We endorse: Zeiger, Stambaugh, Chatterton in Legislative District 25

From the Editorial Board

The News Tribune's endorsements for East Pierce County's Legislative District 25 go to (from left) Melanie Stambaugh for House Pos. 1; Hans Zeiger for Senate; and Michelle Chatterton for House Pos. 2.
The News Tribune's endorsements for East Pierce County's Legislative District 25 go to (from left) Melanie Stambaugh for House Pos. 1; Hans Zeiger for Senate; and Michelle Chatterton for House Pos. 2.

There must be something in the water in the Puyallup School District, or perhaps the high schools have an exceptionally inspirational civics curriculum.

How else to explain a pair of prodigies representing the 25th Legislative District, and a third millenial running a spunky campaign to join them in serving the people of Puyallup, Fife, South Hill, Summit, Midland and Parkland?

The grizzled veteran of the three is Rep. Hans Zeiger (Puyallup High, Class of 2003). The three-term House Republican seeks promotion to the Senate and stands as heir apparent to Sen. Bruce Dammeier, if Zeiger can fend off a November challenge by Democrat Karl Mecklenburg.

Dammeier is running for Pierce County executive. His finesse on education policy and influence in the Senate majority caucus will be hard to replace, but Zeiger seems well suited to grow into the role.

The moderate-leaning Zeiger of today hardly resembles the teenager of 12 years ago, a firebrand scribbler of right-wing rants. He once criticized public schools for "the filth of moral relativism" and ripped the Girl Scouts as "a feminist training corps."

It's a credit to Zeiger that he matured into a statesman in his 20s, works as director of the Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership and last year received the Gabrielle Giffords Award for Civility in State Governance.

Zeiger is a voice for an affordable and transparent higher-education system. He supported a transportation tax package in 2013, two years before fellow Pierce County Republicans got on board to fund the completion of state Route 167. And he, unlike some in his party, is open to raising new revenue to meet K-12 school obligations.

Mecklenburg, a regional vice president for Bank of America, burns with the fire of a long-time youth soccer coach and would bring a spark to the problem of homelessness. But the Senate's not the place to learn the ropes of elected office; better to come up through the House, like Zeiger has.

Zeiger's 25th District colleague and fellow Republican, Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, was Washington’s youngest legislator when elected to Position 1 in 2014. But she exudes the poise of a veteran, whether discussing less rigid sentences for juvenile offenders or more career and technical education for high schoolers.

Stambaugh (Emerald Ridge High, Class of 2009) works at two family small businesses and walks a fairly standard GOP line on fiscal issues. But her social progressiveness – such as supporting the will of Washington voters to legalize marijuana – reflects a generational shift in the 25th. Young women found a champion this year in Stambaugh, as she sponsored (with limited success) two bipartisan bills improving access to birth control.

The Democratic challenger for Position 1, Jamie Smith, keeps the local school district connections going; she's a teacher and coach at Puyallup High, and a fierce advocate for students in poverty. Smith would bring an educator's eye to school funding deliberations, but we see no reason to drop Stambaugh just when she's coming into her own.

The open seat in District 25 is the House Position 2 seat that Zeiger's giving up. Newcomer Michelle Chatterton (Puyallup High, Class of 2007) faces an uphill fight against the well-known and battle-tested Joyce McDonald.

Chatterton, a Democrat, is building her public service portfolio – King County emergency management coordinator; member of Puyallup's city parks and senior advisory boards – and has the energy and intellect to thrive in Olympia.

McDonald, a term-limited Republican on the Pierce County Council, has experience and connections galore, having previously served five terms in the House. But we're troubled by parts of her council record, especially her unyielding marijuana opposition and meaningless $255,000 ballot measure last spring. She acknowledges a similar proclivity to defer action on mental health funding.

Because the 25th is a swing district, it makes sense to elect one Democrat as a counterweight to Zeiger and Stambaugh. In Chatterton, voters are presented with a candidate who’s gainfully employed in Seattle and could easily have settled there. Instead, she bought a house in Puyallup, plans to raise a family there and wants to give back to the community that raised her.

The Puyallup School District logo proclaims "a tradition of excellence." While many promising young alumni have moved away, three returned home to fulfill that tradition. They should be given the chance.