By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EDMONDS — This election season will give voters in south Snohomish County their first introduction, via ballot, to one of the most familiar names in Congress.
That would be U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, the Seattle Democrat who has represented Washington’s 7th Congressional District since 1989. Redistricting has added a chunk of Snohomish County — specifically Edmonds and Woodway — to McDermott’s territory starting this year.
As he tries for his 13th term, McDermott faces a half-dozen primary challengers. The opposing campaigns target the incumbent for his partisanship, lengthy tenure in office and his approach to the economy. But don’t hold your breath waiting for McDermott to apologize for his style or his political successes.
“I bring a lot of experience, and I’m willing to let people make a judgment on me based on my experience,” McDermott said last week. “You don’t find many people in Everett who say (U.S. Sen.) Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson was there too long.”
McDermott has looked untouchable in recent contests, typically raking in four times as many votes as his general election opponents.
The electoral drubbings of the past haven’t scared off a crowded field for the Aug. 7 primary. All the challengers live in Seattle and have little to no experience in elected office. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, move on to the Nov. 6 general election.
The Democratic opponents are: Andrew Hughes, a 30-year-old tax attorney with some impressive fundraising numbers; Charles Allen, 31, an Amazon.com product manager who takes pride in raising no money at all; and Donovan Rivers, 56, an equipment inspector with King County Metro who’s been a familiar McDermott challenger in the past.
Ron Bemis, 61, a longtime civil attorney, is making a run as a Republican-leaning independent.
Fred Meyer grocery employee Scott Sutherland, 49, is running as a Republican.
Perennial candidate Goodspaceguy is on the ballot, too.
The re-configured 7th District takes in Edmonds, Woodway and parts of Shoreline previously in Washington’s 1st Congressional District. It also includes Lake Forest Park and much of Seattle, plus Burien and Normandy Park.
McDermott, 75, was born in Chicago and moved to Seattle in the 1960s to specialize in psychiatry after graduating from medical school. He later served in the U.S. Navy at Long Beach Naval Station, treating soldiers and sailors returning from the Vietnam War.
McDermott moved back to Seattle in 1970 and won his first election to the Legislature the same year. He served in the state House and the state Senate until 1987. A year later, he ran for Congress — and hasn’t lost since.
The new district boundaries have encouraged McDermott to wade into at least one new issue: the impact that increased coal train traffic would have on Edmonds and other communities if West Coast coal exports increase. He’s already sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting more studies to look at “the effects on public health, transportation, cultural resources, endangered species, and aquatic resources.”
For the most part, McDermott said his top priorities remain the same following the district’s geographical shift: commuter roads such as I-5, ferries, all things Boeing and implementing the Affordable Care Act, the national health law that critics call “Obamacare.”
McDermott’s opponents share a common mantra: that after 24 years in federal office, it’s time for him to go.
“People have run to the left of him and to the right of him; nobody has really run at him,” said Hughes, the tax attorney.
He said he plans to set himself apart from McDermott issue by issue, even though the fellow Democrats are close in many areas. On the social front, for example, Hughes said he wants the federal government to play a stronger role in supporting same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana.
The first-time candidate takes a special interest in reforming the federal tax code, which he said wastes hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars each year.
“It really benefits people who can afford high-power attorneys and accountants,” he said of the code.
In addition to his law degree, Hughes also has a master’s degree in taxation.
Of McDermott’s opponents, Hughes has had the most fundraising success. He had amassed more than $240,000 for his campaign by the end of March, according to the Federal Election Commission. About half of that was his own money or resources.
While that may pale next to the incumbent’s $424,000, no other candidate had reported raising more than $18,000 as of this week.
Money aside, the district’s heavy Democratic makeup would make it appear out of reach for anybody outside the party.
Still, Republican-leaning independent Ron Bemis thinks voters of all stripes should give his candidacy a close look.
He accuses McDermott of spending too much taxpayer money and neglecting the country’s mounting debt.
“All of that is hurting people, whether they’re liberals or of whatever persuasion,” he said. “He is just so radically in the direction of spending and so partisan, that he’s just not effective in Congress.”
Bemis said his success during more than three decades as a litigator makes him qualified for McDermott’s job. He also teaches a course for first-year University of Washington Law School students as well as other courses for established attorneys.
As for political experience, he lists a three-year stint on the board of trustees for the King County Bar Association.
Donovan Rivers has challenged McDermott in every election cycle going back to 2006.
“He’s done an acceptable job up until now, but there’s no reason for him to go any further,” Rivers said of the incumbent.
The long-time King County Metro employee listed his priorities as, “Economic development, jobs, education and quality of lifestyle: those are the things from the federal level that I want to get in line.”
Rivers also said McDermott has failed to meet the needs of the area’s culturally diverse communities.
Charles Allen, who works in business development for Amazon.com, said his understanding of the election process benefited from his run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray in 2010, when he didn’t make it past the primary.
“I learned that politics is a very noble profession, but it’s also hard for new candidates to get their voice heard without incredible, inordinate sums of money,” he said.
This time, the U.S. Air Force veteran is conducting a word-of-mouth campaign to “see where it lands me.”
“My plan is not to raise or spend any money,” he said. “It’s pretty much a pipe dream.”
His priorities are creating jobs, improving education and addressing the reasons for soaring health care costs, such as the country’s obesity epidemic.
Scott Sutherland, a grocery employee at the Ballard Fred Meyer, has staked his candidacy on promoting energy-efficient technologies and a vaccine for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
So, will the new 7th District boundaries or the flagging economy give any of McDermott’s rivals a chance? University of Washington associate political science professor Matt Barreto gave a blunt answer.
“Incumbents like Jim McDermott never ever lose unless they have a major scandal,” Barreto said. “He will never ever lose, ever.”
The Snohomish County Auditor plans to mail primary ballots on Thursday.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several candidates are competing against incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott for a two-year term in Washington’s 7th Congressional District. Annual pay is $174,000.
Jim McDermott (incumbent)
Experience: Congress, 12 terms; Washington state House, 43rd District, 1971–1972; Washington State Senate, 43rd District, 1975–1987; U.S. Navy psychiatrist.
Donovan “Don” Rivers
Experience: equipment inspector with King County Metro; has run three previous times for Congress.
Experience: Ballard Fred Meyer, grocery section
Experience: tax attorney
Experience: civil attorney, legal educator
Experience: product manager at Amazon.com