The race for retiring state Rep. Brendan Williams' seat drew seven candidates this year, and the stability and adequacy of the state's budget is emerging as a major issue in the race.
Also key for most of the candidates: How to promote job creation while keeping the state budget balanced in a time of recession and shrinking tax collections.
Jason Hearn, a Lacey City Council member and the lone Republican in the race, is running under the GOP Party banner. He says he can bring more stability while pushing for smaller government and holding down taxes – mainly by planning on a longer-term horizon and being more realistic about the future.
Three candidates – Stew Henderson, Chris Reykdal and Judi Hoefling – are running as Democrats, and most see a need for more state revenue. Another candidate, Steve Robinson, says he is a “Progressive Dem,” and two other hopefuls – Jeremy Miller and F.G. “Fred” Jensen – are running on variations of the Democratic name.
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Henderson and Reykdal have emerged as the most visible candidates and have pulled away in fundraising. Both have strong labor union backing in a region where government is the biggest employer and public-employee groups have clout. Both say they favor an income tax on higher earners to broaden the tax load and provide more revenue to fill gaps in the budget.
Hoefling says she is willing to look at Initiative 1098’s high-earners tax, which proposes to raise $1 billion a year by taxing individuals’ incomes above $200,000 while cutting property taxes and giving tax credits to small businesses. But Hoefling said the economy has changed, and state government needs to adapt temporarily to lower revenues without sacrificing basic programs such as education and aid to the vulnerable.
Robinson said he supports the income tax but also thinks government needs to make hard choices about programs it no longer will fund.
As of midweek, Henderson had raised $63,095 for his campaign, including $800 donations from environmental, trial lawyer and state employee groups. Reykdal had raised $62,825, including $800 donations from the American Federation of Teachers-Washington, American Transit Union’s Legislative Council, state Rep. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle and labor groups including Public School Employees and the Service Employees International Union/Healthcare 775NW.
Robinson raised $19,170, including 11 donations of $800 each from tribes and tribal groups, while Hoefling had $17,408, led by $800 each from retiree Christine Warjone and Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe.
Miller, who is running as a “Demo Party” candidate, did not respond to a request for an interview last week. He reported raising $12,690, including $10,100 he lent the campaign. His funds included an in-kind donation for signs worth $2,590 from the Olympia Love and Freedom Foundation, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Jensen lists no telephone or e-mail contact for his campaign and reported raising no money. He is running as a Prolife Democrat.
Some political watchers, such as Thurston County Democratic Party chairman Jim Cooper, think Hearn will lead all candidates in the Aug. 17 primary because the Democrats will split the vote. But Cooper also thinks the top Democrat who emerges from the “top two” primary runoff is destined to win it all Nov. 2 in the solidly left-of-center 22nd District.
The 22nd includes Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater and hasn’t elected a Republican in about three decades.
Henderson is a management consultant and former state agency assistant director, and he proved to be a prolific fundraiser for the local Obama-for-president campaign in 2008. He also is the formal nominee of the local Democratic Party, served on a city council in Maryland, once ran for Maryland’s House of Delegates and served in the Peace Corps. He paints himself as a reformer who would “debureaucratize” government and push for job creation in alternative energy fields.
Henderson has endorsements from top environmental groups and shares an endorsement with Reykdal from the Washington Federation of State Employees.
Reykdal is a Tumwater School Board member and has forged labor ties through his work as deputy leader of the state board for community and technical colleges. He won a sole endorsement from the state’s Washington State Labor Council and more recently has benefited from a $25,000 independent expenditure campaign led by the Firefighters Action Support Team political committee and allies; the third parties are spending it on brochures and cable television ads.
Reykdal favors more investment in public schools and tax reform, and he is backed by Rep. Williams and Rep. Sam Hunt, the two House Democrats serving the 22nd, who have fought similar battles over the years. Hunt and Williams see Reykdal, who touts his budget experience in government, as a more able advocate who is ready to step into the job.
