Federal Way politicians have been divorcing their political parties for decades. The city’s mayor used to be a Republican. Its representative on the county council was once a Democrat.
Now a Democrat-turned-Republican wants area voters to make him the state senator in their swing district.
After some 20 years of taking heat from his fellow Democrats for his views on social issues, Mark Miloscia became a Republican — making himself a potential spoiler to his former party’s hopes of regaining full control of state government.
Familiar to voters, former Rep. Miloscia emerged from the August primary with a commanding lead, at 56.9 percent of votes, over lesser-known Democrat Shari Song. Democrats need Song to make a big comeback to help them take over the Senate, where they are in a 26-23 minority.
South King County’s 30th District covers Federal Way, Algona and parts of Auburn and Des Moines, and Milton and Pacific — including the Pierce County parts of those cities. It’s reliably blue when it comes to statewide and national candidates, but it regularly sends Republicans and Democrats to Olympia.
Voters there elected then-Democrat Miloscia to seven two-year terms in the House even as he broke with his party on social issues and sometimes fiscal ones. At one point he tried unsuccessfully to drum up support for a challenge to powerful House Speaker Frank Chopp.
He chaired the committee that dealt with housing and then a short-lived committee on audits that was reorganized out of existence after its chairman’s rebellion.
Song says Miloscia was difficult to work with and not very effective in the majority.
Miloscia says he can work well with lawmakers he knows on both sides. He has maintained good enough relations with local Democrats that he is able to count several endorsements from them. His supporters also include two Democratic lawmakers who are on the outs with their party for defecting to the mostly Republican majority caucus.
Miloscia left the House to run for state auditor, only to win less than 10 percent of votes in a four-way primary after many Democratic constituencies rejected him over his views against abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
“If you’re not locked into that ... extreme liberal mindset, they don’t want you,” Miloscia said. A conservative Catholic, he says people of faith like President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. would not be welcome in today’s Democratic Party.
“Pretty soon, there will be nobody like me.”
Those same views make for a contrast with Song, who calls Miloscia an extremist and supports a state mandate for insurance companies to cover abortion.
Miloscia worked to oppose that measure as a lobbyist for local Catholic dioceses — during a break from holding office and campaigning that ended after an unnamed Republican approached him about running against longtime Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide.
He gave it some thought —even though he wasn’t sure how serious the person was because, he said, Republicans had made similar overtures for years. In March, he made the switch, just before Eide bowed out and cleared the way for Song to run.
It remains to be seen how the GOP will handle Miloscia’s support for anti-poverty programs and public financing of elections, his opposition to the death penalty, his support for regulations on toxic products that he pushed in the Legislature and as a Catholic lobbyist, and most of all his 91 percent lifetime voting record from the state’s largest labor group.
He’s optimistic. He noted approvingly that Republicans, with some pushing, agreed this year to Democratic priorities including extending fees that fund anti-homelessness programs and giving financial aid to college students living in the country illegally.
“That’s a new Republican Party that I’m seeing, and maybe I can help on that,” he said.
“For him to go there and say he’s going to be a savior and bring the Republican Party to the middle,” Song counters, “that’s delusional.”
Song blames Senate Republicans for quashing a gas-tax package that would have funded highway projects. Republicans crafted a package last winter that would have raised the gas tax by 11 1/2 cents per gallon but Democrats criticized policy changes in the proposal and Republicans never brought it up for a vote, acknowledging they didn’t have the votes without help from the other party.
A real estate agent, Song has not held political office. She has been involved in community groups such as the Korean American Coalition, organizing voter drives, candidate forums and other civic programs.
She ran unsuccessfully for a King County Council seat in the Bellevue area, then moved into the 30th District just before the campaign — drawing criticism from Republicans.
Song does have some history in the district, having lived there in 1986 and 1987 and again from 1991 to 1997, running a preschool and the city’s diversity commission. Her husband’s mother and father live across the street from her new home in Federal Way.
Early on, Republicans seized on her low level of donations from inside the district.
Miloscia had a far larger share of local donors at the time. But as fundraising has accelerated, that gap has disappeared and now both receive only a fraction of their money from the 30th District.
On Friday, Song had received just 8.2 percent of her campaign contributions from inside her district, not counting donations from her own household. Miloscia had received a slightly smaller share from within the district, just 7.4 percent.
Candidates can’t raise huge sums of money in blue-collar Federal Way, both candidates said.
As for the state as a whole, Song raised 92.8 percent of her money from Washington donors while Miloscia raised 84.4 percent from in-state donors.
ON THE ISSUES
Song and Miloscia both support a gas tax package, with Miloscia vowing to support one that is tied to performance standards.
He wants seemingly every state program tied to performance standards, in fact. A long held passion for the onetime Air Force contract manager is what he calls quality management.
That’s why his record in the Legislature includes winning approval for Tim Eyman’s performance audits and trying to set numerical goals for programs to meet, like a reduction in homelessness that he said has yet to be fully achieved.
He sees nearly every issue through that lens. Like many Democrats, he wants a higher minimum wage and higher state-employee pay, but he adds a caveat: He would link both to the average Washington worker’s income, rising only if average incomes rise. Song supports House Democrats’ call for a $12-an-hour minimum wage and the cost-of-living increases negotiated between unions and Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration.
As lawmakers move to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision for more education funding, Miloscia said they should set numerical goals for high-school dropout rates, parent involvement and the like. The focus so far has been on the billions of dollars that schools are underfunded.
“This nonsensical idea that we’re judging education by how much money we’re spending is insane,” he said.
He says existing state revenues can likely cover the new spending. Some advocates worry that would decimate social services, but Miloscia insists that if the Legislature improves those programs to get better results, they will reduce the number of people in need .
Song is skeptical that audits and efficiency measures will solve funding problems after years of cuts to the “bare bone.”
“There’s just not enough money there to do everything we need to do,” she said. “And No. 2, you can’t overburden (agencies). A lot of the audits he wants to do cost money and time and manpower. ... I think you can’t be so fixated and (have) tunnel vision that you don’t see the whole picture.”
Song said new tax revenues, possibly combined with more cuts, are needed to fund McCleary without gutting social programs.
Taxes should target high income earners and avoid hitting the poor and middle class, she said. Possibilities include a tax on capital gains and rooting out exemptions that benefit out-of-state companies in the state tax code.
“That is taking away income from the state,” Song said, “and (if) it’s not absolutely necessary for job creation right now, if it’s outdated and obsolete, and the companies are doing well – and most of them are having record profits – then let’s start taking a look at those again.”
Democrats, Miloscia among them, controlled Olympia during much of the time the court says schools have been underfunded, but Song insists Democratic control today would produce a different result. There’s a new sense of urgency because of the court decision, she said.
In addition to the areas where legislators have already called for adding money to schools, Song supports Initiative 1351 that would reduce class sizes, although she says the Legislature may have to delay or phase in the billions of dollars it would take to fund it.
Miloscia opposes the measure, saying there are more efficient ways to spend money than across-the-board class-size reduction.