Appointed State Sen. John Smith will face Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel for the rights to fill northeast Washington’s 7th District Senate seat in next year’s legislative session.
Smith easily finished first in the off-year primary and at the end of ballot counting Tuesday night had more than half the votes cast in the three-way race. He said Tuesday night the general election campaign will likely focus on the economy in the hard-hit district.
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“This economic downturn has not been easy on any of us,” said Smith, an organic farmer and business consultant. “People are craving to hear a positive message that we can get better.”
Dansel said he thought the fall campaign will turn on the two candidates’ records and issues like creating a business-friendly environment in the resource-based district. He predicted “a tough battle to the end.”
The 7th Legislative District is one of the state’s largest geographically, covering all of Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry counties, and parts of Spokane and Okanogan counties. It is also among its most Republican; a Democrat hasn’t held a legislative seat in the district since 1990.
The election featured three Republicans, and under the state’s Top 2 Primary system, Smith and Dansel advance to November’s general election while retired Air Force special investigator Mike Brunson finished third and drops out.
Smith, 40, a Republican activist and former head of the Colville Chamber of Commerce, was appointed to the seat in January after longtime legislator Bob Morton of Kettle Falls announced he was retiring with two years left on his term. He arrived in Olympia for the start of the legislative session, and made a mark on in time for the start of the legislative session, and made a mark on legislation involving wolves, natural resource and some energy issues, as well as supplying the necessary 25th vote on some budgets in the extended special sessions.
The extra time needed for the Legislature to do its work kept Smith from raising campaign funds for the first half of the year. Still he raised about $62,000, more than six times the amount his opponent has collected. Dansel said he hopes to use that to his advantage this fall by highlighting he’s the one raising money in the district while Smith is benefiting from “lobbyists and corporate money.”
The race is one of three special Senate contests this year. In the 8th District, which contains part of the Tri-Cities and like the 7th is an all-GOP affair, appointee Sharon Brown, an attorney, finished first and Richland City Councilman Phillip Lemley finished second.
In the 26th, which covers part of the Kitsap Peninsula in the west Puget Sound, Republican State Rep. Jan Angel finished the night about 2,300 votes ahead of Democratic appointee Nathan Schlicher in a preview of the November race, which is shaping up to be one of the most expensive legislative contests in state history.