The marquee race this election season, both locally and statewide, is the battle to fill the remaining year on Roger Freeman’s term in the state House of Representatives.
Freeman passed away and Democrat Carol Gregory was appointed to his position. Gregory is currently on the Federal Way school board, has worked in Olympia for Gov. Booth Gardner, handled education issues for former King County Executive Ron Sims and was a teacher.
Gregory is being challenged by Teri Hickel who recently retired after 15 years as executive director of Advancing Leadership, and worked with Communities in Schools prior to that. Hickel filled in as acting Chamber of Commerce CEO after the previous CEO took the Tacoma Chamber job. Hickel has been active as a volunteer in school levy issues for many years.
Republicans control the state Senate, while Democrats, with Jay Inslee, hold the Governor’s Office. Democrats hold a slim 51-47 lead in the House of Representatives. A Gregory win helps Democrats maintain a legislative balance going into the 2016 session.
A Hickel win puts that balance in question as Democrats have a couple of conservative representatives who could side with Republicans on some policy questions. That means every politician, lobbyist and special interest group in the state has money and endorsements riding on the outcome of the Gregory-Hickel race. In the fall of 2016, the full House, half the Senate and all statewide offices including governor are up for election. The January session could be a critical opportunity for either party to advance their goals.
Because of the significant stakes involved, many professionals were guessing several months ago that this would be a million dollar race! You may have noticed that your mailbox is full of campaign literature, and some of it isn’t nice.
In fact, it has gotten downright nasty and inaccurate from both sides of special interest supporters. Third party groups that typically support either Democratic or Republican candidates have spent a combined $375,000 opposing each others’ candidates and $325,000 supporting the candidate of their choice. Gregory and Hickel have both raised $250,000 and spent $200,000. With final reporting still several weeks away, the race will easily pass the $1 million threshold.
The two candidates participated in the Mirror debate last week and the Chamber of Commerce debate the week before. The debates gave a good picture of where similarities and differences were evident with the two candidates.
Hickel said, “I am not a politician, but a volunteer.” Gregory countered that, “I have actually worked on education issues. I have the experience.”
On the issue of paid sick leave, Gregory said she supported it, while Hickel proffered flexible options.
In response to a question from the audience asking whether Gregory serving as both a legislator and a school board member was a conflict of interest, Hickel said yes, suggesting that information gained as a board member could be used for partisan purposes. Gregory responded that it was not a conflict, and she felt it was crucial she stay on the school board while holding the legislative seat to ensure a smooth transition to new Superintendent Tammy Campbell after the chaos of the Rob Neu years. She emphasized that she was able to clean up a lot of leftover problems as chair of the board.
Both candidates were asked if they agreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling against charter schools. Gregory said she agreed with the court and wanted money to go to public schools. Hickel disagreed with the court and said people should have options. Both said they liked Federal Way’s approach with public schools and academies.
Gregory said she believed we need more money to reduce class size. Hickel said she did not support more money for smaller class room size.
On the topic of money for schools, Hickel said, “We pay too much,” and she supports a levy swap. Gregory says there is not enough money and more is needed. Gregory has also said the levy swap is complicated and would not fully solve the problem anyway.
When asked about the state’s regressive tax system, Hickel says she is opposed to taxes but would have voted for the transportation package gas tax because she sees that as a “user fee,” not a tax. Gregory voted against the gas tax to fund the transportation package. Supporters of Hickel had sent out a mailing saying Gregory wanted an income tax. Gregory said she was not supporting an income tax. Gregory did say she might support a capital gains tax as a way to raise additional revenue.
A citizen asked if the candidates had received any money from the National Rifle Association and what would they do about stopping all the shootings? Neither candidate had received any donations from the association. Hickel responded, “Enforce current rules and support mentally ill.” Gregory said we need to find a way of keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people and expand support for the mentally ill.
But there are issues of agreement. Both candidates are pro-choice and favor equal pay for equal work for women.
Whether you are the challenger or incumbent in a political race, each has advantages and disadvantages. As the challenger, Hickel does not have a public record to defend and can run on all her community work over the years.
Her views tend to follow typical Republican positions, but she does break from her party on abortion and equal pay. Also, she was not forced to be in Olympia for several months, as Gregory was, and was able to get a significant head start on her campaign. She is smooth in public and her volunteer experience shows. She has had to go through a crash course in state public policy and if elected will need to refine her positions.
Gregory has worked on public policy most of her adult life and her knowledge and experience are obvious, particularly in education. Her views generally coincide with Democratic positions but she did break from her party on some of the tax questions last session.
But in a demonstration of the advantages of the incumbency, Gregory announced at the Mirror debate that she was working with legislative leaders to find an alternative location for the treatment center proposed to be opened near Woodmont Elementary School.
While not a big issue to the majority of the district, her announcement served several purposes. It is a reminder that her party is in power and she has the ear of the Speaker of the House in helping her with an important issue in her district. But it also provides defense and blunts any attack from her opponents about not doing anything. Hickel is a good candidate and Gregory was wise to make her point on the Woodmont issue. It may have headed off another third party mailer.
Hickel led out of the primary, but Gregory has made up ground. This is a toss-up that may be decided by voter turnout. Big turnout favors Gregory, smaller favors Hickel. Projections are for a small turnout.
In county races, incumbent Assessor Lloyd Hara is being challenged by his former Chief Deputy John Wilson. It is a non-partisan position but both men are Democrats. There is a slight advantage to Hara as the incumbent. In the race for elections director, current Deputy Director Julie Wise held a big lead over state Rep. Zach Hudgins coming out of the primary.
Wise still has the advantage. She has worked in the department for several years and knows how to run an election. Her weakness is knowing how to handle the politics of the state and King County. Hudgins doesn’t know how to run an election but his advantage would be his knowledge of Olympia. Advantage is still with Wise.
In city politics, there will be an advisory vote on whether to allow retail marijuana shops in the city. The public legalized marijuana but the City Council has used its land-use authority to keep a moratorium in place. Although the council agreed to abide by the public vote, some of the council may be rethinking that commitment. The “no” campaign has been more visible than the “yes” campaign. Low turnout favors the “no” supporters.
The county also has a charter amendment on the ballot that would strengthen the civilian oversight of the sheriff’s office. With all of the publicity surrounding several police “use of force” actions nationally, it may gather some strength, though it has not been a big issue in the suburbs.
If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the result!
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com