Richland School Board: 2 incumbents handily win, 1 lags behind

Only one of three incumbents running for the Richland School Board has to play catch-up with her challenger this fall, judging by Tuesday's preliminary results.

The primary election whittled the field down to two candidates for each race who will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

Two incumbents handily won their primary races and one slightly lagged behind her challenger Tuesday.

It was a busy field this year, with 10 candidates on the ballot for the three positions.

Position 3

Rick Donahoe, an engineering manager at Hanford, came out with a solid lead for the seat he has held. He received 39 percent of the vote, or 2,746 votes.

His closest challenger, Gordon Comfort, collected 1,975 votes, or 28 percent.

Dave Serell and Elizabeth Nagel appear to be out of the race. Each got about 17 percent of the vote.

Donahoe said it felt good to come out of his first election in 30 years with a lead. Donahoe was appointed to his seat 20 months ago. "I'm very pleased with this result," he said.

He said he will take a little break now and then go into the "big push" for the general election.

Donahoe said he respects the challenger left standing after the primary.

"Gordon is a good guy to run against," he said.

The incumbent board member should know, as he was his challenger's boss until earlier this summer.

Gordon Comfort was the principal of Richland High School before becoming the CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia this summer.

"I'm excited," he said about beating out the other two challengers. "Now we have work to do."

Comfort said he plans to go door to door this fall to get out his message of increasing transparency and accountability of the school board.

Both candidates have said working with dwindling school budgets will be their strong point and focus on the board.

Position 4

Mary Guay has served on the school board for 12 years. She also was on the board for eight years in the 1970s.

But she struggled with her challenger in this primary.

Guay reaped 43 percent of the votes, or 2,910 votes. But Brian Barth, the only challenger still in the race, got 3,101 votes -- 46 percent.

Jhoanna Jones dropped out of the race this summer. But because she rescinded after the deadline, her name still was on the ballot and 755 people voted for her.

Guay said she was disappointed with her result, but that she is looking forward to the fall campaign.

She hadn't put very much effort into the campaign so far, she said, in part because her many duties in school matters kept her busy.

Aside from her work on the Richland board, Guay is a member of the legislative committee of the Washington State School Directors' Association.

Barth is a project manager for a local construction company. He was a teacher before he switched careers 14 years ago.

He could not be reached Tuesday evening.

Barth is a member of the district's Instructional Materials Committee, which reviews books taught in Richland classrooms, including novels used in high school English classes that some parents found offensive.

He has said the book controversy in Richland was not his main reason for running for the school board. He would not want to change the current book policy, he has said.

Guay also said the book policy should be left alone. She would like to involve the public more in what's being read in Richland schools, she said.

Position 5

Phyllis Strickler has helped steer Richland school policies since 1995. She may well do so for another four years -- at least she has got a good start on election season.

Strickler collected 44 percent of the primary vote, or 2,976 votes. Her two challengers both got just under 30 percent, with Brett Amidan edging out Jeffrey Dennison.

Amidan received 29.1 percent, or 1,997 votes. Dennison was two percentage points behind him.

Strickler said she was pleased with the results and thankful for the support.

Strickler feels strongly about fiscal responsibility, she said. She takes partial credit for the sufficient cash stocks the district now has.

Amidan is a researcher at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and an adjunct instructor for business classes at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

He said he expected the incumbent to come out with a lead, but thinks he can get enough support from those who voted for Dennison to sway the result in the general election.

The 43-year-old has said he would bring youthfulness and new ideas to the board.

He also said he already took down his campaign signs and wants to ask the other candidates to take down their signs until the race gets closer to the November election.

Election results will be certified Aug. 31.

As in past contests, the primary election attracted few voters. Of about 87,000 ballots mailed out in Benton County, about 20 percent -- or about 17,500 ballots -- had been returned Tuesday evening.

Ballots will continue to be counted through next week and participation could then exceed the 22 percent returns of the 2009 election, said Stuart Holmes, Benton County election supervisor.

School board members are elected to four-year terms leading the district of nearly 10,000 students. They receive $50 per school board meeting they attend, but no other compensation.