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Guest Opinion: I must do what’s best for the good of the county and the country

For more than a year, county commissioners and judges racked up legal bills in a fight about the budget for court security.

As state Rep. Jamie Pedersen was quoted in The Vidette, “a dispute of about $70,000 turned into a $700,000 legal bill for outside counsel charged to the taxpayers…”

Over in Congress, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and fellow hard-liners shut down the federal government and almost sent the world economy over the cliff.

Both times, taxpayers got stuck with the bill.

Sen. Cruz and other members of Congress who shut down the government didn’t suffer at all. Citizens did.

Now the county commissioners are twisting themselves into pretzels, and possibly begging for another expensive lawsuit that they won’t have to pay for — because we, the taxpayers, would be on the hook.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Today, some politicians would rather see the other side fail, even if that means the citizens get hurt. The theory is whatever makes the other side look bad will help you win elections later, to take control and repair all the damage.

I find that wrong. Regardless of party, the No. 1 priority of every elected official should be helping the citizens they represent. Period.

I disagree that a non-partisan can do a better job. That is an insult to Democrats state Sen. Sid Snyder, Lynn Kessler, Congressman Derek Kilmer and so many others. Your party affilation denotes a value system, not who you represent.

Here in Grays Harbor, we’ve just gone through another needless fight that only hurts citizens and taxpayers.

County Prosecutor Stew Menefee retired after decades of loyal service. Since he was elected as a Democrat, the state constitution (Article 2, Section 15) requires that the county Democrats pick three candidates and the commissioners select from this list.

Yet because the favorite candidate of the county commissioners didn’t make the cut, they’ve looked for any possible loophole.

They voted — without a public debate or a review of resumes, without vetting the candidate or interviewing any of the three — to appoint me as county prosecutor, saying I was the best candidate for the job after telling newspapers only Ms. Katie Svoboda and Mr. Mike Spencer were qualified.

Commissioner Frank Gordon told The Vidette that I could serve as a temporary caretaker while keeping my law practice and the overwhelming No. 1 choice of county Democrats, deputy prosecutor Katie Svoboda, could simply run for the office next year, you know, to keep it fair between her and Mr. Spencer.

The commissioners were wrong. The law says an attorney cannot keep a law practice while serving as county prosecutor. I’d have to shut everything down, work as county prosecutor full-time, then step down again after the election and go back to doing something else, all so their favored candidate wouldn’t be disadvantaged if he chose to run for the office next year.

So why was my name on the list?

Local Democrats predicted the commissioners would play political games. They were right. The commissioners didn’t contact anyone on the top three list before they voted, which would suggest (a) they’re telepathic or (b) they’d already made up their minds.

The Democratic Party rejected the commissioners’ favorite after he had every opportunity to convince the 20-plus precinct committee officers to elect him. He contacted those people with personal calls, emails and two speeches, but he didn’t get the votes.

Yet the commissioners are acting like Congress, looking for ways to nullify that vote and possibly directly appointing their favorite candidate, even though he isn’t on the list and it could trigger a constitutional fight stretching all the way to the state Supreme Court. The taxpayers would be paying the bill again. We aren’t exactly swimming in money. The county budget is $1 million in the hole.

Maybe they should start talking about stopping needless lawsuits.

A huge part of the county budget is law and order. The county prosecutor is a serious office that does the most serious of work. Anything that weakens the office—such as putting in a temporary caretaker to give somebody else a better shot at the election—hurts the cause of justice.

It makes our community less safe. It wastes money, creates instability in the department and could lead to an expensive fight over our state constitution. You would think all those things are horrible and should be avoided. But you aren’t a county commissioner.

Vini Samuel is a Montesano attorney and a former Montesano City Councilwoman. She is also a former chairwoman of the Grays Harbor Democrats and was recently put on a list of three nominees for prosecutor.