While it lacks the partisanship of a Republican versus a Democrat, the extension of the primary battle between Democrats Adam Smith and Sarah Smith to the general election is fascinating on a different scale.
Incumbent Adam Smith has been in Congress for 20 years. He is smart, skilled in Congressional ways and knowledgeable on a wide variety of public policy topics. His roots in the district go back to childhood and reflect his family’s values and those of the district’s traditional blue-collar workers. He understands how to make the system work for his district, and in the seniority-based House of Representatives he could chair a powerful committee if the Democrats gain control this November.
His opponent Sarah Smith is 30 years old, does not live in the district and has never held elective office. She identifies as a Democratic socialist, and is a Bernie Sanders supporter. With an unusual combination of voters she was able to pass Republican Doug Basler and move into the general election opposite incumbent Rep. Smith.
Politics sometimes make strange bedfellows and this is a case in point.
Sarah is supported by some progressive political groups and individuals with a strong left lean, while also reaching out to Republicans in an attempt to cobble together voters with little in common in hopes of repeating Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ shocking victory over an incumbent in New York. Some of them want her to win to add another far left voice to Congress. Others want her to defeat Rep. Smith in hopes of defeating her in two years. This plan was set in motion two years ago when former Democratic legislator Jesse Wineberry ran against Rep. Smith. That appears to have been a test run at measuring different voter blocks strength.
In a recent debate sponsored by the Federal Way Mirror, both candidates held similar positions on most issues. Sarah was aggressive, articulate and demonstrated that she had done her homework on the issues that are of interest to the voters of the district. For a first-time candidate, she handled herself very well against a 10-term incumbent who is among the better members of Congress.
But the difference in knowledge became apparent as the two discussed the issues. Whereas Sarah could advocate for issues such as a $15 per hour minimum wage, Adam countered with action he has taken such as his early participation of the same issue in the city of SeaTac. On issues with the SeaTac Airport, Rep. Smith noted his assistance to the Highline School District to get better insulation.
One of the most popular sources for voter funding is schools, and debate attendees were surprised when Rep. Smith challenged Sarah about not voting in the Kent school’s special election. She said she had voted and voted against funding. In a media report she says she mailed her ballot, but King County Elections has no record of it arriving and being counted. But that may be better than if she had actually voted no. Her desire to separate schools from their current funding source may not have many supporters.
Where Sarah had ideas and enthusiasm, Rep. Smith demonstrated actual legislative accomplishments and the depth of knowledge and legislative progress on issues that only come from experience.
Sarah is a supporter of term limits, which is a good sound bite. But in the world of Washington D.C., where seniority is power, and power is used to make a difference, she would be unable to deliver what Rep. Smith can and would set the district back. Especially when you consider how important Rep. Smith’s influence has been in military matters and how reliant the district is on its military bases. Much of the economic foundation for the district and the state is provided by the military.
Also, his seniority will help him improve immigration, health care and income inequality.
Many political historians remember when Spokane caused themselves decades of loss when they threw out the incumbent Speaker of the House Tom Foley about 25 years ago. It is only recently that Cathy McMorris-Rodgers has regained some influence for Spokane.
Sarah Smith has done well against a seasoned and impressive incumbent in Congressman Adam Smith. Rep. Smith has the endorsements, such as the Seattle Times and the Tacoma New Tribune, the ability to raise money and the experience. Seniority and skills count and the voters in this district will benefit far more by retaining the Democratic incumbent, than voting for his Democratic opponent.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.