Thurston County election night party in Olympia

Independent candidates for Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards and John Hutchings speak at an election night party at Indian Summer Golf & Country Club.
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Independent candidates for Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards and John Hutchings speak at an election night party at Indian Summer Golf & Country Club.
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Elections

Edwards leading, District 1 race too close to call for county commission

By Lisa Pemberton

The Olympian

November 08, 2016 08:33 PM

The Thurston County Commission could be about to undergo a dramatic change.

In Thurston County Commissioner District No. 2, retired Sheriff Gary Edwards, an independent, was leading Democrat Kelsey Hulse late Tuesday with 52.5 percent of the vote.

“It really looks like our country is having an awakening, if you follow the national situation, all the way right down here to the local,” Edwards told supporters at an election party at Indian Summer Golf and Country Club late Tuesday. “Anyway, I’m so excited I can hardly stand it.”

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Hulse, 37, a nonprofit fundraiser, said she was disappointed with the early results, but wasn’t ready to concede.

“I think there’s still a lot of votes out there, so I’d like to see how things go in the next couple of days,” Hulse said. “There’s a lot of ballots to be counted. I think we’ll wait and see.”

In Thurston County Commissioner District No. 1, early election returns showed Olympia City Council member and Democrat Jim Cooper with a narrow lead over former Tenino Police Chief John Hutchings, an independent.

“I feel pretty good,” said Cooper, 41. He watched early returns at a private party at Ramblin’ Jack’s.

If elected, Cooper’s goals include improving customer service at county departments, increasing recreational opportunities in the county, reducing criminal justice costs with therapeutic courts and similar programs, and growing economic development by working with regional partners, he said.

Cooper and Hutchings said they felt optimistic that later counts would be in their favor.

“I’m exceptionally proud of myself and my campaign team because we’ve been fighting a machine that’s been entrenched for a long time,” Hutchings said at Indian Summer. “This is encouraging.”

Hutchings, 62, retired from the Olympia Police Department in 2012 and served as Tenino’s police chief for about three years. Hutchings said he wants to bring balance between county government, business needs and nonprofits.

He called the close count “deja vu” from the primary, when it took weeks to determine if he would advance into the general election.

Even with a race that drew outside campaigning by several political groups, including a series of controversial robocalls, Cooper said he felt the candidates in his race stuck to the issues.

“I’m really proud that we were able to keep it clean and stay out of the gutter and look forward to voters giving us the returns we hope for in future counts,” Cooper said.

The winners will replace retiring commissioners Cathy Wolfe and Sandra Romero, who are Democrats. Commissioner Bud Blake is an independent and his term expires in 2018.

The three-member county commission is Thurston County’s legislative authority. Although they represent individual districts, each commissioner is elected countywide to a four-year term, with an annual salary of $111,600.

For both races, the Mazama pocket gopher, economic development and funding for law enforcement were major issues.

Edwards, 70, who lives on Lawrence Lake south of Yelm, is an independent, although he was elected as Thurston County’s sheriff five times as a Republican.

He said he wants to work to make the county “more business-friendly and more friendly to the citizens.” He said he wants the county to invest more in law enforcement and to “change the whole atmosphere at the courthouse.”

Edwards said Tuesday he already knows what one of his first duties of elected office will be.

“I can’t hardly wait to get to the courthouse and post the federal Constitution on one wall, the state Constitution on another wall and the Pledge of Allegiance right behind the flag,” Edwards said. “And we’re going to live up to that every day.”

lpemberton@theolympian.com