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Originally published July 20, 2012 at 9:14 PM | Page modified July 20, 2012 at 9:34 PM

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Redrawn 8th district feels like home for Republican Dave Reichert

The redrawn 8th District has changed life for Reichert, 61, a former King County sheriff made famous by the capture of the Green River Killer. What was a swing district is now firmly Republican.

Seattle Times staff reporter

8th congressional district

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Kevin Schaul and Dean Kramer / The Seattle Times

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Since Dave Reichert was first elected to Congress in 2004, re-election has been a tough fight.

The Auburn Republican's record has been picked over by well-funded candidates backed by the national Democratic Party. By November, he was often swapping accusations with opponents in TV attack ads.

This time around, Reichert recently played the kazoo in a five-person parade in tiny Entiat, Chelan County.

His top opponents, Republican Keith Swank, of Puyallup, independent James Windle, of Snoqualmie Pass, and Democrat Karen Porterfield, of Issaquah, are less-known and less-financed than previous challengers.

The redrawn 8th District has changed life for Reichert, 61, a former King County sheriff made famous by the capture of the Green River Killer. The new boundaries exclude Redmond, Mercer Island and more liberal parts of the 8th and replace them with conservative strongholds east of the mountains. What was a swing district is now firmly Republican.

So Reichert is introducing himself to new constituents parade by small-town parade. But this year, instead of defending himself as an independent-minded moderate, he has to convince new voters he is conservative enough to represent their interests in Congress.

"A lot of people, very conservative people, were very concerned about some of his votes," said Fredi Simpson, a Republican leader in Chelan County whom Reichert made vice-chairwoman of his campaign. But she said Reichert's values are in line with Eastern Washington voters.

Particularly controversial are some of his environmental votes. He was one of eight Republicans in 2009 to vote for a bill that would have established a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions. The bill died in the Senate.

Reichert has long maintained he is not an ideologue.

On the Ways and Means Committee, he has been working on two bills to try to produce more revenue for small-business owners by allowing employees to become part-owners of businesses. He co-sponsored a tax-credit bill for renewable energy, especially wind.

He also has played a role on an export council to shape the free-trade agreement with Korea this year — something that helps Eastern Washington farmers who export produce.

"To be honest with you, Congressman Reichert is a very conservative person," Simpson said. "I think we're going to find he's a perfect fit for Chelan, Kittitas and Wenatchee."

Five challengers

Reichert drew five challengers this year. Two, Republican Ernest Huber of Issaquah and Democrat Keith Arnold of Auburn, have raised no money, according to federal campaign-finance filings. But three are running active campaigns for the Aug. 7 primary.

Two of Reichert's opponents, Swank, 44, and Porterfield, 52, decided to run after Reichert suggested at a 2010 gathering of Republican precinct committee officers that his environmental votes were a political strategy to neutralize opposition from environmental groups.

Reichert insisted afterward that he votes as he believes, but he took heat for the comments in the media. It looked like "gamesmanship," said Porterfield, a Seattle University instructor and low-income-housing advocate.

Her campaign has created a website tallying "special-interest money" Reichert has accepted in political action committee money and corporate campaign contributions.

"How do you think this affects his voting?" the site asks, next to a photograph of Reichert surrounded by $100 bills.

By the end of June, campaign-finance reports show Porterfield had more than $30,000 on hand while Reichert had more than $642,000.

Past Democratic opponents Darcy Burner and Suzan DelBene outraised Reichert by nearly two and threefold. Burner and DelBene are both running in the crowded 1st Congressional District race.

Porterfield said she has turned down money from unions and other groups, accepting only small personal donations.

"It is a calculated risk to make the choice that I made. I firmly believe that special interests should not be playing the role that they are. It's awfully hard to take money from special interests and then say, 'gosh, these groups should not be having an impact on what we do.' "

For his part, Reichert says taking money from special interests is a political necessity. His votes are not for sale, he said.

An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics says 45 percent of Reichert's money this election cycle is from PACs.

Left a job as instructor

James Windle, 36, left his job as an instructor and associate dean at a college for military officers to run for Congress.

He grew up in Sammamish and spent the past 11 years on the East Coast, going to graduate school and working for the federal government on energy policy, including a two-year stint as a congressional committee staff member, which gave him an up-close look at Congress.

Windle said he was teaching a class last year called "How Congress Works" when he realized he should run himself. He is a moderate and he considered both political parties, he said, but thinks that having independents in Congress could help Democrats and Republicans compromise.

His platform includes a simpler tax code, business incentives like education for workers and tax breaks for entrepreneurs and startups, a military that focuses on protecting global trade, and efficiency in government spending. He would scale back federal government services that the states or private market could provide and invest instead in education and infrastructure.

Windle has been campaigning at coffee shops and at community parades and farmer's markets. His sister is managing his campaign, and he is living on Snoqualmie Pass while his wife remains in Washington, D.C.

Conservative voice

Swank calls himself a constitutional conservative with tea-party economic principles. Reichert, he said, is "a centrist, at best."

Swank has an Old West-styled campaign ad that drawls, "there's a new sheriff in town."

Swank was the supervisor on duty during a 2010 South Lake Union robbery investigation caught on video in which an officer threatened to kick the "Mexican piss" out of a prone Latino man. He was disciplined.

Swank, who has been on the force for 22 years, disagrees with the department's decision to discipline him. The officer's comment was crude, he said, but he didn't think it was defamatory.

"I do not feel my conduct was wrong," he said. He learned about the video of the incident and reported it to his supervisor. "When it went viral and the Police Department got worried about it, they started trying to find people to blame for the failings as they see it that happened that night."

An appeals process completed in March found he failed to report force and failed to report the officer's use of defamatory language.

Swank was also arrested in 2007 for drunken driving, which he pleaded down to a negligent-driving charge. He said he drank too much while visiting Raymond, Pacific County, and decided to sleep in his car because it was raining too hard to walk to his hotel.

A Washington State Patrol officer arrested him for DUI even though, he said, he wasn't driving and didn't intend to. He said he even put his keys in the back seat.

"I didn't have enough money to fight that the way I would like to have," he said, adding he quit drinking altogether after the incident. "That was a very humbling time, a very embarrassing time for me."

Swank said he decided to run for the 8th District seat when he saw that no conservative with more political experience was jumping in.

He has raised just over $15,000, but had only $679 on hand at the end of June.

"I just think that our founding fathers intended for common, regular, salt-of-the-earth people to govern," he said. "We've gone away from that. I don't think you need to be anybody special."

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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