Robinson is a natural resources policy expert with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and he worked on major state-tribal agreements that dealt with sovereignty and natural resources – including the timber-fish-wildlife agreement that set streamside buffers a decade ago. He said his experience, which includes civic and environmental education roles, makes him easily the most qualified.
Hoefling is a Tumwater City Council member who grew up in a logging camp, and her background includes stints on planning commissions in Tumwater and Westport. She led local tourism and business-advocacy groups in Olympia and is an administrator for Behavioral Health Resources, which provides mental health and addiction-recovery services in South Sound counties. She describes herself as a proven leader, mentioning work to set up the 2-1-1 telephone network that provides crisis referral information to the public in several counties.
Miller has been an advocate for liberalizing marijuana laws, and he works with the Olympia Patient Resource Center, which provides information to medical marijuana patients. He touts himself as a “hometown candidate” and grass-roots organizer and says he’ll “always be a vote against state worker layoffs and benefit cuts.”
Jensen is a retired merchant seaman and anti-abortion activist who ran for the Legislature in the 22nd District in the 1998 primary, losing by a wide margin to then-Rep. Cathy Wolfe. Jensen, now 89, is not mounting a visible campaign, but his voter-pamphlet statement indicates he is running on an anti-abortion platform.
Hearn, a Lacey councilman, is a former state champion swimmer and attended Brigham Young University on a swimming scholarship; he said he attended the Mormon school as a “Protestant student.” Hearn said his ownership of a business and service on a city council that cut $2 million from its budget without layoffs are preparation for the job.
The candidates vary in their response to the budget challenges that led the Democratic-controlled state House and Senate to raise taxes by nearly $800 million this year. The majority Democrats voted in 2009 and again this year to cut state jobs, freeze cost-of-living adjustments for state workers and increase workers’ share of out-of-pocket health care costs. They also voted this year to order about 35 percent of general-government workers to take 10 temporary layoff days, or unpaid furloughs, to save $73 million.
Hearn says the Legislature has failed to look far enough into the future in its budgeting and failed to predict accurately how much money it has to work with.
“The top issue in this campaign is stability,” he said, suggesting he can bring a new approach. “I’m hearing that people are concerned. They are concerned about the imbalance in the budgeting and the deficit.”
But Hearn offered no clear-cut ways to bridge a budget gap now estimated at $3 billion for 2011-13. He said he would look for guidance from state Rep. Gary Alexander, the House GOP’s ranking budget expert, on ways to reduce state spending.
Hearn said some government activities might be better farmed out to the private sector, including possibly selling off state-run liquor outlets to private businesses. He also thinks lawmakers should make funding for state-worker pensions a higher priority.
Robinson does not criticize lawmakers but said the budget was full of “quick fixes.”
“We have a much worse problem than they addressed in terms of the economy. We have to dig deeper,” he said. “The solution is not exclusively cutting; it is also raising taxes.”
Robinson also opposes cuts as the sole way to bridge the budget gap. But he said cuts need to be made, and he hopes they are done in a way that doesn’t just “thin the soup” and leave programs that become ineffective.
Henderson said he generally favored the approach that majority Democrats took in balancing their budget this year through spending cuts and new taxes, but he thinks the tax system is unfairly weighted so higher-income people pay too little and the middle class is left feeling overtaxed. He said the state needs to better assess which of its expenses represent good investments of tax dollars and which can be cut.
Hoefling said the budget crisis of the past two years came quickly and caught lawmakers off-guard. She hopes to see a more balanced approach and more care taken to protect the vulnerable people who depend on state services; she also wants to protect state workers, who provide middle-class stability in Thurston County, she said.
Hoefling also says lawmakers have to revise the tax code and revise the way they spend money, because it might be years before the economy recovers enough to generate much new revenue.
“I think it’s going to take every good mind in the state to figure out how this is going to work,” Hoefling said. “I don’t think any of these decisions about where to cut needs to be made by an individual.”
Reykdal grew up in poverty in Snohomish County and said he hears a lot of “anxiety” from voters when he knocks on doors. In response, he tells voters that Washington has a history of boom-and-bust budget cycles and that the state tax structure, which relies on sales and other “consumption” taxes, causes wide swings that could be tamed by a more stable tax code that included income taxes on high earners.
