Graying candidates did heavy lifting

She didn’t win, but Marilyn Rasmussen was a standardbearer for candidates in last month’s general election who showed that advancing years is no obstacle to political activism

Thirty of the 54 candidates for local offices and the Legislature in Pierce County and parts of south King County and Kitsap County were at least 55 years old.

Rasmussen, at 73, was the oldest – and maybe the spunkiest.

“I have plenty of energy for this. I don’t think age makes any difference,” she said during her eight-month race for a seat on the County Council.

She continued to run her 180-acre farm near Eatonville while keeping up with the rigors of her campaign.

Her opponent and the new councilman-elect, Jim McCune, is 11 years younger at 62 and has spent the last seven years as a state representative. He, too, sees no issue with age for politicians.

“I’m not the kind of guy who thinks about retirement – ever,” said McCune, who away from public life is a salmon distributor.

The fact that more than half of the local candidates were seniors is understandable, said T.M. Sell, who keeps an eye on politics as a professor of political economy and journalism at Highline College in Burien

“They tend to have more time,” Sell said. “The kids are grown up, and the candidate could be retired. Older people are more likely to vote, so they might also have a better sense of the importance of politics and government.”

An example of such savvy is Rasmussen, who held elected office for 28 years before losing a bid four years ago for re-election to the state Senate. Another is Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, 58. Her re-election last month adds to her streak of holding elected office for the county for 10 years, starting as county auditor in 2003.

She and her husband John, a Pierce County judge, have been married 36 years and have four children and five grandchildren. That kind of experience makes older candidates doubly valuable, Sell reasoned.

“Life experience is certainly something to consider,” he said. “The experience that an older person has is a definite plus. They’ve seen at least some of it before. So they should have a sense of what works and what doesn’t.”

And then there’s the kind of experience of a pair of 60-somethings who ran for Pierce County assessor-treasurer. Mike Lonergan, who won, is 62, a former Tacoma City Council member and ex-director of Tacoma Rescue Mission. His opponent, Billie O’Brien, is 63 and has spent 21 years – a third of her life – working in the assessor-treasurer office. Both cited  their experience – Lonergan’s outside the assessor-treasurer office, O’Brien’s inside.

“Experience is a funny thing in politics,” Sell said. “In no other line of work is an utter lack of experience regarded as a virtue. If you want a plumber, you don’t look for the guy who says, ‘I’ve never done this before, but I like pipes.’”

When Marilyn Rasmussen, 73, wasn’t driving her tractor and moving bales of hay to feed the cattle on her farm in rural Pierce County, she was running for a seat on the Pierce County Council the last few months. She was among 30 candidates 55 years old and up in the 2012 election.