By Bruce A. Smith
Five individuals seeking the Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional District (8th – CD) gathered in Graham last week for an in-depth meet-and-greet.
The current congressman for the 8th CD, Republican Dave Reichert, is retiring. As a result, his seat is one of several dozen nationwide attracting attention in the possibility that the Democratic Party may be able to break the Republican hold on Congress. Nationally, the Democrats need to flip 24 seats to gain control of the House of Representatives, and the 8th WA CD is ripe for a switch. Due to the 8th’s demographics – liberal-leaning suburban Seattle areas in the northern parts of the district – the fate of the 8th will most likely be decided in the Republican stronghold of south Pierce County. Can the Democrats find a candidate who will appeal to enough moderate voters in south county to swing the tide?
Seeking answers, the meeting room at the Graham Library was filled to standing-room-only as local Dems gathered to see who might be able to flip the 8th CD to blue for the first time in recent memory.
The five candidates were all impressive, both in background and in presentation. The five were:
Dr. Shannon Hader, a pediatrician from Auburn, and director of international viral control for the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Dr. Kim Schrier, another pediatrician and resident of Issaquah.
Tom Cramer, a long-time labor activist, and a former Congressional candidate in 2010.
Jason Rittereiser, a labor attorney who grew up in Ellensburg
Robert Hunziker, a youthful but savvy progressive, and self-declared socialist.
To begin, the candidates introduced themselves and gave the Dems a thumbnail sketch of their qualifications. To varying degrees all the candidates supported bedrock Democratic values: affordable healthcare and education, family-wages jobs, and protecting the environment. Additionally, they were concerned about hot-button social topics, such as immigration and the rights of minorities, especially the LGBTQ community.
Dr. Shannon Hader began by describing her childhood growing up on her grandfather’s farm. Her father was a veteran and Boeing employee, and besides being a homemaker her mother taught dance. Hader stressed her qualifications as a health expert and manager, stating that she managed a $2.4 billion budget at the CDC and supervised over 2,000 employees worldwide.
“I’ve seen how the federal government can work, and how it should work – but I don’t see our federal representatives working to support the people in our district,” Haber declared, adding, “I know how to stand up for people and confront those who don’t.”
Dr. Hader is a relative newcomer to this race, as she first had to resign from the CDC – which she did in October 2017 – and then launch her campaign. Her top priorities for the 8th DC are: affordable “access” to healthcare, “getting things done” to improve the quality of life for the residents of the 8th CD, developing private and governmental “partnerships” to build the economy and infrastructure, and “saving the environment.”
She suggested that “single-payer” health care be implemented in Washington state first, and then she would move to make it nationwide. She also noted that Medicare could be expanded in the interim and the power of its size could be leverage to pressure the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug costs.
Dr. Kim Schrier spoke in warm, folksy, tones and described her life as hard-working doctor, mother and wife. “I love my family and being a pediatrician, but all that changed after the 2016 election – it rocked my world,” she declared. “I went to Dave Reichert and told him of my deep concerns for the health and well-being of my patients. He seemed to understand, but he still voted ‘yes’ to repeal Obamacare.”
That’s when Dr. Schrier decided to run for congress, and she has received the early support of Emily’s List, a nationwide group dedicated to electing women to public office. In addition, she has been endorsed by local unions, and is reported also to have raised $600,000 for her campaign.
“Who do you trust to look out for your families, your children?” she asked. “I’m in this fight for the good of all people,” she announced. She stated that “kids growing up today need to be able to join the middle-class,” and to that end pledged to support increased access to an affordable education and the maintenance of unions.
As for health care, she supports “Medicare for All” and said that an initial plan might be to allow people to “buy-in” to Medicaid before they reach 65-years of age, as the current system requires.
She also declared that global climate change is the “great moral issue of our time,” and pledged to stop federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
Jason Rittereiser also grew up on a farm, and is the son of a cop. He is an attorney and was a prosecutor for King County. He is deeply concerned about the middle-class being squeezed by current federal policies and said, “income inequality is the greatest threat to our country.”
He is a sharp speaker, and at present Rittereiser works as a labor attorney. He stated that he seeks to be a “voice for the middle-class,” and pledged to raise the minimum wage and increase public education.
Also, he suggested that expensive health insurance is a major drain on our economy, and stated that he will work to “move the country towards universal health care.” He offered that an interim step might be to allow people to buy-in to Medicare at 55-years of age.
