by Bruce A. Smith
Continuing a tradition that dates back to the 1980s, local Democrats gathered at Marilyn Rasmussen’s farm in Eatonville last week for their annual corn feed. Typically, former State Senator Rasmussen’s shin-dig draws political luminaries including Democratic state office holders, and in past years even Governor Gregoire has made an appearance.
But not this year, and gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee did not attend even though Pierce County is crucial to his election. In addition, US Senatorial incumbent Maria Cantwell (D) did not appear as well.
However, the corn feed attracted many local candidates, particularly from Pierce County contests, such as Ms. Rasmussen herself who is running for County Council in the Third District against her frequent political rival, Jim McCune (R) of Graham.
This year’s gathering also found rank and file Dems in short supply, but those who did attend were mostly Ms. Rasmussen’s long-time supporters, who did not lack any vocal passion on issues close to their hearts, such as President Obama’s re-election chances.
“Sure, Obama’s brought us a lot of disappointment, but what’s the alternative? Romney? Please – what – we should invade Iran? C’mon!” cried Miriam Graves.
Another loyalist, Arnold DeTray, said he was “praying and hoping,” for Obama’s re-election, but his mother Rosie was more circumspect: “We need a change – the country’s in a mess and we need to put more people to work. But that’ll be a big challenge for anyone.”
Nevertheless, former State Representative Art Wong (Issaquah) was confident and authoritative. “I expect Obama will win big. He’ll do well in the state and in Pierce County.”
Wong had come to the corn feed to also tout the candidacy of Jay Inslee, and Art offered his personal observations of Inslee’s positions, most notably on education.
“Jay is not a supporter of charter schools and feels that innovation can occur in the public sector, such as what we have seen at Lincoln High School in Tacoma. Also, we need to improve teacher and administrative accountability, especially by a more vigorous use of evaluations.”
Further, Mr. Wong also said that he perceives jobs and the economy as the number one priority of an Inslee administration.
Despite the dearth of high-level candidates, one member of the corn feed was Billie O’Brien, who is running for Pierce County Assessor – Treasurer, the county-wide position currently held by the controversial Dale Washam.
O’Brien’s presence at the corn feed was particularly valuable because she is the surprise second-place winner of the “Top-Two” primary selection held last month. O’Brien, who has never run for political office before, beat the well-known and widely respected Pierce County Councilmember Tim Farrell, astonishing many political observers in the process.
One of O’Brien’s main draws is that she is currently a 22-year veteran of the A-T office, and for much of that time as been an upper-level administrator. As a result, she knows the nitty-gritty of what has gone wrong in the Washam era and what needs to be done to put this office on a proper course.
“First, I’ll bring back a professional atmosphere in the office,” Ms. O’Brien told the Mountain News. “The staff and customers will all be treated fairly and with respect.”
Presently, Mr. Washam is embroiled in legal troubles with many of his employees and their union, along with the county council, which has announced it will refuse to pay any more of Washam’s mounting legal bills.
O’Brien also said that she will conduct a special outreach to seniors to insure that they fully understand their tax exemptions.
“I’ll work very hard to make sure seniors can stay in their homes,” O’Brien said.
Another surprise guest at the corn feed was Kathleen Drew, candidate for Washington Secretary of State. Ms. Drew is a solid and polished candidate, and is the former State Senator from the 5th LD.
Drew is running for the office currently held by the respected Sam Reed (R), who is retiring after holding the position for many years.
Secretary of State handles a variety of tasks, including monitoring all elections, maintaining the state’s document system, the state library, and overseeing business and corporation registrations.
Ms. Drew offered an innovative approach to one troubling state-wide dynamic, low numbers of young registered voters. To counter this, Drew suggests pre-registering young adults when they obtain their driver’s license so that they automatically become eligible to vote when they turn 18 years-old even though they may have gotten their DL two years prior.
Another treat was talking with Bruce Lachney of Eatonville, who is running for State Senator in the 2nd Legislative District against the incumbent Randi Becker (R-Eatonville). The primary contest between these two candidates was remarkable as it showed the profound demographic changes in the district, and the once-indomitable Republican stronghold of the 2nd LD is now so Democratic that Lachney only trailed Becker by 5 votes, making this contest one of the most closely watched in the state.
“We did very well in Thurston County – particularly in the Lacey area – and were able to off-set Randi’s strengths in Pierce County,” said Lachney in explaining the closeness of the race.
In addition, Ms. Becker’s strident endorsement of right-wing policies, such as her acceptance of a position with the highly contentious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), may be costing her Republican votes; to whit: Becker’s former Republican challenger Jim Vaughn has crossed party lines to endorse Mr. Lachney.
“We’re putting the issues first, such as finding the dollars to support local education,” said Lachney. “What do people say they need? It’s a shift away from what the party bosses, corporations and ideologues want.”
Mr. Lachney also spoke of a topic close to his heart as a member of the Clover Park Technical College’s Board of Directors. Lachney said that graduates of Clover Park’s composite materials construction technologies can walk directly into a job at Boeing or Toray Industries, yet the current state cut-backs have caused an enrollment backlog of at least a year at the Thun Field campus.
“They’ve lost 53 faculty positions, and twelve programs have been cut,” said Lachney. “It’s costing us good-paying jobs.”
Political first-timer Greg Hartman also attended the corn feed. Hartman, a Renton firefighter from Graham, is running for State Representative and is challenging the long-time office holder Gary Alexander, who has just been re-districted into the 2nd LD.
Hartman, like Lachney, is most concerned with education and supports a balanced approach to funding.
“Don’t fund one program at the expense of another,” Hartman told the Mountain News.
Hartman, who is currently a battalion chief in the Renton FD, is also concerned about the state health care system, which he characterizes as “skewered.”
“We need to address the common good – what is the greatest good for the greatest number,” Hartman said. “We need to do what we can for a society that is moving forward, and not leave people behind.”
As for Ms Rasmussen, the former State Senator looks very fit and enthused about her run for a country council seat, and she assured the audience that the Mountaineering Museum at Ashford Park will be built. Such an endeavor would be the culmination of much of her work in joint county-state projects, as the Ashford Park is a county recreational site that was built with lots of state monies procured via Ms. Rasmussen’s tutelage in the state senate.
Other candidates and office holders in attendance included Randy Dorn, who is running for the top education job in the state, and Barbara Gelman, the former county councilmember from Spanaway.
© 2012 Bruce A. Smith