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Challengers for senate seat pack similar message
By Brian Beckley
With just a week left until primary ballots are due, candidates for the 31st District State Senate seat are making their final push for votes.
Voters have plenty of choices this year, with two candidates on each side of the aisle tossing their hats in the ring for a shot at representing the area in Olympia.
Incumbent Pam Roach, R-Auburn, is seeking her sixth term in Olympia, but is running into a trio of challengers who all seek to capitalize on the sanctions announced in January that limit Roach’s contact with members of the Republican caucus staff.
Roach is being challenged from within her own party by Sumner City Councilman Matt Richardson as well as Democrats Raymond Bunk, a Federal Way police officer, and former Buckley Councilman Ron Weigelt.
All three have said they are running because they do not feel Roach is a good representative of the district, especially in light of the sanctions.
Roach is the ranking member of the Senate Governmental and Operations Committee and has focused on open government, elections and public safety, according to her voters’ pamphlet statement. She voted against the tax increases passed this year by the Legislature to fill the budget hole and supports a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
She is also presently leading an ad hoc committee to save the Rainier School in Buckley from closure.
Of her opponents, Richardson, a history and English teacher at the Wa He Lut Indian School, has the most governmental experience. He presently serves on the Sumner City Council and has worked as a congressional staffer and a legislative aide in the state Senate.
In an interview earlier this year, Richardson called Roach a “maverick in a china shop” and said the sanctions against her make her a “completely ineffective” voice for the district.
“There’s more to the job than showing up to vote and right now that’s all she can do,” he said. “We need a senator who will listen and be listened to when important decisions are being made.”
Richardson said he chose to run because he sees this as a Republican year and fears the seat could be lost to a Democrat because of Roach’s reputation.
“I’m running as the Republican that people are going to be able to talk to,” he said.
Richardson said he would focus on education, transportation and flooding issues. Though he does not know how he would have voted on the budget package this year, he said he was “outraged” that the legislature repealed I-960, which required a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
On the other side of the aisle, Federal Way police officer and East Pierce Fire Commissioner Bunk said he, too, is running to better represent the district.
“I think the 31st Legislative District needs better leadership than we have right now,” he said, citing the sanctions against Roach.
Bunk describes his politics as moderate and said he is a “40-hour-a-week guy with 40-hour-a-week issues.”
Bunk said he understands the issues facing legislators and has had to accept a pay cut within his department to prevent layoffs. Bunk said his top priorities would be protecting funds for public education and public safety.
Bunk started his public service career as a volunteer firefighter after volunteers responded to help his mother when she had a heart attack. He also served in the Air Force, including a tour of duty in Iraq in 2007 as a member of the Reserves.
Bunk said his experience in conflict resolution is what is needed now in Olympia, though he admitted to not knowing how he would have voted on the tax package championed by Democrats earlier this year.
Weigelt is a human resources director with the Seattle King County Department of Health and said he is running because Roach is ineffective and he believes in getting involved.
“A lot of people just complain about it,” he said. “I don’t believe in that. I want to get involved and do something about it.”
Weigelt said Roach’s expulsion from the Republican caucus prompted his run, “especially now that dollars are getting tighter.” He added that Roach has “no input” on legislation in her current state.
Weigelt is also a veteran and served in the 101st Airborne Division of the Army and said his experience as an officer, combined with his time as an elected official in Buckley gives him experience as a coalition builder. He believes his time negotiating union contracts gives him additional perspective on the “probably inevitable” cuts he sees coming.
Weigelt is straight forward, saying there will have to be cuts in the state workforce that may be unpopular, but said there is no choice.
“We have to stem the bleeding,” he said.
Weigelt said he is able to make the hard decisions necessary and would not be beholden to either party if elected, including special interest groups.
“I don’t care if I get re-elected or not,” he said. “You don’t make the tough decisions if you need to get re-elected.”
Weigelt said his focus would be on protecting small businesses and trying to bring new businesses and jobs to the state. He does not think the legislature handled the budget very well this year, especially in having to go to a special session to deal with the budget and said the Democrats should have been able to work out a deal.
Weigelt also called the tax package a “stop gap measure” and said he believes there is more that can be cut from the state budget. The primary election is Tuesday and all mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 17. The top two vote-getters in the primary will face off in the November election.