8 vie for pair of House seats in Federal Way area - elections: Redistricting leaves region competitive

News Tribune, The (Tacoma, WA) - Monday, July 9, 2012
Author: JORDAN SCHRADER; Staff writer

Pierce County's newest legislative district - the 30th - is home to one of the more competitive state contests between Republicans this year. 

A 14-year Federal Way city councilwoman, Linda Kochmar, is up against the Federal Way School Board president, Tony Moore, for state House. Whoever's left standing after the Aug. 7 primary election has a good chance to help House Republicans take a seat from majority Democrats, political strategists from both sides of the aisle say. 

A third Republican in the race, Boeing millwright Jerry Galland, says neither Moore nor Kochmar is conservative enough, while on the Democratic side, court reporter Roger Flygare and technology-industry consultant Thom MacFarlane are competing for primary votes and calling for more tax revenue for education. 

The 30th Legislative District is made up mostly of suburban south King County voters, but after post-census changes, it also dips its toes into Pierce County to pick up neighborhoods in the border communities of Pacific and Milton. That gives Pierce County representation by an extra three lawmakers, for a total of 24. 

The redistricting leaves the district ultra-competitive and leaning slightly to the Democrats. But it also could help freshman Republican Rep. Katrina Asay, who's being challenged by Democrats Roger Freeman and Rick Hoffman, in the district's other House race. About 6,000 more of Asay's neighbors in Milton, where she used to be mayor, will now be part of the district. 

Asay is a business-backed moderate who voted against some of the so-called government reforms for her party, including cuts to retirement benefits for public employees and a reorganization of state agencies that also reduced collective-bargaining rights. Likewise, her Democratic opponents both say they would bring an independent voice, albeit in different ways. 

Freeman is a Federal Way city councilman recruited by House Speaker Frank Chopp for a last-minute entrance into the race. He's a lawyer who says negotiations with opposing attorneys have taught him to look for common ground, including with Republicans. He says he doesn't always agree with his party, especially when his faith leads him to some conservative social positions. 

Hoffman is a Boeing engineer backed by labor who criticizes his party's leadership in Olympia as being "more interested in staying in power" than in reversing the economic downturn and doing the kind of major tax overhaul he says is needed. 

"I'm not Frank Chopp's man," Hoffman said. 


The race for House Position 1 is wide open. Voters will replace Rep. Mark Miloscia, a Federal Way Democrat who is leaving the Legislature to run for state auditor. 

Moore, a wholesale tire distributor, has run unsuccessfully for the House and the Senate, while Kochmar, a risk manager for Lakehaven Utility District, fell short in a bid to be Federal Way's first elected mayor. 

As councilwoman and council-appointed mayor, Kochmar said she has proved herself dealing with a range of issues involving land use, business and transportation. She's a moderate who works across the aisle, she said. 

"I tell people, if you want the far right, it's not me; the far left, it's not me," she said. 

Moore questions Kochmar's ability to restrain spending, saying the City Council shouldn't have built a $21 million, state-of-the-art community center. The city subsidizes the recreation center, and there are no expectations it will become self-sustaining, although center officials say the bottom line is above expectations this year. It has exceeded 350,000 guests this year. 

"We needed a gathering place," Kochmar said. 

Kochmar said one of her biggest accomplishments on the council was pushing a cheaper alternative for a new City Hall, which helped offset the cost of building the recreation center. Rather than building a new municipal headquarters downtown, the city renovated a building for about $15 million. 

Education issues are likely to demand voters' attention, and Moore has played a leading role in major changes at local schools. The district overhauled its grading system to focus on whether students are passing or failing a series of standards. It also has placed all students who meet a threshold into advanced classes unless they opt out. 

"We're literally changing the DNA of teaching right now," Moore said. "I'll stack what we're doing up against anyone, anywhere in the world." 

Critics, including Kochmar, have said the standards-based grading system doesn't reward high-achieving students who go above what's needed and doesn't translate well to college admissions offices. Kochmar said the district should have phased in the changes starting with younger students. 

