Opinion

District 30's most contentious state rep. race | Bob Roegner

Federal Way City Councilmember Linda Kochmar and businessman Roger Flygare provide the public with a clear contrast in policies and style in the race to replace Mark Miloscia in the state House.

It has also become the most contentious matchup, although more so between supporters than the candidates.

Kochmar is a well connected Republican political insider whose name identification is among the highest in the district after serving on the city council for 14 years. She has a strong historical background in city issues. Her many years at Lakehaven Utility District, prior to her recent retirement, gives her a perspective on special purpose districts.

She has been active with the Suburban Cities Association and has the endorsement of many mayors and council members from surrounding cities. She has served as the council’s mayor and deputy mayor, and twice been selected as the Best City Leader in the annual Federal Way Mirror poll. She attends almost every public event in town and her personal favorableness would be very high in any poll due to her out-going nature.

Kochmar mentions low taxes, building City Hall, the new Community Center, an improved permit system, and her support for transportation projects as accomplishments that prove she is ready to serve in the Legislature. She feels her experience is the major difference between her and her opponent.

Her detractors say she is more conservative then her primary campaign suggests because her strategy was to outflank two more conservative Republican candidates and appeal to moderates and independents.

They point to her endorsements from business groups, and suggest that she has elevated her support for business issues at the expense of education, which had been her higher priority earlier.

Her opponents question her leadership and say she side-stepped many of the hot topics at the recent debates by deferring to a public vote. She refused to take positions on same-sex marriage, abortion, and a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature to increase taxes. Further, opponents say she didn’t provide any answers on what she would cut in the state budget to increase funding for education, and didn’t answer a question about whether she had read the state budget.

Kochmar has raised more than $70,000 for her race, including $25,000 from the House Republican Organizing Committee, which will likely spend more through separate channels to support her. Although she hasn’t done a significant amount of door-belling, she has upgraded her signs to include her picture, and has a good television commercial running.

Flygare is a longtime active Democrat, but has been somewhat of a political outsider in Federal Way prior to his unsuccessful run for the city council last year. He is friendly, but more reserved. He is a small businessman and understands firsthand the challenges small businesses face. He is also a strong supporter of unions and collective bargaining. He is knowledgeable about the Legislature and has worked on many pieces of legislation related to his business.

Flygare supports same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose. He opposes charter schools and the two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature tax requirement.

Flygare did identify a couple of small areas to cut in the budget that could be used for education. He would favor stopping paychecks to legislators if they go into special session. Flygare has sent out several mailers and, while his signs don’t match Kochmar’s for visibility, they are effective.

Flygare has raised $114,000, including a $10,000 loan to his campaign and $35,000 from the House Democratic Campaign Committee. As he did when he ran for the city council, Flygare has emphasized his military service.

But it’s his military service — and to a lesser degree other statements in his published biographical material — that his opponents, including primary challengers, have questioned.

One of his mailers said he served two tours of duty in Vietnam. After questions surfaced, he changed it to one. But that admission changed the entire tone of the election and put Flygare on the defensive on several fronts. Another resident questioned whether Flygare was entitled to his Purple Heart. Flygare, hoping to put the issue behind him, posted a letter from the officer who submitted his name and also ran an ad in The Mirror. But other questions followed. Was he a “combat veteran,” had he “joined the Army,” and was he a “longtime community volunteer” as his literature stated?

Flygare says he served in a “combat zone,” was “drafted” but “joined”  after his assignment options were clarified for him, and that he has been active in two Federal Way committees — a committee on human trafficking and the Federal Way Farmers Market. While he acknowledges both are in the past two years, he also says he was active in youth sports in Federal Way when his children were younger.

According to Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell, the council passed over Flygare for appointment to a city commission because he stated he had been a member of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce longer than he had. Flygare said it was a staff error that he corrected. Flygare believes the questions are over small details.

In a subtle reference to Flygare’s literature problems, Kochmar says “I’m the one you can trust.”

Both candidates oppose tax increases, but Flygare notes the city council including Kochmar raised property taxes in 2010 and 2011.

Flygare has received backing from several unions, including the firefighters union and Federal Way Police Officers Guild.

Flygare’s Municipal League rating was “Very Good,” as was Kochmar’s. The police endorsement of Flygare likely comes with two meanings. It does reflect his historical support for unions, but it also may express the guild’s displeasure with Kochmar’s support for Mayor Skip Priest’s efforts to cut back police contract benefits. That’s a gamble for the guild, because if Kochmar loses she will still be on the city council and still have a role in police contract and budget issues.

Both candidates have money left for the closing two weeks, so watch your mailbox.

In a twist, Mayor Priest endorsed Kochmar, although Flygare’s son does work for M.J. Durkin, whom the mayor hired to do the city’s lobbying.

Flygare’s business background and knowledge of the Legislature are assets in this campaign. But questions about the accuracy of his material have overshadowed the race significantly. While The Mirror endorsed Flygare, the paper’s editorial board did take strong exception to the accuracy of his statements and literature.

Flygare has been the most active candidate at door-belling. That brings him into direct contact with voters, and provides him a face to face opportunity to respond to their questions.

While Kochmar is one of the most well known political figures in town, conventional wisdom says this is a Democratic year and that should favor Flygare. But how voters react to the questions surrounding Flygare, particularly among independents, will have a major impact on the outcome of this race.

Best guess? The Republicans pick up a seat. Kochmar wins.

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