Chris Reykdal is a liberal Democrat who grew up in poverty but escaped it through his own studies in public school and the social programs that helped his alcoholic parents get back on track and reunite a family split into foster care. Years later, he named his children after Presidents Carter and Kennedy and says he’s devoted his life to public service.
Jason Hearn is a conservative running under the GOP banner. He wants to lower business taxes and hold down spending by state government. The former state champion swimmer from Tacoma went to a private religious college in Utah, home-schools his kids and sees answers for state budget problems in the private sector.
Whether it is personal or policy matters, the differences could hardly be starker between the two finalists in the race to fill retiring Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams’ position in the 22nd Legislative District.
Their race is one of two in the 22nd District on the Nov. 2 ballot. In the other, five-term Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia is challenged by Chris Ward, who repairs computers and electronics for a local retailer and who filed to run with “No Party” affiliation. Ward has not reported raising any money to campaign against the well-known Hunt, and he’s taken a low profile – declining even to give details about his background or education.
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Democrats have held all three seats in the 22nd District since the 1984 election, and many Democrats thought after the Aug. 17 primary that the race was in effect over with Reykdal beating Democrat Stew Henderson. Hearn got the most votes of all seven candidates – just over one-third of the total – but Reykdal and other Democrats got nearly two-thirds.
HEARN VS. REYKDAL
Disadvantaged or not, Hearn is campaigning and he posted a video ad on his website that features state Attorney General Rob McKenna touting Hearn’s experience on the Lacey City Council.
Hearn says Lacey managed to balance its budgets without layoffs and that he thinks the same can be done by the state if it plans better and forecasts more accurately what revenue it can reasonably expect.
“I feel like I can take my experience at Lacey City Council to the state level,” he told The Olympian editorial board in a September interview. He said his experience as owner of a media company helps him understand the needs of business, and he would make stability in state budgets a primary goal if elected.
Hearn says he wants to ensure that pensions are paid for state employees, and he agrees with Gov. Chris Gregoire’s effort to push more health care costs onto state workers next year. But Hearn has been vague about how lawmakers can bridge a $4.5 billion budget gap, one-third of which is related to education costs.
Hearn has said he wants to look for ways to put state functions out to the private sector, including liquor sales and state printing. He has talked about preferring a consumption tax to business and occupation taxes and boosting the economy with lower tax rates for businesses.
“Growing the economy will grow the revenue,” he said in one interview. “We just need to help create a business environment in Washington where businesses want to come in and invest. We have to restructure the employment security, we have to look at L&I (Labor and Industries), we have to look at B&O (business taxes) and eliminating that,” he said.
He has said he would look to Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County for leadership on budget issues. But even Alexander has been unwilling to itemize the cuts that would have been required if majority Democrats had not raised nearly $800 million in new revenue this year.
Reykdal, on the other hand, says government revenue has declined faster than the economy as a whole in recent years. He thinks tax reform is needed to provide adequate revenue for state education and health care programs and says the tax burden falls unfairly on those who earn less.
He told a recent forum at First Christian Church in Olympia that lawmakers should raise revenue to cover one-third of next year’s budget gap, find efficiencies for another one-third and cut programs for the rest.
Unlike Hearn, Reykdal supports the high-earners income tax initiative on the ballot and says it is a fairer way to raise revenue.
Reykdal also contends that the state’s sales tax- and business tax-based system is a “20th century tax code in a 21st century economy” because it taxes goods in an economy that is actually growing in services.
Unlike Hearn, he balks at pushing state employees’ share of health insurance premiums to 26 percent, up from 12 percent, at this time. Reykdal says workers not being laid off are going without pay raises and losing income to unpaid furloughs.
The candidates are so different that Reykdal, a state employee, put out a one-page sheet that declares “there are 22 distinct things about Chris Reykdal that are completely opposite of Jason Hearn,” and he called Hearn “extremely conservative.”
Among their differences: Reykdal says he favors abortion rights and has the endorsement of NARAL and Planned Parenthood; he supports cap-and-trade legislation that would put more taxes on fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions; and he also opposes Tim Eyman’s initiative requiring a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases, supports marriage rights for same-sex couples and has endorsements of “every education advocacy group” including the League of Education Voters.
The candidates do agree on one thing: how each would handle his current elected office if he wins the race. Hearn wants to serve out one remaining year on his City Council term, and Reykdal wants to serve the one year left on his Tumwater School Board term.
If elected, Reykdal also would step down from his deputy director job with the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges, taking a lesser role with the agency so he would not have a conflict by making construction budget-related decisions.
Reykdal is the top fundraiser in the race with $73,077 – most of it raised before the primary when he beat well-financed Democrat Stew Henderson as the No. 2 vote-getter, behind Hearn. Reykdal also benefited from nearly $26,288 in independent expenditures by state firefighters and other labor groups that endorsed him in the primary.
Top donors that contributed $1,600 each to Reykdal included Suzanne Funston of Tumwater, education advocacy group Stand for Children, the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Labor Council, and the Washington Federation of State Employees. Premera Blue Cross contributed $1,000, and several groups or individuals gave $800 including the American Federation of Teachers-Washington, American Transit Union, Democratic state Rep. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, Puget School Employees of Washington, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, SEIU Local 1948 and the Washington Education Association.
