Last night, the Democratic candidates vying to replace State Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-34), who is moving to the State Senate, took part in a quick question-and-answer session at the District's regular meeting, which was held at the idyllic and suburban Hall at Fauntleroy in West Seattle.
The 34th District Dems (West Seattle, White Center, Burien, and Vashon and Maury Islands) are like a Council of Elders, made up of Precinct Committee Officers, government officials, and campaign manager-types (for example, I stood next to defeated Port Commission candidate and former 35th District Representative Max Vekich. And Seattle Chief Technology Officer Bill Schrier stood by the door handing out name tags). Members will make their endorsement on May 12. (They approved the endorsement rules last night, which allow the District to endorse two candidates.)
The candidates are: Mike Heavey, an aide to King Council Council Member Jan Drago; Joe Fitzgibbon, who's been an aide to Rep. Nelson since 2007, when the now-super-star-incumbent first took office; and Marcee Stone, a legal secretary and campaign finance activist. The 34th District Dems looked on, sitting at large circular tables and sipping on beers.
At times, they didn't appear to be paying all that much attention, and the candidate forum was sandwiched between a presentation by the local Teamsters and a couple of hours of 34th District procedural matters.
From the start, a fair share of the attention seemed to fall on Fitzgibbon. Besides being a former staffer for Rep. Nelson, whose job he's jockeying for, Fitzgibbon's only 23 years old.
In front of the group of mostly-grey West Seattle politicos, Fitzgibbon seemed to be doing pretty well. He got more specific than either of the other candidates on some pertinent issues. For example, Fitzgibbon pushed tax reform throughout the forum--he said he wanted to push for a high-earners income tax, and for a value-added tax, an efficient sales tax method popular in Europe, and that he wants to cut off tax breaks to groups like TransAlta.
Where Nelson focused on consumer protections and the Maury Island coal mine, Fitzgibbon wants to work on bringing transit options to the 34th District suburbs, he said after the forum. "We really have a severe transit problem out in Burien, and transit wasn't something that was really on [Rep. Nelson's] list of priorities."
There was one funny moment that highlighted Fitzgibbon's age, sorta. Asked by Heavey, during a more light-hearted moment, what CD he was currently listening to, Fitzgibbon replied, “Soundgarden.” The answer was met from the crowd with befuddled silence.
Fitzgibbon tried to explain. “Uh, I mean, yeah. I like Superunknown.” The audience shifted its eyes back to Heavey. “Me? Oh, Uh. Paul Simon,” Heavey said. The crowd seemed assuaged.
I brought up the awkward moment with Fitzgibbon after the forum. “Oh man, not this crowd,” he said. “It's definitely a generational thing." Although, some ironic context: "Soundgarden was popular when I was, like, six,” he noted.
Mike Heavey, whose father served in the state legislature in the 90s, was the least quotable during the short forum, blending in with Fitzgibbon a bit, praising Rep. Hans Dunshee's (D-44) green jobs bill.
L-R: Heavey, Fitzgibbon, and Stone.
Heavey was outspoken on one point, though—when asked about a group of new taxes that passed in Olympia this session, including taxes on beer, candy, and pop, he delievered a comment that won him a big gust of applause. "It's shameful that we would try to tax the lower class instead of asking Microsoft to take a little in," Heavey said. It was the loudest the crowd got for him.
Marcee Stone came out swinging, and gathered a good amount of energy early on—she kicked off her comments by saying "I am a pro-choice, pro-family planning woman who will fight for this district," which won her an impressive wave of applause from the stingy audience. But they seemed particularly confused by a point Stone twice tried to make about confidentiality agreements between school nurses and pregnant teens, which she said could result in girls "getting sent away" (saying once, vaguely, "we need to address these cultural issues"). The point came in response to a question about youth violence.
When I caught up with Stone later to clarify what she meant, it was still hard to get a clear statement out of her. She said "this is an issue that is not getting enough attention," which after more prodding I took to mean that Stone thinks parents should be legally allowed to get more involved with teenagers' health decisions at school—but by then she had started talking about teen drug use instead of teen pregnancy. Stone admitted she didn't have any legislative ideas regarding the issue; she said it was just an issue she cares about. Still, it was an issue she pushed at two different points while she was onstage with the other candidates.
Stone's pet issue, campaign finance reform (Stone just finished a run as Board President of Washington Public Campaigns, which pushes for publicly-financed political candidates), was also a note she hit throughout the night. She said during her opening remarks she wanted to "take the for-sale down from state government."
After the meeting, Tara Jo Heinecke, a local labor union worker and Democratic activist who is also "diversity chair" of the 34th District Dems, said she liked all the candidates but said that Stone's message was definitely a little off-kilter.
"Neither of her issues are really concepts that are on the mind of the average voter," said Heinecke. “I mean, HIPAA is a Federal law. [Stone's point] didn't really seem that relevant to this race.”