Four years ago, business interests recruited Republican Randi Becker of Eatonville to run for state Senate and win a seat from majority Democrats in the rural, libertarian-tinged 2nd Legislative District.
This time, it’s Democrats’ turn. They have recruited cranberry grower and ex-Eatonville school board member Bruce Lachney to win back the seat and protect their party’s five-seat Senate majority.
The 2nd District is smaller this year because of redistricting, but analyses of voter trends show it hasn’t shifted dramatically and favors Republicans. The fastest-growing district in the state now runs from Puyallup’s South Hill to Eatonville and over to Thurston County, including Yelm, Rainier and the rural areas southeast of Lacey.
Becker’s short voting record is already an issue in the campaign. Lachney is hammering at her vote in early March to cut more than $70 million from K-12 and higher education, a proposal Republicans later dropped.
A third candidate, Republican James Vaughn, is running a self-funded campaign and wants to change the state tax code. He argues for a corporate income tax to replace the business-and-occupation tax that hits all businesses regardless of profits.
Vaughn also attacks Becker for a vote on insurance-rate disclosures that he claims was “bought” by health-insurance industry donations.
Becker chafes at the criticism and said she’s not beholden to special interests.
“My issues are representing the 2nd District,” she said. “The things I’ve brought forth legislatively haven’t come from the interest groups but from the people of the district.”
Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, who chairs the Senate GOP’s campaign committee, says Becker represents a Republican-leaning district well and should be re-elected “without a whole lot of suspense.”
Senate Democrats have different plans and believe Becker can be defeated, says Michael King, executive director for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.
Ballots go in the mail next week for the Aug. 7 primary, with two candidates moving on to the November ballot.
So far Becker is well ahead in fundraising, with donations from corporate interests helping her amass more than $93,000, three times what Lachney has managed. Vaughn has not formally reported any campaign fundraising or spending, but says he’ll put in $15,000 of his own money.
In the 2nd District House races, Republican state Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County and Democrat Greg Hartman will automatically advance to the November ballot, and Republican Rep. J.T. Wilcox has no opponent.
Becker grew up on a dairy farm and lives with her husband on 20 acres near Eatonville; their children are grown. She has no college degree but worked her way up to managing a medical practice that did millions of dollars of business a year.
She was recruited by Enterprise Washington to run in 2008 and was able to beat a long-serving Democratic senator, Marilyn Rasmussen, part of a campaign to elect business-friendly legislators.
Becker says her top legislative accomplishments include the “yellow-light” law that took effect in June, legislation that makes it easier for parents to get a child into mental health treatment, and getting money for a high-school skills center in Pierce County.
Looking ahead, she says she wants to pass a bill that makes it easier to intervene when mentally ill people pose a public safety risk. On education, she says she wants reforms before seeking new revenue sources.
But critics such as Vaughn call her the “senator from Premera” because she took campaign contributions from the insurer. And in 2011, she sponsored an amendment that watered down a bill sought by Democratic insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler, who was trying to make insurers’ rate-hike requests public before approving them.
Becker’s proposal died and she offered a different amendment that passed into law. Kreidler’s office says he was “very pleased” by the final bill and that Becker’s change in approach helps the agency disclose what insurers are trying to do.
Lachney is a former Marine, a retired airline pilot, ex-Eatonville School Board member, former Pierce County Planning Commission member, graduate student and cranberry farmer.
He also is a board trustee for Clover Park Technical Institute, and his priorities are to get stable funding for K-12 education and to close tax loopholes.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and Sen. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor recruited Lachney. He says his background is in budgets and that he can step in as an advocate for school funding and tax reform.
Lachney wants to eliminate tax breaks that are no longer needed, perhaps giving new weight to a state committee that reviews dozens of tax breaks each year and makes recommendations that lawmakers routinely ignore.
So far, Lachney has backing from education interests including the League of Education Voters and the Washington Education Association.
Unlike Becker, who has supported charter-school legislation, he opposes the privately run, publicly funded schools as a way to reform education.
Vaughn lives in Orting and is a former Army budget analyst who helped craft spending recommendations after the Persian Gulf War ended and the U.S. was adjusting to post-Cold War priorities.
“I speak that language,” Vaughn said. “I’ve done that. There is a smart way to go in and downsize. That is really what I bring to the table.’’
Vaughn makes his living helping veterans get employment, but he brings a quixotic past. He ran for Congress as a Democrat and lost to Dave Reichert in the 2008 primary. He also has proposed several citizen initiatives that he filed but quickly abandoned.
Business groups have not endorsed him, but Vaughn says a corporate income tax could encourage investments in equipment and hiring that a B&O tax discourages.
Becker says she doesn’t take Vaughn seriously and called him “a thorn in my side.”
All three 2nd District hopefuls say they are doing a lot of doorbelling around the district.
2nd District candidates
Occupation: State senator, retired medical practice administrator.
Education: Business studies, Green River Community College; continuing education in medical field.
Experience: Senator, 2009-present; member, Green River Community College Advisory Board.
Total raised, spent*: $93,226, $10,410.
Top 5 contributors: Puget Sound Energy, Bellevue, $1,800; Farmers Employee and Agents PAC, Olympia, $1,800; Allergan USA, Irving, Calif., $1,600; Eli Lilly & Co., Indianapolis, $1,600; Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America,
Washington, D.C., $1,600.
Occupation: Owner, Rainier Mountain Cranberries.
Education: Studying for master’s degree, University of Washington, 2011-present; bachelor’s degree, society and justice, UW, 1980.
Experience: Chairman, Clover Park Technical Institute Board of Trustees; Eatonville School Board, 2004-08; Pierce County Planning Commission, 2000-04; fellow, Vittana Foundation, Philippines, March-May 2011; Northwest Trek Advisory Council, 1987-2000; Marine Corps, 1980-86.
Total raised, spent*: $30,710, $13,610
Top 5 contributors: The Roosevelt Committee (Senate Democrats), Olympia, $1,800; Citizens for Better Government, Olympia, $1,800; Washington State Democratic Central Committee, Seattle, $1,000; nine donors of $900, including Washington Education Association.
Occupation: Assists veterans getting jobs as recruiter with North Carolina-based Sterling Partners.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, California State University; one year, Episcopal seminary; graduate studies, U.S. Army.
Experience: Budget committee, South Kitsap School District; Pierce County Workforce Development Council; Pentagon military analyst on budgets after the Persian Gulf War.
Total raised, spent*: None reported; states all funds are from self.