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Originally published Saturday, August 4, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Voters face important decisions on the primary ballot

Important decisions await voters on Tuesday, including a much-needed replacement for the King County Youth Services Center and a host of important races for Congress and the judiciary.

Seattle Times Editorial

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SECRETARY of State Sam Reed predicted Washington voters might set a record for primary election turnout as voters mail their ballots before the Tuesday deadline. But the record in recent years was only 45.8 percent in 1992. Here's hoping we break that record, especially considering the many important decisions before voters on the primary ballot.

Among them is a critically urgent King County Proposition No. 1 to rebuild the utterly inadequate Youth Services Center (see below). Any judicial races with only two candidates, including two state Supreme Court races and four King County Superior Court races, will be decided in the primary. There are also three open congressional seats, including Washington's newly added 10th Congressional District, a powerful byproduct of the last U.S. census that showed Washington qualified for another voice in Congress.

An earlier-than-ever primary, vacation schedules and exquisite summer weather seemed to contribute to a slower-than-expected pace of ballot returns late last week, but there's still time. Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday.

The Times editorial board interviewed about 130 candidates in recent weeks and offered advice to voters. Here's a summary of our recommendations on key election questions. (See the full list of recommendations at right.)

Washington state

Secretary of state — Speaking of elections, as Secretary Reed leaves office, voters should take care to elect a replacement who has the integrity and proven independence to be a credible referee for state elections as well as perform the other duties of the office. Reed's impeccable handling of the tight 2004 gubernatorial election that ended up in court is a model.

State Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup is the standout among four credible candidates. Though he identifies as a Democrat, he has distinguished himself as a public servant who can say no to his friends if it means serving all the citizens of Washington better. He was among the three Democrats in the state Senate this last session who joined with the Republican minority to pass a bipartisan budget and key reforms that put the state on firmer ground during this slow economic recovery.

Kastama was elected to the state House in 1996 and moved to the Senate in 2000. His election credentials were burnished as chair of the Senate Government and Elections Committee in 2005, when he ushered through several needed election reforms after that challenging 2004 gubernatorial election.

Congress

Congress will not change without a different cast of characters willing to acknowledge the need to embrace ideas beyond rigid partisan viewpoints.

Voters in the newly drawn 1st and 6th districts and the newly formed 10th District have opportunities to send proven independents and moderates to Congress.

Among a crowded field in the 1st District, the clear choice is state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens. Hobbs is a founder of the moderate Democratic coalition in the Senate, often referred to as the Roadkill caucus. The muscle of that group helped force some necessary reforms. Hobbs role, including reforms to the teacher-insurance system, has not won him friends from traditional Democratic special-interest groups. That's the point.

An odd circumstance of former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee's decision to resign and run for governor necessitates two 1st Congressional District elections. We recommend Hobbs for the two-year term in the newly drawn 1st District and recommend voters write in his name for the one-month term in the old 1st.

Voters in the 6th District no doubt are measuring candidates' shoe sizes to fill the open position created when U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, decided not to run again after 36 years in Congress. The choice is not so clear here, but two candidates emerge from the crowded field as smart, thoughtful public servants with a potential for pragmatic independence.

Citizens would benefit most from a fall campaign conversation pitting state Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and Bill Driscoll, a Tacoma Republican, against each other. Kilmer, a business-friendly Democrat, and Driscoll, a businessman and military veteran who re-enlisted in middle age, are strong contenders.

The new 10th District would be ably served by Denny Heck, whose impressive mix of public- and private-sector accomplishments makes him the best choice. The Democrat from Olympia served in the state House of Representatives for four terms, including as House majority leader and later served as chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner.

Heck co-founded TVW, Washington's acclaimed version of C-SPAN, and went on to be an entrepreneur. Heck would be a strong voice for public policies that help small businesses, create jobs and make higher education more affordable.

For the U.S. Senate seat, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell is bound to get past the primary. Voters would be best served by a challenge from state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who stands out among several challengers.

Judiciary

Judicial races are especially important in the primary election because if a candidate wins a majority of the votes, the contest is over.

Washington Supreme Court — That is bound to be the case in the contests for two of the three seats on the Washington Supreme Court, held now by justices Susan Owens and Steven Gonzalez. Each has only one opponent (and lesser ones, in our estimation).

In the third open race, we recommend King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer over several candidates.

King County Superior Court — The primary will decide three of the five contested races in King County Superior Court where there are only two candidates.

The Superior Court races have good candidates. Among them, we recommend a mix of attorneys with prosecution, criminal defense, civil litigation and pro tem judicial work.

The Times editorial board recommends Elizabeth Berns for Position 25, Sean O'Donnell for Position 29, Doug North for Position 30, Sue Parisien for position 42 and Judy Ramseyer for Position 46.


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