Elections

Mercer Island Councilman Litzow sets his sights on Olympia

City Councilmember Steve Litzow is running for the state senate seat against Bellevue attorney Randy Gordon. - Contributed Photo
City Councilmember Steve Litzow is running for the state senate seat against Bellevue attorney Randy Gordon.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

Washington State Senate candidate Steve Litzow wears a pedometer as he doorbells throughout the five-city region of the 41st Legislative District. The device shows that Litzow, a two-term Mercer Island City Councilman, has walked 749 miles. He is not only a seasoned campaigner, but a thinner one. He has lost 13 pounds.

Litzow is running for the state senate seat against Bellevue attorney Randy Gordon. Gordon, a Democrat from Bellevue, was appointed to the seat in early January after incumbent Fred Jarrett became deputy King County executive.

This is not the first time that Litzow has campaigned for the state Legislature. He ran for the 41st House seat in 2008, but lost to Democrat Marcie Maxwell by a fraction. But this year, he said, the state’s political climate is much different.

The issues are more focused this time, he said.

Litzow said he has learned to listen to the people whom he meets, coming to the conclusion that all politics are not only local, “but personal.”

The issues that people are concerned about are more focused than in 2008, when voters were swept along with the excitement about Obama and what he represented, he said. Now it has really come down to people caring about what is happening to them.

“If a boulder has landed in the front yard, that is what people care about,” he suggested. “The boulder now is jobs.”

More than a few of those who answer the door are middle-aged men, sometimes in their pajamas, he said, with a wry smile. They are unemployed.

“The issue is now jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.

“Every conversation I’ve had is about jobs, the economy, spending and taxes,” he explained.

It is a dramatically different environment than in 2008, when the issues were education, transportation and the environment, the candidate said. He adds that it did not help that the ’08 election was about Obama vs. McCain and that any Republican was “out of luck.”

It seems that the tide has turned, he said.

Now, many times the people who now open the door ask if “I am new guy or an incumbent?” If you are a “new guy,” they say, “OK, you’re in.”

Litzow believes the state is at a tipping point, as the state is facing increasing deficits going forward.

“We have just a few years left to make a change,” he explains. “We don’t want to end up like California.”

Litzow and his wife, Jenny, have lived on Mercer Island for more than 15 years. They have four children. One is in college and the other three attend Island schools. He works as a management consultant. He has been endorsed by the Seattle Times, which said, “Litzow is a better choice than the incumbent, Bellevue Democrat Randy Gordon. His two top priorities, restrained state spending and reducing the tax burden on small businesses, are in line with the financially strapped public.”

In contrast, he was rated “very good” by the Municipal League of King County while his opponent, Gordon, was rated “outstanding.”

As a City Councilman, Litzow has found himself in the center of more than a few controversies. Litzow and his City Council compatriots are often seen as a contentious group. But Litzow says he gets along well with his fellow Councilmen. “We argue more on the dais then off,” he observed. “We agree to disagree.” No one, he says, takes (the discussions and disagreements) personally.

Yet the recent reversal of the long-studied and debated changes to Island Crest Way project had some wondering.

On June 21, after a series of motions and countermotions, the City Council reversed their support for the Island Crest Way reconfiguration and decided to “un-fund” the project — stopping any further actions to change the road or the Merrimount and S.E. 44th Street intersection after a 4-to-3 vote. Just last December, the City Council voted to reconfigure Island Crest Way from S.E. 53rd Street to S.E. 42nd Street and to modify the Merrimount Drive intersection after one of the most comprehensive public input processes in this city.

Many Islanders are still trying to figure out what the motivation was behind Litzow’s action in the meeting that resulted in a mid-course turnabout for the plans to make dramatic changes in the configuration of Island Crest Way.

Litzow said the motion he made to postpone the ICW project was a spontaneous act.

“I was looking over the budget spreadsheets in front of me as the topic came up,” he explained, adding that he is not convinced that changes to the roadway are urgent beyond ensuring safety for pedestrians to cross. He said he wanted to see which was the real priority (in terms of budget dollars): Island Crest Way or resurfacing streets. While many in the community were puzzled and even outraged, Litzow emphasizes it is all about spending money on priorities.

Litzow ticks off three differences between himself and Gordon.

First, he said, is the difference between how he and his opponent view the role of the state budget. Gordon, he said, voted for the existing budget and more spending. Fundamentally, the problem with the state budget is not a revenue issue, he continued; it is a spending issue. “We are simply spending beyond our means. We have to be accountable before we ask citizens for even more money.”

Next, Litzow said that he has a great deal more community involvement than his opponent. He points out that he has been on the City Council here since 2003, and has been involved in many community organizations both here and in East King County. Among a list of other organizations, he serves on the board for the Bellevue College Foundation.

Finally, he said he has worked in a bipartisan way not only with fellow Council members but with Democrats on a variety of issues. He has even been working with his 2008 opponent for the 41st state representative seat, Marcie Maxwell, on education matters through an Eastside organization concerned with education.

For more on Litzow and his campaign, go to www.SteveLitzow.com.

Need more?

To read previous stories about Steve Litzow or Randy Gordon, both running for the District 41 state Senate seat, search our online archive.

To view the questionnaires by candidates and to see the ratings of candidates by the Municipal League, go to www.munileague.org.

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