If pundits are to be believed, the hottest contest for elected office in our state this year is our U.S. Senate race, now that Dino Rossi has decided to challenge Patty Murray.
But there’s another battle that promises to be just as fierce: the looming showdown between Republican Dave Reichert and Democrat Suzan DelBene, the expected winners of the primary in the Eighth Congressional District, which includes Kirkland.
The Eighth has never sent a Democrat to the House, but it has helped send Democrats to the Senate (Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell) and it has consistently supported the Democratic nominee for president (Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008).
And although Reichert has won a plurality of the vote three times, he hasn’t won by much. In 2004, he won with 51.5 percent; in 2006, he won with 51.4 percent; and in 2008, with 52.78 percent. His hold on the district might not be so tenuous if he had major accomplishments to his name, but he doesn’t.
“His biggest failing has been saying ‘no’ and never providing alternatives,” asserted DelBene in an interview, alluding to Reichert’s votes against the stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), health insurance reform (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), equal pay for equal work (Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act), and the amendment to authorize the military to repeal its failed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
What about Reichert’s professed support for environmental protection?
DelBene sees it as calculated, cynical politics, pointing out that Reichert recently told a group of Republican precinct committee officers that he only takes pro-environmental votes to keep the likes of the Sierra Club and the Washington Conservation Voters “out of the game.”
In the audio clip from that meeting, Reichert can be heard saying, “I just wanted to be honest with you. You know Jennifer Dunn was an environmentalist in her votes, too. She was also pro-choice. I don’t know if most of you remember that now. But… if you want to hold on to this district… there are certain things that you must do. This is a 50-50 district.”
He goes on to say: “I’ve only, I’ve, supported Wild Sky, I’ve supported Alpine Lakes, because of the reasons that I just laid out to you. They are … what I’ve done is taken out… I’ve taken them out of the game in this district. They’re out.”
That sure doesn’t sound like somebody who’s in Congress to fight for the principles that he believes in. It sounds instead like a manipulative politician who is only honest when he’s with his friends. Is that the kind of person who should be representing Washington in Congress?
DelBene doesn’t think so.
She decided over a year ago that she wanted more effective representation in Congress, choosing to embrace the motto “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (attributed to Mahatma Gandhi) and filed for office.
She may be new to politics, but she has a deep understanding of the challenges facing entrepreneurs and working families, because she’s had to deal with economic hardship in her own life.
“When I graduated from college, my parents weren’t able to find a place to live at the time, and they had to move in with me. I can tell you, I know what it’s like for a father and a mother to have to ask their daughter for help. We need to help folks going through that situation today,” DelBene reflected when she spoke to the 2010 State Democratic Convention in Ridgefield.
Despite her hardship, DelBene was able to put herself through college and become a successful business person, because someone took the trouble to create opportunities for her. Now she wants to return the favor by ensuring that people who need a hand up get the help they need to land back on their feet. She’s actually helped start up a company in the district (drugstore.com), so she knows what it means to create jobs. She’s already walked her talk.
Reichert, unfortunately, just talks.
Since he seems to be counting on name familiarity and personal likability to carry him to victory, he shouldn’t be surprised if voters decide they’d rather send someone to Congress whose work ethic matches her rhetoric.
Andrew Villeneuve, a 2005 Redmond High graduate, is the founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a grassroots organization. Villeneuve can be reached at email@example.com.