YAKIMA — A Yakima County commissioner district most likely to produce a Latino candidate failed to do so this election.
Latinos make up an overwhelming 73.2% majority in District 3 — which spans much of the Lower Yakima Valley — but there isn’t a Latino candidate seeking that district seat in the 2022 elections.
That district was created by a settlement stemming from a lawsuit filed by Seattle-based immigrant rights group OneAmerica and the Campaign Legal Center. The lawsuit alleged the county’s voting system disenfranchised Latinos.
The city of Yakima lost a similar lawsuit, which resulted in the historic 2015 elections when three Latinas — Dulce Gutierrez, Carmen Mendez and Avina Gutierrez — joined the City Council.
The settlement reached in August 2021 defined new district boundaries for county government, one a Latino majority, and required all three commission seats go up for election in 2022. It also ended at-large elections.
Potential Latino candidates didn’t have enough time to prepare for an election, especially going against an incumbent this year, said OneAmerica community organizer Audel Ramirez.
“But there’s definitely people who have shown interest to run in subsequent elections,” he said.
Commissioner LaDon Linde, a Sunnyside Republican, currently serves in District 3. He’s facing one challenger, Steve Saunders, a Republican and retired Army command sergeant major from Wapato.
However, there are two Latino candidates — former Yakima City Council member Dulce Gutierrez and Tony Sandoval — seeking office in District 2, where Latinos hold a slimmer 55.6% majority.
The District 2 seat is currently held by Republican Commissioner Ron Anderson, who isn’t seeking another term.
Republican Kyle Curtis and Democrats Gutierrez and Sandoval seek to replace Anderson.
In District 1, incumbent Amanda McKinney is unopposed.
All three races will appear on the Aug. 2 primary ballot in their respective districts. In District 2, only the top two candidates will advance to the general election in November.
Gutierrez, 32, said she tossed her hat into the race on the last day of the filing period because she didn’t see an experienced candidate.
”So I decided to do it,” she said. “It took me a couple of weeks to get things going, the mechanics of the campaign and everything, and I feel good about it.”
Gutierrez — who participated in the settlement with OneAmerica — said she would have liked to have seen more Latino candidates but said interest is typically lower in an off-election year. She also noted more candidates overall in local races than statewide races this election year.
”In comparing it, I think it wasn’t the worse-case scenario, but it also didn’t meet expectation either,” she said. “We know an off year is going to produce a lower turnout.”
Gutierrez said she wants to see the county invest more in community safety, beef up technology in the county courthouse and would push for more affordable housing projects.
She’s a union, community and naturalization organizer for the Washington State Labor Council.
Sandoval, a 58-year-old car salesman and former county Democrat party chairman, said his decision to run had nothing to do with the OneAmerica settlement.
”I don’t really deal with them,” he said. “I don’t like it when outside groups come into our community and try to manipulate things — I think it should be someone local.”
In the past, Sandoval ran three unsuccessful campaigns for the Yakima City Council and another unsuccessful bid for the U.S. House.
Despite those losses, he says he has skills to offer the county. Sandoval said his main priority would be beefing up law enforcement to combat gangs and violent crime.
He said the recent uptick in shootings, including one that injured four children and one adult at a Cinco de Mayo event in Sunnyside in May, has stirred the community. He wants to seek more law enforcement resources from federal authorities.
”I’m seeing people scared, carrying guns,” he said. “It’s getting scary. I see friends of mine are carrying guns in their car.”
Curtis said he’s seeking office to assure his party retains a voice.
”I think it’s important that we keep a conservative elected on our commission to keep our priorities,” he said.
Curtis, 29, said his experience as chief operating officer for Ramsey Companies Inc. in White Swan gives him the edge. The company oversees two filling stations, a logging company and a 200-head cattle operation.
”I felt I could bring that value and that skillset to the table to help make good financial decision,” he said.
Curtis is the vice chairman of the Yakima County Planning Commission and serves on the executive board of Yakima County Development Association.
Linde, 61, defeated Autumn Torres in November to retain his post, only to have to run again this year. He wasn’t sure how the settlement would impact his bid to retain office.
”You always have to assume you will have an opponent — I didn’t know where that was going to come from,” he said. “In the months leading up to the filing period, I had heard rumors of certain people entering the race but obviously none of those came to pass.”
Linde said he’s concerned about increasing violent crime and supports additional tools to help law enforcement, such as a regional crime lab. Most evidence is sent to the state crime lab, where there is a huge backlog that often slows investigations.
Saunders, 53, said he’s running because the Republican party needs rebuilding and that he can inspire leadership for the party.
He, too, says crime is a concern and that “public safety definitely needs and expansion in place,” and that a keener eye needs to be kept on the county budget.
Without elaborating, Saunders also said he’s concerned about property rights and that government overreach is eroding those rights.
”The First Amendment is for everyone,” he said.
McKinney, 44, briefly faced an opponent — Democrat Alex Roy — but he withdrew before the end of the filling week.
Roy couldn’t be reached for comment and didn’t return an email seeking comment.
McKinney said she’d rather see more people seeking office. She said the politics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic might have thwarted interest.
”I think a lot of people are taking a breath and are kind of seeing what happens,” she said. “Many are focused on themselves right now.”
McKinney said part of her focus will be on improving grant programs for rental assistance, affordable housing and rehabbing existing housing.
She said the county does need more affordable housing, but it’s important to rehab current homes, too, to maintain and improve property values.
”Pride in community, pride in neighborhood and pride in home ownership,” she said. “And it’s far cheaper than mass building. Those are important, too, but we cannot overlook what we have.”
She’s also advocating for a port district she said could help subsidize more airline flights into Yakima.
More flights to and from here would lure more business and people to Yakima, bolstering the economy, she said.
”And we have three times not passed a port district in Yakima County,” she said.