SGGL-backed candidates surge ahead in General Election

Updated Nov. 15 with new totals. -MD

Sequim Good Governance League-backed candidates in Sequim City Council and Sequim School Board races appear to be well on their way to big wins in the 2023 General Election.

Sequim city council candidates Dan Butler, Kathy Downer and Harmony Rutter, along with school board candidates Maren Halvorsen, Larry Jeffryes and Eric Pickens, were on hand on Election Night, Nov. 7, at SGGL’s election party in the Holiday Inn Express celebrating a tentative sweep in their races.

Following a Nov. 13 count, voter turnout for the General Election is 44.63% — or 24,599 ballots counted out of 57,359 given voters.

Another count is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 15, with an estimated 30 ballots remaining to count.

Sequim City Council

• Position 1

In the Sequim City Council Position No. 1 race (four-year term), Downer, a retired nurse who currently holds Position No. 2 on the council, leads with 2,369 votes, or 72.7%, over incumbent William Armacost, a Sequim business owner and former Sequim mayor, who garnered 884 votes, or 27.1%.

Downer said on Election Night that her focus on workforce housing seemed to resonate with voters. “It’s a huge problem, she said. “At least we’re chipping away at it.”

Downer said this campaign was a tough one, with a flurry of activities and events to get her message out.

“I tried to do everything,” Downer said, from forums and radio appearances to sign-waving and door-belling.

“It’s a lot of work; you have to want to do it,” she said.

Armacost, who was appointed in 2018 to council and later elected in 2019. He served as mayor for two years and caught national media attention in August 2020 after he appeared to endorse the QAnon conspiracy theory on KSQM Radio’s “Coffee with the Mayor” program calling it a “truth movement,” but he told a CNN reporter in January 2021 that he didn’t endorse or say he was a QAnon supporter.

In an email response, he wrote, “I’d like to congratulate SGGL on their victory! Special attention to Tim Wheeler for his successful disinformation campaign, and the fake media narrative that was created in 2020 and ramped back up in 2023 utilizing social media and the press.”

“I quote Mike Tyson, ‘Social media has made people way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.’

“I have no hard feelings about the results of the election. I see it as a ‘Blessing’ freeing up my time to spend with family and discipleship of my faith.

“May God bless Sequim and May God bless America.”

Downer, who won her initial Sequim council seat in 2021, ran partially on the platform that former city manager Charlie Bush was wrongfully terminated in January 2021 by Armacost and other councilors.

Armacost said in an interview that he was running to be a voice for children and widows.

Downer said she in-part ran in 2021 because she did not feel council meetings were following Robert’s Rules of Order and the council was passing an ordinance that she felt told merchants they didn’t need to follow COVID-19 vaccination cards and abide by state health guidelines. For this election, she ran against Armacost for his alleged stance on QAnon.

• Position 2

For Downer’s current council position No. 2 race (four-year term), Butler, an administrator at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, has garnered 2,013 votes (62%) so far, while Jim Black, a retired software engineer, earned 1,233 votes (38%).

Butler said in an interview he felt his campaign did everything they could do and the reason he was running was to give people a choice.

“Positions unopposed are contrary to my values” he said. “That was my primary motivation for getting involved.”

Black, who could not be reached for comment, said one of his motivations for running was to prevent homelessness from growing in Sequim.

Butler said while serving on the city’s planning commission he realized the growing need for affordable, workforce housing and that he heard Black only point out the issues and no solutions.

“This isn’t a Sequim issue; it’s a national issue,” Butler said. “We’re not going to solve income and equity problems in the City of Sequim if we don’t begin to work on them in the state and nationally.

“We need to respond compassionately, recognizing I have not met anybody who has chosen to be unhoused. How do we listen to those stories and deal with them as individuals instead of a class of unhoused people?”

Butler said the city’s Comprehensive Plan update is the biggest issue ahead as it ties into many of the issues the city is facing.

• Position 6

In the Sequim City Council Position 6 race (four-year term), Harmony Rutter is facing off against Patrick Day. Rutter, a self-employed horticulture specialist, has earned 2,097 votes (65.3%) so far while Day, a retired law enforcement and security officer, garnered 1,109 votes (34.5%).

Rutter said in an interview she had a lot of community and family support and believes the city can work together and bring people together in a cohesive way. She felt people were attentive to her sensitivity for the environment.

“I specifically chose biodegradable signs and rack cards because I think of the future of our planet a lot,” Rutter said.

“I have two small kids and I think to myself, ‘how can I help make sure our climate and world will be able to sustain life for them, their kids and their grandkids.’”

As a councilor, Rutter said she plans to encourage fellow councilors to think more about residents who “don’t have a lot” and keep moving forward on initiatives for affordable housing and supporting community services.

Echoing Butler, Rutter said the Comprehensive Plan update is a key priority too and she invites community members to reach out to her and other councilors so they can be represented in the city’s plan.

“I’m here to serve you and be a servant of the community,” she said.

Day said he felt Sequim’s race is “probably the most partisan, nonpartisan race” he’s ever seen and that he received pushback from residents without ever meeting them before.

“People are under the impression there’s only one answer,” he said.

“Any time you stop listening to both sides, that’s when you miss out on so much.”

Day said he didn’t seek out endorsements but feels the SGGL is a partisan group because it didn’t interview all the candidates.

As for the city moving forward, he feels there needs to be more diversity as most of the candidates were in their 60s or above, and have a balance of beliefs. Looking ahead, Day said adding housing, lowering utility hookup fees, seeking high speed internet, and increasing public safety should continue to be city priorities.

He remains active as a union representative and a legal consultant, and he’d consider running for another position in the future.

• Unopposed

Tom Ferrell, Sequim’s mayor, is running unopposed for the council’s four-year, Position 7 seat, and has received 99% of the vote so far.

Sequim School Board

• Position 1

Voters in both counties cast votes for three nonpartisan positions on the Sequim School Board.

Sequim School Board Position 1 incumbent Larry Jeffryes, a former chemistry and biology teacher who’s served since 2019, won a combined total of 7,985 votes, or 62.3% in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Park ranger John Graham, who garnered a total of 4,807 votes, or 37.5%, in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

The position is a four-year term.

Jeffryes said the first time he ran for school board he was unopposed, and that it was “new and difficult” running in this election with an opponent.

“I didn’t know it had it in my genes,” he joked at an SGGL election results viewing party on Election Night, Nov. 7.

Graham said in an email that he is declining to offer any thoughts on the election until results are certified (Nov. 28).

• Position 4

Former principal Maren Halvorsen won a combined total of 8,829 votes, or 69.3%, in Clallam and Jefferson counties for the two-year unexpired term for Position 4, an at-large seat she now fills as an appointee.

Challenging her is former school board candidate Derek Huntington, who took a combined total of 3,886 votes, or 30.5%, in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“I’m very happy (with the results),” Halvorsen said at the SGGL meeting. “I think people like my experience in education.”

Said Huntington, “I’m very disappointed of course, personally. I did a lot of work running for this position.

“I appreciate everybody [who] voted for me, who took time to understand what I was running for.”

Huntington said he felt his and other school board races was affected by who was backing certain candidates.

“I feel like there’s a certain local group — every single candidate they backed won,” Huntington said. “It’s kind of disheartening for me for running. It was supposed to be very non-partisan, but it turned into something partisan.”

Halvorsen said she appreciated the fact there were several contested school board races, and that she hopes to see more involvement in future board elections.

With all four school board directors currently holding seats also holding leads in the General Election, the board make-up looks like it will remain the same for at least the next couple of years.

“I think [voters] want a functioning school board; that’s what they’re getting,” Halvorsen said.

• Position 5

Michael Rocha, a local businessman and board appointee who currently holds the District 3 seat, has a slight lead in the election for Position 5, a four-year term. after earning a combined total of 6,202 votes, or 50.4%, in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Rocha did not respond to requests for comment.

Challenger Sandra Kellso took a combined total of 6,079 votes, or 49.4%, despite having withdrawn from the race; she withdrew too late to be removed from the primary and general election ballots.

The race echoed a 2021 Sequim School Board race in which Kristi Schmeck filed for the Position 4 (at-large) seat and later decided to drop out of the race, but because she didn’t file a formal withdrawal soon after the filing week, her name remained on the ballot.

• Unopposed

Eric Pickens, a teacher with the Port Angeles School District and the Sequim School Board president, is running unopposed for Sequim School District Director District No. 3, a four-year term; he currently holds the Position 5 at-large seat.

Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group
Clallam County election worker Savannah Wise of Port Angeles collects sorted general election ballots for counting at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles on Nov. 7.

Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group Clallam County election worker Savannah Wise of Port Angeles collects sorted general election ballots for counting at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles on Nov. 7.