- - Saturday, July 25, 2020

For years I have moderated focus groups all over the nation and listened to people complain about the quality, intellect, principles and beliefs of their elected officials. Each time I heard those complaints, I asked participants whether they had ever run for office. With a handful of exceptions, none of them had.

Similarly, for years I have sat in campaign meetings and listened to professional political operatives and donors assess candidates as if they were commodities, interchangeable with any other human.

What neither focus group participants nor campaign operatives ever seem to consider is how truly amazing it is that anyone runs for any of these offices. We should reflect for a moment on how truly fortunate and blessed we are as a nation that some of our most accomplished citizens choose to participate in what can be a terrible, dehumanizing process.

I met one of these bright, rising stars recently. Mike Vaska is running for attorney general as a Republican in the Washington state primary, in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, move on to the general election.

Like so many other candidates at the state and local levels, Mr. Vaska could have easily avoided raising his hand for this office and instead could have tended to his legal practice involving consumer protection and his family.

Like so many candidates, he is incredibly accomplished, despite (or perhaps because of) his start in life. His father was a refugee from the Soviet Union after World War II. He was the first in his family to go to college. He attended Stanford University and then law school at the University of Chicago. Before that, he was an Eagle Scout.

He is married and has two boys, both of whom have graduated from college and are working on graduate degrees. Like thousands of dads, when his boys were young, he coached soccer and helped out with their Boy Scout troop.

In 2009, the whole Vaska family spent a month in Tanzania volunteering at an orphanage.

Mr. Vaska has been active in civic life as well, campaigning for (and then defending in court) a reduction in car tab fees in Washington state. He joined the board of Mainstream Republicans and became their state chairman. He believes that the way for Republicans to win, both nationally and in his state, is to appeal to voters’ common causes and fundamental attitudes.

The closing of the courthouse in Seattle was his prompt to run. As he puts it, “If we can’t protect those seeking justice, then no one will feel safe.” He believes (with some cause) that the creation and tolerance of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle was the unfortunate terminus of a story of lawlessness that has been unfolding for several years. Once Seattle stopped prosecuting street crime, it was a very short road to the police abandoning their precinct and to law-abiding citizens feeling unsafe in their own city.

In Washington, he is joined by an excellent set of candidates, including Dr. Raul Garcia, who left Cuba at the age of 11. He, too, is accomplished. A board-certified physician, with years of service to the Pasco and Yakima communities, he is a father of four who has done everything from working as a Senate staffer to being a columnist (not an easy gig) to helping open a school of osteopathic medicine.

Dr. Garcia will bring new and fresh viewpoints to political discussions, and that is always a good thing.

Thankfully for all of us, hundreds of people like them, on both sides of the aisle, love their country, their state, their community and their neighbors enough to sacrifice their time, personal lives, and energy to serve as elected officials. Without them — all of them — our republic would be dead.

So, the next time you see a candidate at a train station or bus stop, or knocking on your door, be kind, be gracious. Thank them for their love of country and their willingness to serve.

Recognize our debt to all of them.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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