2012 Election

Friday PubliCola Q&A: Steve Hobbs

By Josh Feit July 20, 2012

Democratic State Sen. Steve Hobbs is trailing in the 1st Congressional District primary ... to  Democrats' peril in November?

State Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), who unseated a Republican in 2006 in his Snohomish County swing district turf and was reelected in 2010 (winning a re-match with the same Republican), seems like the Democrats' best bet to beat a Republican in the redrawn 1st Congressional District where he's running in a pack of lefty Democrats including netroots star Darcy Burner. However, even though he's the only active legislator in the Democratic race and dig get the Seattle Times endorsement, he's far behind the other Democrats in most polls (he's around five percent while the frontrunners such as Burner are at 17 ); and he's way behind in money; he's raised about $270,000 with about $100,000 cash on hand while Laura Ruderman has raised nearly $500,000 with $280,000 cash on hand.

The 1st District, which stretches from the Microsoft suburbs north all the way to the Canadian border, is swing turf that leans conservative. The almost-assured Republican candidate, Snohomish County Council member John Koster, who nearly beat US Rep. Rick Larsen (D-2) in a more Democratic-friendly district in 2010, will be tough for a lefty candidate to beat.

Here's a metaphor for Hobbs' strength against Koster: Koster is a former dairy farmer (a nice juxtaposition against D frontrunners Darcy Burner and Suzan DelBene, both former Microsoft execs.) Not a problem for Hobbs. He got the endorsement of the dairy farmers.

As a fiscal conservative and social liberal—he voted for gay rights in a district that didn't even go for domestic partnerships, voting down R-71 in 2009—Hobbs is a working class guy who can speak the language of the district while also standing up for liberal Democratic principles. Seattle state Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill) endorsed Hobbs, as has Everett state senate liberal Sen. Nick Harper (D-38).

Despite our Hobbs cheerleading, we raised our doubts about him in this Q&A, our first installment of PubliCola's Friday interview with a political figures we want you to meet, including under-the-radar figures like Hobbs, who was overshadowed this week by a controversy involving three other candidates in the race.

Hobbs—the only Democrat in the race who supports the coal transport to Cherry Point—is a leader in the legislature's centrist Roadkill Caucus, which commandeered the senate in 2011 to tilt workers' comp reform in favor of business and, in 2012, pulled off an actual coup, passing a full-fledged GOP budget that slashed social services and education.

However, Hobbs drew the line and did not join with the Roadkillers for the 2012 budget coup, voting instead with the Democrats. He did, however, use the budget negotiations to push charter schools (he's a big proponent of them) and a K-12 reform that monitored the teachers' union's health care negotiations with private insurers. (His initial bill attempted to take over the union's health care plans, but the legislature watered that idea down.)

PubliCola: You said at a recent candidate debate that you supported President Obama’s agenda to have revenue in the mix to balance the federal budget. But as a state senator, you’ve sided with the Republicans' mantra of 'reform before revenue.' Additionally, you’ve opposed tax increases like the soda tax Democrats proposed in 2010. Why should voters believe that you’ll fight for the Democratic agenda---Patty Murray’s and Obama’s agenda of revenue?

Hobbs: Because you can see from the vote I took last time closing some of the loopholes including the out of state bank [loopholes] that I’m willing to do that, [assuming] that we have done some reforms. There are also decreases in spending and reforms in other areas. Yes, I am willing to vote for tax increases, which I have done. I have also voted for a lot of fee increases when it is necessary, and I have done it multiple times.

PubliCola: Aren’t the Republicans at the federal level, like US Rep. Paul Ryan ...  calling for 'reform first' too, which means dramatic cuts to Medicare and social programs? Would you have the same kind of litmus test at the federal level [that you did at the state level]---that you needed to see the reforms first?

Hobbs: I would have to see some reforms and some serious reductions in spending, but I think that our problem is that they want to do it before anything else. I’d like to see it done simultaneously. You can do that in Congress, and what I don’t get is that the right-wing Republican Party does not embrace some of the ideas that came up in the plan by Erskine Bowles, who was the co-chair of the Commission of Fiscal Form of Responsibility, why they didn’t jump on with that because it brings some fiscal responsibility to our federal budget. They didn’t do that.

PubliCola: What are some of the ideas in that report that you support?[pullquote]You have to look at this, of those endorsements and the money I’m getting, it could have gone to Koster. The fact that I have an A rating with the NRA has caused the NRA not to endorse any candidate.[/pullquote]

Hobbs: Some of the suggestions would be let’s put a cap on discretionary spending. What I don’t understand is if they go back to the ‘90s, when there was Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic president, they were able to work together and gauge surpluses within the budget and bring down the debt. But unfortunately, what you saw, what we all saw, what the American people saw, was George W. Bush come into office, exploding government spending, and in turn, inflating the debt. People on both sides need to come together and come to a compromise on this, which we can do and has been done in the past.

PubliCola: You say you have both business and union support, but as you know, the Washington State Labor Council and the teachers' union despise you; the teachers' union even ran a candidate against you in 2010. The WSLC's former head, Rick Bender, once called you a Republican for backing local Republican budgets, privatization plans, helping the Roadkill caucus commandeer the senate, and amending the worker’s unemployment insurance bill to get rid of some the union demands for expanded coverage. So how can you say you have union support?

