An important non-election? Both Clallam prosecutor candidates see value in Tuesday’s nonbinding vote

Will Payne

EDITOR’S NOTE” — See related Aug. 3 story, “Clallam prosecutor foes trade barbs in heated campaign; Tuesday’s vote nonbinding and real one comes in November” — http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/article/20140803/news/308039971

PORT ANGELES — What beauty contest?

William Payne and Mark Nichols agree that Tuesday’s primary will serve as an important benchmark in their race to become the next Clallam County prosecuting attorney.

With no other challenger on the primary ballot, both Republicans will advance to the general election regardless of what happens this week.

Payne, 57, was appointed in January by two of three Clallam County commissioners to serve the remaining year on former Prosecutor Deborah Kelly’s term.

“I think [the primary] is a good thing,” Payne said.

“It’s going to show either one of us how we’re doing.”

Nichols, 42, served as Kelly’s chief deputy from May 2006 until Kelly retired for family reasons last Dec. 31. Nichols resigned from the prosecutor’s office when Payne took the oath Jan. 27 and became the county hearings examiner.

“I think [the primary] is important,” Nichols said.

“It serves as an important litmus [test] for the candidates, as well as for the community, as to how the two candidates are faring.”

According to the state Public Disclosure Commission, Nichols had outraised Payne $20,774 to $10,349 — and outspent his opponent $18,864 to $7,287 — in the campaign as of Friday.

Since Kelly is a Republican, the Clallam County Republican Central Committee picked three candidates for commissioners to interview for the $127,302-per-year position: Nichols, Payne and Port Angeles attorney Robert Strohmeyer.

Commissioners interviewed the candidates Jan. 13 and appointed Payne by a 2-1 vote the next day.

Payne drew the support of Commissioners Mike Doherty, a Port Angeles Democrat, and Jim McEntire, a Sequim Republican.

Commissioner Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles independent, backed Nichols, calling Payne’s nomination the “worst decision I’ve ever been a part of in my whole time in county government.”

Chapman said the county has always appointed an elected official’s second-in-command to fill the remainder of an unexpired term. He noted that the voters supported Kelly and her administration in three elections.

Clallam County Republican Party Chairman Dick Pilling said the party is “very comfortable” letting the electorate decide between Payne and Nichols.

“I don’t consider this to be a problem for me with two very strong Republicans running for the position,” Pilling said Thursday.

“The party supports both of them and endorses neither.”

He added: “It would be nice to clone them.”

After a closed-door Clallam County Bar Association political forum in June, 48 bar members rated Payne as being the more qualified candidate.

Nichols brushed off the results of that survey, saying, “People will make up their own minds.”

“I’m hoping that there will be a number of debates,” Nichols said in a later interview.

The next prosecutor will be sworn in as soon as the general election is certified Nov. 25.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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