Two Puyallup-area races have ramifications on the balance of power in the Washington state House of Representatives this year.
Republicans hope to hold the 25th District seats in an effort to retake control of the House. Democrats want to snag the open seats to build on their current two-seat majority in that chamber. Democrats also hold a one-seat majority in the state Senate and have Jay Inslee in the governor’s office.
The 25th District seats historically were held by Democrats up until the 1998 election, when they turned red, said Tim Farrell, chair of the Pierce County Democrats Party. Now, that could change again.
“We feel very confident that this year we’ll be able to take both seats back,” Farrell said. “(The candidates are) good, local folks ... I think there’s a good chance.”
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The seats are open because Republicans Joyce McDonald and Melanie Stambaugh, both of Puyallup, are not seeking re-election.
The 25th District, known as a suburban swing district, serves Puyallup, South Hill, Fife, Midland and part of Parkland.
Many issues facing the district, from homeless to transportation, receive bipartisan support, even if the plans proposed by the candidates vary.
Ballots are due by 8 p.m. on Nov. 6.
Gildon, a Republican, gathered 46.6 percent of the votes, with Duthie, a Democrat, only a few hundreds votes behind at 45.4 percent.
Gildon, 46, is a 23-year Army veteran who currently works in commercial real estate. He is running his campaign with three major focuses: improving quality of life, relief from taxes and healing partisan divide.
Gildon has raised $129,648 for his campaign, $150 of which contributed himself.
The Republican said he feels confident going into the final weeks of the campaign.
“I think it’s going to be a tight race,” Gildon said. “I think it’s going to come down to the wire. I’m definitely running every single day like I’m one vote behind.”
Duthie, 35, is a 10-year veteran of the Air Force Reserve who works as a firefighter in Everett. Duthie’s focus is on affordable housing, traffic relief and investing in mental health and addiction resources.
Duthie has raised $136,420 for his campaign, including about $2,760 from himself.
“Our plan of attack has been very simple: Contact as many people as possible and find out how we can improve their lives,” Duthie said. “It’s the most effective way for me to learn what they wanna see in Olympia. We’re firing on all cylinders right now.”
In the race for Position 1, Republican candidate Kelly Chambers pulled ahead in the August primary with 37 percent of the votes, followed by Jamie Smith at 27.6 percent. With Smith likely to pick up a significant portion of the votes that went to former Democratic candidate Julie Door, the race is also shaping up to be a close one.
Chambers, 42, is a businesswoman who owns several Visiting Angels offices, which provide in-home care to seniors. Focuses of her campaign include transportation and education. She aims to improve education by investing in special education funding, career and technical education programs and mental health counseling.
She’s raised $162,053 for her campaign, nearly $23,000 of her own money.
Smith, 36, is a teacher in the Puyallup School District and was inspired to run for office after her time in education. She advocates for small businesses, creating living-wage jobs and protecting the environment.
Smith has raised $60,620 for her campaign.
“It feels positive. It feels like it’s in a good direction, and I’m very hopeful,” Smith said about her campaign Tuesday. “I won’t count anything out until they certify that election.”
Homelessness and mental health
The issue of homelessness is a high priority for all candidates, and all of them want to address “root causes” of homelessness, such as access to affording housing, mental health services and rehabilitation programs.
Duthie said cities, counties and the state need to work together to solve the issue.
“They’re not working together,” he said. “The state has never taken an active role in working with the cities and the counties across the entire region to put in mental health facilities.”
At a candidate forum on Thursday, Gildon said the issue is so important that he advocates spending $1 out of every $2 in any increase in revenue toward solving the opioid epidemic.
“Policy-wise, we’ve got to commit a lot of resources toward it,” he said.
Smith advocates for increasing mental health services in the schools and using existing beds in the area for treatment centers.
“I’ve watched as more and more of my students have become homeless. Our kids are needing more help than they’d had before,” Smith said.
Chambers said the rising cost of housing and excessive building regulations can hinder the creation of adequate housing, and leads to homelessness in the area.
Transportation is another priority for all candidates. Republicans and Democrats alike say they support major transportation improvements, such as the expansion of state Route 167 toward Tacoma.
“One of the main things we can do quickly is commit to finishing 167 down to the port,” Duthie said. “That’s a major obstacle that’s been plaguing this region forever.”
While leery of regional Sound Transit projects, Gildon said he also supports investing in local roads.
“We have to do it smartly, effectively, efficiently and how they’re doing it has to be transparent,” he said.
Chambers supports the Route 167 expansion as well as the expansion of Canyon Road toward Tacoma.
“That road project would get things moving through this district quite a bit more, so that’s just one example of a traffic project,” Chambers said.
Smith advocates for infrastructure improvements, including increasing public transportation options and rapid transit during all hours of the day.