Dems seek challenge to Lent

The Kitsap County Democratic Party is having a busy month. As it plans for its largest annual fundraising event — the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Feb. 18 — it is recruiting candidates to run in at least three high-profile races in which a Republican incumbent currently occupies the seat.

Washington voters do not have to declare party affiliation, so in Kitsap County the only way to estimate the relative strength of each is by analyzing who they vote for.

Auditor Karen Flynn said Kitsap voters gave clear majorities to each of the Democratic candidates for federal office in the 2004 election, although Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi edged out Christine Gregoire.

Hard numbers aside, Kitsap County Democratic Chair Sharon Peterson provides her own anecdotal statistics.

“The county is about one third Republican and one third Democrat,” she said. “So it’s the last third that decides the election.”

The most important office up for grabs in 2006 on the county level is District 3 county commissioner, the seat currently held by Patty Lent, who is perceived as a moderate Republican. The more conservative Jack Hamilton of Silverdale is challenging Lent in the September GOP primary, which puts any Democrat seeking the seat in an uncertain position.

On the one hand, they prefer Lent to Hamilton because she frequently votes with North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen, the only Democrat among the three county commissioners. On the other hand, if the Democrats offer up a weak candidate for the post and Hamilton defeats Lent in the Republican primary, it’s possible the seat could be taken by a much more conservative commissioner.

This, according to Peterson, will not happen.

“We want to win this seat no matter who we’re running against,” Peterson said. “We have three people who have expressed interest, but haven’t decided who we want to run.”

Peterson stresses that the party cannot control who will run, and cites the example of several recent primary contests. If more than one of the three decided to run, the party could do nothing to stop them. However, she will counsel candidates to take a united front since Lent — assuming she earns the nomination — will be hard enough to beat.

The Democrats are close-mouthed about these potential candidates. Peterson and two members of the selection committee refused to divulge these names, saying it was up to the individuals to make any announcement.

And the party shouldn’t nominate a placeholder.

“I think Lent’s doing a pretty good job,” said former Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin, who was ousted by Lent in 2002. “Whoever they put up will clearly need to make a difference.”

Botkin said he has not heard any candidate names, and has no interest in running again himself.

Tom Donnelly, a member of the selection committee, agrees that Lent is doing a good job and would be preferable to Hamilton.

“She has the ability to stay in the center,” Donnelly said. “I can talk civilly to Patty Lent and resolve political differences, which isn’t the case with some of the Democrats we’ve elected.”

Donnelly said that many so-called “Democrat” and “Republican” issues are irrelevant on the county level.

Just as Republicans are declining to challenge Democrat-held county offices, such as clerk and sheriff, the Democrats will give Assessor Jim Avery and Coroner Greg Sandstrom a free pass. Peterson said Sandstrom, who she has known for several years, “is doing an outstanding job.”

In the state Legislature, the party is looking to challenge Rep. Beverly Woods in the north and Sen. Bob Oke in the south. Woods is expected to seek another term, her fourth, but Oke (who has been receiving cancer treatment) is a wild card.

The competition for Oke’s seat, assuming he does not run again, is shaping up as a contest between Republican Lois McMahon, a former two-term 26th District representative, and Kitsap County Planning Commission member Lary Coppola, a Democrat. Republican Matt Rice, who ran a strong race in 2004 against Democratic Rep. Pat Lantz in the 26th District, could also be a factor, and the entrance of a high-profile Democrat into this race — such as 26th District Rep. Derek Kilmer — could change its character dramatically.

As for Woods, she could face opposition from former Bainbridge Island City Councilmember Christine Rolfes, a notion that has excites some party members.

“Christine is a gem,” said long-time party volunteer Marilyn Boynton. “We’d be lucky to get her.”

Contacted earlier this week, Rolfes would only say, “I am considering running, but it is a big decision.”

Speakers at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner this year will include U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Bainbridge Island) and Dwight Pelz, the newly elected chair of the Washington State Democratic Party.

The event will run from 6 to 10 p.m. on Feb. 18 at the Olympic College Bremer Center.

Reservations are $40 per person.

The event also includes an auction to benefit local Democratic candidates.

The deadline for reservations is Feb. 12.

For information, contact Boynton, at (360) 297-2776 or mimib@donobi.net.

To donate auction items call Jean Charneski, at (360) 373-7194.

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