By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The final count in the only contested race for Lewis County Superior Court judge indicates overwhelming support for local lawyer Joely O’Rourke.
O’Rourke won 72 percent of the votes while her opponent gathered only 28 percent. The numbers are rounded to whole votes, though officially include two decimal places to the right of a single vote.
The Nov. 8 vote-by-mail general election in Lewis County is certified today. Turnout was almost 78 percent.
While the Chehalis woman will be the first female superior court judge in county history, it’s not something she gave a lot of thought to during the campaign, she said.
“I really wanted to be elected solely on my qualifications,” O’Rourke said. “It’s definitely an honor, for sure.”
The graduate of the University of Washington and Gonzaga University Law School began her professional career as a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
In 2009, she started working as a deputy prosecutor in the criminal division at the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.
For the past two years, O’Rourke has been in private practice, representing defendants at their first appearance on criminal charges in both Lewis County District Court and Lewis County Superior Court.
She will be sworn in and take the bench on Jan. 9. She will replace Judge Richard Brosey who is retiring after more than 18 years in the position.
Twenty-thousand-seven-hundred-seventy-one voters marked their ballots for O’Rourke, compared with 8,258 who supported rural Chehalis attorney Katherine Gulmert.
In a year that saw more than $51 million in candidate contributions across Washington state, O’Rourke’s campaign raised more than $26,000 and Gulmert’s raised none, according to figures available from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.
Gulmert, a former deputy prosecutor who now has a private practice in Chehalis, posted an open letter to her supporters and the community on her campaign website shortly after election day. With less than half the votes counted at that point, Gulmert’s showing was just 30 percent.
She congratulated O’Rourke on her victory.
“It was a well-run and dignified campaign and I hope that she continues to serve Lewis County for many years to come,” Gulmert stated. “I expect that when I appear before her I will see what so many local attorneys and judges already know, that she is fair, unbiased and prepared in every area of the law.”
Adna resident Andrew Toynbee will also be sworn in in January, taking the seat of Judge Nelson Hunt who is retiring too. Toynbee is leaving the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office to return to Lewis County, where he spent 13 years in the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.
He ran unopposed and earned 22,654 votes.
The third Lewis County Superior Court judge, James Lawler, was also unchallenged for another four-year term. Lawler was first elected in 2007. He got 23,662 votes.
Lewis County voters submitted 35,786 ballots in this presidential election year. Republican president-elect Donald Trump secured 21,992 votes (64 percent) while the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton got 9,654 (28 percent).
There are 46,094 registered voters in the county, with a population of roughly 75,000.
The Lewis County Board of Commissioners saw two contested races, with incumbent Edna Fund beating challenger Dan Keahey, 53 percent to 47 percent. Both are Republicans.
Commissioner Bill Schulte is stepping down and will be replaced by Republican Bobby Jackson who won with 56 percent over Independent Bob Bozarth who took 44 percent of the votes.
Lewis County Fire District 3 in Mossyrock saw 63 percent support for its proposal to fund construction of a new fire station with as much as $1.4 million in bonds.
The Napavine-based Lewis County Fire District 5 failed to get at least 60 percent support for an emergency medical services levy. A majority of voters said yes (56 percent), but it wasn’t enough to pass.
See all the final results for Lewis County here
For background, read:
• “A second Chehalis attorney hoping for outgoing Lewis County judge’s seat” from Tuesday July 26, 2016, here
• “Judge Brosey eyes retirement, Chehalis lawyer to seek election to the court” from Wednesday March 30, 2016, here