Business leader to seek seat

Democratic activist Stew Henderson said Monday that he is running for the 22nd Legislative District seat that three-term Rep. Brendan Williams plans to relinquish at the end of 2010.

Henderson is president of a three-year-old business, Third Way Consulting Group, and a former state employee. He says his platform is centered on job creation and improving the small-business climate, but he also wants to bring focus to environmental issues and to get legislative action on a climate-change bill.

“I’ve spent my career helping people cut bureaucracy, promote innovation, increase inter-agency and public/private collaboration, and improve systems by listening to what front-line workers have to say,” Henderson said in a formal statement explaining his campaign. “We need more of all those things throughout state government.”

Henderson, a 50-year-old native of Detroit who moved to South Sound in 1999, formally announced his campaign Monday evening at Sen. Karen Fraser’s fundraising picnic in Tumwater. Williams won his first of three terms in 2004, beating out a field of five Democrats and three Republicans, and local observers expect another crowded race in 2010.

“I don’t know of anyone else” so far, County Democratic chairman Jim Cooper said. “There are one or two other people who have thought about it … I would expect that it will be similar to when Brendan got elected. It’s an open seat in LD 22, and I expect people will come out of the woodwork.’’

County Republican Party chairman Scott Roberts said he does not have a GOP candidate in mind at this early date. Roberts considers the 35th District, which includes Mason and parts of west Thurston and south Kitsap counties, a higher priority for his party than the strongly Democratic 22nd, but he welcomed an end to Williams’ term.

“My thought is, if Karl Marx ran for that seat it would be a more conservative position than Brendan Williams. I’m glad to see anybody run for that seat,’’ Roberts said.

Henderson has shown – much like Williams, a three-term Democrat – that he can raise money. He played a major role raising funds locally for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign last year, including a one-day effort that raised $60,000. He also served as an alternate delegate at the national Democratic convention, and The Olympian carried his blog posts.

His campaign team includes Democratic state committeewoman Debby Pattin, former county Democratic chairman John Cusick and Beth Doglio, who advocates on climate-change issues. Fraser said in a statement Henderson is “exceptionally well qualified.’’

Williams said he is holding off endorsing any one candidate, wanting to avoid any appearance of a dynasty. He said he understands Henderson’s strategy of announcing extremely early, because he expects a crowded race.

“I think a robust exercise in democracy in the 22nd District may be beneficial not only to the district but to whoever emerges from the process,’’ Williams added.

Williams has gotten dozens of bills passed into law, including ones aiding victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. He had a 100 percent voting record with the Washington State Labor Council this year, led fights to give homebuyers rights to recover damages over defective construction, and advocated for the environment and for new revenues that could blunt budget cuts.

Henderson said he wants “to bring the same kind of passion and sticking up for the little guy that Brendan has brought and will bring up in the next session.’’ If there is a difference, Henderson said, it is that he is “a conflict resolution guy” who has brought people together as a consultant.

Henderson said he had not thought of running until Williams said he would not run. Already energized by his work for Obama last year, Henderson then was “horrified” this year to see how environmentalists were unable to pass a cap-and-trade bill regulating greenhouse gases even though they had many votes for their cause.

Henderson met his wife, Kathy Cox, while both were serving in the Peace Corps in Mauritania, West Africa, in 1981-83. They have two sons who graduated from Olympia High School.

Henderson’s professional background was in private sector management consulting and what he called “leadership development.” He joined the Department of Labor and Industries as assistant director during the Locke administration, then left in 2006 to start his own firm.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688