First forum in the First

Last night, the Bertha Knight Landes Room in Seattle’s City Hall was the venue for the first big forum of candidates for Washington’s open First Congressional District. It may seem odd that the event was held in a location that is not within WA-01’s new boundaries (in fact, none of Seattle is in the reconfigured CD). The reason is that the forum was sponsored by the Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle, which does have some influence beyond the city and the county.

The great majority of the numerous candidates for the House seat attended the confab. In alphabetical order, the participants were:

  • Darcy Burner (D, Ames Lake), the 2006 and 2008 candidate in WA-08, former head of, and a director of the Netroots Foundation
  • Suzan DelBene (D, Medina), the 2010 candidate in WA-08, former Microsoft exec, recent head of the state’s Department of Revenue
  • Roger Goodman (D, Kirkland), three-term State Representative in LD-45, environmental lawyer, former Congressional staffer
  • Darshan Rauniyar (D, Bothell), engineer, entrepreneur, immigrant from Nepal
  • Laura Ruderman (D, Kirkland), nonprofit executive, former three-term State Rep from LD-45, 2004 candidate for Secretary of State
  • James Watkins (R, Redmond), 2010 candidate in WA-01, businessman, former FDIC staffer

Yes, that’s right … a Republican spoke before the MDC in bluer-than-blue Seattle!

The other three candidates were absent. One Democrat (Steve Hobbs, Lake Stevens, State Senator from LD-44) cancelled at the last minute. Neither Republican John Koster (Arlington, candidate in WA-02 in 2000 and 2010, former State Rep from LD-39, Snohomish County Councilmember) nor Republican-turned-independent Larry Ishmael (Issaquah, 2006 and 2008 candidate in WA-01, environmental economist) ever intended to attend the forum. I would characterize those three individuals as, respectively, Conservadem, Teahadist, and Inconsequential.

Former Governor and Congressman Mike Lowry was the moderator. Each candidate got to respond to six questions, as well as make closing remarks. From the audience, I took notes on the event, which are displayed below (I’m being kind to those who don’t care about this stuff, hiding the rest behind that “more” link). For the record, I took no photos during the event (my cellphone doesn’t sport a camera). Also, I didn’t start detailed notes until nearly the end of answers to Question 1.

Q1: What would you do about the housing crisis and those who have lost their homes?

  • All five Democrats spoke of freeing up money for refinancing, forcing banks to deal instead of foreclose, maintain or increase the social safety net.
  • Watkins — After a few GOP-in-Seattle jokes, decried the Federal budget and the “uncertain climate” for business (IOW, regulations)

Q2: What will you do in Congress to foster energy independence?

  • DelBene — Emphasized advances in technology for storing renewable energy.
  • Goodman — I’m an enviro lawyer, I know it’s going to be really difficult. Even a Manhattan Project-style program would hardly make a dent in use of petroleum for transportation.
  • Rauniyar — {I have no notes}.
  • Ruderman — Deadset opposed to fracking and Keystone XL.
  • Watkins — Loves Keystone XL, getting energy from friends instead of enemies. Go for natural gas everywhere (IOW, pro-fracking)
  • Burner — Wants her son Henry to have a chace to live in an energy-rich world. Scalable energy savings, from individuals to communities to the nation.

Q3: Define “fair taxation”.

  • Goodman — Change the tax code to reward businesses that keep jobs here, and bring jobs back.
  • Rauniyar — {No notes.}
  • Rudenman — Everyone who makes a profit pays taxes. Fairness is when the higher the income, the higher the percentage. Uses her synagogue’s dues structure as example. {That’s a flawed analogy — the wealthy pay a larger amount of dues if they choose to, but it’s probably not a higher percentage of income.}
  • Watkins — Flat tax. Shows a “Perot chart” showing relative amounts of tax paid by income level. {Ignores the fact that the 1% control an even larger proportion of all-sources income than they pay in taxes.}
  • Burner — The tax on work should not be higher than the tax on wealth.
  • DelBene — A fair tax is a progressive tax. The complicated tax code is an advantage for big companies, as they can buy advice on finding loopholes.

Q4: Does the US economy need more stimulus? Even if it would increase the national debt?

