Parties closely watch 21st Legislative District race

By Jim Haley

Herald Writer

While Brian Sullivan and D.J. Wilson continue to duke it out for the right to become their party’s standard bearer in November, the eyes of the state are on them and the winner’s almost certain opponent in the general election, state Rep. Joe Marine, R-Mukilteo.

And with the attention comes the money, which some observers say could flow in record amounts.

At stake is a single job in southwest Snohomish County, the 21st Legislative District. Up for grabs is a House seat representing Mukilteo, Lynnwood, Edmonds, Woodway and a small part of Mountlake Terrace.

If either of the two Democrats succeeds in ousting appointed incumbent Marine, the election of a Democrat will probably tip the balance in a stagnant House of Representatives that for the past three years has been locked in a 49-49 tie. The governor’s chair and the Senate are already ruled by Democrats.

Because it’s an off-election year, only one other state House race is on the Nov. 6 ballot — the neighboring 38th Legislative District, where there was another vacancy.

"It’s going to be a huge race, and we’re going to pull out all the stops," state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said. "You’ve already seen the level of donations they’ve been given in this race."

Even in the primary race, the two Democrats have raised a combined total of more than $125,000. Republican Party sources have bankrolled Marine handily, and he’s raised more than $100,000 altogether, even though he doesn’t have a primary opponent.

Also in the race are Libertarian Michael Enquist of Edmonds and Green Party candidate Young S. Han of Lynnwood. Both minor party candidates need to get 1 percent of the total 21st District vote in order to stay in the race beyond September.

The Democrats say it’s essential that a member of their party win this race to break the Olympia logjam and get legislation to the floor where votes can be taken.

Republicans, on the other hand, blame the Democrats, including Gov. Gary Locke, for legislative stagnation. That includes the 2001 session’s failure to deliver a major transportation package.

"Joe Marine worked on transportation. He tried to break the transportation gridlock He couldn’t do it, but he tried," state Republican chairman Chris Vance said.

Marine, former GOP chairman for the 21st District, was appointed in December to replace Renee Radcliff, who suddenly quit for personal reasons after winning election. Marine’s appointment required an off-year election to continue filling the remainder of Radcliff’s term.

The Democrats seized the moment, sensing a chance to take the seat, and put up two strong candidates.

Voters will have a clear choice of age and experience between Sullivan and Wilson.

Sullivan, 43, former Mukilteo council member and mayor, has been active in politics for years. He also has the support of many local Democratic leaders, labor and firefighters.

Wilson, 26, of Edmonds, is a fresh face who has firm support from two other parts of the traditional Democratic coalition — vocal environmentalists and a state abortion-rights group.

Nonetheless, Sullivan said his record shows he’s not soft on the environment or abortion.

As of late last week, Wilson was ahead in the campaign-chest war, pulling in more than $70,000 to Sullivan’s $50,000 or so. But Sullivan points out that the bulk of his primary opponent’s funds come from outside Snohomish County.

"I think that says something about who’s running in this race," Sullivan said.

The former Mukilteo mayor said he was only 40 years old when he left his job there.

"I just feel I’m not finished yet," he said. "I want to take this wealth of knowledge and my ability to think outside the box in solving problems to Olympia."

Wilson has worked on several campaigns, but this is his first attempt to obtain public office himself. He said the transportation mess is on everyone’s minds, but he’s personally driven into politics by a need for education reform in public schools.

But no matter what the issue he’s chewing on at the time, he said he will be true to his campaign slogan, which implies that nobody would work harder for his constituents.

"That’s the type of attitude you need in Olympia," Wilson said. "My No. 1 goal is to really be a voice for this district."

At the state level, Berendt said the state party is trying to stay neutral in the primary and is ready to support either of the Democrats. A win, he said would give the party momentum going into a big state election year in 2002.

You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447 or send e-mail to haley@heraldnet.com.

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