A three-way race for a state Senate seat in south Snohomish County is shaping up as a referendum on education policy in Washington.
State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, is seeking a sixth term in the chamber where she is chairwoman of the Senate education committee and wields great influence on what goes on in classrooms.
McAuliffe’s opponents — Republican Dawn McCravey of Bothell and Democrat Guy Palumbo of the Maltby area — criticize her for not doing enough in her tenure to improve student learning and vow they’ll advance a reform agenda farther and faster.
The two candidates with the most votes in the Aug. 7 primary will face-off in November for a four-year term in the 1st Legislative District. The district runs from Mountlake Terrace through Brier, Maltby and Bothell in Snohomish County then south into Kirkland in King County.
McAuliffe, 71, served on the board of the Northshore School District in Bothell for 14 years before winning her Senate seat in 1992.
When the year began, it wasn’t certain McAuliffe would run again. But she said as the session wore on and education took the spotlight she “got fired up.”
“I know I need to be here. People are trying to interfere with the progress we’ve made on education reform,” she said.
In her current term, she cited as accomplishments the expansion of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — classes in public schools, funding of early education and enlarging of the University of Washington-Bothell campus.
On the central issue of reforming the public school system, McAuliffe defended the pace and said changes are made based on research not politics.
The issue of charter schools is one of the brightest lines dividing the senator from her opponents.
McCravey and Palumbo embrace charter schools and support an initiative on the November ballot to create 40 of the publicly funded, independently run campuses in the state.
McAuliffe opposes them. In this year’s regular legislative session she prevented her Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education committee from voting on a proposed charter school bill — even though a majority of the panel members backed it.
“I believe it isn’t time for charter schools,” McAuliffe said, though she said she won’t speak publicly against the initiative.
Her action in the session drew applause from the Washington Education Association, which opposes charter schools and is one of McAuliffe’s staunchest political backers.
“Rosemary has been one of the most stalwart champions of our schools forever,” said Mary Lindquist, president of the statewide teachers union.
Critics said the political showdown provided another example of why they feel McAuliffe is listening too much to the teachers’ union.
“What we have seen in recent years from Rosemary is a lack of balance,” said Frank Ordway, director of government relations for the League of Education Voters which backed the blocked bill. “She has a way of turning legitimate WEA issues into obstacles for kids and ends up doing both a disservice.”
The charter school episode galvanized Republican leaders and education reformers to try to unseat McAuliffe and think McCravey is the one who can do it.
McCravey, 56, is in her second term on the Northshore School Board. She won re-election in November, defeating a candidate backed by McAuliffe and the WEA.
“I really do understand education from the inside out,” said McCravey, who is a former special education teacher. “That’s the impetus for me running. We’re not focusing on kids and their education enough. We seem to be focused on everything but the kids.”
She said the teacher and principal evaluation bill signed into law this year “came up short” because it did not set a clear standard for judging teachers based on the academic performance of their students.
McCravey pledged to work for bipartisan solutions on all issues, especially the state budget.
“I think we need to be able to make a budget without three special sessions,” she said.
Palumbo, 38, serves on the Snohomish County Planning Commission and owns Roscoe’s Ranch, a dog boarding facility in Snohomish. This is his first run for public office. He began it as an independent then filed as a Democrat, which he said is the way he’s voted most of the time.
“At the end of the day, people were confused because we’re a two-party system,” he said. “Being an independent was getting in the way of my campaign.”
He said he’s focused on reforming and fully funding education, making state government operate more efficiently and stimulating economic development.
Palumbo also is campaigning as a new voice for the district.
“After 20 years of the same leadership, people are ready for a change and new leadership,” he said.
Though a newcomer, Palumbo’s has raised the most money. As of Monday, he had hauled in $70,597 compared to McAuliffe’s sum of $49,344 and McCravey’s total of $34,190.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com
1st Legislative District, State Senator
The job is a four-year term as a state senator in the 1st Legislative District. The area covers the communities of Mountlake Terrace, Brier, and Bothell in Snohomish County and Kirkland in King County. The annual salary is $42,106.
Experience: She is in her fifth term as a state senator after serving on the board of the Northshore School District. She owns the Hollywood Schoolhouse events center in Woodinville.
Experience: She is in her second term on the board of the Northshore School District and is a former special education teacher in Colorado and Texas.
Residence: Unincorporated Snohomish County near Maltby
Experience: He owns Roscoe’s Ranch, a dog boarding facility in Snohomish, and formerly worked for Amazon Corp. He serves on the Snohomish County Planning Commission and is making his first run for office.