Candidates emerge as Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards plans to retire


A new person will represent Thurston County Commissioner District 2 next year after incumbent Gary Edwards retires.

Edwards, 77, told The Olympian he is retiring from the county commission at the end of the year, when his second term is up.

"I've got kids and grandkids and great grandkids," Edwards said. "I'd just like to spend some time with them."

District 2 spans the county's eastern border with Pierce County from the Nisqually Reach to Alder Lake and notably includes the City of Yelm, where Edwards lives. Prior to serving on the commission, Gary served in the U.S. Army and worked in law enforcement for nearly four decades, about half of which were spent as Thurston County Sheriff.

Though he plans to retire, Edwards, always plain spoken, said he plans to still be involved in the community.

"I'll try to participate in some of the organizations around that are trying to do good stuff," Edwards said. "I'm not going to just jump in the grave."

Edwards' departure from the county commission means voters will have to elect a new person to fill his seat.

John W. Foster, a former Yelm mayor and veteran, is running as an independent with Edwards' endorsement. He faces Rachel Dreon, a Democrat with a professional background in behavioral health.

Who is JW Foster?

Foster moved to Yelm with his wife in 1996. He served on the Yelm City Council from 2011 to 2016 when the council elected him as interim mayor. Voters backed him for mayor in 2017 and he then served a full four-year term.

Foster said he had no interest in running for the county commission seat immediately after being mayor of Yelm. However, he changed his thinking after a much-needed break from public service and seeing the commission expand from three to five members last year.

"I felt like with all the knowledge and experience I've gained over the last decades of public service, this would be a good fit for me at this time in my life, and most importantly, my wife agreed," he told The Olympian.

Edwards said he's gotten to know Foster over many years and called him a "good man."

"Any of the people I've endorsed over the years, I don't go to them, 'You better do this,'" Edwards said. "That's not part of my game plan. My game plan is I hope you'll do the best to do the right thing."

Foster said he chose to run as an independent because he has supported people and issues on both sides of the political divide and he feels the commission should be non-partisan.

"I want to be the independent person who people can talk to from both sides," Foster said. "I never had a major disagreement with Gary on his political views. I think he did a good job of representing a voice that needed to be heard at those county commissioner level discussions."

Foster lists fiscal responsibility, accountability and economic vitality as his top issues on his website. He said affordable housing and behavioral health issues are of great concern as well, but the county needs to make sure it has funds to respond to those first.

"We can't do much of anything if we don't have a good income stream," Foster said. "Economic vitality, getting our business and industry up and running better, to provide the jobs, to provide the security for people so we can work on those other things are all parts of my elevator pitch, if you will."

Who is Rachel Dreon?

Dreon describes herself as a progressive Democrat and proud 2004 graduate of Thurston County Drug Court who has lived experience with many of the housing and substance use issues that are affecting county residents.

She now has a master's degree in public administration from The Evergreen State College and a resume with state and local leadership roles, according to her website.

Currently, she commutes from Thurston County to work in King County where she serves as the Department of Community and Human Services Behavioral Health Workforce Investments Manager.

"I'm running for county commissioner to bring compassionate leadership, extensive experience in informed policy development and collaborate efforts to our community," Dreon said.

Dreon first considered running while serving on the Thurston County Treatment Sales Tax Advisory Committee.

She said the committee reviewed many requests for funding local organizations that collectively totaled about $4.5 million last year, but the county only had enough to fund a small fraction of those requests — far less than she initially expected.

"That really fueled my fire to want to bring some of my budgeting, my fiscal experience and also my personal experience of how important it is to have community support available to folks," Dreon said.

Dreon spoke with Emily Clouse, the current District 5 commissioner and her former coworker at the state Department of Social and Health Services. She said Clouse encouraged her to run for the commissioner seat.

Dreon's turning point, she said, came on Dec. 27, when her friend died from an overdose. She decided then she "absolutely" wanted to dedicate the next four years to serving to the community as it faces "critical challenges."

"Rents rising, opioid overdoses, climate emergencies, no houses to live in, no central place to find help," Dreon said. "I really believe that this demands new, fresh energy, bold leadership and collaborative ideas."


     (c)2024 The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.)

     Visit The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.) at

     Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.