by Michael Sarko
– The Capitol Hill Times –
U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott has been serving the 7th Congressional District of Washington for 23 years. He is known both at home and on the national stage as a consummate liberal and his presence in the politics of our region for so long has made him something of a fixture. Now, a 30-year-old candidate named Andrew Hughes has been knocking on doors and vying for attention in his bid to unseat McDermott.
Andrew Hughes grew up in Poulsbo on a family farm, attending the University of Washington and Seattle University, with a stop at the London School of Economics, in his pursuit of a law degree. Today, he’s a tax attorney and an underdog candidate for the 7th District, which consists of the majority of Seattle, its southern border running along Burien and Renton (not including the entirety of Vashon Island, which is also part of the district) and almost everything between Puget Sound and Lake Washington falling within its lines all the way up to Shoreline. Only the Bitter Lake and Highlands region in Northwest Seattle are excluded. Jim McDermott serves as the district’s man in the U.S. House of Representatives, while Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell serve as its leaders in the U.S. Senate.
The 7th is solidly Democrat territory and that wouldn’t change if voters decide to swap McDermott and Hughes. Andrew Hughes is running on a left-edge Democrat ticket, though this doesn’t strongly differentiate him from the long-seated incumbent. Jim McDermott has a liberal voting record and a reputation for left-focused theatrics in Congress.
He’s famous for his 2002 visit to Iraq just shortly before the U.S. invasion of the country and his insistence that the George W. Bush administration intended to mislead the American public concerning weapons of mass destruction. McDermott also took flack for omitting the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance to protest a Congressional vote concerning the religious language in the Pledge in 2004.
Throughout the early days of his campaign, Andrew Hughes differentiated himself from Rep. McDermott with unwavering support of Initiative 502, the state legislation that would legalize possession of small amounts of cannabis for individuals over the age of 21 for personal use and tax its sale to fund substance abuse education and medical care in the state of Washington. McDermott had made no significant statement about I-502 since it was introduced in 2011, but recently Mr. McDermott wrote, “I have been studying the proposal and am planning on endorsing it.”
The Hughes campaign and its supporters have responded to this sudden definitiveness in McDermott’s cannabis policy with suggestions that the pressure Hughes placed on McDermott influenced the Congressman’s decision. The office of Jim McDermott could not be reached for comment on this topic.
Now that the most significant policy difference between McDermott and Hughes has disappeared, voters are asking what Andrew Hughes brings to the table that a well-known incumbent like McDermott doesn’t already. Both men openly support legalizing same-sex marriage, reforming the tax code to end the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, and ending America’s military involvements overseas. Currently, the only major issue about which McDermott and Hughes seem to disagree is the institution of congressional term limits. Hughes supports an 18-year term limit while McDermott opposes any term limit for members of Congress.
As the challenger, it falls to Andrew Hughes and his supporters to make his case as more than just a younger face in Congress. Hughes plans on officially launching his campaign June 26 at a community event in Capitol Hill at Vermillion Art Gallery and Wine Bar, though he has been far from quiet in the months leading up to the kick-off party.
The Hughes campaign has involved some fairly significant publicity efforts, most notably a no-car trek from Vashon Island to Edmonds in the middle of May. The roughly 68-mile journey from the southern edge to the northern extreme of the 7th Congressional District took three days and involved a combination of walking, biking and kayaking, with stops along the way for door-to-door campaigning and official registration for Hughes’s candidacy downtown.
This work of grassroots political performance art was intended to demonstrate the candidate’s energy and dedication (with not just a little nod to green living policy) but it also draws a concrete distinction between Hughes and his opponent. As an elder statesman, Jim McDermott hasn’t personally attended to door-to-door campaigning efforts in quite a long time. If the numbers suggest anything, it’s that he doesn’t need to. McDermott’s most recent re-election in 2010 saw him besting Independent candidate Bob Jeffers-Schroder, his only challenger, with 86 percent of the vote.
Those who would like to meet Andrew Hughes and learn more about his campaign can attend his campaign kick-off event at Vermillion June 26. The doors open at 6:30 p.m.