Thomas Cramer is a long-time labor organizer and activist, and is a former health care consultant. His priority is to focus on high paying jobs, and he promised to “lead the charge on the fight to address global climate change.”
Cramer proudly announced that he is “anti-Trump” and pledged to address stagnant wages. He surprisingly challenged the economic legacy of JFK and LBJ, stating that “we need to change the Federal Reserve (system). It is designed for trickle-down economics.” He also declared that “we need to change the balance of power in DC.” He feels also that health care is a priority, as it has a critical impact on the financial well-being of families.
He is a big supporter of “Medicare for All,” and stated that 30% of all monies spent on current health care go to the insurance companies and medical health corporations. “Medicaid only has a 3% overhead,” he announced, making it a preferable option for national heath care.
In addition, Cramer announced that he has recruited 400 volunteers, and believes that direct contact with voters via “door-belling” will shift the 8th CD to blue.
Robert Hunziker is the most visible idealist in local politics today, and described himself as a “socialist.” He spoke openly about supporting the goals of “Our Revolution,” the progressive, grass roots efforts of former Bernie Sanders supporters.
Hunziker is most concerned about the impacts of corporate money in the country, and pledged not to take a dime of corporate money for his campaign. Additionally, he stated his support for the public financing of elections.
He is also a proponent of a “single-payer” system of providing universal health care. “Take the profit out of health care,” he declared. “It’ll be much more cost-effective.”
After the introductory phase of the evening, the candidates were presented with a series of questions from the leaders of the “Flip the 8th Committee,” and from audience members. Some of the highlights from this round of questioning include:
1. How will you provide access to your constituents?
Schrier: I will have three district offices, such as one in Wenatchee and two on the west side of the district.
Rittereiser: I will listen and learn, and I will conduct frequent “Town Hall” gatherings to share information and hear from constituents.
Hader: I believe in having plenty of Town Hall meetings. As an HIV doc I learned the importance of including constituents in the decision-making process. I will also insure that “problem solvers” will staff my local offices.
Hunziker: Technology allows representatives to not be in DC as much, so I will be in district much more than is the current practice.
2. What Congressional Committees will you want to be a member:
Schrier: Energy and Commerce Committees because that is where health care is decided. Plus, there are fifteen docs in Congress and none of them are women!
Rittereiser: Technology and Agriculture because those committees reflect the needs of the district. But also the Ways and Means Committee because that is where financial decisions are made, and “Money Matters.”
Cramer: Finances, Defenses and Aerospace committees because we need to support Boeing and make sure it stays in Washington and not relocate its jobs to South Carolina.
3. What are your sources of funding, so far?
Rittereiser: I’ve only accepted money from private donors. I have 1,700 donors so far, and their average contribution has been $300.
Hader: I’ve only been raising money since the end of 2017, and so far all of my money has come from private donors. Raising money is not fun, but we need to do it to beat Dino Rossi (the apparent Republican challenger).
Hunziker: Not only do I not accept any corporate monies, my limit from private donors is $100. I believe that volunteers on the ground have the biggest impact – not expensive TV ads – and also having the reputation of being uncorrupted.
Cramer: Money will not matter in this race – going door-to-door will.
Schrier: I wish door-belling would win this election, but we will need TV ads to counter the Republican narrative. The biggest donors I have so far are my parents – $5,000. I also received $5,000 from Emily’s List. But the biggest problem is secret money – the money that is not declared and comes from corporate sources and mega donors – all that has been unleashed since “Citizens’ United.”
4. What will you do to address hate crimes and inequality?
Hader: I’ve been fighting inequalities all of my career, and I can not tolerate Trumps’ characterization of Africa (as shithole countries). I am proud to say that I have delivered results to minority communities.
Hunziker: Equity in housing is a top priority. Equity in education is also critical, and its funding through property taxes must be changed. Universal health care and child care are also priorities.
Cramer: I am a member of Black Lives Matter, and we need to enforce the laws that protect minorities.
Schrier: We need to establish a level playing field. I know about discrimination because I’m Jewish.
Rittereiser: Trump is letting racism rise up again, and he must be stopped.
5. How will you Get Out the Vote, and what is your position on unions?
Hunziker: I will work to expand the scope of unions, especially in my industry of IT. We will have to work against the system of “contract work.”
Cramer: I am proud to say that my daughter is a union shop steward, and I was once a union members back when I was a teacher.
