The races for the two seats in the 28th Legislative District feature familiar faces but divergent views on job creation and public education funding.
Rep. Troy Kelley’s decision to run for state auditor leaves his Position 1 seat up for grabs. Republican Steve O’Ban, an attorney who lost to Kelley in 2010, is running against University Place City Councilman Eric Choiniere, a Democrat.
In Position 2, Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, is seeking a fifth two-year term against Republican opponent Paul Wagemann, a Clover Park school board member. Their contest is a rematch of the 2010 race.
Redistricting – prompted by new Census Bureau population numbers – stretched the district’s boundaries to the south and east to encircle Joint Base Lewis-McChord and take in more than 17,000 additional people. The district also includes Lakewood, University Place, DuPont and Fircrest.
Both O’Ban and Choiniere have made job creation one centerpiece of their respective campaigns.
O’Ban has painted himself as a champion for small business, which he says is key to boosting the local economy and getting the Pierce County unemployment rate down. He’s an attorney who has taken some high-profile cases arguing in support of the state’s Defense of Marriage Act and for an Olympia pharmacy’s decision to not stock an emergency contraceptive.
“I think I’ve got a special passion and affinity with small-business owners by virtue of being one and representing them in my practice over the last 25 years,” he said.
Choiniere, a customer service representative at TriWest, the military’s regional health care system, has focused his campaign on job creation, protection of workers’ and women’s rights and education. He said he’ll be a voice for the everyman in the state’s capital “instead of one for corporate lobbyists.”
O’Ban favors funding public education first to comply with the state Supreme Court ruling that the state has failed to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education.
Choiniere said the lawmakers can raise some of the needed revenue by reviewing the sales-tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers and getting rid of useless tax breaks, including the sales-tax exemption for country club memberships.
In addition to closing tax loopholes, Choiniere favors investments in public utilities and streets and tourism as ways to boost local and state economies.
One way lawmakers can support small businesses, O’Ban offers, is enacting a temporary reprieve from business-and-occupation taxes for each new worker they hire.
Choiniere supports same-sex marriage, while O’Ban opposes it. O’Ban favors requiring a two-thirds “supermajority” vote to allow lawmakers to raise taxes, while Choiniere opposed it.
O’Ban finished about 1,000 votes ahead of Choiniere — 46 percent compared with 42 percent — in the primary election and has built a significant lead in campaign fundraising. His campaign has raised $141,000 compared with the $54,000 in Choiniere’s coffers.
O’Ban said the primary results were encouraging, but he realizes turnout will be greater for the general election, and it’s his job to sway the independent voters who turn out. He believes his focus on helping small business will resonate with voters and strike a chord with underemployed and unemployed workers.
Choiniere said he finished about where he expected. More Republicans turned out for the primary because of the high-profile 10th Congressional District race, which featured Republican rivals and Pierce County councilmen Stan Flemming and Dick Muri, he said. Also, Choiniere said, many voters hadn’t realized the state had moved the primary election to August.
Green, who works as a registered nurse, is in a tough fight to return to Olympia. Wagemann, a self-employed consultant, lost to Green by 1,200 votes two years ago and looks to close that gap by hammering on the need for new leadership in tough economic times. This time around, he also performed better in the primary election. Wagemann trounced GOP candidate Malcolm Russell after a squeaker win two years ago over fellow Republican Brian Wurts, a Lakewood police officer.
Wagemann received 10,239 votes to Russell’s 3,175. He’s counting on all of Russell voters – plus some – to best Green, who received 14,110 votes in the primary.
“If I get 1,000 votes to switch over, she’s done. It’s over,” Wagemann said.
Green argues the economic recovery is too fragile to send a newcomer to the state capital and that she has the legislative experience to guide the district to a brighter future.
They differ starkly in how lawmakers should respond to the state Supreme Court school-funding ruling.
Green acknowledged money can be found by closing tax loopholes, but she said its naive to think the state can meet that obligation without raising taxes.
“We’re talking about billions of dollars,” she said.
Her opponent says it can be done, reaffirming his stance that he will not vote for a tax increase. Wagemann supports fully funding K-12 education before any other state services. He said the state constitution mandates it.
“The money is there,” he said. “It’s just where are we going to take it from.”
Green attacks his stance as “naive at best and irresponsible at worst.” Education is a priority, she said, but the state provides other essential services. People have their “head in the sand” if they think lawmakers should figure out how to pay for the rest of state government after funding basic education first.
“That shows inexperience,” she said.
Green opposes lawmakers needing a two-thirds vote to pass a tax increase, while Wagemann supports the so-called supermajority requirement. Both candidates said they would oppose an initiative on the November ballot allowing charter schools to operate in the state.
28th Legislative District candidates: Choiniere and O’Ban for Position 1 and Green and Wagemann for Position 2
Residence: University Place.
Education: Took some courses at ITT Technical Institute.
Occupation: Customer service representative at TriWest, the military’s regional health care system.
Civic experience: University Place City Council, University Place Parks & Recreation Commission, Pierce County Citizens Advisory Board for Community Development Block Grants, Rainier Communications Commission and Pierce County Regional Council.
Total raised, spent*: $54,237, $25,974.
Top donors: House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee, $10,000; 28th Legislative District Democrats, $4,750; AFT Washington, AFL-CIO, $1,800; Harry Truman Fund, $1,800; Justice For All Political Action Committee, $1,800. Six other contributors gave $1,800.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, University of Washington; law degree, Seattle University.
Civic experience: LEOFF Plan I board, board member of the Rescue Mission in Pierce County, board member of Sacred Road (a charitable organization serving the Yakama Nation of Indians), board member of Covenant High School.
Total raised, spent*: $141,582, $58,041.
Top donors: House Republican Organizational Committee, $25,000; Cambia, $1,800; Farmers Employees and Agents, $1,800; National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, $1,800; Joanne O’Ban, $1,800. Three other contributors gave $1,800.
Residence: Unincorporated Pierce County (between Lakewood and Steilacoom).
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, The Evergreen State College; associate in nursing from South West Illinois College.
Occupation: Registered nurse.
Civic experience: Four terms as representative in Legislature.
Total raised, spent*: $134,442, $36,170.
Top donors: House Democratic Campaign Caucus, $52,500; AFT Washington, AFL-CIO, $1,800; Credit Union Legislative Action Fund, $1,800; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 112 Political Action Committee, $1,800; Justice For All Political Action Committee, $1,800. Ten other contributors gave $1,800.
Education: Bachelor’s in aeronautics and astronautics, University of Washington.
Occupation: Self-employed consultant.
Civic experience: Volunteer at Bethany Baptist Church, Lakewood YMCA Board, Clover Park School Board director; Lakewood Transportation Committee.
Total raised, spent*: $115,512, $27,731.
Top donors: House Republican Organizational Committee, $50,000; Bank of American State and Federal Political Action Committee, $1,800; Cambia Health Solutions, $1,800; National Federation of Independent Business – Washington Safe Trust, $1,800; PhRMA, $1,800. Three other contributors gave $1,800.Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 christian.hill@ thenewstribune.com @TNTchill * As of Oct. 9. Source: Washington State Public Disclosure Commission