History, politics, people of Oly WA

Month: December 2022

Why I wasn’t born in the City of Lacey

I was raised in what had been, for like a couple of months, the City of Lacey. 

And, by order of the Supreme Court of Washington, is inside the City of Olympia.

My childhood neighborhood, generally Wilson Street between 22nd and 18th, was part of a push and pull between Lacey and Olympia for a few months in the mid-1960s.

Since the end of World War II and the construction of car-centric neighborhoods, Olympia began pushing out from its original 1890 borders. The city had annexed the area around the State/Pacific split in 1930, but paused until after the war to start grabbing small blocks here and there. But, by the 1960s, the unincorporated neighborhoods that had been built further east (collectively “Lacey”) began getting nervous and planning for their own city.

And, what should constitute the future Lacey was pretty broad. In the early days of the planning for the city of Lacey, as early as 1963, the western border of the proposed City of Lacey was Boulevard Road itself, a full 3 miles away from the city’s current boundary.

It was in 1964 when the Olympia City Commission pushed east, annexing along Martin and Pacific Avenue, ending as far as Lilly Road on Martin Way. That effort started the official border war between Lacey and Olympia.

Pro-City residents in Lacey pushed for a vote in August 1964 to incorporate. That vote failed 505 to 857.

The part of Olympia that began Lacey

That same year, the residents of the Boulevard Road area also voted to reject annexation to the City of Olympia.

In 1966, when Lacey was on its way to successfully incorporating, the original fire station on Boulevard Road was actually a Lacey Fire District 3 station. So, it made sense that the “Olympia fringe area” was included in the new city.

When Lacey finally successfully incorporated in November 1966, Olympia quickly struck back. In December, the residents in the western portion of Lacey, stretching from near North Thurston High School down to the south end of Boulevard Road, submitted a petition for incorporation into Olympia.

Now, this is where it gets weird. The city commission received the petition in a closed-door meeting. Using what was later described by Lacey’s lawyers as an archaic law, the city commission scheduled an election that would allow not just the residents of the proposed annexation area to vote, but also the residents of the entire city. So, if the voters of the City of Olympia authorized the annexation of neighborhoods in another city, they were allowed to do so.

Lacey went ahead and scheduled a special election a few weeks later in February 1967 which would have allowed the area to de-annex from Lacey and return to the county. But, when Olympia voters passed their proposal for annexation in January, Lacey dropped their vote and sued to have the results of Olympia’s vote invalidated.

Ad that makes an excellent point about annexation rural areas.

The crux of the lawsuit apparently wasn’t where I grew up, but rather the north end of the annexation area along Martin Way.

The City of Lacey’s case was:
  • The two portions of the annexation area were not contiguous
  • The City of Olympia stacked the deck by not providing enough public notice
The courts, though, disagreed. It was true, the annexation law the City of Olympia was using hadn’t been touched since 1890, and it was still a law. And, they also disagreed on the definition of contiguous. Either way, they left Lacey packing and let stand the massive annexation, and Olympia stretched all the way to College Street.
The state legislature would also step up in 1969 and reform the 70+ year old annexation law that Olympia used to gobble up my family homestead and surrounding property. The new law would lengthen deadlines, to allow for better public notice, and actually make it easier for two small cities to join together.
Which is funny because, already occurring in 1969 was the most interesting part of this entire annexation drama.
In 1969, the cities of Olympia and Lacey would vote to consolidate. 
Before we get too far, the vote failed in both cities. But that there was even a vote exposes just how frail the existence of Lacey was in those early years. The measure was close all over Olympia, failing in 11 of 19 precincts and by fewer than 30 votes overall. 
Even though it failed by a 3 to 1 margin in Lacey, two precincts representing Panorama City voted in favor. So if those areas west of Chambers Lake and south of Pacific Avenue had their choice, Olympia’s annexations of 1964 and 1967 would have gone even further east more uniformly.

How an incumbent sheriff loses

Sheriffs have incumbency power. A lot of elected officials do, but with the acquittal of Sheriff Ed Troyer in Pierce County last week, it is worth looking into how sheriffs stick around and how some of them lose.

