We endorse: Seaquist, Caldier in Legislative District 26

From the Editorial Board

In Legislative District 26, The News Tribune endorses Larry Seaquist for Position 1 and Rep. Michelle Caldier for Position 2.
In Legislative District 26, The News Tribune endorses Larry Seaquist for Position 1 and Rep. Michelle Caldier for Position 2. Courtesy

The politics west of the Narrows Bridge is certainly dramatic. At times it even resembles a theater of the absurd.

Consider one possible outcome from this fall’s ballot: A pair of 26th Legislative District adversaries, whose animosity is so deep they’re on opposite sides of an ugly lawsuit, may be elected to work together for Peninsula constituents.

One candidate filed a police report against the other for taking pictures of her car and allegedly making her feel stalked when they were election foes in 2014; the other then filed suit, contending she defamed him with outrageous campaign hit pieces.

Voters in the 26th might wince at the idea of Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, and former Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, serving as seatmates in the House. We do, too. But based on their individual talents and hard-working reputations, they earn our endorsements — along with a plea to resolve their differences before the 2017 Legislature.

For Position 1, Seaquist has his work cut out trying to unseat Rep. Jesse Young, a Gig Harbor Republican. Two years ago, Seaquist was a four-term representative edged out by Caldier, a hard-charging rookie; this time Seaquist is the one trying to knock off an incumbent.

What Seaquist brings is no-nonsense leadership shaped by years as a U.S. Navy commander, plus a stint as a Pentagon budget strategist. He won respect in the Legislature for sharp thinking on higher education, and he’s passionate about protecting Puget Sound.

But Seaquist knows there’s no higher priority than fixing the K-12 system. His flirtation with running for state school superintendent equipped him for the education wars coming in 2017. His 12-point school action agenda is essential reading for anyone who foolishly believes the state’s paramount duty starts and ends with the Supreme Court’s McCleary order.

Young was appointed to Position 1 in early 2014 and won election months later. His personal story is uplifting: raised in poverty in Tacoma, graduated with honors from Wilson High, went on to tech industry success in Silicon Valley and with Russell Investments.

His short time in the House hasn’t yielded major legislation sponsorship, but Young was instrumental in freezing bridge tolls this year for the first time since 2012. (We’re less thrilled with his scheme to pay down bridge debt by allowing Starbucks and McDonald’s in the tollway.)

Young toes a strict constitutional conservative line — big on gun rights, introduced a bill to let public school coaches pray with their players. But he breaks rank occasionally, such as casting the only House Republican “yes” vote to curtail income discrimination in government-subsidized housing.

A case could be made to elect either Young or Seaquist in this swing district. But with his bulldog independence and educational heft, Seaquist is the right man in a storm.

For Position 2, Caldier is matched against Democrat (and fellow Port Orchard resident) Randy Spitzer.

A nursing home dentist and a foster parent, Caldier has a heart for some of society’s most marginalized members. She ran for the House in 2014 with little experience beyond testifying on a dental bill in Olympia.

Caldier’s staunch anti-tax stance is in synch with the 26th’s conservative outskirts, from the Key Peninsula to Kitsap. It doesn’t endear her to Capitol Democrats seeking new revenue for schools — although some give her grudging respect for responsiveness to constituents.

She partnered with a Snohomish County liberal to study improving after-school resources for students. And she signed on to bipartisan efforts within the Pierce County delegation, including a bill to improve access to hospital charity care.

Spitzer’s strengths are more relational, less substantive. A former choir director and financial planner, he now teaches leadership and organizational development, does public speaking and writes curricula. “Much of my career is getting people to act like adults,” he told our Editorial Board. But none of that has been in an elected office.

Promoting a strong public school system, more money for transportation and tax reform favorable to the middle class will score Spitzer some votes. But we think Caldier has done enough to deserve another two years.

Whoever wins in the 26th, keep your fingers crossed for inspiration, cooperation — and no litigation.