I’ve nothing against Derek Kilmer.
The Gig Harbor Democrat has received good marks as a state legislator and seems like a smart enough guy, even though he attended a couple of second-rate colleges called Princeton and Oxford (as if that’s a real university).
It’s just that I don’t want to crown him as the congressional successor to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks without a bit of comparing and contrasting. Yet that’s what is happening, at least among Democrats.
Maybe they were never serious, but it’s still disheartening to see a succession of potential candidates announce they’ll forgo seeking the suddenly open 6th Congressional District seat.
Maybe another time, right? There might not be another time.
According to research done by Patrick McDonald at the Secretary of State’s office, the last time this seat was open was 1976, when Dicks first won. Before that it was 1936. Counting the first election after it was created following the 1930 Census, the district’s voters have seen an election without an incumbent just three times.
And that last time, 36 years ago? Democrats picked from six candidates and Republicans from three. The fixers probably see that primary as a case study for what not to do because voters, not insiders, made the choice.
But that’s the kind of thinking that has left Washington voters with an uninspiring primary this year. So far we have an open state governor race with no primary on either side and an open state attorney general race with no primary on the Democrat side and a marginal one on the Republican side.
For the newly created 10th Congressional District, Democrats have cleared the way for Denny Heck, and there remain hopes by insiders on the other side that one of the declared Republicans – Pierce County Councilmen Dick Muri and Stan Flemming – will succumb to pressure and get out.
It is valid to point out that it costs more money and takes more out of a person to run for office today, making the decision not to run the rational choice. But that doesn’t do much to give real choices to voters, to make them feel they are deciding rather than the money people, the insiders, the fixers.
Party bosses likely always preferred to pick the winners without interference from voters. But it is a more recent trend that potential candidates allowed themselves to be chased from primaries for fear of being labeled spoilers.
Some might argue that the state’s successful defense of the Top Two primary caused the parties to try a different approach. But this trend to discourage intraparty competition existed for the few years that the parties had imposed their own system, the pick-a-party primary in which voters had to declare allegiance and vote only in the Democratic primary or only in the Republican primary.
Dicks’ retirement was a shock, leaving potential candidates little time to react and put together a campaign. But given the rarity of the opening, the pent-up supply of lower officeholders and the fact that it’s a chance that might not come around again for a long time, I figured there would be more than one Democrat.
Within days, however, potential candidates became noncandidates. State Auditor Brian Sonntag said no. State Sen. Jim Hargrove said no. And while Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland hasn’t officially said no, endorsements of Kilmer by a passel of Tacoma City Council members and the Pierce County Democrats suggest she has either passed on the race or is getting passed by.
What about the Republicans? The new boundaries of the 6th make it a swing district, at least what passes for one on Washington’s political map. But state Rep. Jan Angel begged off, and the GOP is left with Jesse Young and Doug Cloud, who competed two years ago to see which would lose to Dicks. Neither has shown he can be more than a protest candidate.
Again, nothing against Kilmer. It’s just that if we are going to make him the next Congressman for Life from the 6th, it ought to be a more meaningful choice than that he was the only choice.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 email@example.com blog:thenewstribune.com/politics Twitter: @CallaghanPeter