Moore is endorsed by the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children, two groups that backed a law linking teacher evaluations to personnel decisions and that want voters to let Washington have charter schools. But while Kochmar sees some good in the evaluation law passed last winter, Moore criticized it as too ambiguous. He declines to take a position on charter schools, saying lawmakers should instead reduce mandates on school districts to give them some of the flexibility touted for charter schools. 

One of the most pressing issues that will confront the next Legislature is where to find the money needed to fulfill promises to the public schools, in line with a state Supreme Court ruling that lawmakers are violating the state constitution by shortchanging education. 

Neither Kochmar nor Moore calls for more tax revenue. Moore said it's a matter of shifting money around. Kochmar said education needs to be funded in a separate budget and the formula that decides how much state money supplements districts' levies should be retooled to be more fair. 

Galland flatly rejects raising taxes, saying the Legislature should reduce administrative spending on education and resume a bigger role in setting compensation for public employees - a decade after handing that job over to the governor by expanding collective bargaining. 

He sees early-retirement benefits as still overly padded, and he says that while the state should give educators raises, it can't afford it right now for other employees. 

Galland says voters should see him as a conservative alternative to two opponents who both "have some baggage that comes with them" from elected office. 

The ads already have begun in the race. Moore said he has aired commercials on cable television, having learned his lesson starting too late in previous runs. 

Alex Hays, a Republican consultant who isn't involved in the race, predicts the Republican who emerges from the primary will win Nov. 6. "This is a very likely Republican pickup because you have two very appealing, competent, centrist Republicans . . . with local government experience," he said. 

Democratic consultant Cathy Allen said Kochmar has the edge over Democrats. "I think that seat is tough," she said. 


But Democrats aren't giving up. Flygare, a labor-backed candidate with his own business who has run for City Council, has raised the most of any candidate in the district: $37,000 including $10,000 he lent his own campaign. 

As co-chairman of the Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking, he helped push for a series of state laws passed this year to crack down on the human traffickers that profit from prostitution. 

Both he and MacFarlane, a first-time candidate who recruits job candidates for tech companies, want tax reform. They oppose the voter-imposed requirements for two-thirds supermajorities to raise taxes. 

"It makes it pretty hard to fund something if you're handcuffed and hobbled," Flygare said. "I grew up on a dairy farm so I understand hobbling." 

Both criticize Washington's tax system as too regressive, but MacFarlane goes farther. 

"I think the time has come in this state to go toward a progressive flat income tax and get rid of sales tax entirely," he said. 

In the other House race, taxes also are a point of difference. Hoffman wants tax breaks to sunset and supports an income tax. Washington's tax system is "the worst in the nation," he said. 

Asay said she would support some kind of phased-in, comprehensive tax reform, but she dismissed Hoffman's suggestion of an income tax. "I think an income tax would behoove our state; I just don't see it happening, at least not in my lifetime," she said. 

Freeman calls for a longer school year but isn't calling for more taxes for the operating budget. "If the revenues are not there, we have to comb through our budgets and re-examine how we're spending," he said. "I'm going to study that budget just like I'm going to prepare for a murder trial or my toughest case." 

Freeman specializes in defending parents whose kids have been removed by government social workers. He said the state could save money by clearing the way for more placement of children with relatives rather than foster parents, who receive payments. He formerly worked in criminal law, and says he would push for decriminalization of marijuana. 

He does say that more transportation tax revenue may be necessary to bring light rail south to Federal Way and beyond. 

"That light rail has to get to Tacoma. It has got to get to Olympia. That's probably the No. 1 priority for me, is connecting cities on I-5," Freeman said. 

Asay, Kochmar and all the Democrats also see a role for the Legislature in getting involved in the dispute over Sound Transit's southern expansion. Sound Transit's tax revenues from the area have dropped by nearly one-third, which could scuttle plans to bring voter-approved rail to Federal Way by 2023.