In politically polarized times, elected officials have an extra duty to carry the burden of reason and help restrain impulsiveness. 

In Thurston County, however, two leading officials have veered another way. As reported by The Seattle Times’ Joseph O’Sullivan, County Commissioner Gary Edwards and Sheriff John Snaza addressed a gun-rights meeting in Yelm Oct. 16 with words that stoked flames rather than encouraged peace. 

Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza in 2016
Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza in 2016

Crowd members spoke of a citizens’ arrest of the state attorney general, who has supported gun control measures including an assault weapons ban, and they suggested forming a militia. Snaza asserted he holds power to swear in a militia but would not now do so.

State law does not appear to empower Snaza or any other sheriff to raise a militia. It does require sheriffs to “keep and preserve the peace … and quiet and suppress all affrays, riots, unlawful assemblies and insurrections.”   

Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards in 2005, when he was the county’s sheriff. (Jim Bates / The Seattle Times)
Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards in 2005, when he was the county’s sheriff. (Jim Bates / The Seattle Times)

Edwards, a former sheriff, went further, warning of dire consequences if President Donald Trump cannot thoroughly pack the courts. 

“If we’re not lucky, we might have a revolution,” Edwards said. 

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American government is riven by hyperbolic partisanship — on both the right and the left — particularly at the federal level. A presidential impeachment probe is underway, for which the executive has blamed a treasonous conspiracy.

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In these tense times, responsible parties will work to settle the water and preserve Americans’ faith in democratic institutions. Peaceful mechanisms — not arrests or “revolution” — must be how local, state and national governments respond to turbulent times. 

Snaza and Edwards should either rise to the challenge of this difficult era or pass the duties of office onto new individuals who can.