Can you give us a reason not to endorse a pair of proven incumbents?
That’s the question we posed to both challengers running for the House seats in Pierce County’s 28th District. Democrat Mari Leavitt and Republican Maia Espinoza made reasonably good cases why they could represent the 28th, an area that encompasses Lakewood, University Place, Fircrest, Steilacoom and DuPont.
But in the end, neither challenger persuaded us that voters should toss out a pair of level-headed, even-handed legislators with keen understanding of their complex district, from the gates of JBLM to the grounds of Western State Hospital to the beaches of Anderson Island.
For the House Position 1 race, voters may feel they’ve seen this movie before. Rep. Dick Muri defended his seat against Leavitt just two years ago. But this time, Leavitt could very well rewrite the ending. In 2016, Muri won with 52 percent support; fast-forward to the 2018 primary elections, and Leavitt grabbed 53 percent of the vote.
Credit Leavitt, 50, for knocking on a lot of doors with a message heavy on progressive themes such as affordable housing and women’s reproductive parity. As former deputy director of Pierce County’s human services department, the UP resident speaks knowledgeably about gaps in the safety net. As an orthodontics practice owner, she’s no stranger to small-business obstacles.
Leavitt’s growing popularity is evidence the Blue Wave has hit the swing district.
Muri, 64, of Steilacoom, appears undaunted by primary results; instead, the retired Air Force officer focuses on the mission ahead.
While Muri’s a reliable Republican teammate, he’s also known for bipartisanship. Case in point: his work with Democratic colleagues this year to modify review procedures for sexually violent predators so they’re not released early. Mental health tops his priority list, particularly with the ongoing assaults, mismanagement and other problems at Western State.
The former Pierce County Council member is also a player on transportation issues and an advocate for rail safety, cheaper car tabs and electric vehicles. Yes, this pro-life, Second Amendment-loving conservative has a heart for the environment.
With a career built on integrity, plus a tenacity that got him inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame last year, Muri is worthy of a fourth term.
In the House Position 2 seat, Rep. Christine Kilduff, a 52-year-old University Place Democrat, and Maia Espinoza, a 29-year-old Lakewood Republican, are portraits in political contrast. But Kilduff is no lemming reflexively following her caucus. In her first two terms, Kilduff opposed an income tax, voted against higher gas taxes and was one of 14 legislators to reject a terrible bill limiting public access to legislative records. (Muri was another.)
She also broke with the Pierce County delegation on freezing bridge tolls because it extended debt payments for more years.
A short conversation with this former 18-year state assistant state attorney general and former UP School Board president reveals a formidable intellect that’s an asset in Olympia.
Kilduff’s two-term track record lends credence to her mantra: “Fundamental fairness for all and effective government.” Honorable but not flashy, like the lawmaker herself.
Espinoza is a private school music teacher who grew up in the 28th and supports GOP causes such as school vouchers and charter schools. Espinoza and her husband also run a small industrial supply company. She’s an organizer in the Hispanic community, including founding the nonprofit Center for Latino Leadership.
The Pacific Lutheran University alumna brims with passion and confidence, but she could build credentials by serving in local elected office first. The same could be said of Leavitt.
Voters of the 28th should return their incumbent representatives for two more years. Their to-do list is long; let them at it.
CHECKING THEIR RECORDS
The TNT Editorial Board is partnering again this year with Verify More, a nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog that coordinates background screenings with candidates’ consent. In the 28th District, Dick Muri, Mari Leavitt and Christine Kilduff all participated in the screening; Maia Espinoza did not. To see the database, go online to verifymore.org