  • Rauniyar — No need for another stimulus, because of its effect on the debt. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
  • Ruderman — Get people back to work, through targeted projects, Obama’s proposed infrastructure bank, etc.
  • Watkins — GOP boilerplate. Stimulus was a corrupt failure and government interference. Cut regulations, so it’s as easy to start a business here as in Vietnam.
  • Burner — The stimulus did help, quotes a GOP mayor who said the infrastructure improvements enhanced quality of life.
  • DelBene — Businesses succeed because there’s a government-provided foundation of infrastructure, much of which has been left to rot.
  • Goodman — Describes Washington state initiatives he wrote, says the stimulus was insufficient, should have been much bigger.

Q5: Should the US invade Iran if they keep trying to go nuke?

  • Ruderman — Democracy has actually destabilized the Middle East, fostering new anti-Israel attitudes that will need to be watched closely. {She deflects, ignoring Iran.}
  • Watkins — In many ways, I agree with Laura (bet you didn’t expect me to agree with a Dem!). In short, we need their oil, and we can’t afford a war.
  • Burner — Mentions her family members who fought in Iraq, that she’s an Air Force brat. We can’t be the world’s policeman, instead build on what goodwill we retain.
  • DelBene — If we haven’t learned about the folly of invading a country by now, shame on us. She lived in Iran as a kid (during Shah), knows the people are embarrassed by their “leaders”. Use non-military means, like sanctions and economic pressure.
  • Goodman — Today’s Iran arises, in essence, from past US policies (kill Mosaddeq, to Shah, to Khomeini reaction, to Ahmadinejad). Should try using America’s diplomatic strength for a change.
  • Rauniyar — Don’t even think of attacking unless Iran represents a real threat to the US. Open direct channels to Iran, as was recently done with Burma.

Q6: Do we need major immigration reform? How would you accomplish it?

  • Watkins — Secure the borders. Cut regulations on guest workers.
  • Burner — We’re all immigrants, the US was built on open borders. Treat everyone fairly, make a one-time invitation toward citizenship for undocumented, a great good-faith step would be passing the DREAM Act.
  • DelBene — Immigration is a Federal issue, get states out of it. Pass the DREAM Act.
  • Goodman — As long as there’s a Drug War, the border can’t be secured, only regulated. Pass incentives for earning citizenship, removing all discrimination within the process.
  • Rauniyar — I’m an immigrant myself, so I know it can be done. Immigration enriches the nation. Pass DREAM Act.
  • Ruderman — The issue’s bigger than undocumented workers. For instance, H-1B visa holders aren’t allowed to bring in same-sex spouses. Make the process fair and positive, instead of discriminatory, martial, and vindictive.

After the question rounds, there were several audience questions. I tuned them out, since as always most of the “questions” turned into one-favorite-issue statements by the audience members. Following the audience participation, each candidate was asked to close with some mention of what they’d do to cure the ills of Congress and its dysfunction. There wasn’t much different there, as everyone had one spin or another on playing well with others.

Listening to the final statements, I wrote one-line summaries for each of them:

  • Watkins — Hey, you were nice to me! Maybe we can do it again at a GOP confab.
  • Ruderman — Trying everything she can to build up her lefty bona fides.
  • Rauniyar — He isn’t yet ready for the big-time, need to move beyond platitudes.
  • Goodman — Overemphasizes his resume, willing to go boldly left.
  • DelBene — Very, very careful. Tiptoes around her statements, emphasizing experience and thoughtfulness.
  • Burner — Paints herself as a regular, family-based liberal (which she is, even if the media may not agree).

Afterward, Goldy (now at The Stranger, of course) and Erica C. Barnett of Publicola were in agreement that the other Democrats generally tried to be the anti-Burner. They all emphasized their accomplishments, which are generally easier to describe and explain (“I won my elections” “I was a bigshot in an agency you’ve actually heard of”) than Darcy’s. I thought Roger Goodman actually staked out some positions to Darcy’s left.

To me, it’s a sour note that this forum was held in the heart of another Congressional District (WA-07). Very few in the audience live in WA-01, so for most attendees our only skin in the game is financial, voluntary, or politically geeky. The forum started at 5:30pm, so even the WA-01 residents in attendance were probably Seattle-based workers. Despite their half-hearted protests to the contrary, the MDC is very Seattle-centric, However, I think they could have tried to find a suitable venue in Redmond or Kirkland (Mount Vernon or Lake Stevens, well away from the perceived taint of Seattle, would have been even better).

