In early December of last year, U.S. Representative Denny Heck of Washington’s tenth district announced his intention to retire at the end of his term. Heck, who has represented WA-10 since the district was created following the last census, said that the partisan divisions of recent years have left his “soul weary.”
As a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, he has more reason to be weary of partisan fighting than most – his committee was at the center of the political maelstrom surrounding Donald Trump’s impeachment at the end of 2019 and it seemed likely that the issue would continue to dominate headlines all the way up to the 2020 general election… before COVID-19 came along.
Congressman Heck’s influential position in the House was indicated by the praise heaped upon him after his announcement.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called him a “cherished” member of the Democratic Party and said that “his guidance and friendship will be missed by his many friends in Congress.” In a similar vein, Governor Inslee praised Heck’s “tireless advocacy” on behalf of Washingtonians.
While progressives also lauded Heck – Pramila Jayapal described him as having served “with honor and distinction” – his decision to leave the House (he is now running for Lieutenant Governor) is an opportunity for the Democratic Party’s base to elect someone who’ll join the ranks of Jayapal’s House Progressive Caucus.
The open seat created by Heck’s departure has attracted a large field.
Most of these candidates are long-shots to say the least, either because they are political nobodies or because they are Republicans running in a heavily Democratic district (Heck won over 60% of the vote in 2018).
The three most prominent candidates to replace Representative Heck are all people with experience serving in elected positions.
One is former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, whose campaign messaging has all the hallmarks of “Third Way” neoliberalism. Strickland talks about “bringing the public and private sector together,” and touts her record of budget cuts (or “balancing”) in the aftermath of the Great Recession as a sign of pragmatism.
After leaving elected office, Strickland worked as the CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and was involved in funneling over $2 million into last year’s City Council elections in order to defeat progressive candidates (with limited success). Strickland’s campaign had raised $252,000 prior to the end of June.
Strickland’s platform explicitly mentions universal broadband as a priority that she would focus on. While her broadband plank does not explicitly talk about restoring net neutrality, which was gutted by Ajit Pai’s FCC, it does call for regulating broadband as a utility as Tom Wheeler’s FCC voted to do in 2015.
“Like water and electricity, fast and reliable broadband is a utility, and it should be regulated as such,” Strickland’s website says.
“In Congress, Marilyn will advocate for universal affordable broadband, focusing particularly on low-income, under-served, and rural communities.”
Strickland has not offered a bold climate action plan as part of her campaign, instead emphasizing far more modest environmental protection goals.
“In Congress, Marilyn will fight to stop Trump’s plan to expand offshore drilling and work to increase funding for Puget Sound restoration. She will work to reinstate regulations on emissions and protections for our public lands and will advocate for rebuilding the EPA, especially offices and programs designed to track the health and environmental impacts of pollution in under-served communities.”
(It is interesting that Strickland mentions offshore drilling. Donald Trump’s offshore drilling plan will only need to be fought if Trump stays in power, otherwise it will be dead following Trump’s departure from the White House.)
Strickland is backed by The Seattle Times, The News Tribune, The Seattle Medium, former Governors Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire, and a long list of mayors and local officials from Washington and other states.
Many in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are unifying around State Representative Beth Doglio. The fifty-five year old Doglio has a long record of political activism – she was the founding director of Washington Conservation Voters from 1991 to 1995, and currently works for an NPI ally, Climate Solutions, an environmental and clean energy advocacy group.
Doglio is unapologetic about her progressive credentials.
She enthusiastically supports the Green New Deal and Medicare For All, among other progressive ideas. By the end of the first half of 2020, she had raised almost as much as her two main rivals, around $240,000.
“Congress needs more climate champions – and we must not miss the opportunity to elect one in the 10th Congressional District,” Doglio says. “If I’m elected, I will approach this challenge with the appropriate focus and lens: Climate change affects every issue we care about – the economy, healthcare, immigration, housing, social justice, national security and of course, the environment.”
Doglio is also an enthusiastic backer of paid family and medical leave.
“Washington led on paid family and medical leave, and as a result we have one of the top rated programs in the country,” Doglio’s campaign website points out.
“This should be a national program, the way it is in almost every developed nation in the world. Everyone ought to be able to take time off work and care for family after the birth of a child or a serious illness.”
Doglio waited until after the legislative session to declare her candidacy, unlike rival Kristine Reeves, who resigned from the Washington State House of Representatives in late 2019 to focus on building her congressional campaign. Reeves has the support of U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D‑9th District), who used to represent portions of the 10th prior to the last round of redistricting.
Also supporting Reeves are the Laborers, the Teamsters, several SEIU locals, the National Education Association, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, and the Latino Victory Fund.
Reeves supports expanding on the Patient Protection Act with a public option, saying that she wants to “make sure everyone has the opportunity to buy into Medicare if they so choose.” (This the same position that former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg adopted in his presidential campaign.)
While Reeves’ campaign does not emphasize tuition-free college — another idea strongly supported by progressives — she does favor expanding student aid. She supports “increasing the amount of Pell Grants that can be provided to students, raise the income threshold so more families are eligible, and allow them to be used during summer school months so that students can graduate on time.”
Reeves stresses that her life experiences have prepared her well for the job of United States Representative, a position often held by millionaires.
“As someone who was raised in poverty, cycled in foster homes and was even homeless for a time, helping those in need is personal for me,” Reeves says. “I am not another lawyer or another multi-millionaire, but Congress already has lots of those. Instead, I bring a unique perspective in that I understand what it means to struggle under tough circumstances, and that inspires my unwavering commitment to helping others struggling through tough times like these.”
These three experienced candidates are by no means the only ones hoping for a victory tomorrow, however. Two of the other candidates are particularly worthy of mention, as either would (if elected) be the youngest member of Congress.
Twenty-eight year old Phil Gardner currently works as Denny Heck’s district director, which places him in a perfect position to learn about his potential future constituents’ needs. In an interview with News Tribune, he was perhaps a little over-enthusiastic in pointing this out, saying: “Apart from Denny, I have the single best understanding of this district and its needs – that’s literally my job!”
Gardner’s platform is a classic example of triangulation. He says he supports Medicare For All, but with qualifications; he emphasizes his plans for climate action, but they fall far short of the kind of transformative change the Green New Deal calls for. He professes to be for police reform, but he only wants to “limit” (rather than end) the transfer of military weapons to police forces.
Twenty-six-year-old Joshua Collins couldn’t be a more different candidate.
An avowed socialist, he decided to run before Heck declared his intention to leave the U.S. House. Collins is a newcomer to electoral politics, though he has been involved in activism since his high school days. He worked as a long-distance truck driver before he decided to run.
His platform is resoundingly left-wing and his campaign is driven by a large social media following on Twitter and TikTok. Despite Collins’ lack of support from even progressive politicians – his only prominent supporter is Seattle’s socialist city council member, Kshama Sawant – he managed to raise over $200,000.
However, his campaign began to recede into the background following Heck’s exit from the race. Collins didn’t even show up to be interviewed by The Stranger, and its Election Control Board endorsed Doglio instead.
While Collins and Gardner have ensured that youth are represented in the Top Two field, they will need to persuade voters much older than they are to back their candidacies to make it through to the next round.
Less than 10% of the 400,000 strong voting population are under the age of twenty-five. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, currently the youngest member of the House, represents a much younger district.
The qualifying election for this position will conclude tomorrow. The top two vote getters, regardless of party, will proceed to the general election in November.