Hobbs: First of all, my philosophy is standing up for workers and their jobs. I have been a staunch supporter of going against any "right to work" legislation. I am for the prevailing wage laws. I have voted, in fact, in 2007, to allow the unions to use their dues for political purposes. I have stood up for workers. So I find it strange that they would attack me on this. My voting record is better than most Republicans’, yet I’m the one they attack.[pullquote]I insisted on some reforms and some privatization reduction of government, but I’m not ashamed of that. I mean, we’re in a recession.[/pullquote]

And you can look at the endorsements I have. I have the State Council Firefighters. I have SEIU 1947. I have IBEW 191. I have supported the building trades on numerous occasions on construction projects that created jobs for the members. I don’t know what to tell you. I guess they are upset because I insisted on some reforms and some privatization reduction of government, but I’m not ashamed of that. I mean, we’re in a recession.

I’m sure they were generally upset with the cuts we had to make in state government. I did support privatization in certain points of government. But when you’re looking at an unemployment rate at one point in our state reaching about 10 percent, at least in the county, how can you with a straight face go to voters and go, ‘Hey we’d like you to support a tax increase, or we would like you support more spending in a certain area, even though you’re at high unemployment, and the government hasn’t done anything. In that case, it doesn’t work.

PubliCola: Where is all the business support that was supposed to flock to your campaign? You've raised $198,000. You’re even behind longshot candidate Darshan Rauniyar in fundraising and miles behind the frontrunners. One of the supposed benefits of your candidacy that I’ve heard is that you can bring along business, you can raise money that some of these liberals can’t. But where is that money? How are you a credible candidate at this point?

Hobbs: I’m a credible candidate because, look at the poll. [Hobbs campaign commissioned a poll this week that found him even with DelBene and Burner.]

PubliCola: You won’t let us look at the crosstabs. I’ve just seen the memo on the poll.

Hobbs: Well, nobody sees the crosstabs. The fact of the matter is I’m still in the running. I’ve been a state senator for about six years. And look at the fact of the money I am getting. Is it a lot? No. But I can still run my campaign. I can still do direct mail. If need be, I can still do cable, and I wish to do so. But you have to look at this, of those endorsements and the money I’m getting, it could have gone to Koster. The fact that I have an A rating with the NRA has caused the NRA not to endorse any candidate. Otherwise, they would. So if anything, in the general election, at least I’m somebody that would be even to Koster’s support. Do you think the timber industry is going to go along with any of the other candidates? I don’t think so. And the NRA is definitely going to make their decision.

PubliCola: If you don’t go through, can any of the other Democratic candidates win?

Hobbs: Well, it will be harder. That’s a hard, hard, hard question to answer. You have a situation where Democrats tend to pooh-pooh Koster and say he is too extreme for the district. Well, he may be too extreme for the district, but in this game, it’s what the voters think you are versus what you are. And Koster is a great campaigner, he’s a hard worker, he almost beat Rick Larsen. He won in Snohomish County with [more liberal] Everett and Marysville, and those areas are gone [from the new 1st]. Those Democratic areas are gone.

PubliCola: So do you think that Darcy Burner, Laura Ruderman, and Susan DelBene are too liberal to beat Koster?

Hobbs: I think they are not as centrist as I am. They’re not as much in the middle as I am. It’s going to be a longer shot. They’re going to, quickly after the election, find ways to reach out to people in areas such as my area, the rural areas of Skagit County, and they’re going to have to do that quickly.

PubliCola: For a conservative or a centrist, you’ve taken the lead on some progressive issues. You were a big supporter, and an early signer, of Sen. Ed Murray's gay marriage bill and gave a really powerful speech on that. You were the lead sponsor on the Reproductive Parity Act, the choice community's number one priority last session. If you make it through the primary, how are you going to defend those positions in this rural turf you’re talking about, especially against Koster, a social conservative?

Hobbs: Bottom line is, a lot of people are concerned about their pocketbook right now. With the unemployment situation, with the recession the way it is, people are concerned about jobs. Somebody like myself, I have always been able to make the case to my own voters in an area where R-71 (the domestic partnership initiative) failed in my legislative district. I sponsored a vote for domestic partnerships several times.

But on the other part of this, why the voters vote for me is I explain my reasons.

PubliCola: And what is the reason for voting for marriage equality?

Hobbs: Well the reason for the marriage equality, you can go back to the floor speech. I served with gays and lesbians [in the military]. I can’t turn my back on those who served beside me. I just couldn’t do it. I’m willing to lose an election because of it, if that’s the case. But by explaining to the voters, they understand. You have to be respectful of everyone’s views. You have to be respectful to those that are deeply religious and have deep social convictions that may be contrary to what you and I think, but you know what, it’s their belief system.

PubliCola: So how do you explain the reproductive parity bill, which is obviously different than gay marriage because it’s not about serving in the military with your comrades? How do you explain that one to religious voters?

Hobbs: That is about choice. My belief is that as long as you’re not trouncing on anyone’s religious beliefs, then you should go ahead with this. It’s almost the same argument as Roe v. Wade. It’s about choice, individual choice. I’m very respectful of the decisions and values of those against it. I respect it. I understand what they’re thinking. That’s why I’ve been elected in my district several times just because I respect their views.

PubliCola: What you think about all the flap with [Laura] Ruderman’s mom funding an independent expenditure? Do you believe she didn’t know about this IE?

Hobbs: You know, I’m just going to stay out of that. I’m going to fight my own fight and do my own campaign. You saw it. You know the figures. It’s no secret how much money I raised. For me to get in a yelling match or a screaming match or a mud fight because that’s essentially what’s going on, I’d be on the losing end of that. I’m just going to continue to talk about my positive message and about who I am and how I represent the district and how I can bring both sides together and continue knocking on doors and meeting people.

I have a question for you. I have not been following the charter school issue in Seattle. Are you finding any legislators who support that?

PubliCola: Rep. Eric Pettigrew. I can’t think of anyone else in Seattle is supporting that.

Hobbs: I’m just curious because it lends credibility when you have folks like Pettigrew that are more left of center than myself.
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