Press Talk: Is Steve Stuart out forever?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Well, OK, I didn't see that coming.

County Commissioner Steve Stuart is out. Or he will be, that is, by this time next year. He's opted not to run for re-election this fall.

Look, politicians come and go. And mostly I like the "going" idea because — frankly — these guys just … stick … around … too … long. Do your thing — whatever that might be — then leave already. Please.

But Stuart — in my humble opinion — needed to stick around. At least a little longer. Why? Well, we have this thing going on with the other two commissioners, David Madore and Tom Mielke. You know them better as the M&M boys.

They've created a bit of a mess in the county. As an example, they can't seem to shake their back-door hiring of their buddy state Sen. Don Benton as the county's environmental services director. They sneaked him in the $100,000-a-year job before any sane person could say, "What the … "

I mean, Benton couldn't tell the difference between air pollution and au gratin. Still, he got the environmental job.

So, it was Stuart who brought a measure of mothering to the M&M boys. Sure, it wasn't easy, and, frankly, it was a losing battle. But someone had to do it. And that was Stuart.

I should say that Stuart wasn't without fault. My sense was that county taxpayers weren't always at the top of his priority list. But in the end, he was a good man. And a good representative for the county.

He will be missed.

When I received a phone call from Stuart on Thursday telling me he was out, it did surprise me. Surely, I figured, if this was a pitched battle between the M&M boys and Stuart — and Stuart said "no mas" — the M&M boys would have won.

But Stuart doesn't see it that way.

"I know some will see it that way," he added.

Stuart said because the freeholder process has begun to change the way county government runs, that's a direct indication the M&M boys have lost.

For those of you not paying attention, 15 freeholders were elected in November to write a county constitution. If voters OK it, that could result in lessening the power any two county commissioners would have.

Well, I told Stuart, others will feel you're not running because you knew you couldn't win re-election.

"Without being cocky, I think I'd win. It would be a battle, for sure — it always is — but I think I'd win."

I had the opportunity to ask Madore if it made him happy that Stuart will not run. Madore didn't directly answer that question.

"It's an exciting opportunity for the people to choose a new leader, and that's always an exciting thing. But I can work with anyone."

I tried asking the question a different way. Did Madore consider Stuart a thorn in his side?

"No. We certainly had our differences."

My take? Madore is happy to see Stuart go, and he does consider him a thorn in his side.

Of course, Stuart likely feels Madore is a major pain in his rear end, as well. And that — along with a feeling that the commission is now pretty much dysfunctional — led Stuart to his decision.

But does that mean Stuart is finished with politics? I asked him this in a second phone conversation I had with him Friday. His answer? Absolutely not.

Stuart said there is something very positive about stepping away from something like politics, recharging the batteries, and getting back in again.

I guess we'll see.