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Originally published October 21, 2009 at 12:09 AM | Page modified October 23, 2009 at 6:26 PM

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Conservatives like what they see in Susan Hutchison

With the deadline for returning ballots approaching, Susan Hutchison, candidate for King County executive, remains something of a political puzzle.

Seattle Times staff reporters

With the deadline for returning ballots approaching, Susan Hutchison, candidate for King County executive, remains something of a political puzzle.

She supports the state's domestic-partnership law for same-sex couples and opposes Tim Eyman's latest initiative to restrict revenues to state and local government.

She calls herself a moderate, and doesn't claim any party affiliation. State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, both Democrats, have endorsed her. She says she supports light rail.

But she's backed by a leading opponent of extending light rail to the Eastside. And she is the darling of some of the most outspoken conservatives in the region.

Hutchison said she's happy to have the support. "It's going to take a variety of voters to elect the county executive," she said.

Pastor Joe Fuiten, the politically active senior pastor at Cedar Park Assembly of God Church, a conservative Christian church in Bothell, endorsed her as his personal pick for county executive. So have the leaders of the campaign to defeat Referendum 71, which would broaden state domestic-partnership benefits for same-sex couples.

"I think in her heart of hearts she is really with us," said Larry Stickney, who is running the campaign for Protect Marriage Washington, which opposes Ref. 71. He's never met her, but he said "she has a very good image with conservatives and I think she has probably earned it."

Stickney said he supports her because he believes she has a Christian conservative viewpoint on social issues, "even though she hasn't chosen to make it part of the campaign. We think she is with us. She probably is not wearing them on the front of her lapel because of the political correctness that is so prevalent in the Seattle area; you can't be an outspoken Christian conservative and win anything there."

Her candidacy has fired up other conservatives who say they hope she can change the direction of politics not only for the county, but the state. Alan Gottlieb, a national gun-rights advocate based in Bellevue who co-authored the book "Trashing the Economy, How Runaway Environmentalism is Wrecking America," recently threw his personal endorsement to Hutchison. He said he also sent out "thousands" of e-mails to his lists of donors to conservative causes, asking for contributions to her campaign.

In the solicitation, Gottlieb said the election was a "game changer in Washington state. Dow Constantine (her opponent) is the type of Seattle liberal who has dominated the recent political scene. But if Susan can defeat him in November, it will open doors for numerous candidates in 2010 and 2012 who will change the direction our state is headed."

Bellevue Square owner Kemper Freeman, a major Republican donor and a longtime opponent of light rail, also supports Hutchison. His company donated $25,000 to an independent campaign attacking Constantine, and he's personally contributed the maximum allowed to her campaign.

"I'm a big fan of hers," Freeman said. "I've been trying to encourage her to run for office for years."

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Conservative voters may be drawn to Hutchison, a former TV news anchor and currently executive director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, because her opponent is a Democrat backed by unions and environmental groups.

A newcomer to politics running in a nonpartisan race, there is little by way of a public record to sketch in Hutchison's political profile, beyond the contributions she has made to political campaigns.

Those are mostly Republican and conservative, including $1,000 in 2005 to ChangePAC, the political arm of the Building Industry Association of Washington. It's among the most outspoken voices in the state opposing a range of environmental policies, from listing salmon for protection under the Endangered Species Act to development restrictions.

She also contributed $1,075 to Republican Dino Rossi's failed 2008 campaign against Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, state records show.

In 2007, she contributed to conservative presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's campaign — a contribution she dismissed when asked about it, saying it was just a $500 ticket to a lunch she didn't go to. She didn't even consider Huckabee a candidate at the time, she said, because the lunch was before the January 2008 Iowa primary.

But two months before the lunch, in September 2007, she plugged Huckabee's candidacy when she emceed a dinner for the Washington Policy Center, a business-backed think tank, where Jeb Bush was the keynote speaker.

"Mike Huckabee is performing well in the presidential race for the Republican primary," she assured the crowd.

Hutchison doesn't always answer the questions surrounding her politics. She won't, for instance, say where she stands on abortion. "If you have to have that information in order to vote for King County executive, then you'll have to make that determination on your own," she said in an interview.

Asked in another interview to define herself for voters, she said: "When I define who I am and what my values are, I'm an American who loves my country, and I am devoted to my family, friends, neighbors and community."

The mother of sons ages 16 and 19 who've attended Seattle Public Schools, Hutchison is married to a Boeing executive and retired Marine Corps reserve colonel. She says the military and church have been important influences in her life, teaching lessons in personal humility and duty. She has been a member of University Presbyterian Church for more than 30 years, after feeling back in high school that "something was terribly wrong" in her life, until she found her faith in God.

Her opponents have made much of her years as a board member of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank, claiming it shows her views are outside the mainstream.

But it's an involvement that sheds little light on the candidate.

The institute delves into a wide range of issues, including transportation policy. But it's best known nationally as a leading proponent of the theory of intelligent design, which embraces some form of a "designer," and not just evolution, as a force in the development of life on Earth.

Hutchison said the Discovery Institute has a relatively uninvolved board of directors, meeting briefly six times a year. Neither she nor other members of the board get involved in actual programs of the think tank, Hutchison said. Asked her view on intelligent design, she answered, "I support academic freedom."

None of the other sitting or former members of the board interviewed for this story remembered Hutchison particularly latching onto the issue of intelligent design.

"The controversy that has welled up I find very interesting," Hutchison said, referring to the debate about intelligent design. "This is one of the other reasons I'll make a good elected official: I am not afraid of disagreement about policy. I'm a journalist. I like to hear everyone's point of view. That is what will make a great county executive. I am not dogmatic in the least."

She points out that as executive director of the Simonyi Fund, she has steered money to everything from a telescope searching for origins of the universe to the Seattle Symphony and Conservation International, a major environmental group with ambitious global reach, as well as the Washington Policy Center.

Her opponent, Constantine, accuses Hutchison of "carefully hiding who she really is." Hutchison brushes aside his criticism, saying, "The focus is, this is the King County executive race, dealing with a deficit, Metro buses and sheriff's deputies.

"These litmus-test issues need to be put aside, just as we don't ask our dentist their political views before they work on our teeth. And I am delighted I am supported by a wide variety of people."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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