Schrier: Unions are critical, and I am proud to say that the Aerospace Machinists Union has given me their support. As for the vote – it will take a village to win this election.
Rittereiser: Unions created weekends! But unions are under attack. We need a new approach to forming unions.
Hader: My grandfather was a teamster, so I know how unions have helped build the middle class with family wage jobs.
6. What’s your plan for reaching rural voters?
Cramer: Rural is sure different than the suburbs, but I am persistent.
Schrier: First, we have to energize the base. Can we do that? Hosting Town Halls is one way; meeting in parks and in other community areas is another.
Rittereiser: We need everyone here tonight to get involved – talking to friends, getting them to talk to their friends.
Hader: Obviously we have to use the community venues that are available to us – the Town Halls, churches, the community centers. Door-belling where feasible – even though dogs are the toughest impediment! But we have to raise our own expectation, and find Democrats everywhere – get them involved.
Hunziker: We are in the middle of an earth-changing change in our country, with technology. We have to use it, and speak to the needs of the rural voters, such as addressing their transportation needs.
7. How will you address the Opiod Epidemic?
Schrier: Doctors were the initial source of the epidemic through the over-prescribing pain killers. When that source was turned off, a lot of people turned to heroin and Fentanyl, which is causing so many of the overdoes. But we have to understand that rehab works.
Rittereiser: Incarceration is not the answer. We need to approach the problem from a public health perspective, and increase rehab and treatment opportunities.
Hader: We doctors were taught that Oxycontin – the opiod that got the epidemic started – was not addictive, and now we know that is not true.
Cramer: I used to be an alcohol and drug rehabilitation director, and a psychologist at the VA. Lots of those jobs were lost through budget cuts from Republicans, like Reagan. They need to be restored.
8. How will you address the “De-Escalate Initiative” (A law enforcement plan to reduce violent confrontations)
Rittereiser: We need increased training of all law enforcement to insure public safety while we reduce violent confrontations with the public.
Hader: We need to establish better relationships between law enforcement and communities, and increase training of police in racial bias. We need to incentives for law enforcement leaders to monitor patterns of “over-response” and the use of excessive force in response to public disturbances.
Hunziker: De-escalation is a start, but it doesn’t go far enough. We need a more comprehensive community policing and we need more cops recruited from the community.
Cramer: Police salaries are too low – they are “abysmal!” Pay them as professionals, and increase their training. We also need better screening of police candidates and recruits.
Schrier: Increased training, obviously. It is unfair to send cops into situations that they are not prepared to handle.
9. How do you propose to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community?
Hader: I will draw upon my experiences in Africa working with HIV patients. Throughout my life I have stood by my friends and colleagues from the LGBTQ community – and have worked to provide services to them.
Hunziker: They are just like everyone else. Treat them as people.
Cramer: I remember when gays were segregated in my college dorms. I find that repugnant.
Schrier: LGBTQ teens are at extra risk, and increased service need to be provided to them. Personally, I just wrote a letter in support of two gay friends who wanted to adopt a child.
Rittereiser: I’ve been a human rights lawyer, and I’ve argued for LGBTQ rights.
10. How do you propose to protect the National Parks?
Hunziker: Expand the protections that they have today.
Cramer: Reduce the admission fees at the National Parks. Stop Trump from issuing executive orders that allow the National Parks to be exposed to corporate exploitation. Establish tougher laws legislatively.
Schrier: Put the brakes on the current administration!
Rittereiser: The Public Lands should be in the Public’s Hands! Trump is attacking the National Parks system. I have been a backcountry hunter and fisherman, so I am an advocate for the wilderness and will fight to protect them with legislation.
Hader: Congressional action is necessary to stop the current administration. We need to develop a broad partnership with advocacy groups and the National Parks. We need to keep the Public Lands public.
11.What is your perspective on military contracts?
Cramer: We need increased monitoring and regulation of contracts.
Schrier: We need to address climate change so as to reduce the pressure of climate refugees swarming into our country and elsewhere, such as Europe. We need to reduce the social upheaval from these forces, which will reduce the tensions that lead to war.
Rittereiser: We need an increase of independent audits, and hold people accountable.
Hader: We need a transparent DoD budget, and hold contractors accountable. Use audit findings to find problems, and this will help keep our troops safe.
Hunziker: We need to end useless wars. Too much DoD money goes to contractors simply to make them rich! (Huge audience applause followed this statement.)
12. What are some books that reflect your character?
Schrier: Anything on friendships.
