By SUSANNA RAY
Voters in northwest Snohomish County and Whidbey Island have it all this election: solid candidates with interesting backgrounds, ranging from a woman who wanted to be a professional wrestler to a man who was a Navy pilot with John McCain during the Vietnam War.
They also have the remarkable opportunity to piece together a budgetary powerhouse that would give the 10th Legislative District a lot of clout in Olympia.
If that’s what they want.
They could also opt for fresh faces, choose diversity by electing the district’s first Native American legislator or go for the green by putting someone in a high environmental position.
With all those choices, the three legislative races are expected to be so close that the Libertarian candidates may be the deciding factors in each.
For the Senate spot in the Nov. 7 election, newcomer Norma Smith is challenging long-time incumbent Mary Margaret Haugen.
Smith, a Republican from Clinton, made headlines early on with her unique pledge to give two days’ prior review of all campaign materials to her opponents. The idea stemmed from her appreciation for the clean-campaign pledge signed two years ago by her boss, U.S. Rep. Jack Metcalf, R-Wash. Smith is a locally based special assistant to Metcalf, working mostly on veterans’ issues.
She has drawn national attention for her work on Gulf War illnesses for Metcalf. She enjoyed a taste of victory last month when the Defense Department, after refusing for years, agreed to research the potential link of squalene in vaccines to the Gulf War Syndrome.
While she’s campaigning on bringing a "fresh approach" to government, Smith points to those efforts and others during her six years of federal experience to show that she’s no rookie at building bipartisan coalitions and writing legislation.
"Simply having a position of power and utilizing it wisely are two separate matters," she said, adding that she decided to run out of frustration with the "sky is falling" mentality among lawmakers after voters cut the motor vehicle excise tax in 1999 with Initiative 695.
But Smith’s taking on a tough foe in Haugen, who grew up on Camano Island — just a quarter-mile from where she lives today — playing rough with five older brothers who taught her to stick up for herself.
"I used to want to be a lady wrestler until I found out I’d have to wrestle women (instead of men), and then I wasn’t interested," she said.
Haugen never signed Smith’s pledge because she said it wasn’t practical in a fast-moving campaign. But she said she has followed the spirit of it. She has never mentioned her opponents in her campaign materials, focusing instead on her background.
Haugen is chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, which decides which road projects will get done and how to pay for them, among other things. She was in the limelight last year as she and her House colleagues tried to deal with the budget-cutting effects of I-695.
Budget issues will be the Legislature’s biggest focus next year, Haugen said, which is why she believes her experience will serve constituents better than Smith’s.
Haugen has served in the Legislature for 18 years, keeping a promise she made to her mother 43 years ago, when her mother was nominated for office but didn’t win the Democratic Party’s final nod to run.
"Of course, I know now that she was just the token female," Haugen said, "but I told her, don’t worry, Mom, I’ll do that some day."
Libertarian Bradley Carey’s "stubborn streak" has kept him in the running for Haugen’s seat, although he knows he won’t win.
"At least I’ll get a few people to listen to me," said Carey, a minister and author from Mount Vernon.
He has been attending campaign forums and mailing out fliers at his own expense. He’s raised no money from individual donors, he said, and he has turned down donations from a few corporations because he didn’t want to be beholden to them.
Carey’s main message is to encourage people to take back control of government.
In the primary election, Haugen led the way with 52 percent, Smith received 44 percent and Carey got 4 percent.
Two seasoned legislators are duking it out for the district’s first House position.
The incumbent Democrat is Dave Anderson of Clinton. He’s being challenged by Republican Barry Sehlin of Oak Harbor.
After three terms in the Legislature, Sehlin called it quits in 1998 so he could help his wife through cancer treatments. After she recovered, he decided to re-enter politics last year and began an early campaign for Congress, hoping to replace Metcalf.
His campaign was going strong, and McCain, a Republican U.S. senator from Arizona, even took time out from his presidential campaign to stump for him in Everett. Although they didn’t know each other then, the pair had flown off the same carrier during the Vietnam War, just before McCain got shot down and spent five years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
State Rep. John Koster, R-Arlington, was also seeking the GOP nod for the congressional race, however, so Sehlin dropped out in April to give Republicans a better chance of winning.
GOP leaders convinced him to jump back on the campaign trail, for the Legislature. They’ve also reportedly promised him the most powerful chairmanship in the House if the Republicans win the majority. As the head of the Appropriations Committee, he would share control over the state’s purse strings.
Sehlin served on that committee when he was in office and was chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, which decides which state construction projects to fund. As the former commanding officer of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Sehlin said he’s used to big budgets.
"Numbers guys aren’t too hard to come by," countered Anderson. "I think my experience is more vitally needed right now."
Anderson, a retired veterinarian, spent some time as a commercial fisherman. He now owns a golf course on Whidbey Island and volunteers in efforts to help save salmon. He has been a member of the House Natural Resources Committee during his two terms in office, and says he’d likely get the chairmanship, if the Democrats win the majority.
That would give him a chance to benefit the state by using his experience in environmental science together with his knowledge of running a small business, he said.
"Nobody’s got the background I’ve got," he said.
Gov. Gary Locke paid a visit to Freeland to stump for Anderson, but he still faces a tough challenge next month.
He was only half a percentage point above Sehlin in the primary, and that was with 8 percent of the GOP vote going toward Hugh Fleet, Sehlin’s Republican challenger. Libertarian Dean Brittain of Mount Vernon received 3 percent.
Brittain said he thinks Sehlin is "a good guy," and he didn’t really want to run against him, but he’s worried about the size of government.
"It doesn’t matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in office," he said. "The government keeps getting bigger, and it’s already too big."
Two men with Native American heritage are running for the district’s second House spot.
John McCoy, the Tulalip Tribes’ executive director of governmental affairs, is challenging the re-election efforts of Kelly Barlean, whose mother was part Arapaho, although he’s "pretty well diluted now," Barlean said.
McCoy spent 20 years in the Air Force before becoming a computer programmer and middle manager in the private sector. He returned home to the Tulalips 12 years ago.
He said he has worked well in his position for the tribes, educating legislators about Native American issues and working to build bipartisan support for legislation that benefits the tribes. He said he also has realized how similar the issues are for the tribes and the surrounding community, and he’s ready to expand his role and represent the entire 10th District in Olympia.
Barlean got all the big endorsements, though, including the Washington Education Association, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the Washington Labor Council and the Farm Bureau.
Barlean said the biggest victory of the past two years was saving the Whidbey Island Game Farm from development. He also succeeded with others in sparing forestland near Goss Lake from logging. He was the only freshman lawmaker on the Appropriations Committee this year.
If he’s elected again, he said he will focus on revamping the state’s property tax system. He’s on the short list for important spots on budget committees.
In the primary, Barlean walloped McCoy with 59 percent of the vote compared with McCoy’s 36 percent. McCoy may be closing in, however. He said a recent Democratic poll shows him within five points of Barlean.
Libertarian Lew Randall received the district’s biggest third-party nod in the primary with more than 4 percent of the vote.
Randall, of Freeland, encouraged voters to choose Libertarians because they need to stop expecting government to solve problems it creates.
"If you’re always voting for the lesser of two evils," he said, "you never get what you want."
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