Hearn raised $14,258 as of early October, including $800 from the Gun Owners Action League of Washington, $800 from the Trucking Action Committee, $800 from the building industry’s Washington Affordable Housing Council, and $500 each from Hometown Property Management and the Thurston County Republican Central Committee, both in Olympia.
Individual donors to Hearn included such well-known people as Virgil Clarkson, Lacey deputy mayor and a City Council colleague of Hearn, who gave $50.
“I like the way that he handles himself – with an open mind. He’s not a dynamic speaker but he’s persuasive in his own way. I think he can work with our other (lawmakers) regardless of party lines. I just feel he could be a good addition,” said Clarkson, who was speaking as an individual and not for the council.
Clarkson said the two disagreed on Hearn’s opposition to allowing homeless encampments in church parking lots in Lacey but that Hearn generally “did his homework well, he came to participate, and he took a position” on issues.
Clarkson also said Hearn consulted him early in his decision to run and that he served as “a mentor in some respects” to the candidate. He described Hearn as “brave” to run in a district that last had a Republican in office in 1984 (Republican Sen. Dick Hemstad lost that year to Democrat Mike Kreidler).
On the other side, Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet held a fundraiser for Reykdal’s campaign and thinks he’s a clear choice over Hearn because he would support state employees more fully.
“He’s supportive of some of the tax reform on the ballot this year. He’ll clearly be supportive of state employees. He talks about his history and how he came up from basically nothing to where he is today and is the beneficiary of the government programs that lift people up,” Kmet said, also speaking for himself and not the city or the Tumwater council.
“I don’t really know Jason well. I served on Animal Services with him. Clearly he comes from a more conservative philosophy,” Kmet added. “Olympia being a government town, I think we need to have someone in there to advocate for state employees. Frankly I have a concern he would not (do that) in that role.”
Kmet, a shop steward at the Department of Ecology and a member of Local 443 of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said Reykdal also had been on the Tumwater Planning Commission and was a candidate for a City Council position a few years ago. Kmet said he was impressed at the time and that Reykdal since joined the school board, rounding his experience.
WARD VS. HUNT
In the other race, Hunt has a vast edge in name familiarity – having been a Thurston County Democratic chairman and later a North Thurston School Board member. He also has an edge in fundraising and experience on legislative issues, having served as legislative director, or lobbyist, for a state agency.
Ward has not responded to some invitations to candidate forums, and he did not return telephone calls asking for more information about his background. But he told The Olympian’s editorial board he thinks voters deserve better than they’ve gotten from Hunt.
“I feel as though we don’t have proper representation for the working class,” he said. “We don’t have (lawmakers) people listening to people when they vote to enact initiatives. We have people voting to kick them out of law as soon as they can (two years after voter approval) and voting to raise taxes rather than living responsibly” within the resources available, he said.
Ward introduced several initiatives of his own this year, though he did not turn in signatures for them. Among them were measures to lower the state’s spending limit each year, limit expense reimbursements for lawmakers, require proof of citizenship to receive welfare benefits, and bar employment actions by the state Military Department based on sexual orientation.
Ward said he has no party affiliation but has conservative leanings and thinks the Reform Party founded by Ross Perot “would most closely represent me.” He says the two major parties have not done a good job representing the public.
By contrast, Hunt is unapologetic about his vote this year to temporarily suspend Initiative 960’s two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases. He said minority Republicans said at the outset of the session that taxes were off the table; without an outright supermajority willing to raise taxes, Democrats needed to suspend I-960 to preserve programs, he says.
“It was the right thing to do,” Hunt said. “We govern by majority, not minority.”
The candidates differ on health care benefits for public employees. Hunt said that if he had to choose, he’d rather see layoffs than push more costs onto state workers – which Gov. Gregoire has proposed.
Ward said workers in private industry pay more of the share of health care premiums and so should those in the public sector.
Hunt has criticized temporary furloughs for workers, but Ward said he thinks a shorter work week or reduction in pay equivalent to 10 percent of pay is preferable to permanent layoffs.
“Most people could afford a four-hour loss of work and still afford a good life for their family,” Ward told the editorial board. “But if you lay off people, you would have a negative effect on people.”
Hunt has spoken at forums about his environmental record, telling one audience he led passage of the first major Puget Sound cleanup bill that dealt with local governments and septic system cleanups. He also led efforts on three major bills on mercury reduction in the environment, two of which passed.
On the third bill, Hunt said the automotive industry and wrecking yards worked together to get mercury-containing light switches out of circulation. His most recent bill sets up a recycling program for compact-fluorescent light bulbs that contain mercury, he said.
Ward said he would seek to prohibit the use of polystyrene in food containers.
Hunt acknowledges Democrats were “lax” in reforming or restructuring government to make it more efficient. But he tried to pass reforms and will try again in his next term, if re-elected, he said.
He said he’s led efforts to hold vote-by-mail elections in 38 of 39 counties, and he plans legislation to make it mandatory for Pierce County too.
Hunt also sponsored legislation to set up a commission that would recommend consolidation of school districts from 295 to no more than 150, saving on duplicative administrative services and superintendent salaries. He said those salaries can go well over $150,000 a year.
“I think we need to look at Tenino, Yelm and Rainier, for instance,” Hunt said. “Do we need three separate bus systems? We ought to look at food services. We have yet to decide what is the best size for school districts.”
His school consolidation bill last year was watered down and put into the budget as a proviso that Gregoire vetoed.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog