Legislative races show 41st is a district in flux
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
In a legislative district suddenly seen as less conservative than it once was, where multimillion-dollar Mercer Island homes give way to modest May Valley ramblers, things are not clear-cut this November for either political party.
Powerful Republican Sen. Jim Horn, chair of the Highways and Transportation Committee who has spent 16 years in Olympia, could be vulnerable to what many are calling a strong Democratic opponent in the 41st Legislative District: Brian Weinstein, a lawyer who's raised $216,000 in cash and other campaign contributions to Horn's $165,000.
Moderate Republican Rep. Fred Jarrett is facing his first competition, from Democrat and businessman Lance Ramsay, after two terms without a November challenge.
And Rep. Judy Clibborn, who slipped into office two years ago as the first Democrat elected in the 41st District in almost half a century, will try to hold her seat against GOP challenger Fawn Spady, a charter-school champion.
These six candidates, plus three longshot Libertarians, are fighting over a piece of the Puget Sound region once solidly conservative but where 58 percent of voters who took part in the recent primary opted for a Democratic ballot.
Transportation, economics and education are at the forefront here — all issues on which 41st residents have been known to cross party lines.
Historically right-leaning, this changing district of about 130,000 residents has been described in more recent years as "independent." Democrats hope that will help them edge their way in, while Republicans are betting that their conservative values still have a home in the suburbs.
Horn is the district's elder statesman in the Legislature, with deep ties to Mercer Island, which makes up about a quarter of the 41st District: He spent 16 years on the City Council, including a stint as mayor, and has lived for 35 years in the city, where he and wife Joyce raised a family.
Weinstein, a lawyer who estimates he's door-belled 9,000 homes during his campaign, has spent a decade on Mercer Island, where he and his wife, Gaylene, are raising three school-age children.
The first-time political hopeful says new blood is needed in Olympia and that he is a better fit with the changing demographic profile of the district — many young, middle-income families with "social-liberal" ideals.
"Horn hasn't changed with this district," Weinstein said. "He's a '50s guy."
Weinstein wants smaller class sizes, more art and music education in public schools and better funding for special education. But with a state budget shortfall that could top $1 billion in the next biennium, he acknowledges that the only way to fill the gap is new taxes. He supports Initiative 884, the proposed sales-tax increase for schools, and favors replacing the 60 percent supermajority necessary for levies to pass with a simple majority.
Horn also supports I-884, but said he generally does not favor new taxes as a solution. "If we get the economy turned around, the money will be there to do what we want to do," he said.
Horn said his No. 1 priority is job creation. The state needs to become more friendly to business, use incentives to attract companies and make the permitting process easier for businesses to build or expand, he said.
The Association of Washington Business gave Horn a 98 percent rating.
Weinstein also wants to draw business, especially biotech, to the state. He said new funding could come from increased tourism. "I see commercials for Arkansas — who wants to go there? Washington, on the other hand, is a beautiful state, but we don't promote it enough.
"Let the tourists pay the sales tax," he added.
In recent years, Horn has been a powerful, sometimes-controversial force in regional transportation issues. He's a supporter of roads and buses, and doesn't believe the Eastside suburbs are ready for rail. He said he's proud to have pushed the 5-cent gas-tax increase approved last year as well as funding for a University of Washington-Bothell interchange off I-405.
He recently put himself on the opposite side of his fellow 41st District legislators when he opposed a regional compromise for the Interstate 90 bridge — a plan that puts two new car-pool lanes on the span and pursues high-capacity transit (either fast buses or rail) for the center lanes.
Environmentalists say Horn is a roadblock to regional transportation solutions that would include more funding for transit and rail. In its annual rating of state legislators, the Washington Conservation Voters gave Horn a low score of 21 percent, calling him "out of step."
Weinstein said he believes roads like Interstate 405 need improvements, but he also favors a suburban rail system. "A lot of people in this district have lived in other places and have seen mass transit. They want it, and Horn won't let them have it."
