There are two reasons why South Sound members of Congress will coast to re-election this year: ultra-safe districts and capable politicians representing those districts.
The first reason is embarrassing. It dates back to 2011, the last time the Washington State Redistricting Commission went through the once-per-decade exercise of rejiggering political boundaries. The commission carved out cocoons that protect incumbents of both parties, and the negotiations were done in secret.
The second reason is encouraging. Pierce County voters should feel good about their current foursome of representatives in the U.S. House.
Here’s how we view the congressional landscape on the Nov. 8 ballot:
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▪ 6th District (Tacoma to the Olympic Peninsula): Two-term Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, faces a challenge from Todd Bloom, a Tacoma Republican running for office for the first time.
Kilmer built a credible résumé in the Legislature before being tapped as Norm Dicks’ heir apparent in 2012. The Oxford-educated Kilmer has about as much success in Washington, D.C., as a low-seniority minority-party member can have: He was rated the fifth-most-effective Democrat in the House last year by the national Legislative Effectiveness Project. He has staked out a clear set of priorities, including Puget Sound ecosystem health, increased college Pell Grant funding and campaign finance reform.
On free trade, Kilmer broke with fellow South Sound House Democrats by voting for presidential fast-track authority. We’d like to see him take the bold next step on behalf of his trade-dependent district: supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Bloom owns a commendable record of Navy service to go with broad experience in the finance industry; he has valuable insights as a post-9/11 veteran transitioning back to the private sector. But Kilmer has earned a third term.
▪ 8th District (eastern Pierce County, southeastern King and parts of Central Washington): Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, is up against Tony Ventrella of Newcastle. Democrats were counting on Ventrella’s recognizability as a former TV sportscaster to combat Reichert’s profile as a six-term congressman and former King County sheriff. Alas, Ventrella dithered over his so-called “people’s campaign.”
Reichert has matured as a respectable lawmaker, and his moderate approach fits the sprawling district. Issues such as cracking down on human trafficking and trying to restore trust between police and minorities are squarely in his wheelhouse as a retired cop. In the latter case, he’s leading a task force with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
President Barack Obama has a strong ally in Reichert when it comes to confronting protectionist myths and supporting the TPP trade pact. Reichert holds influence as chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade.
Voters in the 8th were denied a genuine choice this year. Ventrella’s phantom campaign blocked the path of any serious Democrats who might have stepped forward. That makes for an easy call: Reichert should return to Congress.
▪ 9th District (Northeast Tacoma, South Seattle and Bellevue): The senior member of the Pierce contingent is 10-term Rep. Adam Smith, though the Democrat represents only a slice of Pierce County since moving from Tacoma to Bellevue after the 2011 redistricting debacle. Smith has little to fear in a rematch against Doug Basler, the Kent Republican he defeated in 2014.
As the top Democrat and 20-year member of the House Armed Services Committee, Smith retains an informed voice on defense policy and spending. The JBLM community, while not part of his district, benefits from his tenure.
Smith has taken principled stands to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and the privately operated immigration detention facility on the Tacoma Tideflats. He has consistently spoken out against the arbitrary and self-destructive spending caps known as sequestration, a booby trap that could slash about $500 billion in planned military spending by 2021.
Basler runs a television ad agency and co-hosts a conservative Christian radio show. He argues passionately against “career politicians” who aren’t home long enough to live with the consequences of their decisions. But Basler simply can’t compete with the incumbent’s acumen, especially on defense, and we appreciate Smith’s Pierce County affinity.
▪ 10th District (Lakewood, University Place, Puyallup and Olympia): Two-term Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, is challenged by a Republican opponent familiar to both Heck and Smith. Jim Postma, a retired Boeing engineer from Steilacoom, launched three previous losing bids for Congress.
This contest is not close. Heck has a long record of public service that includes co-founding the TVW public affairs network. He’s a strong defender of local military personnel and veterans, and a leader on banking issues. He’s fought to reauthorize the federal export-import bank that helps Washington sell goods overseas and to extend banking protections to marijuana businesses as a public safety measure.
Postma, 82, doesn’t seem to hear voters who keep telling him “no.” His far-right proposals, such as repealing Obamacare and raiding $1 trillion from the Social Security trust for private firms to invest, are out of touch with this district.
Is it too much to hope the South Sound will see a couple of robust congressional races in 2018? Or will voters have to wait until 2022, after the next round of redistricting ends?