Rittereiser: “Go Dogs Go!” Also, Abraham Lincoln’s diary.
Hader: Poetry on addiction. Anything that explores empathy.
Hunziker: “Don’t Pick Anything Stupid.” Also, anything that creates systems that are easy for users.
Cramer: “Listen Liberal.”
13. How do you propose that we get out of “Forever Wars”
Rittereiser: Reverse the executive orders that sabotage the congressional role in declaring war.
Hader: Increase the role of the State Department and diplomacy. Rebuild relationships and alliances with allies and foreign governments.
Hunziker: Forever Wars are funded by the corporations, and we need to support political leasers who are not corrupted by corporate money.
Cramer: The United States is bombing eleven country at present, including Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We are creating enemies around the globe. That has to stop.
Schrier: There is an urgency in repealing these executive orders. Plus, we need to increase foreign aid, as it reaps benefits by reducing famines and immigration, and by improving local health and educational opportunities for people so they can thrive in their homelands. It will pay-off globally.
14. What do you propose to prevent the Republicans from winning the top-two spots in the primary?
(Note: Due to Washington’s new “Top Two” law, voters are not restricted to voting solely for their party’s designated contender in the August primary. As a result, when one party has a lot of candidates – which will split the vote into tiny chunks – the opposing party can field two candidates and increase their chance of wining the primary and thus shutting out the other party from placing any candidate in the general election in November.
Hader: I’m prepared to go into battle leaning forward! I will have to activate all of our neighbors!
Hunziker: I’m part of a socialist revolution, and the notion that the Republicans can stuff the primary ballot and shut us out is not necessarily true. The Democrats could shut out the Republicans, too. I think what is most important is to find a message that resonates with a majority of the voters.
Cramer: Get Out the Vote! Plus, I have a lot of money to support my campaign.
Schrier: This is not a time to risk losing to the Republicans. Too much is at stake. If two Republicans declare for the 8th CD, then we Democrats will have a meeting and decide who and how we can best beat Dino Rossi in November.
Rittereiser: I think I can beat Dino Rossi, and all of the voters of the 8th CD need to be heard.
15. What is your position on natural gas shipments through the district?
Hunziker: We need more solar energy. I am adamantly opposed to natural gas shipments through the district.
Cramer: Natural gas is a transitional fuel, and we need much more alternative energy. Everyone should be able to purchase an electric vehicle through federal subsidies.
Schrier: Go to clean energy.
Rittereiser: Cut subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
Hader: We are in a very difficult time of transition to a clean energy economy. First, we need to reverse our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, then we need to intensify our investments in alternative energies sources. We need to speed up the transition.
16. Candidate Wrap-up
Cramer: I am considered to be the new Bernie Sanders, and I stand for changing our economy policies.
Schrier: This is a watershed moment in United States history. I left my job as a pediatrician to fight the injustices of our day.
Rittereiser: How do we re-build the middle class? I will find a way.
Hader: The President’s State of the Union address this week left me very disturbed. He offered great promises but he has no credibility whatsoever. I, on the other hand, bring proven results, and I have a fundamental understanding of the people of our district.
Hunziker: Half-measures don’t work and we need a full commitment, a legal commitment to universal health care and universal education. I am part of a progressive revolution.
Eight Democratic candidates have declared themselves for the 8th Congressional District seat being vacated by Dave Reichert (R). Five of them attended the gathering in Graham:
The three declared candidates who were not in attendance were:
There will be other candidate forums in the future, and the next one is scheduled for March 3 at the Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Sammamish, Washington.
For more information, visit: www.flipthe8th.net
The 8th CD includes Eatonville and southeast Pierce County, plus parts of Roy and Spanaway. To the north, Graham is part of the district before it curves east and north to Issaquah. There it includes most of the suburbs of Seattle before shifting eastward over Snoqualmie Pass and including Ellensburg, Wenatchee and Chelan.
The Five Candidates: (l-r) Robert Hunziker, Shannon Hader, Jason Rittereiser, Kim Schrier, and Tom Cramer. The Forum was hosted by the 2nd Legislative District (WA) Democrats.
Tom Cramer, talking to a constituent.
Shannon Hader and former WA State Senator, Marilyn Rasmussen
Kim Schrier with constituent.
Jason Rittereiser talking to constituents after the forum.
Robert Hunziker at the Candidates Forum in Graham, January 31, 2018.
Organizers Melissa Cambra and Dave Little.