Haugen no fan of track proposal

  • By Jerry Cornfield
  • Saturday, June 12, 2004 9:00pm
  • Local News

Two months ago today, Marysville and Snohomish County leaders rolled out their hot-rod proposal for building a NASCAR speedway on 172nd Street NE.

Since then, my tank’s been nearly topped off with the rhetoric of foes and supporters. When state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, and I conversed on the subject this week, I braced for spillage from yet another ode to the oval.

“NASCAR may be nice,” she began, “but I just think it can go somewhere else in the state. I just don’t see it as a plus for Snohomish County.

Such heresy! Call a mechanic. Surely, her carburetor of common sense is out of adjustment.

“There are benefits,” she continued, a pinch of defiance in her voice, “but at the cost of our quality of life. I will not be voting to support it in my official capacity as a legislator.”

Now things will get interesting.

On my scorecard, Haugen is the first elected official to wave a red flag at International Speedway Corp., the Florida company planning to construct a 75,000-seat NASCAR raceway in Washington or Oregon.

Opposite her is Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall, who supports the site just south of the Arlington Airport. “I want it. I want it here. The sooner they tell me, the sooner I’ll be happy,” he said.

Drafting behind Kendall are elected leaders whose hearts say yes, whose minds say hopefully and whose mouths say maybe. Credit opponents for injecting caution into their representatives’ once unfettered endorsements.

Haugen will be a most troublesome bee in the NASCAR bonnet because her legislative sting could prove paralyzing. The speedway property is not in her district, but it’s close enough to be in her sphere of influence.

She does not bark loud or bite deep in public. But she intensely protects and defends the interests of her constituents in Stanwood, Lakewood and on Camano and Whidbey islands. She’s served 22 years and counting: five terms in the House and three in the Senate. She’s seeking re-election.

Haugen carries sway as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee.

If Democrats win a majority in the state Senate this fall, she could be the panel’s chairwoman in January. Should the Marysville site be chosen, she’ll be pivotal in the debate on funding improvements to highways and roads that funnel traffic to and from the track.

Then there is the nasty matter of rewriting tax laws to make the project pencil out. Haugen says she’ll vote no if the only beneficiary is the speedway.

Track supporters point out that she’s only one vote. They hope time and persuasion will temper her views.

“ISC got a lobbyist for one reason,” Kendall said. “I guess she’s the reason.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield’s column on politics runs every Sunday. He can be reached at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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