By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
One of the year’s most competitive primary election races is in south Snohomish County, where five candidates are vying to succeed retiring Democratic state Rep. Mary Helen Roberts.
Democrats Justin McMahon, Strom Peterson, Scott Whelpley and Dick McManus and Republican Allen McPheeters are seeking the 21st Legislative District seat Roberts has held for a decade.
The top two finishers in the Aug. 5 primary, regardless of party, will face off in the November general election.
Recent elections show the district is strongly Democratic, making it possible for an intra-party duel this fall.
Peterson, Whelpley and McMahon are each raising money and securing endorsements from prominent Democratic lawmakers, labor unions and other forces of the party base. Roberts endorsed Peterson for the job.
McManus, an admitted long shot, said he is running to press his call for Democrats to demand a new congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks.
McPheeters, who is chairman of the GOP operation in the district, entered the race at the last minute and said he did so to ensure voters had a Republican choice.
“I wanted to present voters with issues and points of views not represented by Democrats,” he said.
One area is education and how the state will comply with a state Supreme Court order to fully fund public schools by 2018. This will cost an estimated $3.5 billion to $4 billion a year.
McPheeters, 46, who lives north of Lynnwood, said money from the state budget must go first to pay for schools and then lawmakers can answer the question of “how do we fund everything else state government is doing.”
By contrast, the Democratic candidates said new revenue is needed, and each expressed a desire to look at closing some tax breaks, establishing an income tax and boosting the state’s portion of the sales tax.
“We have to talk about an income tax,” Peterson said. “That idea might not go anywhere but we have to have that conversation.”
Peterson, 46, an Edmonds City Council member and owner of a downtown restaurant, said he backs spending cuts but only if they don’t snip the safety net of health care and social services.
Whelpley, 47, a Navy veteran making his first run for office, said he would look to close tax loopholes that don’t hurt business and cause unemployment to surge before contemplating taxes.
An income tax, Internet tax, sales tax hike and business-and-occupation tax rate increase must be “on the table” when that discussion begins, the Mukilteo resident said.
McMahon, 32, of Edmonds, is a political activist who directed field operations for a 2010 congressional campaign and the 2011 marijuana legalization measure.
He said “clawback” provisions are needed in laws providing tax breaks. That way, if a company doesn’t deliver on promises to create jobs, it could lose the break, and that would bring in dollars. He also wants to impose a tax on carbon emissions.
There are some areas where the Democratic hopefuls don’t all see eye-to-eye.
For example, Peterson, McMahon and McManus endorse Initiative 1351, the November ballot measure aimed at reducing class sizes. Whelpley and McPheeters oppose it, saying it’s a well-intentioned idea that the state can’t afford right now.
McPheeters’ position on transportation funding is in contrast with the quartet of Democrats.
He said he sees a need for “some kind of package” but wants to do it without raising the gas tax. Democratic candidates backed the 10.5-cent increase passed by the House of Representatives in 2013.
“I do support a transportation package as soon as possible,” McMahon said. “I think it’s a shame that the Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate held up a vote.”
Peterson said any plan must cover all modes of travel and provide flexibility for communities to receive money for local projects. He also said there must be money included to cover cleanup of stormwater pollution.
Whelpley said reform must be part of the solution and expressed a willingness to look at the cost of paying prevailing wages on all projects. One of his endorsers is Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.
McManus, 66, a former Community Transit bus driver, said he’ll look to make sure there is adequate funding for bus service.
Peterson leads all candidates in fundraising with $37,910 as of Friday, according to reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
McMahon has raised $30,433, Whelpley $26,689, McPheeters $1,573 and McManus $546.
On the endorsement front, Peterson’s list of backers includes U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, state Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, and Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, a prominent Republican.
McMahon’s endorsements include Democratic state Reps. Mike Sells of Everett and Luis Moscoso of Mountlake Terrace.
Whelpley’s supporters include Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and state Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.
21st Legislative District
About the job: At stake is a two-year term as a state representative serving District 21, Position 1. The annual salary is $42,106. The district includes Mukilteo, most of Edmonds, unincorporated areas north of Edmonds and Lynnwood and part of south Everett, including Paine Field.
Experience: Everett Community College aerospace business board, U.S. Navy veteran
Experience: Author, retired counter intelligence agent and former Community Transit bus driver.
Experience: Edmonds City Council, elected in 2009, re-elected in 2013; Downtown Edmonds Merchant Association, past president; Owner of The Cheesemonger’s Table in Edmonds.
Experience: Political field director; worked on 2010 campaign of U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and 2011 signature-gathering drive for Initiative 502, marijuana legalization measure; co-founder Americans for Sustainable Growth.
Experience: Chairman, 21st Legislative District Republicans; board member of homeowners association