I'm still trying to differentiate between all six Democrats that are running to fill former US Rep. Jay Inslee's open seat in Congress. (Earlier this week, I took a look at the available Federal Elections Commission reports to see who was giving to whom.)

Today, I read through their answers on the King County Democrats' candidate questionnaires. (By the way, I've heard that the KC Democrats have narrowed down their endorsement options to Darcy Burner and Suzan DelBene. I have a call in to party chair Steve Zemke.)

Some observations. [pullquote]The questionnaire closes with a specific question on education reform, demonstrating that the issue has become a litmus test for Democrats.[/pullquote]

1) Former netroots star Darcy Burner comes across much better on paper than she does in person. In person, she often sounds a bit like a self-righteous college student back home for the first time on winter break (even hitting that upward college student lilt on the tail end of sentences). On paper, it's obvious that she actually knows her stuff.

(Also: She doesn't focus as much on Congressional reform in the questionnaire, an issue that has merit—and probably polls well given how much everyone hates Congress—but also reads like a canned response, and almost a dodge, when she answers nearly every question at debates by saying special corporate interests have too much power in Washington, DC. She does note that theme when asked to list the three top messages of her campaign—No. 1, for example, "We need to fix Congress by ending the buying of our elected officials"—but she doesn't continually circle back to it as the panacea to every problem.

Her questionnaire reveals nuanced takes like this one on health care:
The single biggest structural problem in American healthcare costs is the fact that insurance companies underinvest in routine and preventative care because they can externalize the catastrophic and chronic care costs onto Medicare and Medicaid. As a result, we spend twice as much as the rest of the industrialized world for worse outcomes.

2) Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland) didn't seem to spend much time on the questionnaire. Here's a typical answer, this one on affordable housing, in full:
I’m a reliable supporter of all measures to bolster housing resources for the least advantaged in our society; my legislative record demonstrates this commitment.

In contrast, here's Burner again:
There has been for a long time a significant lack of affordable housing in much of this district. We need to encourage greater density and more low income housing inside urban growth boundaries, especially in areas with good access to transportation and services. While many of the policies in question are local zoning issues, federal funding of Section 8 housing subsidies, federal grant and loan programs, and the availability of adequate mental health and drug treatment programs all have significant impacts on the problem. Section 8 housing is woefully underfunded, with multiple-year waits even for high priority applicants such as those who are disabled. Federal grant and loan programs to build affordable housing have been slashed in recent budgets. And mental health and drug treatment programs are seeing their funding slashed as well -- at the same time we are seeing more people needing the safety net.

3) Former state department of revenue director and online entrepreneur Suzan DelBene is running on a more progressive platform than I imagined: She raps "big oil companies" two separate times in her questionnaire and implies that Obama didn't go far enough with Wall Street reform or health care reform—she wants a public option. "We continue to have a health care crisis in America with unsustainable costs. We must work to ensure all Americans have access to affordable and quality health care. Specifically, government can incentivize competition, provide affordable and public options for care."

Sounding a bit like Burner, DelBene cites "Standing up to Special Interests" as one of her top three themes. "We’ve seen what happens when government gets hijacked by powerful interests who exploit the rules for their own benefit. I’ll stand up to these powerful interests in Washington, end tax subsidies to big oil companies and write rules that strengthen oversight of Wall Street."

4) Two of the other candidates, state Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) and newcomer Darshan Rauninyar, have not turned in their questionnaires. Rauniyar tells me he's "in the process of submitting it" (too late says Zemke) and Hobbs' campaign says they "knew nothing about it." Zemke says they contacted Hobbs.

It's a shame that Hobbs didn't fill out the questionnaire because as a Democratic Party maverick on education reform, his questionnaire may have broken the mold. The questionnaire asks  for a Yes or No answer on charter schools (well, actually it's "Do you support charter schools and/or school vouchers?"). Every candidate said "No." Ruderman voted for a charter schools bill when she was in the legislature in 2004, though. Hobbs supported a charter schools bill in the legislature this year.

Additionally, the questionnaire closes with a specific question on education reform, demonstrating that the thorny issue (teacher evaluation reform is a sticking points for the teachers' union) has become a litmus test for the King County Democrats who tack to the union position.

The question was this: "What elements of education reform do you support, not support, and how would you work to improve education in Washington State?"

The candidates seemed to miss the point of the question: What did they think of the controversial Obama/Arne Duncan ed reform agenda—such as teacher evaluation reforms, charters, and challenging union seniority?

All the candidates mostly stuck to the theme that schools need more money, though Goodman did repeat his opposition to charters. And no one addressed the hot button issue of teacher evaluations, though Burner called teachers "heroic." (Again, Burner demonstrated that she's a well-informed candidate, broadening the issue out to "wraparound services" and the social "environment"—connecting social issues to troubled schools.)

However, former state rep Laura Ruderman's answer stood out. While she indicated in the earlier "Yes or No" section that she was against charters (though again, she voted for them as a state rep in 2004), she answered the reform question by praising "community schools."

Describing what sounds a bit like a charter to me, she said:
I also believe strongly in promoting the community schools and will advocate for this model in Congress. One of my children attends, and the other has graduated from, the Discovery Community School (DCS) in Kirkland. I serve as Co-Chair of the Board. DCS was founded in 1994 by parents in the Lake Washington School District to create a cooperative learning environment for their children while maintaining the benefits of a district run curriculum. The approximately 72 students work at their own levels of academic readiness.  The school's success relies on a commitment of 65 volunteer hours annually from each family in the DCS community. Parent volunteers support the school by providing classroom enrichment, organizing field trips, coordinating community events, or serving in leadership positions. I have seen the success of this model firsthand and believe it is a great choice for those looking for an alternative.