District 43's Democratic hopefuls are 6 of a kind
Seattle Times staff reporter
Education: Ph.D., social welfare, University of Washington
Occupation: Seattle Community Colleges professor and faculty union president
Political history: Co-chair of Washington State Jobs with Justice
Web site: www.lynnetowin.org
Education: Ph.D., political science, University of Washington
Occupation: Policy analyst for House Democratic Caucus
Political history: Chairman of 43rd District Democrats, ran for lieutenant governor in 1992
Web site: www.kelleyin2006.org
Education: J.D., Yale Law School
Occupation: Attorney at Preston Gates and Ellis
Political history: Board member of Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights organization
Web site: www.peopleforpedersen.org
Education: B.A., University of Washington
Occupation: Aide to Seattle City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck
Political history: Served on city's Music and Youth task force, active in fight to overturn city dance restrictions
Web site: www.peopleforpure.com
Education: J.D., University of Michigan
Occupation: Deputy prosecutor, King County
Political history: Worked on Clinton/Gore 1992 campaign; former aide to Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt
Web site: www.billsherman.org
Education: J.D., University of Puget Sound
Occupation: Director of Reinvesting in Youth program for city of Seattle
Political history: Seattle City councilman 1984-1995; King County Superior Court judge 1997-2000
Web site: www.jimstreet.org
You can't find much the six Democrats vying for a rare open seat in the 43rd legislative district disagree on — except which one would be the best successor to Rep. Ed Murray, who is running for state Senate.
And they're not even terribly far off on that point.
"I've got five good opponents and they are working their heads off," said former Seattle City Councilman Jim Street, one of the contenders, with the politeness that has marked the Democratic primary race.
Although the winner of next week's primary will face Republican Hugh Foskett on Nov. 7, in this liberal Seattle district, which spans Fremont, Wallingford, the University District, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, the Democratic winner is virtually guaranteed the seat.
All six candidates talk about closing corporate tax loopholes, protecting the environment, funding education and supporting gay rights. They only differ in the order they would place those priorities, and in the life experience they'd bring to the job.
It's unlikely Jamie Pedersen would be running for the Legislature if he'd concentrated only on his paid work on corporate mergers and financing as an attorney at the powerhouse Seattle law firm Preston Gates and Ellis.
Pedersen is better known for high-profile legal fights over gay rights, having served as a lawyer on three major state Supreme Court cases for Lambda Legal, the national advocacy group. Most recently, he was the lead attorney for 19 gay and lesbian couples who sought to overturn Washington's ban on gay marriage. The court ruled 5-4 to uphold the ban in July.
Pedersen, who is gay, said it was while working on the marriage case that he recognized change may have to come from lawmakers rather than at the courthouse.
"I understood at that point that whatever happened in the Supreme Court, the next step was going to be with the Legislature, and the chance to be a part of that conversation ... was what tempted me," he said.
Pedersen, 38, grew up in Puyallup and graduated from Yale Law School. He joined Preston Gates and Ellis 11 years ago. The firm has allowed Pedersen, in addition to his paying clients, to perform volunteer legal work on gay rights and immigration issues.
His campaign recently got a boost with the endorsement of Murray, who said it was important to have a legislator who would make gay rights a top priority.
Some of Pedersen's rivals — all of whom support gay rights — said they were disappointed in the endorsement and argued that sexual orientation shouldn't be the main factor in the race.
All the candidates in the 43rd district race talk about education, but Lynne Dodson has made it the key issue of her campaign.
A professor at Seattle Community Colleges since 1993, Dodson has been president of the union representing faculty there for the past six years. Her campaign signs remind voters to "send a teacher to Olympia."
If elected, Dodson, 45, says she'd fight for a "seamless" public-school system from preschool to college. "If education is important, then I'm a candidate who not only says education is important, but has done all this work in education," she said. "I think that's important."
To free up more money for schools, Dodson favors eliminating corporate tax loopholes and says a state income tax should replace the sales tax, which places an "unconscionable" tax burden on lower-income workers.
Her campaign relies heavily on support from organized labor, a key constituent that could make the difference in a close race. The endorsement of the Washington State Labor Council brings with it volunteers who are doorbelling thousands of households in addition to Dodson's own group of 150 volunteers.
Dodson's efforts to rally her fellow employees at Seattle Community Colleges spurred three complaints to the Washington State Executive Ethics Board.
The complaints object to e-mails she sent through the college computer network announcing she was stepping down as union president to run for the Legislature. In one e-mail she said she hoped fellow employees would "be very active to send me to Olympia!"
State law prohibits the use of public facilities for political campaigns. The ethics board has not ruled on the complaints.
Dodson said in retrospect she should have been more careful about what she wrote. Her political consultant, Lisa Collins, denounced the complaints as "politically motivated."
