State Sen. Sheldon will run for county commission

The Olympian


Mason County, WA - State Sen. Tim Sheldon, a maverick and frequent thorn to his own Democratic Party, says he'll run this fall as an independent for a seat on the Mason County Commission.

Sheldon, who often votes with Senate Republicans on regulatory issues and who is leading the Democrats for President Bush campaign in Washington, said his candidacy is an effort to let voters have a choice that goes beyond partisan politics.

"I'm one that thinks voters want to vote for the person, not the party; I'll give them that alternative," Sheldon, 57, said Thursday in an interview.

He hadn't decided whether to give up his Senate job if elected commissioner, he said.

Sheldon, who has played his independent streak to good advantage with voters since joining the Legislature in 1991, left some people scratching their heads about his latest maneuver -- and motives.

"It's been very interesting to see the response I get from people today," said Wes Johnson, the Republican incumbent commissioner for whose seat Sheldon is running. "They are surprised -- almost incredulous -- when told that Sheldon has stated his intentions to file for office."

" 'Why would he want to do that?' " Johnson quoted people as saying.

Doug Sayan, Mason County Democratic Party chairman, said he has some concerns.

"I think the senator has got a serious identity crisis. He votes Republican. He claims he is a Democrat. And now he wants to run as an independent," Sayan said. "If this doesn't confuse his public, then maybe what he's doing makes some sense."

At least two candidates besides Johnson and Sheldon are running for the seat -- Democratic challenger Constance Ibsen of Union and Republican Randy Neatherlin of Belfair.

Ibsen, a community volunteer since moving to the county in 1995, questioned whether Sheldon's candidacy is good for the community. She said he already has held many positions -- including Public Utility District 1 commissioner, state representative, EDC director and now senator -- in effect blocking the way for other voices in positions of power.

"For me, I don't know if it's a good thing for Mason County for one person to monopolize so many leadership positions," Ibsen said. "To me, it's always important that we be bringing up and supporting secondary leadership in a democracy."

Sheldon's proposed move from the Legislature to county office mirrors moves by Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe, who was a representative, and many King County legislators-turned-county-officials in recent years.

It's too early to say how his independent campaign might fare.

Sheldon needs to secure signatures of voters to qualify for the general-election ballot, bypassing the primary under the state's new Montana-style primary system rules for minor-party and independent candidates.

Sheldon, who lives in Potlatch and serves as director of the county's Economic Development Council, said he's not aware of an independent ever winning a commission race in Mason County, although it has happened elsewhere in the state.

Although he could remain in the Legislature, to which he was easily re-elected in 2002, he said he wants to take his economic-development efforts in a new direction.

He said he plans to retire by year's end from his EDC job "win, lose or draw" after serving 18 years, longer than any other director in the state. As commissioner, he said, he could bring about "change more easily ... than as an EDC director."



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