Elections

Smith, Muri offer voters well-defined alternatives

Adam Smith says Dick Muri is in lockstep with the Republican Party.

Dick Muri says Adam Smith claims to be independent but is a Democrat through and through.

And in the contest for Congress, each casts himself as the most knowledgeable, best-suited man to serve residents in Washington’s diverse 9th District, a puzzle-piece-shaped swath of land that includes parts of Thurston County, Lake-wood, Steilacoom, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Federal Way, a chunk of East Pierce County and cities and towns as far north as Renton.

Smith, a 45-year-old attorney, is seeking his eighth two-year term in the seat.

Muri, a 56-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and member of the Pierce County Council, says he’s challenging Smith because the district needs fresh representation from someone who’s a true fiscal conservative.

Smith’s portrayal of himself as a fiscal hawk is far off the mark, Muri says, pointing to Smith’s votes in favor of health care reform and raising the national debt. Smith also supports development of a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, a boondoggle that will cost billions, Muri claims.

Smith defends his record.

Yes, he voted for the health care reform bill, he said. But not until he’d asked for more information and satisfied himself that there will be checks and balances to come, he said Friday.

“It’s all about cost control,” he said. “There are more votes that have to be taken,” and he’ll be bird-dogging the dollars.

And, yes, he supports an alternative General Electric-Rolls-Royce engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, despite the fact Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposes the plan as too expensive.

Critics complain that building the second engine will cost at least $3 billion.

Smith counters that it could save up to $21 billion over the course of the $100 b illion project.

“The question for me is what will save the most money,” he said. “A (Government Accountability Office) report says if you have a competitive process, you can save up to 21 percent. History shows us that competition works.”

Taking on Muri’s record, Smith’s campaign points to his opponent’s 2006 County Council vote to raise then-County Executive John Ladenburg’s pay by 21 percent. Since council members’ pay is tied to the executive’s, they effectively voted a hefty raise for themselves; but it took effect only if they were reelected . Muri benefited when voters gave him a second term in 2008.

Muri’s camp retorts that Smith’s congressional pay increased dramatically since he took office, even as deficits grew.

And the case for a raise for Ladenburg – CEO of a county with a 3,300-employee work force – was so strong, Muri said he couldn’t vote against it.

And so they battle back and forth.

BALANCED BUDGETS

Smith admits he’s voted for bills that added to the deficit in recent years, but he also describes himself as “one of a few Democrats who voted for a balanced budget agreement in 1997,” a move he says led to four years of surpluses.

Muri, in his sixth year on the County Council, points out that Pierce County always has a balanced budget, while the U.S. faces record deficits.

“I’m going back there to be the guy who says ‘no’ to everybody,” Muri said. “I will not vote for a budget that has extra spending.”

He wouldn’t have voted for health care reform, he said, “not at all. The bill was too big, with too many things.”

Smith says he always takes a bipartisan approach to solving thorny problems. And he’s not afraid to confront the controversial , pointing out he came home and held town hall meetings when other members of Congress didn’t during the heated health care debate.

“Issue after issue, I go out and listen to people and take a pragmatic approach,” he said.

He supports the U.S. presence in Afghanistan because “we have a clear national security interest,” but he also believes the government should seek a responsible way out by “marginalizing the baddest of the bad.”

Smith is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the s ubcommittee on a ir and l and f orces. With Lewis- McChord in his district, he views his responsibility to military affairs as both national and local.

When he talks to people throughout the district, he’s perhaps most proud of the comments he gets from those who appreciate his work on behalf of veterans and the VA, he said.

Muri, who was a C-141 airlift officer and navigator and spent 22 years in the Air Force, calls himself the clear choice in the district.

“I think I have a better listening ear to the needs of active duty military and veterans,” he said. “I love my community, and I work hard for it.”

POLLING

While Smith won by 60 percent or better in the p ast three general elections, he could have a tougher fight this time around against a well-known Republican in a challenging year for incumbents. In the four-way primary, Smith took 45 percent of the vote, Muri got 31 percent and fellow Republican Jim Postma took 21 percent. C ounting the 3 percent of votes for a Green Party candidate, Smith had less than half.

Polls so far have not been conclusive: A KING-TV poll showed Muri within 3 percentage points, but Smith’s campaign then released an internal poll result that gave him a 19-point lead. Political handicapper Charlie Cook recently moved the 9th District from “solid Democrat” to “likely Democrat,” signaling that he thinks it’s not a sure bet.

As of the most recent report, Smith had a big fundraising edge. He’d reported $602,568 in contributions as of July, while Muri had raised $167,991 at the end of last month.

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