Islanders should expect a close race for the open House seat of the 41st Legislative District this fall, as Republicans are seeking to reclaim the seat being vacated by a former party member. Local voters elected a Democrat to the District’s other House and Senate seats in recent elections while the Democrats also swept the district’s three positions in the primary last August.
In addition to the close results of the primary election held two months ago, the ability of both candidates for the State House Position 1 to raise significant amounts of cash also indicates that the race will be close.
Current Mercer Island City Councilmember Steve Litzow is running as a Republican against Renton resident and school board member, Marcie Maxwell. Former Representative Fred Jarrett, who won the seat as a Republican two years ago but switched to the Democratic Party in January, is not seeking re-election because he is running for the state Senate.
Both Litzow and Maxwell have raised more than $150,000 thus far and are out campaigning hard to win votes. Litzow said last week that he was out knocking on doors daily, hoping to reach a total of 18,000 households before the Nov. 4 vote. He said that he enjoyed the sense of community that remains in state representative campaigns.
“This is the last level of politics where the candidate still knocks on the front door of the voter’s home and personally meets them. And that’s the best part,” he said.
Maxwell, who won the primary 53 to 47 percent, is also out soliciting votes. She said that she is out knocking on doors daily throughout the district and talking to voters to hear what they want done in Olympia if she is elected. Both candidates also agree that voter interests have adapted over the summer as a slowing real estate market and the Bellevue teacher’s strike were followed by historic losses on Wall Street. Litzow said he discovered that a lot of voter concerns have evolved with the current events of both the region and nation.
“It has definitely shifted,” Litzow said. “At first, there was a lot of talk about education and transportation with the Bellevue strike happening. Now, I’m seeing the economy and jobs becoming a big concern.”
Maxwell said that the economy and jobs were issues that she has been talking about since she decided to run for the seat because things have been heading downward for some time.
“The issue I’ve been talking about since starting this campaign was the economic vitality of our region and now we are seeing how important that focus is,” Maxwell said.
Both candidates list the same issues as their top priorities, including education, transportation and the environment, but sometimes they differ on how they think Olympia should approach the solutions. Maxwell said she had heard concerns from voters about schools and the economy and added that her experience as a regional leader on education and two terms on the Renton School Board has prepared her for the challenge of improving the state’s public schools. She hopes to change the state’s education financing model, which she said has not changed significantly in over 30 years.
“We are funding [government] mandates of basic education with levies that are supposed to be providing other opportunities for students,” she said. “It’s hurting the classroom. The state needs to take a good look at education programs for the future. They are working with a funding model from the 1970s, which does not cover the skills and technology for this century’s students and jobs.”
Maxwell also suggests that schools should no longer be dependent on voter-approved levies for basic education needs because levy funds should be used to provide additional needs such as transportation, special education or English learning classes.
“The passage of local levy measures should not be the bandage for inadequate funding,” she said.
Litzow agrees that the state’s paramount duty is to fund basic education and that changes need to be made within the public schools. However, he said his first choice would be attracting and retaining the best teachers by providing them with a competitive wage, ongoing training — both general and subject-specific, and performance bonuses while allowing single-subject certification.
“Nobody thinks our school system is working,” Litzow said. “Education is not a partisan issue. We need to give local school officials the tools and flexibility to meet their learning goals.”
Litzow also criticized his opponent of her experience as a Renton School Board member because it is the worst district in the 41st, he said.
“Nobody has ever once said Renton was the gold standard or that we need our schools to be more like Renton’s,” Litzow said. “People always point to Bellevue or Mercer Island.”
Maxwell said that her experience as a leader in education makes her the better choice.
“My commitments and very active leadership work has been in education and on behalf of children issues for well over a decade,” she said, noting that almost all of the 41st District’s elected school board members have endorsed her.
Regarding the budget crisis that the state government will face this year as a shortfall in revenues is predicted, the candidates agree that the budget must be balanced. Litzow said voters should pick him in November because his experience on the City Council has taught him to take a nonpartisan approach to the various issues that governments face. Now in his second term, he said the nonpartisan Council deals with similar issues surrounding transportation, land use, public safety, budgeting and taxes.
“It’s all about finding the people to get something done,” Litzow said of his approach to government. “The Council teaches you that 95 percent of the issues are not partisan and that you need to find three other votes on whatever issue to get something done.”
His Democratic opponent said that her approach to better educate Washington children would revive the economy. Maxwell said she would first make sure that the state is operating efficiently, but improving public education would provide the workforce for the region’s aerospace and technology-driven economy.
“I know the importance of good jobs to maintain and improve the quality of life in our region,” Maxwell said. “I will work to keep aerospace jobs here, to support our high-tech community and to help small businesses succeed.”
The Reporter will cover the candidates for the 41st District’s Senate race in the next issue, in addition to featuring candidate profiles in upcoming issues.