Weinstein favors toll lanes (faster lanes for those willing to pay) and user taxes on such things as tires to fund transportation solutions.
Libertarian candidate Jim Brown says he wants to stop "corporate welfare and big government" and supports charter schools and toll lanes. He says there is too much regulation and that laws mandating seat belts and helmets dehumanize state residents.
State Representative, Position 2
Elected two years ago in a major coup for Democrats, Judy Clibborn says she's worked to unite legislators across party lines.
She believes the district is changing, driven partly by the divisive, polarizing turn taken by national politics.
"Everything has shifted one notch to the left," she said.
A longtime Mercer Island resident and married mother of three grown children, Clibborn served on the City Council, as mayor and heads the island's Chamber of Commerce. She said she's also reached out to Bellevue, Renton and Newcastle neighborhoods, which make up most of the district. "Everyone's needs are different," she said. "I know this district, and this district knows me."
Her challenger has lived in the district just two years but said her 10 years on the charter-schools issue shows her work ethic and dedication.
Public education is the main priority for Spady; she wants charter schools available to all districts and says there's too much regulation of education. For example, she said, union contracts restrict schools from paying more for teachers with certain skills, like math or science expertise, when those teachers don't have as many years of experience as others.
Spady, who has school-age children, does not support I-884. "It's too much money without accountability," she said. She would push for performance audits in state government and supports tools like user fees to fund higher education.
Clibborn, who has raised $149,000, supports I-884. She says the idea that there's enough money going to waste in the government to fund education's needs is "rhetoric." She favors charter schools but on a limited basis.
She supports expanding the state's drug-purchasing pool so that more residents can buy medications at reduced rates, and would like to set up an online help system for those who want to safely purchase drugs from Canada.
She supports tort reform to curb frivolous medical lawsuits, though she doesn't believe caps on awards would work.
Spady, who has raised $119,000, supports caps and said she would focus on helping small businesses insure their employees.
Clibborn supported the recent regional agreement on I-90, while Spady said the plan is wrong for Mercer Islanders. Neither is ready to decide whether rail is right for the Eastside.
Libertarian Brian Reilley said he would work to remove "the handcuffs that restrain the productivity of individuals and small businesses" and would defend private-property rights.
State Representative, Position 1
Jarrett, is another longtime fixture in Mercer Island government, is seen as a moderate and was the only Republican named as a "House Champion" this year in a ranking by the Washington Conservation Voters.
He said he would focus on improving money management by tying funding to how well managers and their state agencies perform. "It gets to the point of accountability," he said. "It's not sexy, but it works."
He does not believe in across-the-board audits, which he says are too expensive and don't produce enough results.
Statewide audits are a major part of challenger Ramsay's platform. "I really think that through performance audits, we can find some of that money that we all think is there," he said. Additional funding could come from attracting new business, he added.
Ramsay, who has raised $32,000, wants to reform the state's tax system and push for regulatory reform, reducing and/or eliminating the state business-and-occupation tax.
Jarrett said he also wants to improve the state's business environment — he helped pass a bill that requires cities and counties to establish targets for how long each type of permit should take to be processed.
Jarrett supports I-884 and wants to earmark higher-education funding for specific degree programs, such as engineering and nursing. Ramsay also supports I-884 but says it should not be the only option available for improving schools.
Jarrett helped lead the effort to pass a 5-cent gas tax for transportation last session, and supports another gas-tax increase to fund additional transportation needs. He favors a rapid-bus system over rail. He has raised $78,000.
Ramsay said that he would like to see the various regional transportation agencies consolidated to gain economies of scale. He'd also push for more lower-cost solutions, like technology to coordinate traffic signals.
Libertarian George Holt said he believes that government wastes funding on overpriced projects and would work to spend voters' money in a smarter way.
Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or email@example.com
Seattle Times reporter Justin Mayo contributed to this report.
Information in this article, originally published October 19, was corrected October 21. Fawn Spady, a 41st district candidate, supports user fees to help fund higher education, but not for K-12. A previous version of this article about the district's legislative races did not make that distinction clear.
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company