Snohomish County Council District 5 candidate Kristin Kelly.
Snohomish County Council District 5 candidate Kristin Kelly.

District 5 Snohomish County Council incumbent Sam Low and challenger Kristin Kelly took the stage together at the annual Monroe Chamber of Commerce candidate forum last Tuesday at the Rock Church.

It was the second of three public candidate forums held in Snohomish County this month. The two contenders have a few weeks left before voters decide who takes the seat. Kelly has consistently pointed to her experience with land use issues, and Low has pushed the importance of funding the district’s transportation projects.

District 5 stretches from a portion of Lake Stevens to Index. Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar, Maltby and several other cities and unincorporated areas also fall within its boundaries.

Campaigning ramped up this season when Maltby resident Tara Schumacer was knocked out of the running in the August primary election. Low and Kelly released a joint news release this month that said they were committed to running a clean campaign.

The statement came after campaign signs were removed or tampered with along roadways and private property. The two stated they wanted to focus on the issues and their positions, and to let the voters decide who will represent them for the next four years.

“Political signs need to be left alone until after the election on November 7th,” the release states.

At last Tuesday’s forum, Kelly and Low were given three minutes to make opening statements. They had one minute to respond to the same questions and later gave brief closing comments.

Kelly used her time to talk about her start in Snohomish County in 1989, where she and her husband raised a son together, and started their small family business, Turner’s Grocery, in Lake Stevens. It was during those years that she first got involved in land use issues.

A box store was headed for Kelly’s neighborhood. She said she and other residents didn’t believe that was a wise idea for the community. They rallied and fought for five years to keep the big business out.

“I say ‘fought,’ because it takes a lot to organize a community, raise money, and take the county to an appeals when they make a bad decision,” she said. “We did all that, then we kept working with the city of Lake Stevens, and the county, and the property owners, and with our community, and now it is a county park and it’s a jewel of the area.”

Kelly said her focus is on growth management. She said District 5 is going through another boom, and it’s critical to protect the environment, including through water quality improvements and adopting sustainable land use policies. There is so much to love about Snohomish County, but “we need to take care of it, and I know I have the skills to do that,” she said.

Kelly is the executive director for the Pilchuck Audubon Society. She has worked as the program director for Futurewise, which promotes land-use policy. She served on the past two Snohomish County Charter Review Commissions, where she ran against nearly a dozen others and won the most votes for her district both times.

Sam Low also spoke about his background in small business, as well as his upbringing in a military family. Both of his parents are marines. His wife, Mariah, is a forensic scientist for a law enforcement agency; which one, he said, he can’t legally disclose. The couple was born and raised in Snohomish County.

Together they have raised five children, and Low has been heavily involved in the community. His business sponsored many sports teams over the years as a way to give back, he said.

Low has been chairman of the Lake Stevens Rotary Club and the Snohomish County Health District. He served on the Lake Stevens City Council for three years, and last year was voted to be the council president.

Low has held the District 5 position since last fall. He won a special election against Hans Dunshee, who was appointed to the seat when Dave Somers exited following his election as Snohomish County Executive.

Low received about 37,000 votes during that election, more than any other official who has run for the position. Last year his campaign centered on fiscal responsibility.

At the forum he highlighted his experience working on municipal budgets, building relationships with city employees and his ability to tackle countywide issues, including homelessness.

Both Low and Kelly have a similar position on the opioid crisis, in that it needs to be handled with compassion.

Opioid-related overdose deaths appear to be on the decline locally, but use of the drug is likely as prolific as ever. Snohomish County had the second-highest mortality rate in Washington last year — 11 of the 70 cases statewide, according to a Washington Department of Health study.

Low said he has worked to get funding in the county budget that would help groups in Monroe, such as Take the Next Step, that are directly addressing the issue. He said he hopes to continue to work with local organizations so alternative methods of handling the crisis can be developed.

Kelly said it would be prudent to look to the ways other governments are dealing with the disease. She said in Iceland youth addiction has nearly been wiped out because of approaches they have been able to establish in the county.

The two candidates were also asked about their stance on transportation. Kelly said she was against a new development planned for the Maltby area, because the roadways there are already overwhelmed.

Low said he is committed to fixing the issues that stem from State Route 522, including the thousands of students who have been late to class because of traffic backups.

Low and Kelly will have one more public forum at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Papa’s Mexican Grill in Lake Stevens.