In Reichert-Burner rematch, questions still loom about Burner's public-service experience
In their 2006 race, GOP Congressman Dave Reichert hammered Democratic candidate Darcy Burner for her thin political résumé. Burner's lack of public...
Seattle Times staff reporter
In their 2006 race, GOP Congressman Dave Reichert hammered Democratic candidate Darcy Burner for her thin political résumé.
Burner's lack of public service was raised again last summer when a fellow Democrat, state Sen. Rodney Tom, said his years in the Legislature made him the better candidate to take on Reichert in 2008.
Two months later, Tom dropped out of the race and endorsed Burner. He said she won him over with her leadership and grass-roots campaign.
But as the Reichert-Burner rematch gets under way this year, the question of Burner's experience still looms over her campaign.
Reichert, the former King County sheriff, is in his fourth year in Congress and has worked to secure a reputation in line with the moderate voters of the Eastside's 8th Congressional District.
After losing to Reichert in November 2006, Burner took a short break to spend time with her family and served on the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town, a citizens group that intervened in a legal battle between The Seattle Times Co. and Hearst Corp. — owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer — in which The Times sought to end a joint operating agreement that could have led to the P-I's demise.
By March 2007, she was raising money for another shot at Congress.
Burner said she's better-prepared this time around to make her case to voters. She said she felt frustrated in 2006 that she didn't have better solutions to offer on two key issues: the war in Iraq and the rising cost of health care.
She spent much of the winter reading various health-care studies and proposals to cut costs and reduce the number of people without insurance, eventually concluding that Congress should pressure insurance companies to offer more preventive care.
She also tapped a handful of former military leaders to help craft a plan to end the war in Iraq. That plan, released last month, has attracted national press and the support of several dozen other Democratic congressional candidates.
The plan would withdraw troops within about 18 months, use diplomatic means to rebuild Iraq's economy and infrastructure, and address human-rights issues.
Burner says she spent six months on the project and counts it among her most significant accomplishments between campaigns.
It's proof, she says, that she has what it takes to build consensus in Congress.
"When I'm talking to voters, particularly given what's going on in the presidential race, it's clear that what they're looking for is judgment and the ability to get things done, and I have demonstrated ample amounts of both of those two things," she said.
But knowledge and experience aren't synonymous, said Todd Donovan, a political-science professor at Western Washington University. No matter how much Burner knows about the issues, she still lacks a public-service record.
"I don't know what she could have done for two years ... that could have closed the gap," Donovan said.
Reichert's campaign says Burner's Iraq plan is really just another fundraising tool. It is studded with legislation that has already been proposed in Congress and was designed to appeal to the liberal groups from whom she's raising money, said Mike Shields, a Reichert campaign spokesman.
"She's never held elected office. She's never been involved in her community. It doesn't look like she's done a whole lot of community service," Shields said. "If she wants to define experience as having a never-ending campaign, then she's very experienced."
Burner, 37, of Carnation, is a former Microsoft manager. She supervised 40 people, five of whom reported directly to her, and oversaw a $17 million budget. The group marketed programs to smaller software firms and served as an advocate for companies doing business with Microsoft.
She also chaired a women's group at the company and led her homeowners-association board for one year.
Despite being a political unknown when she jumped into the 2006 race, Burner lost by only about 7,300 votes.
She's particularly known for her fundraising prowess. In fact, Tom said he decided to end his congressional campaign after 3,200 people gave Burner $122,000 in just four days last fall.
"That's when I went to her and I said, 'You know, I think you've learned a lot. I think this is the kind of experience and leadership people want,' " Tom said.
In the first quarter of this year, campaign-fundraising reports show Burner handily outraised Reichert, bringing in $516,990 compared with the incumbent's $331,034. She also has more cash on hand, $921,615 compared with Reichert's $698,035.
Reichert's two additional years of experience make him harder to beat, said Democratic political consultant Christian Sinderman, but Burner benefits from the unpopularity of the Iraq war and the Bush administration.
And this year's presidential election will bring out a different electorate than in 2006, he said.
Burner would be criticized by her opponents no matter what she did since her first run for Congress, Sinderman said.
"If she would have served on too many committees, people would have accused her of trying to pad her résumé," he said. "Instead, she focused on learning the issues and bringing out more substance than you see in 99 percent of these races."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
NEW - 07:13 AM
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is writing memoir
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.