NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Navy veteran Matt Isenhower announces he’s challenging Republican Andy Hill for Senate

The Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s effort to recap­ture the state Sen­ate got a big boost today with the announce­ment that the par­ty has found a chal­lenger to take on fresh­man Repub­li­can Andy Hill in the 45th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict. Hill is the Chair­man of the Sen­ate’s Ways & Means Committee.

Matt Isen­how­er, thir­ty-three, says he’s run­ning because the East­side’s fam­i­lies and young peo­ple need an advo­cate. Repub­li­cans have done noth­ing but obstruct and obfus­cate since they seized con­trol of the state Sen­ate in 2012 with the help of Democ­rats-in-name-only Rod­ney Tom and Tim Shel­don. Since then, the Sen­ate has turned into a grave­yard of progress. It’s where good bills go to die.

Isen­how­er wants to change that.

“I have always been proud to call the East­side my home and want to con­tin­ue to make this a great place to live, work and raise a fam­i­ly,” said Isen­how­er in a press release announc­ing the launch of his campaign.

“But I look at the par­ti­san pol­i­tics in the State Sen­ate and see where it hurts our com­mu­ni­ties: under­fund­ed schools, [State Route] 520 over bud­get with stalled nego­ti­a­tions to com­plete con­struc­tion, loom­ing Metro cuts, and a refusal to vote on safe­guard­ing women’s health care. Our grow­ing, dynam­ic region — and the fam­i­lies who live here — sim­ply deserve better.”

One of those fam­i­lies is Isen­how­er’s. A Red­mond High alum and native of the dis­trict, Isen­how­er lives in Red­mond’s Edu­ca­tion Hill neigh­bor­hood with his wife April and two young chil­dren. He has a B.S. from the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my and an M.B.A. from Har­vard. As a naval offi­cer, he served on board the U.S.S. Win­ston Churchill before tak­ing a job in the Pen­ta­gon, where he coor­di­nat­ed cri­sis response activ­i­ties with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and fleet commanders.

Isen­how­er is backed by State Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Ross Hunter and Roger Good­man, as well as U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Suzan Del­Bene and Adam Smith. Hunter rep­re­sents the 45th’s neigh­bor­ing dis­trict to the south, the 48th, and is the House­’s chief bud­get writer. He is also seek­ing the endorse­ment of the 45th Dis­trict Democrats.

(Full dis­clo­sure: I serve on the exec­u­tive board of the 45th Dis­trict Democ­rats and rep­re­sent the orga­ni­za­tion on the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee as its state com­mit­tee­man. NPI does not endorse can­di­dates for office, or par­tic­i­pate in any inde­pen­dent expen­di­ture cam­paigns for or against candidates).

Incum­bent Repub­li­can Andy Hill won elec­tion to the state Sen­ate in 2010, nar­row­ly defeat­ing one-term incum­bent Demo­c­rat Eric Oemig with the help of favor­able elec­toral head­winds. Oemig had pre­vi­ous­ly been elect­ed him­self in a wave elec­tion year. Like Clau­dia Kauff­man, he rode into office in 2006 on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic tsuna­mi that dras­ti­cal­ly altered the make­up of the Legislature.

Repub­li­cans have been chip­ping away at those big gains ever since. They have not won an out­right major­i­ty in over a decade, but thanks to Tom and Shel­don, they were able to take con­trol of the Sen­ate anyway.

What’s real­ly inter­est­ing about the last two con­tests for Sen­ate in the 45th is that they pit­ted incum­bent office­hold­ers against chal­lengers who start­ed out with lit­tle name recog­ni­tion, but were able to cap­i­tal­ize on their per­son­al net­works and build win­ning cam­paigns. In 2006, Eric Oemig faced what many par­ty oper­a­tives on both sides thought would be a very tough cam­paign against Repub­li­can Toby Nixon.

Oemig had orig­i­nal­ly planned to run against Repub­li­can leader Bill Finkbein­er, but Finkbein­er opt­ed to retire instead. (He ran unsuc­cess­ful­ly for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor in 2012 against Brad Owen). When Finkbein­er bowed out, State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Toby Nixon vacat­ed his seat in the House to run. Tech­ni­cal­ly speak­ing, Nixon was­n’t the incum­bent in the race, but he might as well have been since he’d run and won dis­trict-wide before. Oemig had not, yet he man­aged to defeat Nixon.

Four years lat­er, Oemig sought reelec­tion, but lost to Repub­li­can Andy Hill, who, like Oemig, was a first time can­di­date new to pol­i­tics. Although Repub­li­cans were able to knock out Oemig, they were unable to defeat either Lar­ry Springer or Roger Good­man, the dis­tric­t’s two Demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Springer and Good­man sub­se­quent­ly each won reelec­tion in 2012 by sig­nif­i­cant margins.

The 45th may be a swing dis­trict, but it leans Demo­c­ra­t­ic. With the excep­tion of Hill, the vot­ers of the 45th have exclu­sive­ly sent Democ­rats to the Leg­is­la­ture every cycle since 2004. The dis­trict was redrawn in 2011, and it shrunk geo­graph­i­cal­ly, but its elec­toral make­up has not changed very much.

Isen­how­er’s back­ground is impres­sive, and will undoubt­ed­ly help him as he tries to build a for­mi­da­ble cam­paign for Sen­ate. As the Leg­is­la­ture is cur­rent­ly in ses­sion, Andy Hill is pro­hib­it­ed from doing any fundrais­ing, which will give Isen­how­er some time to catch up. Hill, how­ev­er, has already amassed a big war chest. As of the date the fundrais­ing freeze took effect, he had raised over $200,000 for his reelec­tion effort, with many big dona­tions from cor­po­rate polit­i­cal action committees.

(Cor­po­ra­tions like to give to incum­bents, which is one of the rea­sons why incum­bents have such a high reelec­tion rate).

Isen­how­er’s top pri­or­i­ties as a can­di­date are ful­ly fund­ing our pub­lic schools, address­ing our trans­porta­tion mess and hold­ing extrem­ism in check. Like us, when he looks at what’s hap­pen­ing in the Sen­ate, he does­n’t like what he sees.

The Sen­ate’s East­side Repub­li­can cabal, which now includes Rod­ney Tom in addi­tion to Andy Hill, Joe Fain, and Steve Lit­zow, has allowed the par­ty’s Tea Par­ty wing to block bills like the DREAM Act, Repro­duc­tive Par­i­ty Act, and Vot­ing Rights Act from com­ing to a vote. Repub­li­cans claim to be con­cerned about jobs, edu­ca­tion, and the bud­get, but their own bud­get pro­pos­al last year was a farce, and they were unable to agree even amongst them­selves on a trans­porta­tion package.

Pub­licly, the cau­cus does a very good job of main­tain­ing a unit­ed front. But it is a facade. Inter­nal dis­agree­ments with­in the cau­cus are said to run deep, which helps explain why two spe­cial ses­sions were nec­es­sary before Sen­ate Repub­li­cans were able to reach agree­ment with House Democ­rats and Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee on a bud­get. The final bud­get agree­ment end­ed up look­ing much more like the House­’s orig­i­nal pro­pos­al than the Sen­ate’s, craft­ed by none oth­er than Andy Hill.

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One Comment

  1. In the 5th LD, there is a chal­lenger for Jay Rod­ne’s seat who is of note. Since she has­n’t declared, I won’t include her name at this point, but it could be an inter­est­ing sto­ry for you.

    # by Mike Barer :: January 16th, 2014 at 1:46 PM
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