The battleground 30th District isn’t just crucial to Democrats’ effort to take over the Senate. It’s also important to Republicans’ hopes for picking up a few House seats to chip away at Democrats’ solid majority there.
If primary results are any guide, one of the state’s closest legislative races is Jack Dovey’s challenge of freshman Rep. Roger Freeman.
The two have faced each other before, in 2007 when Dovey beat Freeman for the Federal Way City Council. Freeman later made it to the council and then the state House. This time, the lawyer and Democrat narrowly led Republican and business owner Dovey among August primary voters, with 51 percent.
The other 30th District House incumbent, Republican Rep. Linda Kochmar, may be safer, but she faces a spirited challenge from Democratic firefighter Greg Baruso.
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Freeman’s first term was not what he expected.
Weeks after starting his new job, the attorney was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer.
Later, the diagnosis was revised to cancer of the liver, Freeman said.
“I started a final treatment about three weeks ago and it seems like it’s doing very well for me,” Freeman said by phone Oct. 9. “We are entering the last stages of the treatment protocol.”
In addition to chemotherapy, Freeman said he’s undergoing vitamin therapy and acupuncture.
He said he anticipates being healthy for a second term — but if he’s still dealing with cancer, he said the legislative schedule allows for rest breaks in between debates and votes on the House floor. In his first term, he willed his body to be strong and avoided letting the disease mentally affect him, he said.
“I might be hurting, but I’m going to come out strong because this is what I want to do,” Freeman said.
Freeman supported most of House Democrats’ agenda over the past two years: closing or narrowing tax breaks to fund education; a gas-tax increase to fund transportation projects; a $12 state minimum wage; and, in something that hits home personally, a requirement for employers to provide sick leave.
Unlike the state Democratic Party, he opposes Initiative 1351, which calls for billions of dollars to lower class sizes, saying it adds too much to the problem lawmakers are trying to solve to comply with the McCleary decision from the state Supreme Court.
Another difference: He opposes a mandate that insurance companies cover abortion. The distinction gets muddier on other reproductive issues, though: He touted himself as pro-life at an anti-abortion rally, but he also told King County Democrats he supports a woman’s right to have an abortion.
Dovey is returning to politics after years on the City Council, including serving as mayor before the post was separately elected.
That involved guiding the city through the transition to a strong-mayor system and through the Great Recession, including parting ways with a city manager and consolidating departments, he said.
During much of that time, he also ran a chain of cellphone stores and coffee shops. He blames the recession for its demise.
State Democrats attacked Dovey in a mail piece over unpaid federal and state taxes on that company, Bluewater Wireless, and other businesses Dovey has owned. The mailer also accuses Dovey of being delinquent on property taxes on two homes and cites a series of lawsuits seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Dovey’s companies.
A state Department of Revenue list of delinquent taxpayers says Bluewater Wireless owes more than $103,000.
During the breakup of the company, Dovey said he and other owners had believed a former partner was responsible for paying the share of taxes in question, but they learned after an audit that they would have to pay as well. He said they have paid the principle with only the penalties and interest left.
He said the other missed payments have been paid off, and the lawsuits have been settled or dropped without any finding of wrongdoing on his part. He calls the mailer “a bunch of half-truths.”
Today, Dovey owns a company that makes cellphone holder systems for trucks.
He said the McCleary ruling persuaded him to return to politics.
And unlike the other two Republican legislative candidates in his district, he doesn’t try to shift talk of school funding to policy reforms.
Instead, his focus is squarely on the money that must be spent. The Legislature has laid out many of the programs to be funded, Dovey noted, including class-size reduction, all-day kindergarten, and textbooks and other operating costs.
“The road map’s there. Fund it,” Dovey said, “and now you have the discussions about the other things that are near and dear to everybody instead of holding our students hostage because somebody’s got an ideology about something they can’t give up.”
He didn’t rule out new revenue for that purpose, but said some less-crucial government programs will have to end.
Part of the solution might lie in reducing local levies while raising the state property tax, he said.
Like Freeman, he opposes the class-size initiative and supports a gas tax package, while calling for changes to how transportation money is spent.
Dovey didn’t take a position on a $12 minimum wage but sounded skeptical, saying minimum wage increases inevitably lead to layoffs.
Lawmakers should require a uniform statewide minimum wage, Dovey said, criticizing a system that allows pockets of higher minimums in Seattle and SeaTac. Freeman also wants uniform laws for most cities but said Seattle merits an exception.
“I want bigger cities with higher cost of living to be able to take care of people who live in their cities,” Freeman said.
In another difference, Dovey said the government shouldn’t mandate that businesses offer sick leave. Employees can switch jobs if they don’t like workplace policies, he said.
Freeman supports pay increases negotiated for many state employees of 3 percent next year and at least 1.8 percent the following year, noting they have gone years without cost-of-living increases. Dovey said the raises conflict with the need to devote money to schools.
“The people who are paying taxes are having the same problem, and they’re not getting a raise,” Dovey said.
KOCHMAR VS. BARUSO
In the other House race, Kochmar notes Baruso doesn’t have elected experience, while Baruso raps Kochmar for not having much legislation to show for her first term.
Kochmar, another former Federal Way City Council member and the city’s last mayor under the old system, said she’s taken a predecessor’s advice to “sit down, shut up and listen” in her first House term. But she said she helped on human-trafficking legislation, for example.
A frustrating part of her first term was the debate over a gas tax. She backed a transportation package in committee, but then voted against a new version of the package on the floor of the House. She said too much money for bicycle and pedestrian paths was added at the last minute without discussion.
As some Republicans have done in explaining their reluctance to increase gas prices, Kochmar has focused on Gov. Jay Inslee’s call for requiring a greener mix of fuel in gasoline.
“That’s going to put a damper on anything we do with a transportation revenue package,” Kochmar said.
She predicts such an executive action could raise fuel prices by more than $1 a gallon, but Inslee has not developed a specific proposal and says whatever he proposes will not cause such a spike in fuel prices.
Kochmar said she sees opportunities for giving local governments more authority to raise transportation taxes on their own.
Baruso makes a full-throated pitch for a transportation package. A captain with the Port of Seattle Fire Department, where he trains firefighters working at Sea-Tac Airport, he knows highway bottlenecks slow the flow of imports off the ports’ docks.
“Let’s move our product off of there,” he said. “Let’s get the economy moving.”
Kochmar doesn’t have a problem with the raises negotiated for state employees. She declined to say if she would support a $12 minimum wage, but she wouldn’t mandate sick leave.
Baruso, a leader in the firefighters’ union, said state workers are likely due for a raise and supports a $12 minimum wage and mandatory sick leave.
Kochmar opposes I-1351. While she doesn’t rule out new revenue for schools, she said it’s unclear what full funding would look like and lawmakers should focus on reforms.
Baruso supports Initiative 1351 and said paraeducators can help where more classrooms can’t be built. To find the money for the initiative and McCleary, he said he would target tax exemptions for large companies and seek audits of programs.