Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The real competition in the 17th LD

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's capitol correspondent, Chris McGann, has a story this morning about how poor the GOP's chances are in state Legislative races.
In the House, Democrats hold a 56-42 majority. The GOP's only real shot at taking back control would be in the Senate, but they'd need to pick up two seats to undo their 23-26 minority status.

That isn't likely.
After discussing each party's prospects in the state senate, McGann goes on to talk about Speaker Frank Chopp's stated desire to achieve an "institutional majority" of 60 seats. At the end of the article, there is a list of "contested races" that includes a 17th LD House race in Vancouver between Democratic incumbent Deb Wallace and Republican challenger Paul Harris (no web site.)

Harris isn't mounting much of a campaign, if you check out this profile piece about the race from yesterday's Columbian. Not quite sure how that becomes a "hotly contested race." My crystal ball is still broken, but although Harris has some deep community roots it's hard to imagine him unseating a well-liked moderate Democrat in a Democratic year.

The real action, so to speak, is in the other race in the 17th LD, which comprises eastern Vancouver and parts of unincorporated Clark County.

That race drew some attention after the primary, when Democrat Pat Campbell defeated former city councilman Jack Burkman for the nomination. There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, including a rather regrettable comment made by a local Democratic donor to Columbian columnist Gregg Herrington:
"I have not seen such a mass suicide since Jim Jones fed his flock poison Kool-Aid in Guyana," said David Nierenberg, an east county political activist, philanthropist and booster of schools and other civic causes. He said Democrats in the 17th, which is between I-205 and Camas, "tossed out a terrific candidate and a probable winner for the certainty of a loss in November."
My intent is not to pile on Nierenberg, who was piled on quite severely at the time anyhow, but to point out that Campbell could very well wind up beating Dunn.

Campbell has stuck to his method, which is to count on his name recognition from previous campaigns while steadfastly refusing to accept donations. He reportedly returned a $500 donation rather than change his ways.

Nobody who has been around politics very long can claim that newspaper endorsements decide elections. But it's worth noting The Columbian's endorsement of Campbell yesterday, which was extremely critical of Dunn.
"I showed up on time every day." That was Jim Dunn's response when asked to relate his proudest legislative accomplishment of the past two years. In an interview with The Columbian editorial board he repeatedly said, "That's a good question," when asked for examples to support his positions.

These are not the kinds of responses indicative of a sharp, effective, heads-up lawmaker who is persuasive when trying to influence legislation. Dunn's No. 1 issue, as usual, is a broad-brush complaint about government waste. But he has no specific examples. He didn't know how many state employees there are, but he said the number should be cut, via attrition, by 10 percent, except in police and schools.
Most importantly, neither Dunn nor Campbell are running campaigns as they are understood by political operatives today. Dunn is notoriously inactive, to put it nicely. He has raised around $16,000, according to The Columbian, in an era when Legislative races can cost upwards of $200,000. Campbell appears to have his web site and nothing else.

But Campbell may be a sharper cookie than some Democratic Party leaders thought. He also has a good sense of humor. A Vancouver-based political action committee that endorses anti-choice candidates has posted Campbell's responses to the LifePAC questionnaire, and the answers are fabulous. For instance (transcribed from the image file:)
13. Will you work to legislate substantially greater emphasis on abstinence education in Washington public schools?

No. Abstinence based education is generally the norm now and works to an extent. We need to supplement it with practical medical based education as well. After all, the Army I was in didn't address this area with just Character Guidance classes by Chaplain Roy. First Sergeant Snarley gave rather graphic supplemental demonstrations of how to equip a broom stick with a condom. I would guess that what First Sergeant Snarley explained to us had at least the same amount of effectiveness as what Pastor Roy counseled.
Oh, that's just priceless. It would have been great to be a fly on the wall when the LifePAC people read that!

Clark County is a unique if not dysfunctional media market, and the 17th District is on the east side, an area that exprienced a huge influx of newcomers in the last decade. Many of them work in Portland and never became all that aware of their new community. It's just as easy to subscribe to The Oregonian as The Columbian.

Since the tee-vee folks seem to only cover crimes, car wrecks and fires north of the Columbia River, there is something of an information vacuum here.

It's a situation that could allow Campbell to win despite spending virtually nothing. In many ways it's a more competitive race than the Wallace-Harris matchup for the other seat.

So it's kind of odd that the list of "contested races" at the end included the Wallace-Harris race and ignored the Campbell-Dunn race. Then again, given the dynamic of the race, and the high emphasis which is normally placed on candidates' fundraising, it is perhaps no surprise. Will Campbell be joining the House Democratic caucus come January? It's not an unlikely possibility.

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