Troyer survived the court case (which would not have kicked him out of office), and will also not likely be subject to a recall effort. Recall elections are expensive and have a hard time getting off the ground. The Pierce County Council, which has officially shown its displeasure with Troyer, cannot fire the Sheriff. So, the next opportunity would be in a couple of years when Troyer heads back to the ballot.

For at least one answer about incumbent sheriffs, I want to go back to two Thurston County Sheriff campaigns, one from the mid-1980s and one from just a few weeks ago.

The call is coming from inside the house

Gary Edwards, 1986

Gary Edwards (who is now a county commissioner) had worked for the Thurston County Sheriffs Department for less than a decade, working his way up to detective by the mid-1980s. The then 39-year-old represented a new generation of law enforcement when he decided to challenge the sitting Sheriff, Dan Montgomery.

Montgomery apparently entered the race a weak leader, as one of the early articles on the race included five declared candidates, all from law enforcement backgrounds and two from other local agencies.

Interestingly, as a fairly high profile sheriff employee, Edwards would normally make the paper a handful of times from the late 70s to the early 80s. But, there were no mentions for a full calendar year until he filed to run in February 1986. Was Montgomery working to silence a potential opponent? Later in the campaign, Montgomery would deny Edwards leave to allow him to campaign, which ended up causing the sitting sheriff more PR headaches than it was worth.

When the sheriff’s deputy association took a confidence vote on Montgomery that year, he received a majority by just a whisper, 51 to 49.

From the Olympian:

Some deputies were upset at Montgomery, saying he maintains an aloof posture in the department and isolates himself from the rank and file members. Morale was described as being low.

Edwards would end up beating Montgomery in the Republican side of the then not-Top Two primary and then dispatching a Democrat in the November general. He would serve until 2006 when he was replaced by Dan Kimball (who he endorsed) and then John Snaza (who Kimball had endorsed). 

Now come Deputy (and now Sheriff-Elect) Derek Sanders in 2022, who was more than ten years younger than Edwards when he entered the race for sheriff. He represents a similar kind of inside the house phenomena. He was endorsed by two former top administrators that served under incumbent John Snaza.

Look at this Edwards ’86 endorsement from then Deputy Paul Ingram:

“(Montgomery) has been one of the best sheriffs we’ve had. But the last two years, he hasn’t taken advice from anyone. He has lost two key administrators because of that. He’s taken by the power of the office.” 

And this endorsement for Sanders in 2022 from former Thurston Sheriff Chief Dave Pearsall:

“In the beginning (Snaza) had good ideas, intent, and vision. Unfortunately, it no longer appears this is the case. The Sheriff has lost any forward-thinking and vision as of late, which is likely why his Deputies considered a ‘vote of no confidence’ against him.”

This hand-off endorsement framing is interesting for people inside the institution to do, apparently. The sheriff’s office in any given county in Washington is huge, institutionally speaking. Criminal justice spending makes up a big part of the county budget. And the sheriff’s office is a big part of that piece of the pie, and is arguably the most public. So, people “inside the house” can protect the institution itself by saying “he used to be good, but now he’s bad, and I want this next person who is also one of us.” 

The call is coming from outside (but also inside) the house

That being said, it is also important for the rebels inside the house to connect with the mainstream of politics in the community. And, for a non-incumbent campaigner, this is not a small accomplishment. Because the sheriff sits at the top of such a huge public institution, it isn’t that easy for other elected officials to stand up and endorse a challenger.

In 1986, Edwards was able to round up institutional support across the county, including two mayors of Olympia. Sanders was able to match that this year, rounding up dozens of mayors, city council members and former and current state legislators from around the county. 

When Edwards faced an inside the house challenge in 2002 from Deputy Glen Quantz, he diffused the institutional support from lining up with the support that the deputy had gotten from the rank and file. The key was Quantz’s personal life (a bankruptcy and juvenile larceny conviction). Then Attorney General Chris Gregoire pulled her endorsement after Quantz’ past came out.

Edwards would end up not running again in 2006, heading off any potential inside challenge that was able to unify the rank and file with the political mainstream of the county.

