Next month, the Grays Harbor Democrats will select their top three picks to replace Prosecutor Stew Menefee, who retires as of Sept. 30.
But what happens if only one name on the list is a real candidate and the other two are sham candidates, who don’t intend to really seek the seat?
That’s a real possibility.
Four reliable Democrats, including County Commissioner Frank Gordon, tell me that there’s a movement to guarantee the position to Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda and keep former prosecutor Michael Spencer off the list. Svoboda and Spencer are the only legit candidates to emerge for the position, so far.
Gordon says he’s uncomfortable with that idea. He wants a real choice to pick from.
Spencer calls it a “sad situation” and acknowledges he’s heard the same thing.
“I’ve been elected as a Democrat in this county twice,” Spencer said. “We’re going to have to see what happens here.”
If anything, this just bolsters Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney’s argument that most of the county positions ought to be non-partisan to keep just this kind of political maneuvering out of the equation.
Here’s the hypothetical situation:
The Grays Harbor Democrats will gather at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 3, when they will interview candidates and vote on their top three favorites. Two candidates with a Democratic pedigree could suddenly emerge at this meeting and gain enough votes to put Svoboda at the top of the list and squeeze Spencer to fourth place — and off the list.
Ultimately, the county commissioners make the decision here. The board is made up of Gordon, a Democrat, and Republicans Herb Welch and Wes Cormier.
Once they get the list of three candidates, state law mandates they pick from that list. But, what happens when two of the candidates stand up and say, “I don’t want it. Give the job to Svoboda.” The commissioners would then have no choice but to appoint the only legit candidate on the list.
Spencer could show up at the county meeting, make his case for why he should be prosecutor — but if he’s not on the list, state law does not allow him to be considered. Spencer served as the elected prosecutor in Grays Harbor County as a Democrat, and was elected twice, in 1982 and 1986, when he served just one year of his second term. Menefee was appointed in 1987. Spencer went on to serve another six years as a superior court judge and is currently in private practice at Brown Lewis Janhunen & Spencer with offices in Montesano and Aberdeen.
A couple of the Democrats I talk to say there’s good reason not to put Spencer on the list — he hasn’t been to many Democrat meetings lately and they question why he’s running and his background. For instance, why didn’t he continue remaining a judge?
Those are good questions and points to bring up before selecting him by the Democratic Precinct Committee officers and for the county commissioners to ask during an interview process and, ultimately, for the people to decide come election time. But to not even let the people ask those questions seems wrong to me.
There’s also a question of trust that the local Democrats have never had to face before as this is the first time they’ve done a competitive appointment with a Republican majority on the Board of County Commissioners. There are some Democrats that want to send an absolute message to the commissioners that Svoboda is their top pick and by having two sham candidates with her, it would remove the Republican X Factor, ie. since they don’t have a Democratic board to rely on knowing their behind-the-scene wishes, Commissioners Welch and Cormier may very well give Spencer a fair shot at the role.
Such a maneuver paints Svoboda in a poor light, too, when she is an excellent, quality candidate and does not appear to be involved in the situation. She has a very good chance of winning this seat in an interview process with the county commissioners and before a vote of the people. If she won, she would be the very first female prosecutor in this county’s history — just five years after then-county commissioner Terry Willis became the first female commissioner. She’s already started campaigning by being part of the tried and true Loggers Playday Parade.
Svoboda is an active Democrat and in good standing with the political party. She recently organized the Democrats’ burger booth schedule at the fair, served on their executive committee two times and has been a Democratic Precinct Committee Officer since 2006.
Svoboda has been with the Prosecutor’s Office since 2004 and has been successful in prosecuting numerous felonies and earning the deep respect of her colleagues, victims and the public. Although Prosecutor Menefee has stopped short of endorsing her, he has nothing but high praise for the job she’s done in the office.
She also understands the critical staffing shortages that could occur in the near future in her office and the immediate challenges of salary that the office has.
Let her stand out on her own without any gimmicks.
Steven Friederich is editor of The Vidette and has covered Grays Harbor County politics for the past decade. Contact him at email@example.com