The two races in the 2nd Legislative District have a common theme, with well-funded Republicans fending off Democratic challengers who have far less money to overcome the district’s libertarian leanings.
Sen. Randi Becker, a first-term Republican from Eatonville, has drawn large donations from builders, insurers, power companies and the financial industry to amass more than $160,000, 2½ times what Bruce Lachney, a cranberry grower and former pilot, has raised.
But where Becker is offering a modest agenda focused on transportation projects, school funding and cutting the state-government workforce, Lachney is advocating a bold platform. He wants to lengthen the school year for students in K-12 and overhaul the tax code to include tax relief for small businesses.
In the contested House race, Rep. Gary Alexander has raised more than $140,000, aided by interest-group donations similar to Becker’s. Meanwhile, first-time candidate Greg Hartman has raised $6,425 – too little even to send one mailer to voters in the sprawling 2nd District.
Thanks to this year’s redistricting, the new 2nd covers a slightly smaller area but still overlaps southeast Thurston County and includes the Pierce County towns of Graham, Orting and Eatonville.
In the other House race, first-term Republican J.T. Wilcox of Yelm drew no opponent.
DEMOCRATS WANT SENATE SEAT BACK
Becker, who has a background in real estate and managing a medical office, was recruited by business groups to run for the Senate in 2008. She unseated a conservative Democratic incumbent, Marilyn Rasmussen.
Four years later, Democrats want to win the seat back and hold onto their 27-22 majority, which is under assault in other races around the state. After Lachney finished just five votes behind Becker in a three-way primary last month, they think they have a clear shot.
Michael King, executive director of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, says voters will be given many chances to learn about Becker’s voting record, including a controversial vote in March that would have cut more than $70 million more from public education.
Lachney also points out Becker sponsored a bill to shorten the school year at a time public school students should be getting more learning time, not less.
Becker, 64, defends her record, saying her bill to allow fewer school days was in response to her own Eatonville District wanting to save money by holding class longer each day but on fewer days.
Becker also casts herself as a moderate Republican who is willing to work for bipartisan solutions. In the case of the budget, Republicans backed off their education-spending cuts and eventually hammered out an unusually bipartisan budget deal with Democrats that passed 44-to-2 in the Senate.
Becker offers few specifics but says she wants to keep cutting the state’s already-shrinking government workforce. She says she wants government efficiencies instead of tax increases to pay for schools.
“I think I am in the middle. I don’t want to be so far on the right or the left that I cannot see’’ solutions, Becker said last month.
Lachney, 52, brings a different background as a former Marine who worked 22 years as a pilot for Delta Airlines. The cranberry grower is chairman of the board of trustees for Clover Park Technical College and is finishing a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Washington.
Recruited by Senate Democratic leaders, Lachney wants to improve K-12 public schools with a dramatic move to increase the 180-day school year by 10 to 20 days, putting Washington kids on par with top achieving school systems in Europe and Asian.
In contrast to Becker, who says voters in the district do not favor big new investments in higher education, Lachney sees it as a key for economic development. Lachney also wants to reduce the effects of business-occupation taxes on small businesses while closing tax loopholes that don’t produce public benefits.
“You can’t look at funding education appropriately … without looking at the budget. And you can’t look at the budget without looking at the tax code,” Lachney said.
Becker and Lachney are staking out different positions on the four citizen-backed measures on the Nov. 6 ballot. Becker is against Referendum 74, which legally recognizes same-sex marriages under state law, but says she’ll honor whatever voters decide. Lachney is not taking a public position.
On Initiative 1185, Lachney said the two-thirds supermajority requirement for tax increases violates the state Constitution. But Becker favors passing it into state law one more time, and she’d like to see if offered as a constitutional amendment.
Both candidates oppose I-502’s proposal to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and to tax it. But neither candidate is willing to support I-1240’s proposal to allow up to 40 charter schools, which are privately run alternatives to public schools.
INCUMBENT HAS EDGE IN HOUSE RACE
After 16 years in office, Rep. Alexander of Thurston County says his job is still not done as a lawmaker. Alexander first ran in 1996 on a term-limit pledge that he later abandoned, and he says a ninth term would let him keep working to put the state’s budgeting on a sustainable footing.
Alexander, 68, is the top Republican on the House budget committee. Should the GOP gain the majority in the House, he would immediately have more sway in writing a budget that pays for the state’s K-12 education system without raising taxes.
He says his top goals are boosting jobs and responding to the state Supreme Court’s finding that the state was falling short of its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic education. He also wants to target vocational education to students earlier in their school careers to ensure more kids leave school with skills that employers need.
His opponent, Greg Hartman, is a newcomer to campaigns. Hartman, 59, works in Renton as a fire battalion chief and safety officer, worked seven years in the Coast Guard, and lives in Graham.
He calls himself a fiscal conservative and says he would “resist the temptation to raise taxes to solve our budget revenue concerns.’’ Hartman said he would seek to fully fund K-12 schools before addressing other needs, but he thinks that programs that help poorer children lacking a home or enough to eat should be part of that priority.
In a break with Alexander, Hartman said he thinks government is getting lean and that lawmakers need to be willing to pay for programs and infrastructure. “I don’t believe we can continue to cut our way out of this” budget situation, he said.
Alexander serves on a legislative task force on K-12 school funding and says he thinks the state can meet its duties without raising taxes – if it moves carefully and phases in increases in the state’s allocation to public schools.
Alexander also contends the Legislature can streamline and reform the delivery of government services to save money. He’s advocated a revival of “competitive contracting” – a forgotten piece of the Personnel Reform Act of 2002 that would let the state put some of its functions out to bid to the private sector, while also letting current employees put in a rival bid.
Hartman also is advocating a “look at efficiencies, consolidation of services, and working smarter.”
The candidates differ most clearly on social issues such as same-sex marriage. Hartman favors passage of R-74, saying he is an advocate of personal freedom.
Alexander opposes R-74 but said he won’t try to undercut the law if it passes.
On the other ballot measures, Alexander backs a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases, opposes marijuana legalization, and says he doesn’t know yet how he’ll vote on the charter schools measure.
Hartman said he opposes Tim Eyman’s two-thirds vote initiative and charter schools, and favors the marijuana measure.
In a sign of Hartman’s uphill climb, the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters is endorsing Alexander. But Kelly Fox, president of the council, said Hartman is a “good guy” and a leader in his firefighter local.
“This is no reflection on him as a person or a legislator. I think he would do a tremendous job,’’ Fox said. “We’ve got a longstanding policy of sticking with incumbents that A., don’t hurt us, or B., help us.’’