Federal investments in highways, spending and cuts, immigration, and the ability to get things done are top issues in the 10th Congressional District election this fall.
Joyce McDonald, a two-term member of the Pierce County Council who lives in Puyallup, is a conservative Republican with an independent streak who has campaigned on limiting federal spending and capping the nearly $18 trillion national debt. First-term U.S. Rep. Denny Heck is a Democrat from Olympia who has focused his campaign on jobs, rebuilding the economy through larger investments in infrastructure and protecting the environment.
On most issues, McDonald and Heck are far apart. But the rivals do agree on some issues: Both want to limit defense spending cuts at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Both favor new tax funding to complete the major state Route 167 corridor into the Port of Tacoma, which Heck has taken a leading role in advocating.
Both also agree President Barack Obama was right to intervene in Iraq and Syria to weaken groups linked to terrorism.
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McDonald said last week she supported the new actions, “but the president should present a clear plan to Congress for their support and approval. It’s about checks and balances.”
Heck agrees that Congress should vote on reauthorizing the president’s authority to order strikes. “History has shown us the consequences of Congress stepping back and yielding broad authority to the executive without asking tough and necessary questions about U.S. military actions overseas,” he said in a statement.
The 10th District includes Olympia and most of Thurston County, and it extends northwest to Shelton in Mason County and northeast to Puyallup and University Place in Pierce County. The voters lean Democratic, and Heck won the four-way primary by a comfortable margin, getting nearly 51.6 percent of the vote.
Heck, a former state lawmaker and businessman, grew up in a blue collar family in Vancouver. In speeches to campaign groups he’s noted his father was a truck driver, his mother a telephone operator, and that he was able to go to college and find greater opportunities. His wife, Paula, is a retired educator whom he met at a school board meeting.
McDonald grew up near Glasgow, Scotland, in a shipyard town called Greenock. After meeting her eventual husband, Gary, who was a U.S. sailor stationed there, she married and immigrated to the U.S., becoming a naturalized citizen. McDonald earned a college degree, and she proudly says she was the first in her family to own her own home.
Both candidates served 10 years in the state Legislature. Heck represented Vancouver, serving eventually as House majority leader. He went on to serve as then-Gov. Booth Gardner’s chief of staff. He also co-founded the TVW public affairs network and later started businesses in the education and construction fields.
McDonald left the Legislature in 2008 but not before working across the aisle to pass the state’s first law banning text messaging while driving. At the County Council, she worked with the county executive on budgets that streamlined spending, while working to create a flood-control zone district in the East Pierce County that is funded by a property tax she helped pass.
As a candidate, McDonald is taking a few positions that cross the partisan divide. She’s supported the state’s minimum wage law, which voters approved in 1998, because it increases the wage each year according to inflation. She says Congress could learn from the Evergreen State by raising the federal minimum and tying future increases to inflation.
On immigration, McDonald wants to retool the system so legal immigrants can get into the U.S. quicker, while immigrants discovered inside the country without proper credentials are returned to their home countries.
Heck favors creating a legal pathway to citizenship for otherwise law-abiding immigrants already in the country improperly, believing it’s not practical for more than 11 million people to leave.
WHERE THE CANDIDATES DIFFER
The candidates have staked out contrary positions on fiscal policy, the environment and health care.
McDonald wants Congress to stop increasing the national debt ceiling. Raising the ceiling lets government finance spending already authorized by Congress in budgets but the candidate says a hard limit on available funds is needed to force lawmakers to set priorities and overall to spend less.
Heck says raising the debt limit is needed to allow payments for spending legally authorized by Congress. He strongly opposes the across-the-board budget cuts that were left in place when a House-Senate agreement was reached in 2013 to end a government shutdown. The incumbent blames House Republicans for the reductions, which he says are a drag on the economy.
Heck backed a proposal to extend financing for the Export-Import Bank, which he argues is instrumental for Boeing jet exports and for small businesses competing overseas for customers. His plan failed in the House, but a compromise with the U.S. Senate this month granted a nine-month extension of funding that moves the debate into mid-2015.
Heck says the 80-year-old bank returned a net $1 billion to the government last year and that U.S. firms are competing against rivals based in countries that have similar state-run financing mechanisms in place.
McDonald favors cutting off federal backing for the bank, which assures sellers of U.S. products they’ll be paid. The Republican says private banks should carry the risk, not taxpayers.
The candidates also take divergent views on climate change. Heck has often said the science is settled, but he’s not taken a clear stand on a solution. By contrast, McDonald has said she thinks scientists have not agreed yet on human contributions to the global warming problem — despite the vast majority of climate scientists concluding that burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor.
On health care, McDonald says she would have joined House Republicans on their more than 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She says she wants to start over on health reform, believing Washington had the right approach years ago when it created the Basic Health Plan, which subsidized insurance plans for the working poor.
Heck supported Democrats’ passage of the Affordable Care Act at the time it was adopted in 2010, before he was in office.
So far, the two candidates have run low-key campaigns.
Financial reports on file at the Federal Election Commission show that as of June 30, Heck raised more than $1.35 million and had $867,954 cash on hand, having spent $571,512. His contributions included nearly $700,000 from political committees including labor groups, tribes and even Boeing. McDonald, who did not enter the race until March, reported raising $36,225 with $2,726 cash on hand.
New FEC reports are not due until Oct. 15, but McDonald says fundraising has been difficult, and national Republicans have not stepped in with help. As of last week, McDonald said it was not clear if she could do mailers, let alone television.
In ads, Heck touts his work including a bill he sponsored that passed into law and ultimately may help keep reverse mortgages as an option for seniors wanting to stay in their homes.
McDonald has argued that she can get results, too, and might have more clout blocking funding cuts at JBLM, because she’d be part of the House majority. But Heck said he stands by his record and warned that one of the biggest threats to JBLM is “the return of sequestration,” or across the board cuts, next year. “I’m opposed to it. Her political party is in favor of it,’’ he said.
McDonald says she also has gotten things done by working with others. As a member of the Pierce County Council and chairman two years ago, McDonald worked across party lines to forge budget agreements with County Executive Pat McCarthy to cut spending.
But she fought McCarthy over allowing marijuana outlets authorized by a citizen initiative, and the GOP-led Pierce Council ultimately overrode McCarthy’s veto in order to enact a ban on those businesses in unincorporated areas.
Dan Roach, who replaced McDonald as council chair this year, credits her for strong leadership and for making council operations more transparent, in terms of sharing information with members — and for working with McCarthy on the budget.
“I think she worked well with the executive. She’s definitely not a pushover. When she has concerns, she’s willing to bring it up,” Roach said. “I was impressed with her leadership ability — understanding the issues, and making good solid decisions and moving on.”
McCarthy said McDonald is a problem-solver. But as a Democrat, McCarthy said she is endorsing Heck.
“He has single-handedly brought a collection of folks together to address our transportation needs (on Route 167),” McCarthy said. “It’s not even in his wheelhouse (as congressman), but he’s taken a leadership role — even to the point he’s walked the hallways in the (state) Capitol. ... He’s been the leader of our coalition.’’