This is the last in a series of interviews with candidates on the ballot for the primary election in August.
Three residents of the 29th Legislative District are running for position one in the state House of Representatives. The seat is open as the incumbent, Connie Ladenburg, has decided to run for a position on Pierce County Council. Democrats David Sawyer and Ben Lawver and Republican Terry Harder seek the office.
Q) How has your prior experience in politics, whether as a volunteer or in a paid position, prepared you to serve in the legislature?
HARDER: Serving as a precinct committee officer and running for office in this district two times prior, I door belled in the district talking one on one with voters, getting their views on the issues most important to them. My experience with Operation Support Our Troops will be important with veterans’ issues for our returning military.
LAWVER: When I was 22 years old I was diagnosed with cancer. Like many young adults, I was working two jobs and still could not afford health insurance. The State’s Basic Health Plan saved my life and since then I have dedicated my life to giving back: working to create good-paying jobs, improve our schools and to remind legislators that they are in Olympia to represent people first.
As the former interim executive director of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, and as the former political director of the Washington State Labor Council, I am the only candidate who can successfully advocate in both the House and the Senate for the legislation this district needs.
I am also the only candidate in this race who has a proven record of advocating in Olympia on behalf of the families in LD 29. Through my work at the Washington State Labor Council some of the legislation we successfully worked on included: defending the minimum wage, passing a jobs bill that put more than 18,000 people back to work, advocating for access to quality affordable health care and legislation to keep our workplaces safe.
SAWYER: I have worked on campaigns at nearly every level of government from President Barack Obama to statewide and congressional races. I have also done some work in Olympia on behalf of Safe Streets. Knocking on doors as a community organizer very much has prepared me to serve – it grounds me in the real, everyday problems of our community.
Q) As you are speaking with voters while campaigning, what is the biggest concern with state government they express to you?
HARDER: Their biggest concern is jobs and how the state is not helping business to provide the jobs our economy needs.
LAWVER: The biggest concern I hear is that people feel like government does not represent them. They want legislators who are willing to listen to their ideas and work to better their lives. That is why I have given out my personal phone number to everyone I have talked with, so they can get in touch with me to ask questions or share ideas after I am elected to serve in Olympia.
SAWYER: One of the biggest concerns I hear from voters at the door is keeping our state government accountable. Folks in the 29th want a state government that is efficient. People in my community count on state government for public services like Medicaid and Work Source training but want to trust that the government is running programs as efficiently as possible so that there is enough for everyone. No one likes to hear about wasted government funds at a time when the state has so few resources.
Q)Do you think the state government needs to change how it negotiates contracts with unions that represent state employees? Should the Legislature have more input in this process?
HARDER: Yes to both questions. Collective bargaining with a truly uninterested third-party arbitrator, not the current system, would be a step forward. Arbitration should not be subject to shopping for a favorable arbitrator for either side. The easiest way to accomplish this is random and blind assignment of the arbitrator.
Since the Legislature is subject to the voters, they would be more apt to protect the public interest.
LAWVER: In the past four years the collective bargaining process between the governor and public employee unions has resulted in the following sacrifices: increased costs for state employees on their health care premiums, mandatory unpaid furlough days, increased deductibles on health care plans, a 3 percent cut in pay and a reduction in pension benefits for new employees.
It seems that when our state faced tough economic times, our public servants have stepped up to the plate and through the collective bargaining process have sacrificed tremendously. In some cases, our public employees have already given up 15-20 percent of their income while the Legislature has refused to close tax loopholes.
We should be looking at other ways to solve our budget problems as well.
SAWYER: No and no. As the state’s executive branch, the governor’s office should deal exclusively with labor negotiations. The balance we strive to achieve by supporting collective bargaining could be jeopardized by politicizing contract details in a legislative body of 147 people with very distinct communities and political philosophies to represent. There is a very good reason why we have an executive branch. The Legislature writes the budget.
Q) What could be done to increase the political clout that legislators from Pierce County have in Olympia?
HARDER: I believe in a citizen Legislature. If we have too many people from the same profession representing us (like attorneys and union officials), it skews the representation of the people in the district to representing yet another special interest.
LAWVER: Our campaign has the sole endorsement from almost 30 current elected officials from across the state. To increase our clout you need support from other legislators and our campaign is the only one with legislators endorsing from outside Pierce County.
SAWYER: Our Pierce County legislative delegation is as politically diverse as our county. We have to work together on certain issues that affect our county no matter whose part of the county the matter affects more. The concerns of Spanaway should have equal weight with Northeast Tacoma. We could do really great things for our county if we can agree to cross the aisle and work together. As one of the top three largest counties in our state we should be leaders for our county because it is in the best interest of our state. Our fates as citizens of Pierce County are inextricably linked.
Q) What else should voters know about you?
HARDER: I am a business consultant and have been a resident of Pierce County for 50+ years.
I have three children, all Army veterans. Two deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and one did not deploy; I also have eight wonderful grandchildren.
I am a co-founder of Operation Support Our Troops, which has sent 172,000 troops a holiday package and supported our troops with many rallies, Christmas parties, air miles and donations to Fisher House. I am also chair of the Northwest division of The Washington State Army Advisory Board.
I attended Tacoma schools: Rogers, Gault, Lincoln and Bates Vocational Technical Institute.
In my years I have seen many changes here including seeing the World’s Fair in Seattle and the construction of I-5.
I have worked as a laborer, a gas station mechanic, a railroad switchman, an electronics technician, salesperson and a business owner. I have had union and non-union jobs. I worked various jobs as a youth in the summer including picking berries.
I think these life experiences make me uniquely qualified to represent the people of our district.
I believe small business is the key to creating jobs in Washington. Making it easier for small business to hurdle the mountain of bureaucratic red tape and regulations while reducing their tax burden will create the jobs that the people of District 29 need in these tough economic times.
The 29th District needs a job-friendly business environment so I am committed to limited government, making it more accountable to the people. Jobs, tax reform and improving education will be my top priorities.
LAWVER: Almost 30 current elected officials and more than 57 organizations have stood behind our campaign. I am the only candidate endorsed by the Pierce County Democrats, WACOPS, Washington Conservation Voters, Tacoma Firefighters, Pierce County Black Collective and Tacoma Ministerial Alliance. Earning all of these endorsements is truly humbling, but I would be most honored to have your support and your vote.
Our campaign is simple; we are focused on people, jobs and schools.
Learn more at http://www.benlawver.com
SAWYER: At 29 years old, I represent a generation that has twice the unemployment and has seen skyrocketing tuition increases, but I am hopeful of our future. Olympia can use a fresh point of view at a time when things appear gridlocked and new ways to save money will need to be explored. I grew up just a mile outside of the district and have been active in our community for years. My work and activism in the community have earned me the support and respect of local leaders like Representatives Steve Kirby and Connie Ladenburg, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.