Any other year, the 27th Legislative District race between Jake Fey and Lauren Walker – an intraparty contest for an open seat coveted by two Tacoma City Council members – likely would be the district’s main event.
The race is certainly tighter than the one overshadowing it: the pricey slugfest featuring state Rep. Jeannie Darneille who is vacating the House Position 2 seat to take on lawyer Jack Connelly for the district’s Senate seat. Fey beat Walker by 6 percent of the vote in the primary election, compared with the 58-42 margin in the Darneille-Connelly race.
But the Walker-Fey contest has emerged as the tamer race – in part because the candidates are raising and spending more modest sums and in part because they have fewer ideological differences.
The two Democrats have, more often than not, been on the same side of issues as two-term members of the City Council.
Fey, 63, a Northeast Tacoma resident, manages about 100 employees as director of Washington State University Extension’s Energy Program in Olympia. Twice, he has run unsuccessfully for the state House, losing most recently to state Rep. Laurie Jinkins in 2010.
Fey said he’s running again in part because he has the assets and experience that will soon be needed by Pierce County’s changing legislative delegation.
“There’s really not a legislator who pays a lot of attention to economic and job issues,” he said. “As a manager, that’s my experience. I also bring a great background both from roads and transit experience, through my representation of those issues for the city.”
Fey, in addition to taking the primary lead, also has outraised Walker, about $122,000 to $89,000, records show.
The Port Angeles native said he has been driven in his life to helping children because he lost his father at an early age. He served on the local boards for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Boys & Girls Club and as a mentor at McCarver Elementary.
During his council career, Fey lists as his top achievements helping fund a program aimed to prevent youth violence and supporting several capital projects, including upgrades to the Old Town Dock and the Murray Morgan and Hylebos bridges.
He added he’s been a watchdog on budget issues and was the only member to vote against former City Manager Eric Anderson’s 2011-12 budget, which later spiraled the city into financial crisis. Fey also was among a council majority that last year voted to oust Anderson. That’s a key distinction, he said, between himself and Walker, who voted to retain Anderson.
“I have a good combination of independence and collaboration,” Fey said. “I’m not afraid to speak out, if necessary, to vote alone on an issue I feel passionate about.”
Walker, 54, is executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Washington, a civil rights nonprofit that seeks to ensure fair housing access.
A Hilltop resident since 1990, she is mother of two college-age sons and recently lost her husband to cancer. After his death, she supported reforms to the state’s medical marijuana law to ensure access to legitimate patients.
“I am running because my leadership is needed,” Walker added. “People find me a strategic thinker, but also an independent thinker. I am coming up with ideas that are creative and have a good impact on society.”
Walker has served on a variety of boards and commissions, mostly championing human and social services. Her career as a nonprofit director gave her experience in budgeting, running a small business and managing staff, Walker said. She added she’s also worked in a variety of health care policy positions, including as Pierce County ombudsman on aging.
Walker counts as her top City Council accomplishments helping establish Tacoma’s 17 mixed-use centers and adopting a fair housing policy. Both involved processes in which she brought diverse stakeholders together, she said. She pointed to that ability as what distinguishes her from Fey.
“We need someone to be persuasive, not just to be the lonely vote,” Walker said.
As a legislator, Walker said she would bring expertise on education and human services, two of the state’s key budget issues.
“That’s my expertise,” she said. “I know the issues in my bones on human services and health care, and we need someone that clearly understands and can tell the story about those kinds of services.”
CANDIDATES FOR THE 27TH LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT HOUSE
Occupation: Tacoma City Council member; director, WSU Extension Energy Program.
Education: bachelor’s degree in political science, University of Washington; master’s degree in public administration, University of Puget Sound.
Civic experience includes: Vice chairman, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency; board member, Association of Washington Cities; former president, First Place for Children; former board member, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Total raised, spent: $121,893, $95,358.
Top donors include: Citizens for Better Government, $1,800; Loren Cohen of Ruston, $1,800; Premera Blue Cross; $1,800; WA Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, $1,800; WA Federation of State Employees, $1,800.
Occupation: Tacoma City Council member; executive director, Fair Housing Center of Washington.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in community service & public affairs, University of Oregon; master’s certificate from Boston College in Women in Politics and Government.
Civic experience includes: Executive Board, Puget Sound Regional Council; Tacoma Arts Commissioner; governor’s appointee to Affordable Housing Advisory Board; former ombudsman on aging, Pierce County.
Total raised, spent: $88,972, $56,902.
Top donors include: Randy Clark of Tacoma, $1,800; Dave Ditlemore of Tacoma, $1,800; SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW, $1,800; SEIU Healthcare 775 NW, $1,800; Washington Affordable Housing Council, $1,800.