He has held several state jobs, so Dick Kelley knows Olympia better than most of his rivals. He also says he knows what ails the place: special-interest money.
To highlight his point, Kelley, 56, has refused to accept campaign contributions of more than $100, well below the state limit of $700.
Kelley favors public financing of legislative campaigns, similar to systems now in place in Maine and Arizona.
He says he's "not interested in reform for reform's sake." The point, he says, is that special interests unfairly influence state policies.
As an example, Kelley cites the tax credit lawmakers enacted last year for the syrup used to make soft drinks. The tax credit was sought by the restaurant industry and will cost the state $10 million a year.
It's one of many tax exemptions that cost the state billions of dollars — exemptions Kelly says should be reviewed and possibly ended.
He phrases his criticisms of the status quo somewhat artfully, given that the Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature and the governor's mansion.
Asked whether special-interest money influences his own party leaders, including 43rd district legislator and House Speaker Frank Chopp, Kelly replied: "I am not criticizing individual legislators. I am saying they're stuck in a rotten system, no matter how good their intentions are as individuals."
Kelley has been chairman of the 43rd District Democrats, giving him a base of support among party activists. He also served as deputy mayor to former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer and was regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Most recently, he has been a policy analyst for the House Democratic Caucus.
As the only candidate who has held elected office before, Jim Street brings a lengthy résumé to his campaign.
He was a Seattle City councilman from 1984-95, where he earned a reputation for delving deeply into the wonky details of land-use policy.
In 1995, The Seattle Times asked City Hall insiders and community leaders to rate council members. Street won high marks for intelligence and strong regional connections. His main weakness, some said, was a tendency to lecture.
After leaving the council, Street served as a Superior Court judge for four years and now heads a regional partnership trying to improve juvenile-justice policies.
Street's name recognition could be a big advantage in the primary, where turnout is usually low and dominated by older voters.
Unlike other candidates who prefer to talk about a couple of issues, Street, 63, has ideas — big ones — for just about every topic that might come up in the Legislature.
"I believe that I will win if they [voters] want someone who will be effective about a variety of issues they care about," he says.
One of his priorities is to change the way transportation decisions are made by giving power to a regional board.
"Right now, who do you hold accountable for a rationale, coherent transportation program in the three-county area? There is no one to hold accountable," Street said.
He also wants people to be more concerned about the state's growing prison population. As a judge, Street says, 40 percent of his cases were $20-$40 "buy-bust" cases involving low-level drug addicts. He said the state needs to pursue treatment and other alternatives to incarceration, both as a budgetary matter and a moral one.
While other candidates bring more experience, Stephanie Pure brings youthful exuberance to the race.
Pure, 32, has worked since 2000 as a legislative aide to Seattle City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck.
Many of the accomplishments she touts, such as working to get more money for city libraries and trying to preserve funding for school crossing guards, were done on behalf of the councilman.
Pure also has served on the boards of CityClub, a nonprofit organization that sponsors public-affairs luncheons, and the Vera Project, a nonprofit that sponsors all-ages music shows.
"I have many years of experience of being the youngest leader in the room," said Pure, who was selected by the Puget Sound Business Journal last year as part of its "40 under 40" list of young leaders.
Pure says education is her main focus, but admits she has not spent much time working on the issue because City Hall doesn't run the schools.
"I just feel like I can't be a youth advocate without advocating for their education," said Pure, who favors higher teacher pay and elimination of the requirement that school levies receive 60 percent approval to pass.
Pure would not be the youngest member of the Legislature. Rep. Janéa Holmquist, a Moses Lake Republican, is 31.
One of three lawyers in the race, Sherman talks more about his environmentalist credentials than his job as a prosecutor.
Sherman, 38, won endorsements from the Sierra Club and Washington Conservation Voters for his green agenda, favoring cleanup of Puget Sound, more incentives for sustainable energy and a ban on toxic flame retardants known as PDBEs.
A relative newcomer who moved to Seattle in 1999, Sherman has been a deputy King County prosecutor for the last three years, most recently handling domestic-violence cases.
During the Clinton administration, Sherman worked in Washington, D.C., as an aide to Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, serving first as an advance man and then as a policy adviser. He says he helped fight efforts by congressional Republicans to gut the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws.
Sherman went on to earn a law degree from the University of Michigan and moved to Seattle to clerk for federal judges. He took a job with the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, where he worked on a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil for the 1989 catastrophic oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
Sherman says state government has to step up environmental protections because the Bush administration has "checked out and gone home" on the issue.
While all the candidates in the 43rd race consider themselves environmentalists, Sherman says he'd make the issue his top priority.
"We don't have an everyday champion on environmental protection from the Seattle delegation," he said.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company