Washington’s new 1st Congressional District is a political and demographic medley, extending from Kirkland to the Canadian border. (Its horizontal equivalent would run from Puget Sound to Moses Lake.) Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who helped ink the district’s new boundaries, said, “It may easily be the most evenly divided congressional district in the United States of America.”
The district’s freshman-to-be must exhibit the mettle and smarts to harmonize disparate economic and political interests while building a constituent-responsive office immune to partisan monkeying. Patience, a Lincoln-esque finesse at mending a house divided, and a fuel-efficient vehicle are all vital.
John Koster, a conscientious conservative who has served in the state house and is currently serving his third term on the Snohomish County Council, is widely expected to be the Republican standard bearer after the Aug. 7 primary. Koster narrowly lost to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen in 2010.
From a competent, diverse field of Democratic candidates and one Independent, Democrat Suzan DelBene emerges as the clear, pragmatic choice. DelBene blends private and public-sector experience with a record of leadership that has earned the support of U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Others in the first-district race include state Sen. Steve Hobbs, former state Rep. Laura Ruderman, entrepreneur Darshan Rauniyar, activist Darcy Burner, and Independent Larry Ishmael.
DelBene, who resigned as director of the state Department of Revenue to run for Congress and previously served as a Microsoft executive, is emblematic of a new generation of public servants who cross business know-how with a progressive, outcome-oriented vision of government’s mission. Highlighting the menace of hyper-partisanship, DelBene is focused on the fundamentals, including bolstering the state’s transportation infrastructure and finding a strategic and humane way to settle the war in Afghanistan.
In addition, DelBene is farsighted enough to appreciate that unsexy issues such as investing in basic research are critical to the national economy (even when the dividends from those investments don’t pay off for several years.) As DelBene observed, basic research drives information technology, medicine, and aerospace — all industries essential to the economic health of the Pacific Northwest.
The breadth of DelBene’s political support illustrates the obvious: That key decision makers believe she has the temperament, resources, and judgment to challenge John Koster on the issues. Voters, who will need to brace for the pending fusillade of negative ads, deserve a candidate who can debate effectively and without recrimination.
In many ways, DelBene comes across as a kind of political descendant to former Gov. Booth Gardner, who tried to breathe life into the value of idealism without illusions. Another career worth emulating is the late Joel Pritchard, the Republican lawmaker who represented the 1st Congressional District from 1973 until 1985. Embracing the vital center and agreeing to disagree are virtues. Gardner and Pritchard are lodestars, and DelBene, if she works hard and puts service before party, could be their heir.