Legislative races in South King County are creating political drama as the election nears. The plot includes an exasperated senator scrambling to keep his job, a grudge match between a cop and a jeweler, and the Roach family's crusade to expand its sway at the Capitol.
Sen. Ray Schow, R-Federal Way, isn't enjoying his re-election campaign in the 30th District. The owner of All Night Printery is juggling his business duties while deflecting what he considers a barrage of misinformation from his Democratic opponent, Tracey Eide.
"This campaign has been about distortion," Schow says. He says Eide and her supporters have tried to paint him as an out-of-touch senator who panders to developers, the business community and the Republican leaders in the Senate.
Schow, 61, says big businesses and small businesses support him because of his even handling of issues as chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. He also notes he fought the GOP tide in voting against using public money to build sports stadiums.
But what bothers Schow even more is Eide's portrayal of herself as a fiscally conservative Democrat. When Eide was a legislator in 1993 she voted against the $1.3 billion tax increase of 1993, but Schow says she supported components of the budget that led to that tax hike.
Schow sent out a recent mailer that features photographs of former Gov. Mike Lowry and Eide. "Don't go back!" it says. "Let's not go back to the tax-and-spend reckless policies of the Lowry-Eide years."
Eide, 44, bristles at the mailing. "The guy's living in the Dark Ages," she says of Schow. "He's off the deep end. He's got to get real. I voted against that budget. I voted against that tax increase."
A review of Eide's 1993 voting record shows she did vote for some tax increases, such as those incorporated in the package of health-care changes. But she opposed the vast majority of the new taxes by voting against the primary revenue bill.
Another contentious issue between the two candidates is Referendum 49, the $2.4 billion transportation spending plan Republicans crafted as an alternative to Gov. Gary Locke's proposal to raise the gas tax.
Eide opposes the ballot measure. Schow supports it, and says he wishes someone would ask Eide for her solution to the state's dire transportation needs.
She doesn't have one. Eide says she's not ready to say she'd raise the gas tax, the most frequently mentioned alternative to Referendum 49. She insists the Legislature simply needs to go back to the drawing board and work something out.
Eide has only raised about half as much campaign money as Schow, according to the most recent state Public Disclosure Commission filings. Despite Schow's financial superiority, he got only 2 percent more of the vote than Eide did in the Sept. 15 primary.
Farther to the west, in the 31st District, Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, and her 26-year-old son, Dan Roach, are striving to become the first mother-son duo to ever serve in the state Legislature at the same time.
Pam Roach, 50, is running for re-election to the Senate against underdog Democrat George Tracy. Her son, also a Republican, is vying for an open House seat in the same district against Enumclaw School Board President Michael Stensen.
Dan Roach, a computer technician, was weaned on his mother's politics, assisting her campaigns and serving as a page in Olympia. He says he's used a lot of his mother's political network to fuel his campaign.
"We have a lot of the same supporters," Dan Roach says. On what issues would he differ with his conservative mother?
The younger Roach only came up with one potential clash, over a proposal to require that minors wear life jackets. He supports it. She opposes it.
"We disagree there," he says. "Philosophically, we're very similar."
Pam Roach says her son brings a different generation's ideas and experiences to politics. Their Capitol relationship would be simply professional, the senator says. "He'll be a friend. I have many political friends. He will be another member of the Legislature to me. He is a grown man."
Dan Roach's Democratic opponent is exactly twice his age, but Stensen has raised only about a fifth as much campaign money. Still, he sounds optimistic.
"I have lots of experience, and he has none," Stensen says. "You don't start at the top of the food chain. You get the experience first."
The other 31st District House race is one of the most hotly contested seats in the state. Rep. Les Thomas, R-Kent, faces Black Diamond police Detective Chris Hurst in a rematch of their 1996 contest, which Thomas won by fewer than 300 votes. Thomas had a similarly thin lead after the Sept. 15 primary this year.
Hurst, a Democrat, has aggressively registered new voters to help him get over the top in a Republican-leaning district. King and Pierce county elections offices report 4,000 more registered voters in the district this year than last. Both candidates already have raised about twice as much campaign cash as they spent on the 1996 race.
Thomas, 52, can't wait for it to be over. He says he's tired of Hurst supporters pulling down his signs. He's impressed by Hurst's tenacity, but says he's unnerved by it, too.
"He runs a clandestine operation," Thomas said of Hurst. "He's an undercover cop. I shouldn't expect less. He's very intelligent. Some things about him frighten me. At first I wasn't so afraid of his badge or his gun, but he's . . . I just don't know. There's something out there that just kind of scares me about him."
Hurst dismissed Thomas' comments as paranoia. "The only thing that frightens him is losing his seat," Hurst says. "I know the lay of the land. I know the district. The only thing that would be unnerving to Les is that we've done a better job of running a campaign."
While Thomas touts his experience and his legislative know-how, Hurst, 43, accuses Thomas of being one of Olympia's weakest legislators and a lackey for the insurance industry.
"There's nobody I'd rather have a cup of coffee with," Hurst says of Thomas. "But he just doesn't belong in Olympia."
Other South King County legislative races include these contests:
-- In the 47th District, which stretches from the Renton Highlands to Kent and Black Diamond, Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Kent, faces Democrat Rebecca Clark, a homemaker who served on the Covington City Council.
Republican Phil Fortunato, a business owner, faces Democratic Party activist Betty Swanson in the pursuit of the district's open House seat. Rep. Jack Cairnes, R-Covington, is challenged by Democrat Bob Nelson, a retired federal employee, for the district's other House seat.
-- In the 30th District, in and around Federal Way, Democrat Mark Miloscia, a commercial-services director, faces Republican Skip Priest, a business owner, for the district's open House seat.
-- In the 33rd District, which covers part of Kent and all of SeaTac and Des Moines, Sen. Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac, is defending her seat against Republican Wayne Erickson, an anti-abortion advocate who says he filed against her "just to make a statement."
As for that district's House seats, Rep. Jim McCune, R-SeaTac, faces Democrat Shay Schual-Berke, a retired cardiologist. And Rep. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, faces Republican Bob Ross, a salesman.
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