the auditor rather than the commissioner’s office was disputed by Washington, who said the law requires the auditor to issue a “budget call letter.”
Washington asserts that the commissioners have the authority to allocate funds, and it is the auditor’s role to make sure the accounts balance.
For the election, voters must make up their own minds. But Clark repeated his promise to mount a legal challenge to the commissioner-centric budget process, whether he wins the auditor’s office or not.
“It’s the law,” Clark said. “And I will compel the commissioners to comply with the law.”
Clark criticized Washington for several “resume gaps,” saying that the incumbent’s experience does not actually reflect his claims.
Clark said Washington’s role in King County was at one time in the Animal Control Department, an agency that has recently weathered charges of severe incompetency.
Washington later said he was not working for the department when the problems occurred, and that, “(Clark) is painting everything with a broad brush. What he is saying is similar to how well reality TV compares to the truth.”
Clark, an opponent of all-mail voting, thinks there should be several “secure ballot drops” throughout the county for voters who want a more reliable path than the U.S. Mail.
While elections generate the most publicity, Washington pointed out that the auditor’s office has three other responsibilities: Licensing, financial services and records management.
He said his background gives him the edge, and that he is the best qualified to perform all these functions.
And like many other issues in this campaign, qualifications become a matter of opinion. In his own statement, Clark named the same functions, and said he is the one who can best perform them.