Brian Mittge Commentary: Let’s Have Grose for Commission, Larry Grove for Secretary of State

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The Lewis County Commission and Gov. Jay Inslee have big decisions to make as they look at how to fill two key empty positions, one for our county and one for our state. Fortunately, there are two experienced, effective candidates in Lewis County who would do a great job until voters can weigh in next year.

The two remaining members of the Lewis County Commission should pick former County Commissioner F. Lee Grose to fill the seat of the late Commissioner Gary Stamper.

And Gov. Jay Inslee should pick longtime Lewis County Auditor Larry Grove to fill the big shoes of departing Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

The guiding principle here is that these open positions should be filled by someone who can do the job well from day one, and who will serve the people faithfully until an election is held — an election in which they will not run.

Grose, who served two terms as county commissioner, is the obvious choice to step back into the seat. He won’t just keep the seat warm — he’ll hit the ground running.

An even bigger benefit is that he’ll push hard doing the job all day, every day. The important fact here is that Grose is the only one of the finalists for the position who pledged not to run in 2022.

What that means is that Lewis County citizens would get a full-time and experienced commissioner, rather than a newbie who will split their time between learning, governing and campaigning.

“It’s very difficult, and I don’t think any of the candidates up here understand how difficult it is, to hold an office and run for reelection at the same time,” Grose told Lewis County Republican precinct committee officers earlier this week as they met to pick their finalists. “I did it once, and it’s very hard to do. You’re splitting two jobs — you’ve got two full-time jobs and it’s really, really hard.”

Grose wasn’t the top choice of the Republican PCOs, but legally and practically that doesn’t matter. The law says that the county commission will select from the slate of three nominees presented by the PCOs. The commission is not expected to rubber stamp the party’s top pick.

The other two nominees said they are interested in running for office in 2022, and I hope they do. Until then, Grose is the right choice.

One potential political complication for Grose is that in the 2020 election, he endorsed the opponent of current County Commissioner Sean Swope.

Whether this sinks his candidacy remains to be seen.

I have spoken with Swope in the past and by all indications, he seems to me like the kind of person who will consider people on their merits and will not make political decisions out of grudges or an attempt to get even. I’ll be watching his decision on Grose’s candidicy to see if my impressions are correct.

In Lewis County, with one seat vacant on the three-person commission, Swope and fellow Commissioner Lindsay Pollock will have to vote unanimously to pick the commissioner candidate who will serve for the next year until a full election can be held in 2022.

If they can’t agree, the choice will bump up to the next level of government, which is Gov. Jay Inslee.

That shouldn’t be necessary. In Lee Grose, Lewis County has an able candidate — a pragmatic conservative from Packwood who has been elected to the position, has done the job and is ready to serve Lewis County until voters can again make a choice in 2022.

 

Secretary of State

And while local decisions can and should be kept local, Gov. Inslee does have an important statewide choice to make as he was suddenly given the task this week of filling the position of secretary of state.

Third-term incumbent Kim Wyman, the only elected Republican to hold statewide office on the West Coast, was selected by President Joe Biden to fill an important federal cybersecurity post. (Kudos to Biden for his bipartisan pick, by the way.)

Inslee, a Democrat, should follow Biden’s lead and pick a Republican to replace Wyman.

Washington voters have chosen a Republican as secretary of state since 1964, a remarkably consistent streak. As our state turns ever more blue, it’s increasingly important to know that our top elections official isn’t putting his or her thumb on the scale. Having a responsible Republican in charge of statewide elections can increase trust and accountability.

(It’s silly to have the state’s top elections official be a partisan position, anyway, but that’s a topic for a different day.)

As Gov. Inslee looks at candidates, he should consider Lewis County Auditor Larry Grove.

An able, dependable and energetic elections administrator, Grove would serve with distinction at the statewide level. He is a Republican but not a partisan. That’s what we need for this post.

As an elected county auditor, Grove would be a logical candidate for the position. In fact, Wyman was the elected Thurston County auditor before being elected in 2012, as was her predecessor, Sam Reed.

Grove has served as Lewis County’s top elections official since 2015. He has a variety of private- and public-sector experience, including as a state financial examiner, an accountant and even a fisheries biologist in the Bering Sea and college-level tae kwon do instructor (he is a black belt).

Inslee would do well to pick Lewis County Auditor Larry Grove to serve as secretary of state through the remainder of Wyman’s term until voters can pick a four-year replacement in 2022.

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Brian Mittge can be reached at brianmittge@hotmail.com.