National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 County officials eye seats in Congress, governorship

By Beverly Schlotterbeck
EXECUTIVE EDITOR​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


More than two-dozen current or former county officials are hoping to join their county colleagues in Congress or lead a state come Nov. 6.  Most are candidates in races for House seats, but there’s at least one governor’s mansion on the line and three U.S. Senate seats.  Following is a report on several of the races.

In Indiana, Richard Mourdock, a former Vanderburgh County commissioner (1995–2002) who unseated Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary, faces Democrat Joe Donnelly for that state’s open Senate seat.

Meanwhile both candidates for the Wisconsin Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, can lay claim to county backgrounds. Tammy Baldwin (D), former Dane County supervisor, is facing off against Tommy Thompson (R), a former Juneau County supervisor. Baldwin currently represents Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District, while Thompson served as President George W. Bush’s HHS secretary from 2001 to 2005 and was Wisconsin’s 42nd governor.

In a race where the incumbent is heavily favored, Albany County, Wyo.  Commissioner Tim Chestnut (D) is challenging Sen. John Barrasso (R), who is seeking his second term. Barrasso currently chairs the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

In House races, at least 13 currently serving county officials have set their course for a congressional seat. Lee County, Ala. Commissioner John Harris (D) hopes to unseat five-term incumbent Mike Rogers (R), himself a former Calhoun County commissioner. When Rogers was first elected to the county commission at 28, he was the youngest person and first Republican to serve. Harris was first elected to the Lee County Commission in 1994. They are vying for Alabama’s 3rd District spot.

In California’s 3rd Congressional District, Colusa County Supervisor and Republican Kim Vann is challenging incumbent Democrat John Garamendi. Vann is a member of NACo’s Rural Action Caucus and served as a vice chair in 2011.

John Travaglione (R), the chair of California’s 7,200 square-mile Riverside County and a former NACo board and steering committee member, is seeking to capture an open seat in California’s redrawn 41st District. He faces Democrat Mark Takano.

When U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) decided to run for governor, the 6th District opened up for two challengers. Delaware County Council Member-at-Large Bradley Bookout (D) is taking on Republican Luke Messer, a former congressional staffer. This is Messer’s third run for a House seat.

Elected as Lewis County, Ky. judge-executive in 2010, Thomas Massie resigned from the office in June of this year to devote more time to the 4th District race where he faces Bill Adkins (D).  The seat was vacated by retiring Rep. Geoff Davis (R).

John Ewing (D), Douglas County, Neb. treasurer, is a long shot, according to press reports, in his race against seven-term Republican Lee Terry in Nebraska’s 2nd District.

Nassau County, N.Y. Legislator Fran Becker (R) is making his second run at the 4th District seat now held by eight-term congresswomen Carolyn McCarthy. In New York’s Southern Tier, Nate Shinagawa (D), Tompkins County Legislature vice chair, is squaring off against one-term Republican Tom Reed in a mostly rural, redrawn 23rd Congressional District. Shinagawa is a vocal opponent of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — while Reed strongly supports natural gas exploration as one tonic for the area’s struggling economy.

The redrawn 9th District in North Carolina has been held by Republicans since 1963, most recently by Rep. Sue Myrick who is retiring. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts (D) is competing for the now-open seat against Republican Robert Pittinger.  Roberts served as the county board chair from 2006 to 2011 and was a member of NACo’s Large Urban County Caucus Steering Committee. Pittinger is  a real estate investor and former state senator.

In his second term as a Washington County, Pa. commissioner and the current board chair, Larry Maggi (D) is challenging incumbent Tom Murphy (R) in Pennsylvania’s 18th District. Maggi is running as a conservative Democrat against the five-term incumbent.

Shelby County, Tenn. Commissioner George Flinn (R) is taking a second crack at a House seat in his race against incumbent Steve Cohen (D) in the state’s 9th District. Flinn, who owns Flinn Broadcasting with 40 radio and TV stations across the country, also ran in 2010 for the Republican nomination in the 8th Congressional District. Coincidentally, Cohen served two years on the Shelby County Commission in the 1980s.

The scramble for the new 10th District seat in Washington features Pierce County Councilman Richard Muri (R) challenging Democrat Denny Hack. Both men had made previous runs for House office in 2010: Muri was defeated in his bid for the 9th District seat, while Heck lost his race to represent the 3rd District.

Third try may be a charm for Snohomish County, Wash. Commissioner John Koster (R). Koster, who is serving his third term on the commission, ran for Congress in 2000 and 2010. An active NACo member who has served on the NACo board and steering committees, Koster faces retired Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene (D) for a chance to represent the newly redrawn 1st District. The race for the 1st has been called one of most expensive in the country.

Also in Washington State, a former King County councilman, Robert McKenna (R), is being hailed as the best chance for Republicans to regain the governor’s mansion in nearly 30 years. He faces retired U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee in his bid.

Christopher Johnson, editorial assistant, contributed to this report.