We endorse: O’Ban, Muri, Kilduff in Legislative District 28

From the Editorial Board

For Legislative District 28, The News Tribune endorses (from left) Rep. Dick Muri (R-Steilacoom), Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-Tacoma) and Rep. Christine Kilduff (D-University Place).
For Legislative District 28, The News Tribune endorses (from left) Rep. Dick Muri (R-Steilacoom), Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-Tacoma) and Rep. Christine Kilduff (D-University Place).

Every two years, Washington political operatives point to the 28th Legislative District as a key battleground for statehouse control. Now the spotlight returns to the 28th, a patchwork of urban dwellers and suburbanites in West Tacoma, University Place, Fircrest and Lakewood. And don’t forget the proud core of military families and veterans in DuPont, Steilacoom and JBLM.

Democrats have targeted the Senate seat here as one of a handful around the state that could put the Senate back in their column. Republicans are equally hopeful they can seize one of the 28th’s House seats and keep the other, which might finally win them a majority in that chamber.

In the thick of the intrigue is Republican Sen. Steve O’Ban, for whom running every two years has become old hat. He was a state representative when appointed to the Senate after Mike Carrell died in 2013, then elected in 2014 to finish the rest of Carrell’s term. O’Ban, of Tacoma, now seeks a four-year opportunity in a contest against Democrat Marisa Peloquin of University Place.

We endorse O’Ban in a district that leans slightly right. While opponents brand him a mouthpiece for the far-right social agenda, we see him as one of the Legislature’s keen minds, a cool-headed constitutional lawyer and an insider in the Senate GOP caucus.

To be sure, the caucus is prone to hyperpartisanship. O’Ban contributed this year by leading a drawn-out Senate investigation into the Corrections Department, seemingly timed to maximize re-election damage to Gov. Jay Inslee. But having some isometric tension between arms of government can make the body politic stronger.

O’Ban embraces the role of “pushing back on the governor’s job-suffocating tax increases,” as he told our Editorial Board. But he’s pragmatic enough to set that aside for district interests, such as voting last year for the largest gas-tax increase in state history. Securing money to widen a stretch of Interstate 5 near JBLM clinched his support.

Critics pan O’Ban for his legal work defending same-sex marriage opponents and anti-birth-control pharmacists. But his legislative work shows allegiance to the 28th, and that’s what matters.

Peloquin, a first-time candidate, should enjoy crossover appeal to traditional Democrats, military families and veterans. She’s a colonel in the Army Reserves and has spent nearly three decades in uniform. Married to an Afghanistan combat veteran, Peloquin also understands post-traumatic stress and is determined to fix the state’s mental health deficiencies.

Factor in an MBA and her education acumen — she’s a former local and regional PTA leader — and Peloquin is building a biography that could make her a standout House candidate in 2018.

For House Pos. 1, we see little reason to oust Rep. Dick Muri, a Republican budget hawk with a reputation for dissecting government performance going back to his decade on the Pierce County Council.

A former Air Force navigator, Muri is well aligned with south county military values. And as a former Steilacoom School Board member, he’s sensitive to concerns of families and educators. He co-sponsored a bill last year that would have made it easier to pass school bonds in November elections.

Democratic challenger Mari Leavitt also has deep roots in the district, having lived as a child at Fort Lewis. The Pierce County Human Services deputy director, small business owner and mother of seven still finds time for public service, including in local schools and the YMCA.

We applaud Leavitt’s big-picture focus on kindergarten-through-college. A next step for her could be University Place School Board or City Council.

For House Pos. 2, the same two candidates who went down to the wire in 2014 are facing off again in November. Ideologically, the differences are stark between Democratic Rep. Christine Kilduff of University Place and Republican Paul Wagemann of Lakewood. She’s a liberal-minded attorney; he’s a staunchly conservative retired military pilot.

But the two mirror each other’s tireless civic engagement, including service on the UP and Clover Park school boards.

We give the nod to Kilduff, a quick study in her first House term perhaps owing to her 18 years as an assistant state attorney general. That job, in which she led a team tasked with protecting communities against drunken drivers, also gave her a tough-on-crime edge that fits her district. Kilduff joined a successful bipartisan effort last year to stop the state from releasing so many sex offenders in Pierce County. O’Ban and Muri also were involved.

This is precisely the kind of partnership the 28th District should expect — and demand — if these three capable incumbents are re-elected.