By conventional measures, Dave Reichert is the overdog in his race for a sixth term in Congress.
The Auburn Republican is the incumbent in Washington’s 8th Congressional District, and while he’s had close races against well-funded opponents, he’s never been beaten. On the money side, he’s outraised his latest opponent, Issaquah businessman Jason Ritchie, by a margin of 7 to 1. As of March 31, Reichert had raised $705,783 to Ritchie’s $103,540.
Nevertheless, Ritchie, a political newcomer and self-described “yellow dog Democrat,” is taking a shot. He said he decided to run last October after becoming frustrated with the federal government shutdown: a bitter dispute between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat-controlled Senate that largely revolved around the Affordable Care Act, the national health care law backed by President Obama.
A third candidate, Auburn resident Keith Arnold, is running as a Democrat. He is not campaigning actively, nor has he raised any money, according to federal campaign records. He did not respond to phone messages or emails seeking an interview. His campaign website is largely unchanged since an earlier run in 2012.
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Ritchie is 43, married with two children. He owns Handi Habitat, a business that modifies homes to provide access to people with disabilities or physical challenges. His customers include seniors, veterans and injured workers who rely on federal aid to pay for access improvements.
The shutdown hurt his customers and his business, Ritchie said. It’s his chief beef with Reichert, who consistently voted with House Republicans throughout the standoff. Ritchie thinks Reichert should have bucked party leaders and voted differently.
“I couldn’t do what I needed to do because political games about the Affordable Care Act were being played back in Washington,” he said. “I get that it’s political – but you don’t vote to shut down the government and claim to be a pro-business moderate. He put partisanship in front of people and progress.”
Reichert said he was also frustrated by the shutdown standoff. He said he supported a measure for a “clean” resolution to continue funding the government, but other factions within the House Republican majority would not consider it.
He compared the dynamics of working within Congress to his years as King County Sheriff (1997-2004), when he had more direct authority to make decisions.
“The frustration is, even the speaker (of the House) does not have that sort of authority,” he said. “Now there’s almost immediate backlash from some factions within the party. It creates the sort of environment where the speaker has to go back and reinvent the wheel. That’s what happened with the continuing resolution. The Senate took an ideological stand. Our side took an ideological stand. Now they were in that place.”
The health-care law drove the shutdown debate. Ritchie likes the law. Reichert doesn’t.
“It didn’t make things affordable,” Reichert said. “It created a situation where insurance premiums are higher for the majority of Americans. It also increased their co-pays. I think that access is slowly being denied, especially in the senior arena.”
Reichert supports portions of the health-care law: allowing parents to keep their children on family insurance plans until the age of 26, and preventing denial of insurance due to pre-existing conditions. He said some low-income people have obtained insurance since the law’s passage and called that a good thing. But he argues that the health-care law is funded in part by drawing money intended for Medicare recipients.
Ritchie said the law has helped him personally. He said his monthly insurance premiums dropped from $1,700 a month to $1,100 as a result of the new law.
“It’s the best step forward we’ve had in several generations,” he said. “It’s not radical – it’s buyer beware. I have the same insurance, the same doctors. I look at these things and I think this is good. It’s cheaper because we have everyone paying into the system.”
Both candidates say immigration is a hot topic in the 8th District, which was redrawn in 2012 to include Central Washington communities with an agricultural bent, such as Ellensburg and Wenatchee.
Ritchie favors H.R. 15, a comprehensive immigration reform plan passed by the Senate and supported by House Democrats.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s the right step right now,” he said.
He adds that he supports measures that would require employers to verify the citizenship status of workers they hire.
“The problem with the (U.S.) border isn’t people coming across,” he said. “The problem is they’re being lured across because we have jobs they need and there are employers who will hire them illegally.”
Reichert said he also supports immigration reform, but he adds that one big bill won’t solve the problem.
“People have to understand that we’re working in a real political world with real people who are divided. I think we can move forward, but it will be in steps,” he said.
He adds that immigration matters just as much on the west side of the Cascades as the east.
“Dairy farmers in Enumclaw and Pierce County, East Pierce and King County, they’re dependent on those workers. They need them 12 months out of the year. What they want is a guest worker program.”
When he hears suggestions of mass arrests and deportation, Reichert finds himself shifting into sheriff mode.
“Let’s just imagine that we’ve surrounded 15 million people and we’ve been somehow successful in getting them in one place,” he sad. “We’ve also got all the judges in the country put together. We can’t just track them all up and put them on a plane. There’s only one thing left to do, and that’s fix (the system).”