Four years ago, no one bothered to challenge the three Democratic incumbents running for re-election in South Sound’s 22nd Legislative District. This year all three — Sen. Karen Fraser, Rep. Sam Hunt and Rep. Chris Reykdal — chose to run for other, higher offices rather than seek re-election.
Surprisingly, only two of the open 22nd District races drew competitive primary elections. In the House Position 2 race, Democrat Beth Doglio of Olympia is the only candidate on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Doglio is a longtime environmental advocate, as campaign director for Climate Solutions and director of the Power Past Coal campaign that has opposed coal-export docks and advocates for wider use of alternative fuels. Her background also includes work as the first executive director of Washington Conservation Voters.
She is all but assured of election and will be a smart, energetic lawmaker with insights into climate change, public schools and other top issues.
The best candidates in the other two races are Sam Hunt for the Senate and Laurie Dolan for House Position 1.
Hunt is a 73-year-old Olympia Democrat and former North Thurston School Board member who is completing his seventh term in the state House. Hunt has been a reliable advocate for school funding, for state employees who hold nearly one of every five jobs in Thurston County, for improvements to elections, and for environmental causes such as removing mercury from the environment.
Hunt faces Steve Owens, a software developer for Disney who lives in Olympia. Owens, 51, previously worked for Amazon and tech firms; he also served nine years in the U.S. Navy.
Owens is running with no party affiliation, although he served as a Republican precinct officer while living in Puyallup a few years ago and ran as a Republican for a House seat two years ago.
In this year of the outsider, Owens presents himself as a man for the middle ground. He wants government to increase its transparency and find new ways for the public to give effective feedback to lawmakers. He would attend legislative caucus meetings with whichever party has the Senate majority; currently it’s the GOP’s majority coalition.
It’s hard to disagree with Owens that good solutions to problems often lie outside the partisan camps, and we agree with him and with Hunt that the state does not need all of the roughly 295 school districts statewide. And we wish Hunt were more independent of the state teachers union.
But on the school funding issue that will dominate the 2017 Legislature, Hunt is more willing to face up to the reality of fixing an unconstitutional state school funding system, which relies excessively on local voter-approved property tax levies. Many budget and education experts believe compliance with the Supreme Court’s rulings in the McCleary case will require another $3.5 billion state investment to replace the share of local levies that now illegally subsidize basic education including teacher pay.
In the contested House seat, Dolan, 64, is ready to serve. She worked for three decades as a K-12 school administrator and classroom teacher and a dozen years ago ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in Spokane’s 6th District. She is a cancer survivor, and after moving to Olympia she served as policy director for then-Gov. Chris Gregoire for four years.
Opponent Donald Austin, who is turning 20, is running as a Republican who opposes an income tax and wants a better school curriculum, which he found was not very rigorous at South Puget Sound Community College, where he has been a student. Austin’s other priorities are transportation and government integrity.
His complaints about professors and curriculum may be accurate, but he brings no elective experience or experience in policy making other than serving in a Montana mock legislature for students.
Dolan is a policy wonk and says her priorities are to increase state revenue for full funding of K-12 schools, funding higher education, improving transportation and winning capital projects for South Sound. She is taking a long view of tax reform and wants to spend many years looking at ways to make the system more fair to the poor; this could include the politically unpopular income tax.
Based on experience and insight, we recommend voters pick Hunt, Dolan and Doglio.