Elections

Villeneuve | Rumbaugh, Wiggins for Supreme Court

As Aug. 17 draws closer, election officials have ramped up efforts to remind us that it's once again time to be mindful of our civic duty to vote.

In a way, however, they're almost doing us a disservice by advertising this election as a primary, because we don't have a true primary. What we really have is a two-part general election, with Tuesday, Aug. 17 being the first stage.

There are several races that could or will be decided at that time, particularly for Supreme Court.

The first of these is Position 5, sought exclusively by Barbara Madsen, who recently succeeded Gerry Alexander as Chief Justice. The fact that no one opted to challenge Madsen says a lot about her tenure on the Court. She is well-respected within Washington's legal community. A product of two of our state's universities — University of Washington and Gonzaga — she became the first woman popularly elected to the Court when she ran in 1992. She has earned another term.

The other two incumbents who are running, however, have attracted compelling opposition.

Challenging incumbent Jim Johnson for Position 1 is Pierce County attorney Stan Rumbaugh, a partner in a law firm that bills itself as "working lawyers for working people."

"I believe in public service," Rumbaugh said in an interview. "I do it because I think that it's important. Frankly, I don't think the government can do everything, and shouldn't be expected to. People who have the capacity to give back to their communities should."

For several decades, Rumbaugh reflected, he's practiced law, volunteered, served on nonprofit boards, and helped govern Bates Technical College. He's ready for a new challenge.

He explains that he chose to run for Position 1 because he's troubled by Johnson's record. In 2004, Johnson was the recipient of sizable campaign contributions from the Building Industry Association of Washington, whose officers made no secret of the fact that they considered Johnson to be their man. And since becoming a justice, Johnson has refused to recuse himself from the 17 cases that came before the Court involving the BIAW.

Instead, Johnson took the BIAW's position on all but one of those occasions.

"Nobody is entitled to a sure bet on the Court," Rumbaugh said. "It's simply not a seat that you own ... Regular Washingtonians are entitled to a more evenhanded brand of justice than that."

Johnson's backers observe that Rumbaugh has no experience as a judge, but then again, neither did Johnson six years ago, and neither did four of the other current justices when they first ran.

Both Johnson and Rumbaugh have been rated "Very Good" by the Municipal League. (As of press time, the King County Bar Association had not rated either).

The contest for Position 1 will be decided on Aug. 17 because there are only two candidates. Whoever gets the most votes will win.

Three candidates are vying for Position 6: Bryan Chushcoff, Charlie Wiggins, and Richard Sanders. That race might be decided in August, but only if somebody gets more than 50 percent of the vote.

Wiggins stands out as the best choice for Position 6. His criticisms of incumbent Sanders fall under three self-defined themes: integrity, impartiality, and independence.

Sanders' biggest problem, Wiggins said in an interview, is that "he brings his personal philosophy and beliefs to the table when he decides cases and participates in cases" ... which isn't something that a fair-minded justice does. For instance, in his most recent term, Sanders has embarrassed the Court by failing to withdraw from a case that impacted a lawsuit he had filed. Wiggins notes the Court reconsidered the case without him after one of the parties lodged a complaint.

Wiggins has run an impressive campaign. He is endorsed by a plethora of retired judges and justices. The Municipal League awarded him its highest rating, "Outstanding" (Sanders received a rating of "Good", while Chushcoff was rated "Very Good"). And the King County Bar Association rates him "Exceptionally Well Qualified" (ratings of Sanders and Chushcoff are pending). He has experience as an appellate judge and as a judge pro-tem. He promises to be a great justice.

This year, let's return one outstanding legal mind to the Temple of Justice and send two highly qualified newcomers to join her. Vote Madsen, Rumbaugh, and Wiggins for Supreme Court.

Andrew Villeneuve, a 2005 Redmond High graduate, is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a Redmond-based grassroots organization. Villeneuve can be reached at andrew@nwprogressive.org.

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