Reykdal said lawmakers did well in the short term to deal with their budget shortfalls, but he thinks they failed to look long term. He thinks they added to the future tax problem with new taxes on bottled water, pop and candy – more consumption taxes.
Robinson said lawmakers need to work to bridge partisan differences and find common ground to create jobs, just as he worked to balance timber interests with those of fish in the timber-fish-wildlife agreements of 1999-2000. He said regional climate change efforts could help create jobs by promoting alternative energy.
He also favors giving state help to small-business incubators that make it easier for entrepreneurs to get set up in new businesses.
Hoefling also said voters want politicians who can work across the partisan aisle and deliver results. She said Tumwater succeeded in attracting an outdoor-clothing business, and a solar-panel manufacturing company is considering putting a plant there. Lawmakers could bring in more businesses by doing a better job of marketing what the state has to offer, including the area’s quality of life, Hoefling said.
Reykdal says government has a big role to play in making investments in infrastructure that create good-paying jobs. He mentioned Referendum 52, the school-retrofit measure on the Nov. 2 ballot, as a way the state can promote jobs in the next few years. Reykdal also thinks a corporate income tax would be an economic stimulus – if it replaced the state’s business and occupations tax.
Henderson would go further. He would give “targeted” tax breaks to small businesses that can show they created jobs. He also would promote growth in alternative energy and says the state could recruit wind and solar start-up firms out of California.
Hearn has a more traditional Republican outlook but said he wants to work across party lines too. He said the state needs a business environment that is worth a business’ effort to invest in.
Hearn favors reworking the Employment Security Department and Department of Labor and Industries to help businesses and eliminating the business and occupations tax. But he offered no specific reforms for agencies or a replacement revenue source for the B&O tax, a major source of state taxes.
Brad Shannon: 360-357-1688 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog
Occupation: Owns NW Media Co., based in Lacey.
Experience: Served on the Lacey City Council since January 2008; co-owned business that publishes a magazine and does media buys since 2001.
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in broadcast communications/media sales, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
Occupation: Self employed/management consultant.
Experience: Spent 20 years “helping government run better,” including six as assistant director for management-consulting services at the state Department of Labor and Industries and for other agencies; active in local campaigns including Obama for president in 2008; seven years on the Hyattsville (Md.) City Council; ran for Maryland House of Delegates; served in Peace Corps and worked as a consumer-issues organizer for Ralph Nader.
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree, Dartmouth College, 1981; Master of Arts, applied behavioral sciences, Leadership Institute of Seattle.
Occupation: Administrator for private nonprofit health care corporation.
Experience: Tumwater City Council member since 2004; community relations administration for Behavioral Health Resources; director of Community Mental Health Foundation since 2001; led effort to create a 2-1-1 network providing health and crisis referral for a five-county area; was first woman to serve as executive director for the Thurston County Chamber; executive director of the Olympia-area Visitor and Convention Bureau; Westport city administrator; planning commission in Westport and Tumwater.
Education: Studied organizational management; college courses in board management and fund management.
Occupation: Deputy executive director, State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, since 2005.
Experience: Tumwater School Board member since 2007; state board for Community and Technical Colleges since 2002; worked for state Senate Transportation Committee, 1999-2002; management and budget analyst, Orange County, N.C., 1997-99; high school history teacher in Longview.
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in social studies, Washington State University; master’s degree in public administration, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Party: Progressive Dem.
Occupation: Natural resources policy expert for tribes.
Experience: 25 years as natural resources policy adviser for Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; seven years as public affairs director, Department of Natural Resources; small-business owner and executive for seven years; former newspaper reporter in Eugene, Portland and La Grande, Ore.; former president of the Olympia Jaycees; former president of Northwest tribes’ Salmon Homecoming Alliance; member of the National Congress of American Indians; president-elect of the Environmental Education Association of Washington; founding member, Thurston County Environmental Action League.
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, University of Oregon, 1972.
Information was not available on candidates Jeremy Miller and F.G. “Fred” Jensen.