Voters in the 31st Legislative District suffered a loss when incumbent state Rep. Morgan Irwin declined to stand for a third term. The Republican, a Seattle police officer, was a well-informed voice for accountability who will be missed as the Legislature addresses economic and health crises. 

At a glance, former legislator and State Patrol captain Eric Robertson might seem suited to succeed his fellow Republican. But this editorial board cannot recommend him. Voters should instead choose retired Boeing engineer Thomas Clark to bring fresh representation for a fast-growing area. 

Clark, a Navy veteran and Democrat from Lake Tapps, shows strong potential for a good legislator. His insights about the vital regional aerospace industry will help lawmakers respond wisely to Boeing’s ongoing turmoil. 

In an interview, Clark spoke impressively about the importance of police accountability and the need to reevaluate the state’s taxing and spending priorities. As a caregiver for his granddaughter, he’s keenly attuned to the challenges — and possibilities — for daily education during the ongoing pandemic. 

Robertson, of Sumner, remains unrepentant for a shameful racial incident during his first of two terms in Olympia. In January 1995, two young Black men attended a House committee hearing to testify on a juvenile-offender bill. From his seat at the dais, Robertson, who is white, decided one of the men looked suspicious — for holding his hand inside a pocket of his baggy jeans — and summoned state troopers. Officers followed the 19-year-old man into a hallway, handcuffed and searched him because, as Robertson said, a “sixth sense” told him the man was an armed threat. The search found only a bulky ’90s cellphone and a keychain.

Seattle Times editorial board endorsements: Election 2020

Twenty-five years later, not even a national groundswell against racial injustice has evoked contrition. Robertson said he felt the “valid situation” had alarmed him rightly. He says, as he did in 1995, that the young men were not stopped or searched. But the detention allegedly happened outside the meeting Robertson was part of. Regardless of whether Robertson believes the men were detained, he owes better to \ the man he pointed out, whose name is Neill Hoover, 44, a North Seattle father of three who drives for UPS. The experience of being detained right after he testified remains vivid for him. Hoover in a recent interview said he was handcuffed during the search, something that was not reported at the time of the incident. Last week, a second man also corroborated the experience of being stopped and searched, although he did not remember being handcuffed.


“It just kind of negated everything I had said,” Hoover said recently. “I just figured this is what happens, this is what they do to us. And I accepted it.”

Societal change is long overdue. Washingtonians who take their concerns to Olympia must be welcomed. Clark deserves the 31st District’s vote. Regardless of how the election goes, Robertson must finally apologize for his abuse of power.

Editor’s note:  This editorial, originally published June 25, has been revised to clarify that it included new information from Neill Hoover, and to report additional new information from a second witness that corroborates Neill Hoover’s contention that the men were stopped by police officers after testifying. The second witness says he remembers being stopped and frisked but does not remember being handcuffed, which Hoover says happened. The revision also includes Robertson’s insistence that officers never approached the men outside the hearing room.