The fascinating thing about the collective will of voters is that it can be so unpredictable. And so it goes with the primary election results from Spokane County.
As Tuesday approached, local headlines were dominated by revelations stemming from the Otto Zehm tragedy. Presumably, this would have an impact on the political players involved.
But Spokane Mayor Mary Verner sits atop a commanding 59.9 percent of the total, outpacing all of her challengers in almost every precinct in the city. Meanwhile, Dennis Hession, who was mayor at the time of Zehm’s death, finished first in the council president race.
Then there’s the long history of Spokane voters dumping incumbent mayors. Not since 1973 have they re-elected one. But Verner became the first strong mayor to finish first in the primary. Hession finished second in 2007. John Powers finished third, failing to advance to the general election.
Another narrative that fizzled is that voters are tired of partisanship and want a fresh, independent-minded approach. This was the theme of John Waite’s run for Spokane City Council Position 1, but he finished third behind Mike Fagan and Donna McKereghan, who have long histories of political involvement. On the other hand, newcomer Ben Stuckart was able to edge out veteran Steve Corker for second place in the council president race.
Contests for Spokane Public Schools board of directors have historically been snoozers, but voters have delivered a fascinating face-off between the establishment’s choice, Deana Brower, and her sharply critical opponent, Sally Fullmer. The pros and cons of current district practices should get a thorough airing.
While all of this is interesting to us, it bears noting that most eligible Spokane voters declined to participate in the primary. A little more than 113,000 ballots were issued to city voters, but only about 35,000 were returned. This low turnout gives second-place candidates hope and makes handicapping the general election difficult.
Turnout is typically greater in the general election, as voters return from the lakes and other vacations spots and plug back into local politics. In addition, races that only have two candidates will come to the forefront, which should help spark more interest.
Haven’t heard much about Spokane City Council candidates Steve Salvatori, Joy Jones, Richard Rush and Mike Allen? How about Spokane Valley Council candidates Dean Grafos, John Carroll, DeeDee Loberg and Arne Woodard? You will.
An intriguing matchup for the state Senate is shaping up in the 4th District, as former District Court Judge Mike Padden takes on Jeff Baxter, who was appointed to the position after a tumultuous tussle between Republican factions.
Plus, Spokane voters will pass judgment once again on whether they need a community bill of rights.
The general election will also bring into sharper focus three statewide voter initiatives dealing with liquor sales, toll roads and long-term-care workers.
How will this all play out? We can’t say for sure, but voters always seem to serve up surprises.