First-term Democratic Rep. Denny Heck looms as a kind of modern Goliath for the three challengers in Washington’s 10th Congressional District primary this year.
Only one of three opponents has much experience in campaigns, and Heck, a politician-turned-wealthy-businessman, is sitting on more than $900,000 in campaign funds leading up to the Aug. 5 primary.
Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald of Puyallup, the one opponent with experience in elective office, says her mid-year report to the Federal Election Commission will show she raised about about $33,000 through June 30.
That gives Heck, a successful Olympia businessman and co-founder of the state TVW public-affairs network, an almost thirty-fold financial advantage and the ability to run television ads or blanket the 10th district with fliers if he wishes.
“You can’t overcome that kind of disparity in funding. But a reality is, this is America and people need to have a choice as to who they vote for. I present myself as that clear choice because I believe I can represent the people better than Denny Heck has the last two years,’’ McDonald, 61, said last week in an interview at her Puyallup home.
Heck, 61, is a liberal on social issues and centrist on the economy, and defends his record as a man who can get things done. At campaign events, he tells supporters that he won passage of a bill co-sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick in 2013 that lets the Federal Housing Administration make sure that reverse mortgages – which let elderly homeowners sell their homes and receive payments while staying in the house – are in a retiree’s best interest.
Heck noted it is rare for a freshman lawmaker in the minority to get a policy bill passed.
He also tells of getting a Purple Heart medal for the son of a friend and former colleague, Connie Michener. The son, Sgt. Jacob Liddell, suffered a service-related brain injury and the Army held up his medal until Heck intervened.
A third candidate in the race is Jennifer Gigi Ferguson, a marriage counselor from University Place who got about 11 percent of the vote in the 2012 primary running as a Democrat; this time she’s on the ballot as an Independent. Ferguson, 56, said she learned from her fourth-place finish last time and believes her background as a military spouse gives her more credibility than Heck in military circles.
Sam Wright, a research scientist from Olympia who retired from state employment, is the fourth candidate. At 77, he is running as a way to draw attention to the Human Rights Party he founded in 2012.
Wright, who plans to spend less than $5,000, and Ferguson have run low budget campaigns in the kind of race that that typically requires a lot of money to be successful.
“I’m running against a machine and I realize I’m running against a machine,’’ Ferguson said in an interview. “I think there are a lot of people who are tired of party politics and they want someone who is interested in people, and not the party.’’
In a speech last week to Lacey retirees, Ferguson said her family members have been in the armed services for four generations. She also said she brought concerns about care problems for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to former congressman Norm Dicks before his retirement in 2012, just days before a major investigation was launched.
Ferguson is conservative on social issues and more liberal on economic and health care issues. She supports goals of the Affordable Care Act and wants to raise Washington’s minimum wage and also the federal rate. She also wants to require that corporations offer job opportunities to underprivileged people, including ex-felons returning to society, in exchange for preferential tax rates.
Unlike McDonald and Ferguson, Wright isn’t running to win but to make a statement.
“I couldn’t figure out any other way to change the direction of the country,” the Olympia resident said. “You can only do it from the inside.”
Wright wants “to get people to run for Congress” in other parts of the country on his ticket, which rejects war and advocates for better access to health care, housing, education and jobs.
“I’m obviously not going to get enough votes to advance to the finals. The 10th district is a safe Democratic district anyway. I don’t know why the Republicans run because they can’t get any national support,” Wright said.
What she lacks in cash so far, McDonald is trying to make up for by pointing to her record of getting things done as a five-term state legislator and a County Council member in her second term. She notes she won passage of a bill to outlaw texting-while-driving as a Republican serving in a Democratic state House, and she’s worked across the aisle with Pierce County’s Democratic executive to make tough budget choices that cut staff and streamlined some government planning operations.
State Rep. Dick Muri, the Republican from Steilacoom who formerly served with McDonald on the Pierce County Council, said he thinks the mood of voters is different this year than in 2012, when he ran for the 10th district seat and lost with Heck getting 59 percent of the vote. He sees McDonald as a strong, able candidate, but facing the same financial challenges that hampered his campaign.
“As nice and polite as she is, she runs a very tight ship,” Muri said, recalling the way she ran meetings as council chair. “On one hand she’s one of the nicest people you want to meet, but she runs a very efficient operation … and made tough decisions.”
McDonald thinks her approach appeals to independent voters in the relatively new 10th district that runs from Olympia northward to Shelton, Lakewood, Puyallup and University Place. But she is staking out some hard conservative positions, and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Spokane Republican who is in U.S. House leadership, helped kick off her campaign in late April.
“My top priority is definitely budget issues. I feel it is imperative for the future of our country that we balance the budget – that we do not raise the debt ceiling and we live within our means (without new taxes),” McDonald said. “And that we have a serious plan to pay down the $17.5 trillion in debt so we don’t mortgage our children’s future.’’
McDonald also wants to start over with Obamacare, which House Republicans have voted to repeal more than 50 times, and she criticizes the Democratic U.S. Senate for not meeting the Republican House on budget compromises. She also criticizes Heck for voting 95 percent of the time with House Democrats, which a Washington Post analysis of 766 votes shows.
Heck is running on economic issues, particularly job creation.
He is advocating a short-term solution to the financial shortfall coming in the federal highway trust fund; he wants to end a tax rule that benefits corporations that put their headquarters off shore to avoid taxes.
With no increase in the gas tax in sight, closing that exemption could keep the federal highway trust fund solvent for an extra 18 months, which pays for projects that create jobs, Heck says. He also favors raising the federal minimum wage and boosting infrastructure improvements – particularly getting state and federal money to complete the state Route 167 spur into the Port of Tacoma, which he believes will create thousands of construction and export jobs.
Now in his second year, Heck is getting ready to help lead the charge to extend financing of the national Export Import Bank, which provides loan guarantees for export sales. He’s introduced a bill, which he says has 201 Democratic co-sponsors. He said the bank is needed to ensure that financing is available for buyers of Boeing jets as well as small businesses’ products.
The new House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., opposes the extension. McDonald said she is just learning about the issue but is leery of putting taxpayers on the hook to pay for loans that go bad.
“From my perspective I don’t think it is the government’s responsibility or the taxpayer’s responsibility to underwrite businesses’ losses,” she argued.
The candidates disagree on other major issues – although McDonald agrees the federal minimum wage should be raised to the level of Washington’s, which has been the nation’s highest. Breaking ranks with many in her party, she thinks it makes sense to tie the federal wage to inflation, so that it goes up with the cost of living – something Washington state voters enacted in 1998.
But on immigration, they differ widely – with Heck wanting tighter borders, enforcement against employers that don’t verify immigration status, and a way for law-abiding immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally to become citizens.
McDonald, an immigrant from Scotland, says the pathway to citizenship is “amnesty” for law breakers. Having gone through the immigration door legally in 1973 and having seen her sister’s effort to immigrate get held up for more than a decade, she said those who entered illegally into the U.S. years ago should not be given a chance to stay and earn citizenship.
She also criticizes Heck for his efforts to help banks finance marijuana businesses, which are now legal under state law due to an initiative but which are still not legal under federal law. Heck notes there is risk in having cash-only marijuana sales, but McDonald was a force in getting Pierce County to enact a ban on marijuana stores in unincorporated areas.