Why this is an important discussion

For Troyer, his opponents in 2020 seemed to have reached the level of “inside the house” challenges. Even though he wasn’t an incumbent in 2020, his profile as the department’s communications director gave him a profile that was much higher than any other non-incumbent. The deputy union endorsed an unsuccessful primary candidate and Troyer’s official general challenger (who was also a sheriff’s office lieutenant). But, where they felt short, it seems, was uniting an inside challenge with the mainstream of Pierce County politics. 

Lt. Cynthia Fajardo raised more than twice what Troyer raised, but the vast majority of her funds were donations from herself. Running a self-financed campaign doesn’t signal trying to reach out and gain endorsements from a broad vein of the mainstream institutional politics in Pierce County. It was Troyer that received the endorsements from the 30th District Democrats and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

Michael Zoorob explored the sticking power of incumbent sheriffs, pointing out that they are able to hold off challenges the vast majority of the time. They even have longer tenure than appointed police chiefs, and self admittedly, are more secure in their jobs from political fall-out. 

Specifically zooming into Pierce County, there seem to be some institutional advantages for Troyer coming into 2024 according to Zoorob:

1. Incumbent sheriffs tend to do well in the crowded attention years of Presidential elections. In fact,  sheriff elections on Presidential cycles are the most likely to be uncontested (compared to most contested in odd-year elections). When incumbent sheriffs are challenged during Presidential years though, according to Zoorob, the incumbent advantage disappears. It is basically the same as during any other kind of cycle.

2. The sheriff position in Pierce County is non-partisan, which also favors a sheriff with good name identification. The theory is the partisan marker is valuable information for the voter, and without that, they will lean on what they do know which may end up being the candidate they’ve even heard of.

A deeper look into Sheriff Sanders’ Thurston County

In my original post about the results from the 2022 general election, I vaguely pointed to results comparing how well successful candidates Sheriff Sanders and Senator Murray did against each other. Basically, both won by doing well in the dense, urban part of Thurston County. But, when you take their precinct results and compare them, you see Sanders lagging behind Murray in those dense neighborhoods and holding on tighter in the rural areas.

Here is the map (with legend!) that compares Murray (doing better in red) vs. Sanders (better in blue).

Because Murray did better overall in Thurston County, (58 to 55 percent) it is interesting to look at the places that Sanders not only won overall, but beat Murray. Here is the map with those precincts outlined in red.

The smallest pockets are places like Kinwood East (on the edge of Lacey) and Simmons 3 (on the edge of Tumwater):

Kinwood West
Simmons 3

Both of these are annexation candidates that have very few votes (about 90 in Kinwood West and fewer than 20 in Simmons 3). So, dense precincts that, if mixed with a larger city district, would likely have voted for a Democratic Senator.
The next collection are Lacey 28 and Lakeside. Both of these are (aptly described) are lake shore precincts. 
Lacey 28
Lakeside

What is at play here? Higher property values? The general lake shore politics that gives someone a unique perspective on county government? 

Lacey 28 is also the only incorporated precinct that falls into this collection, other than the entire city of Tenino, which is the third collection of precincts in this map. Why Tenino didn’t go vote for Murray makes sense, but why it voted for Sanders is worth discussing.
The last collection are the larger precincts around the edge of the urban growth area. I might have added Johnson Point (off the map) into the lake shore collection, but I’ll put it here with places like Delphi, Sunwood Lakes and Eaton Creek North.

These mostly wooded or rural precincts are pock marked with surban-esque neighborhoods carved out of the woods. But at least one looks like it could be plopped down directly into Hawks Prairie or Southeast Olympia:

Riverwood neighborhood off of Rich Road.

So my guess? These neighborhoods are far enough out of town that their politics would at least be marginally conservative. Or, at least conservative enough for Tiffany Smiley to edge out a win over Murray. All of these precincts were 45/55 precincts for Murray. But, they are also all neighborhoods that depend on the Sheriff’s office for police services. And, if they are generally unhappy with the service they receive (because of response times, they are likely to vote for the challenger over the incumbent. 

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