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Wednesday, October 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Election 2006

Race to fill Finkbeiner's Senate seat proves lively

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

State Senate, 45th District


Toby Nixon
Republican

Personal: Age 47, lives in Kirkland, married with five children

Education: Attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Experience: Appointed to state House in 2002 and elected later that year; program manager at Microsoft

Web site: www.tobynixon.com

Eric Oemig
Democrat

Personal: Age 38, lives in Kirkland, married with one child

Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Wisconsin

Experience: Former software engineer at Microsoft, former host of public-access TV politics show

Web site: voteeric.com

When Republican state Sen. Bill Finkbeiner decided last spring not to seek re-election, he left a gaping hole in an Eastside district that both Republicans and Democrats agree could go either way.

Within hours of Finkbeiner's announcement, Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland, said he would run for the open 45th District seat, going up against Democrat Eric Oemig, who had started campaigning months before.

Now, with three weeks until the Nov. 7 election, the second of two Eastside Senate battles is heating up. While Sen. Luke Esser and Rep. Rodney Tom fight it out in the 48th District, Nixon and Oemig are trading similar barbs about education, transportation and leadership.

Oemig says Nixon's votes on transportation and his stance on gay rights are out of step with the district, which includes parts of Redmond and Kirkland, as well as Woodinville, Duvall and Carnation.

"That's the most important thing: his failure to represent what the people of the 45th want," Oemig said.

Nixon said he proved in five years in the House to be a tireless advocate for open and limited government who formed "relationships of trust" with lawmakers from both parties. He passed many of his own bills and said he helped improve others with smarter and more fair language.

"I don't care who gets the credit, as long as good things happen," Nixon said.

He said he's worried about Oemig's idea to create public programs to improve health care, early-childhood education and to require large companies to spend more money on employee health-care benefits.

"He just has the idea that government can do things better," Nixon said. "... The government is the problem."

Oemig, a former hedge-fund manager and Microsoft software engineer, said he has valuable experience "looking at small things that cost a lot and fixing them." He's been the bigger fundraiser so far, raising $170,000, including $50,000 of his own money. Nixon has raised about $138,000.

According to Oemig, spending in Olympia needs to be smarter — particularly in transportation, education and health care. He wants the state to improve early learning by devoting money to preschools and to invest in clinics and provide more children with health care to help the uninsured.

Oemig supported an unsuccessful bill in the Legislature this year that would have required large employers such as Wal-Mart to spend more on health-care coverage.

Nixon opposed the measure, saying it wrongly assumed that businesses are obligated to provide benefits and would have violated what should be a free market for health-care coverage. Oemig said Wal-Mart's inadequate health coverage punishes companies such as Costco and Microsoft that offer good benefits to their employees.

Nixon says he wants more money for special education and to raise teacher pay in expensive cities. He said he has also focused on speeding up local road projects on the Eastside, such as improvements to Highway 202 and Highway 520 in Redmond.

In 2003 and 2005, he voted against gas-tax increases that devoted billions of dollars for transportation projects around the state, decisions that Oemig calls "irresponsible."

Nixon said he voted against the tax in 2003 because it hit voters during a recession, and in 2005, he voted no in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade lawmakers to add $1 billion for the new Highway 520 bridge.

Oemig said the 2005 tax increase was a "good down payment," but a lot more road projects still need to be funded.

One of Finkbeiner's legacies was changing course and providing the crucial vote this year to pass a bill that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. The two men who want to replace him are divided about the issue.

Oemig said he supports gay rights and supported the bill. Nixon said he is opposed to discrimination by government and businesses but voted against the bill because it violated some people's rights to free association and religious beliefs.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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