Pricey election fight pits 2 Dems
The race to represent the 36th District in the state House is shaping up to be one of the most expensive in Washington history.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Secretary of state's online voter guide: www.secstate.wa.gov/elections
Reuven Carlyle, DemocratAge: 42
Residence: Queen Anne
Family: Married, four children
Education: Master's degree in public administration, Harvard University; bachelor's degree in communications, University of Massachusetts
Experience: Wireless entrepreneur
Campaign Web site: www.reuvencarlyle.com
Leslie Bloss, RepublicanAge: 59
Family: Widow, two grown children, two grandchildren
Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration, City University
Experience: real-estate agent, former Boeing employee
Campaign Web site: www.blossforthe36th.com
John Burbank, DemocratAge: 54
Residence: Phinney Ridge
Family: Married, two children
Education: Master's degree in public administration, University of Washington; bachelor's degree in economics, Evergreen State College
Experience: Founder of Economic Opportunity Institute; former chairman, 32nd District Democrats
Campaign Web site: www.johnburbank.com
John Burbank, a candidate for state representative, took a break from his campaign recently for an interview at a Starbucks in the 36th Legislative District.
The Democrat took a sip from his strawberries and cream frappuccino before making a simple pledge: "I will not take corporate contributions."
Burbank unknowingly received three corporate campaign contributions, and though they amounted to just $1,300, he returned them less than 24 hours after they were brought to his attention.
Just a few days later, Burbank's opponent, Reuven Carlyle, also a Democrat, raked in a one-day total of $4,000 from business contributors alone.
For Carlyle, the contributions are a source of pride.
"My opponent has a healthy addiction to the old-fashion idea that economic growth comes from the government," Carlyle said. "I think it comes from the private sector."
The candidates' attitudes toward corporate contributions illustrate a sharp contrast between the breed of politics each represents.
Burbank has rejected corporate contributions all out. The longtime party activist worries not doing so would limit his ability, as a self-declared progressive, to "legislate for the greater good" in Olympia.
Carlyle dismisses that notion as antiquated, arguing that Democrats can be progressive and business-friendly at the same time. The wireless entrepreneur has taken $800 contributions from AT&T, Bank of America and Qwest, among other corporations, raking in almost a quarter of his campaign funding from these groups, according to the most recent analysis by the Business Institute of Washington.
A third candidate, Leslie Bloss, is also running, but the Republican's campaign has struggled to get off the ground, raising roughly $4,000 so far. Bloss touts her opposition to a state income tax and her support of improving public schools.
Carlyle and Burbank, both Democrats, are expected to move on to the general election. Under the state's new top-two primary, to be held Aug. 19, the top two vote-getters will appear on the November ballot regardless of party.
A costly race
The House race in the 36th District, which spans Queen Anne, Fremont and Ballard, is shaping up to be one of the most expensive in state history. The two Democrats already have spent more than $130,000 combined, with almost $150,000 left in their coffers.
The candidates are competing to fill the seat of Rep. Helen Sommers, who is retiring after more than 35 years in the job. The district, which leans reliably Democratic, could provide the winner of the general election with a similarly safe seat.
Neither candidate has run for elected office before.
Though Burbank has been involved with state politics for nearly three decades — either with the state Senate Democrats or his own political nonprofit — the 54-year-old says he avoided running for office sooner so that he could spend more time with his children, both of whom are now college-aged.
Burbank is the founder of the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute, an organization known best for its costly 2003 campaign to pass an initiative that would have added a 10-cent tax on espresso drinks to help pay for early-childhood education programs.
Seattle voters overwhelmingly voted down the so-called "latte tax," a direct blow to Burbank's political reputation.
Though his opponent is trying to paint him as a political insider, Burbank is campaigning on his extensive experience working for a range of issues, including increasing the minimum wage, paid family leave and funding for public education.
His ability to work the levers of power in Olympia, he says, will make him a more effective legislator.
"People frankly are tired of dialogue and process," Burbank said. "They want to see real solutions."
The Carlyle campaign has made the case that Burbank has been a participant in partisan politics too long to offer those solutions.
"John took a time machine back to the Democratic Party in the 1970s," Carlyle said. "I'd like to introduce him to a guy named Barack Obama so he can tell him how the world is working these days."
Carlyle is running on his extensive experience in the private sector and his outsider status. The 42-year-old has helped build a number of wireless software companies since the 1990s, experience that he says will make him a more effective legislator.
"I'm a Democrat with business, financial and technical skills," Carlyle said.
Still, Carlyle has not been completely removed from state politics. He has campaigned for Washington Democrats, and he currently sits on the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.
The choice has split local party officials.
A vote in July by district Democrats failed to give either candidate the two-thirds majority needed to claim a sole endorsement from the party.
On the issues
Both Burbank and Carlyle have stressed the need to improve public schools in the state, a system both have described as dysfunctional.
Carlyle says he would propose legislation that would strengthen communication between families and schools.
"Schools need to become more family-oriented and less of an institutional bureaucracy," he said.
Burbank has pledged increased state funding for full-day kindergarten and six-period days at public high schools.
On health care, an issue the candidate has emphasized, Burbank hopes to pass legislation that would help small and medium-sized businesses provide their employees with coverage.
Carlyle has characterized Washington's health-care system as "illness oriented," arguing that more resources should be devoted to preventive health care.
Both candidates have come out in favor of a stronger focus on "clean-energy" alternatives to curb energy costs and pollution.
Carlyle has proposed installing "real-time power bills," which would allow homeowners to see their energy consumption on LCD screens in their homes.
"It would connect users to their actual energy consumption," Carlyle said. "I think it's absolutely doable."
Burbank is in favor of increasing taxes on oil companies to create jobs in "the green economy."
The Sierra Club and Washington Conservation Voters have endorsed Carlyle.
The candidates disagree sharply on what to do with the Alaskan Way Viaduct along the Elliott Bay waterfront. Carlyle wants to replace the viaduct, which carries thousands of commuters every day, with surface streets or a tunnel, allowing a clear view of the water. Burbank wants the corridor, built in the '50s, retrofitted.
Robert Faturechi: 206-464-2393 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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