The shifting geography of Washington’s redrawn 9th Congressional District not only has meant a decisive swing to the north of what had traditionally been Pierce County-centric political turf, it’s also meant Tacoma has lost its only resident U.S. representative.
Longtime incumbent and Northeast Tacoma resident Adam Smith – the heavily favored Democrat in the race – quietly moved his family and home to Bellevue over the summer while campaigning for a ninth term in Congress.
The move provides an obvious sign about Smith’s confidence in his general election chances.
“The district is 98 percent King County now,” Smith said in an interview last week. “It makes sense for me to be more in the center of district.”
Smith’s district office in Tacoma also will pack up and follow him north come January – should he win – though its future location hasn’t been determined.
While the congressman’s new digs might come as a surprise to the last vestige of Tacoma voters still in the 9th, Smith pointed out: “At least I still actually live in the district.”
It’s true: The Steilacoom home of Jim Postma, Smith’s Republican challenger, fell out of the 9th District’s boundaries after last year’s redistricting.
Election law requires candidates only to be an “inhabitant” of the state when elected. But if Postma were to pull off an upset of Smith, he too would have to move north.
But given past elections, Smith’s heavy campaign coffers and the district’s recent demographic shifts, Postma likely won’t need a real estate agent anytime soon.
Trounced by Smith 65 percent to 35 percent during his first run for Congress in 2008, Postma failed to advance from the primary during a second campaign in 2010, losing a close contest for runner-up status to fellow Republican Dick Muri.
Now, in his third bid for Congress, Postma, 78, a retired Boeing contractor and rocket engineer, said this will be his final run – unless he wins. Postma felt compelled to run one more time to close the circle on his 50 years of political activism rooted in conservative causes.
“This is the decisive battle,” Postma said. “The other guy is trying to destroy America, and I’m trying to stop him. That’s why I’m running. It’s that simple.”
It’s a slogan the odds say won’t play well in the 9th, where redistricting has pushed the district not only decidedly north, but to the left. Sixty-one percent of its voters now vote Democrat, according to a sampling of three recent key elections. That makes the new 9th the second bluest congressional district in Washington, behind only Seattle’s uber-liberal 7th District.
Now mostly harboring King County, the new 9th dips into Pierce County only so far as to include the Port of Tacoma and Smith’s former neighborhood in Northeast Tacoma. The bulk of the district now encompasses such disparate communities as Federal Way and Mercer Island, Kent and Bellevue.
Lost in redistricting are the moderate-to-conservative voting blocks in and around Joint Base Lewis-McChord – a chunk that’s been replaced by a swath of south and central Seattle and its base of African-, Hispanic- and Asian-American voters.
With the geographic shifts came a demographic first for Washington: The district’s racial makeup now runs 50.33 percent minority – making the new 9th the state’s first minority-majority congressional district.
For the conservative Postma, whose 23 percent lagged behind Smith’s 61 percent in a five-candidate field in August’s primary, such changes don’t bode well – at least on paper. But he isn’t ready to concede the point.
“I know Asians and African Americans are pretty conservative, both financially and socially,” said Postma, who noted his own children are Japanese-American. “They should be voting Republican. So, I keep plodding away on my mantra, and we’ll see what happens.”
Postma’s mantra includes a radically different approach from Smith for addressing what both see as the campaign’s top issues: jobs and the economy.
Smith, 47, an attorney and former state lawmaker who grew up in south King County, said he’s focusing on boosting employment by pursuing more job training and education programs, and extending the time that laid-off workers get unemployment. He added that he supports a variety of incentive programs to promote small business growth.
A critical component of boosting the economy is rebuilding the region’s transportation infrastructure, Smith added. While the 9th no longer includes the military base, Smith – the ranking Democrat of the House Armed Services Committee – noted it contains both the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma and a slew of aerospace and defense contractors.
“We must make sure we have the transportation infrastructure for these businesses to compete,” he said. “To do that, we need more revenues for transportation. We can’t rely on the gas tax exclusively anymore.”
One of Smith’s strategies for getting those needed funds is dumping the Harbor Maintenance Tax – a fee imposed on shippers primarily meant to help East Coast ports cover routine dredging work. The tax hurts Western deep-water ports that don’t need such maintenance, Smith said, because international shippers are able to avoid paying the tax by off-loading freight in Canada, then shipping it by rail into the U.S.
“We pay the tax, but don’t get any advantage,” Smith said. “So let’s get rid of that and in its place, put a flat fee on containers. That’s a new source of revenue we can tap into (for infrastructure).”
Postma contends the job training and education programs Smith promotes are partly what’s killing small business – by larding them with more taxes and regulation.
He added that Smith and other Democrats have allowed America to slip deeply into socialism, keeping tens of thousands of people dependent on welfare. “It’s those kind of programs that his party is running that are taking away middle-class jobs,” Postma said.
Postma advocates stimulating the economy by returning the nation to a gold-backed dollar system he contends will eliminate the national debt, and by setting aside taxes raised for Social Security and other benefits in a new trust fund to be invested in American businesses.
Returns on that investment will create jobs, balance the budget and increase retirement benefits, he said.
“The economy will fly,” Postma said. “And when you retire, your money will be there. Most people will retire millionaires.”
Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542
9TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Occupation: U.S. representative.
Education: J.D., University of Washington; Bachelor of Arts, Fordham University.
Civic/political service: United States representative, 1997-present; Washington state senator, 1991-1997; City of Seattle prosecutor, 1993-1995; member of various community and civic groups.
Total raised, spent: $1,040,942; $829,949.
Top donors include: Boeing Co. $10,000; Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union, $10,000; SSA Marine, $10,000; General Dynamics, $10,000.*
Occupation: Retired engineer and financial adviser.
Education: Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering, Purdue University.
Civic/political service: Candidate for Congress three times, Parkland Kiwanis Club.
Total raised, spent: $1,818, $6,163.
Top donors include: No reports filed.**Source: OpenSecrets.org; Federal Election Commission