Democratic rookie candidates in big-league U.S. House race

By Joel Connelly, SeattlePI

AUBURN — A district spanning the Cascades, and Washington’s political cultures, is an epicenter of Democrats’ bid this year to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives and put a check on the out-of-control Trump administration.

The 8th Congressional District is home base of retiring Republican Rep. Dave Reichert. Democrats are seeking to bring home a district carried narrowly by Hillary Clinton in 2016. They have tried for years to take the 8th — and failed.

“We are the last congressional seat that will be counted on election night, and we need to come through for the sake of the country,” said Jason Rittereiser, an Issaquah attorney and one of three candidates to appear Friday at a well-attended Democratic forum.

Republicans have fielded a three-time statewide candidate, ex-state Sen. Dino Rossi. The Democratic field in this big-league race consists of rookie candidates who’ve been doing other things with their lives.

“I never thought I would run for office but the 2016 election was a wake-up call for me,” said Dr. Kim Schrier, for 16 years a pediatrician in Issaquah. Schrier has raised the most money and was one of the Democratic women candidates to grace the cover of Time.

Dr. Shannon Hader, an “Auburn girl” who went on to head the global HIV/AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a late-starting candidate. She’s been away but has deep roots, a great-grandfather who farmed in the district and her father, “a Boeing guy.”

Bigwigs of the Democratic Party have fretted over having too many candidates in the 8th District. They would like a clear field of fire directed at Rossi. But such conventional wisdom is unwise in the disparate 8th District.

Competition will determine which candidate catches on. The 8th District is home to blue-collar workers in south King and Pierce counties, technology workers in fast-growing Issaquah, ranchers in Ellensburg and orchardists in Chelan County.

The field Friday:

— Rittereiser is arguing that he has feet planted on both sides of the “Cascade Curtain.” He grew up in Ellensburg, son of a cop, and boasts of baling hay to pay for college. (Gov. Jay Inslee fielded a hay-baling TV spot in 2012.) He has since served as a deputy King County prosecutor and is now in private practice.

He has found his voice, which hearkens back to a Democratic Party that was home to blue-collar workers and championed irrigation and hydro power in Eastern Washington. “We have to win every corner of this district — this is not a Seattle district,” he said.

Rittereiser is open to tariffs — “They need to focus on protecting jobs here at home” — but dissents from Trump’s meat-ax approach. He would entertain initiating force against North Korea if U.S. intelligence finds an attack imminent.

“We should do whatever it takes to protect our country,” he said. In the same breath, however, Rittereiser hits at impulsive recklessness in the Oval Office. “The biggest threat to our national security today is not putting a check on the Trump administration,” he argued.

— Schrier is into more familiar Democratic themes. “Stopping subsidizing fossil fuels and (starting) investing in renewables” is one theme. Asked if non-public school tuition should be tax-deductible, Rittereiser and Hader held up “yes” cards. Not Schrier.

“It is the parents’ choice,” she said. “If they want to send their children to private schools, that is their choice. The rest of us should not pay.”

Schrier was at odds with her two foes on what is acceptable to be heard in the public square. “I believe in free speech unless it is there to incite hate and incite violence,” she said.

— Hader is a health policy expert, promising to bring what she learned at CDC to bear as a House member from Washington. She has worked in Afghanistan and headed HIV/AIDS response in the District of Columbia.

Response to the opioid crisis? “We should have treatment on demand all the way out to the furthest recesses of the district,” Hader said.

She is angry at the Dickey Amendment, which forbade the Centers for Disease Control from conducting research into gun violence. “Let’s talk about getting the CDC to do gun-violence research again to save lives,” Hader said.

Hader would put her former employer on a timetable, requiring it to report findings within six months. She wants studies into “successful and graceful aging,” and said: “We need to make sure Medicare covers ears, eyes and mouth.”

None of these candidates is a conventional politician.

Schrier is seeking to ride a nationwide wave of women candidates. She begins responses with the words, “As a mom …” She is backed by EMILY’s List, the powerful national Democratic women’s fundraising group.

Schrier decries Trump as an agent of “racism, xenophobia and destruction of our environment.” When Rossi talks about writing budgets, she would tell him: “There’s different kinds of experience and right now, yours is the wrong kind of experience.”

Rittereiser is more in the model of Conor Lamb, the young former federal prosecutor who won a Republican-held House seat in Pennsylvania earlier this month. He is decidedly more progressive than Lamb but is positioning himself as a defender of the middle class and product of the district.

“I have worked at the nitty-gritty, dealt with violent offenders and represented poor people,” Rittereiser said of his work as both a prosecutor and attorney in private practice.

Hader is of a background rarely seen in the House, the public health expert with both administrative and scientific backgrounds, and global experience. When such folk do arrive in Congress, they usually find influence.

She talked about being across the street from her alma mater, Auburn High School, rather than her degree in biological sciences from Stanford and medical degree and public health training at Columbia. Shades of U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., who talks about Port Angeles High School but seldom mentions Princeton and Oxford.

The bottom line: Each of these Democratic candidates has made something of his/her life.

They present an interesting choice for the voters — those who turn out in our mid-summer primary — if not one of familiar names.

Tune in this race. It’s important to the country.