by Michael Sarko
– The Capitol Hill Times –
If there is any lesson to take away from the candidate forum hosted at Horizon House Monday, it’s that being anything but a Democrat in Capitol Hill is no picnic in an election year.
The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters at one of Seattle’s largest retirement communities, featured a panel of many individuals running for state and federal office this November. All but two were Democrats and it was a struggle for each of those, though in different ways.
The attending candidates were Attorney General hopeful Bob Ferguson, sitting state representative Jamie Pedersen, Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp of the 43rd district, contender for a seat in the 43rd Kshama Sawant, long-time congressman Jim McDermott, and his opponent Ron Bemis. Bemis is an Independent-leaning Republican who took 15 percent of the primary vote for McDermott’s seat in the 7th district while Sawant garnered an unprecedented 11 percent of the primary against Chopp as a write-in for the Socialist Alternative party.
Many of the candidates at the forum have spent years attending events at Horizon House and other common political venues. Both McDermott and Chopp are literally on a first-name basis with the community leaders at the League of Women Voters and devoted a few minutes at the microphone to count the number of times they have spoken in the room where the forum was held. Frank Chopp has been representing the 43rd district for 17 years and Jim McDermott has sat in the 7th for nearly 24. What’s more, the predominantly senior crowd has been voting for these representatives since their careers began.
McDermott spoke first and the other Democratic candidates echoed his tone. Though his seat is reasonably secure and his approach was conversational, he kept to the issues that have been foremost in all of his appearances this election season. He touted the Affordable Care Act but decried the failure of the single-payer option. Though, with his nearest opponent trailing by miles in every poll, McDermott has devoted most of his energy in 2012 to stumping for President Obama’s reelection campaign.
Ron Bemis was hardly so calm and collected. “I will defy all stereotypes,” he said in his opener, though his anti-tax, anti-spending platform is nothing out of the ordinary for his colleagues in the GOP. At the forum, Bemis seemed nervous and adhered too closely to his talking points to engage with his audience. He experienced some hostility during the question-and-answer portion of the forum, especially when he responded to an inquiry about job creation by saying, “We need to contain this growth of government.” The woman who questioned him retorted, “That didn’t answer my question.” At no other time during the forum did anyone from the audience talk back to a candidate.
Kshama Sawant also had something of an uphill battle once the forum was opened to questions. Her night began with a misspelled nameplate, and she was nearly skipped on three separate occasions when a question was directed at multiple candidates, even when Sawant was referenced by name. The audience had to stop the forum moderator from taking another question before Sawant could answer.
As with Ron Bemis, Kshama Sawant took a different tone than the Democrats at the table. Her public speaking style was similar to her appearances at other events. She was passionate but often had too much information to relay within the standard time constraints. Sawant did manage to get one, concise sound byte out of the night when she attacked the gas tax championed by Frank Chopp. “[The gas tax] hurts everyday people,” she said. “Not every driver is a Jaguar-driving billionaire.”
The League of Women voters will be holding additional forums over the next several weeks. There will be a meeting about a number of upcoming ballot measures, including I-1240 for charter schools, Referendum 74 for marriage equality, I-1185 for tax increase requirements, and the Seattle Seawall levy on Oct. 4 at Seattle First Baptist Church.
At the Oct. 9 forum at the Wyckoff Auditorium of Seattle University, the LWV will meet the candidates for King County Sheriff, discuss the I-502 marijuana legalization measure, and the levy for the King County fingerprinting system.