This Congressional race will be eagerly followed across the county. Whether you live in the new First District, in an adjoining CD, elsewhere in the state, or even more remotely, keep your eyes peeled!


  1. 2

    Michael spews:

    Any answer on energy that doesn’t include figuring out how to live well while using less of the stuff is really a non answer. There’s no way to get from where we’re at to a future that uses more energy than we use now.

    It does seem a bit weird to have a candidate Q&A outside of their CD.

    And yeah, thanks for the summation.

  2. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Q1 – A resolution of the housing crisis continues to be impeded by corrupt banks polluting the foreclosure process with systematic fraud. The solution, if there is one, isn’t less regulation of banks.

    Q2 – Fracking is a young technology that will get better with experience. But profit-driven companies will always transfer costs to the environment and innocent parties such as homeowners unless the government steps in and doesn’t let them, so there is another industry that needs more, not less, regulation. Keystone XL is a non-issue; it will be rerouted to avoid the Ogallala Aquifer, the Obama administration will issue the permits, and the project will be completed on time under the original construciton schedule.

    Q3 – I could go along with a flat tax, if it were truly flat, and not made regressive by a plethora of credits, deductions, and exemptions that wage earners don’t get. A flat tax, of course, means an end to the preferential tax rates for capital gains and dividends.

    Q4 – Most economists agree the stimulus was effective but should have been larger. Obama’s policies stopped the bleeding; a quick glance at the “bikini graph” shows you that. It always takes longer to recover from financial recessions, so Obama’s policies are not to blame for the slow recovery; a slow recovery was baked into the nature and depth of the Great Recession. This said, I don’t like the Federal Reserve’s zero-interest-rate policy very much. It’s creating asset bubbles, causing inflation, and is fraught with moral hazard because it rewards debtors and punishes savers.

    Q5 – It’s hard to improve on Obama’s Iran policy, so I would simply support his policy if I were running for Congress. Obama is not the appeaser that GOPers try to portray him as; in fact, there’s a real risk that Obama’s aggressive pursuit of sanctions against Iran could lead to military confrontation. But if it does, Obama will be a tough and decisive commander in chief.

    Q6 – Look, Republicans let these people in and took advantage of their cheap labor, so where do they get off by treating them as criminals? But if you want Mexicans to stay in Mexico, just keep pushing down American wages until their workers are paid more than ours, and then they’ll stay put.

  3. 4

    notrouble spews:

    Thanks for the run down. I’m currently in the 1st CD but will find myself in the 2nd CD with the redistricting. My first 2 thoughts are that Darcy Burner is to far left for the new 1st and Steve Hobbs is to blue dog dem for me.

    I’m undecided on the 1st at this point and there is no real reason for me to become decided. I will be more than happy to support Rick Larsen in the 2nd, in fact I have supported him in the past when he wasn’t my congress critter.

  4. 5

    Michael spews:

    Q1: Housing’s completely fucked and there’s nothing a freshman congressman can do to unfuck it.

    We need to work on enforcing banking regulations. Not new regulations, just using the existing regulations and enforce banking and finical laws.

    I would like to see a federal program that helps get people out of home they can’t afford and that would buy up sprawl homes in areas with high unemployment and high foreclosure rates, tear them down, and replant naturally occurring habitat.

    Q2: We need to work on energy conservation, ending suburban sprawl, building walkable, pleasant urban places, and increasing local small scale agriculture. We also need to get passenger and freight rail fixed up in America. New energy technology is fine and dandy, but it’s expensive and has a long time line, we’re broke and in a hurry.

    Q3: $0-99,999 pays one tax rate, $100,000+ pays a little higher tax rate on all their income, not just the over 100K part. No deductions. You pay the same rate on all your income regardless of source. Inheritance is a form of income; suck it, righties.

    Q4: We have a lot of broken shit in America and I see nothing wrong in spending federal dollars to fix up broken shit, to do what I outlined in Q1 & Q2, and in things like cleaning up brownfields and provide rural broadband. Call it what you like.

    Q5: Fuck if I know.

    Q6. We don’t need major immigration reform. We need to spend more money on educating Americans so that employers don’t have to look to other countries to fill high skilled jobs and we need to use existing laws to bust people that hire illegals. We already have programs that can bring in folks in jobs that are truly hard to fill like picking crops. Use the existing programs.

  5. 7

    Michael spews:


    Maybe there should be a law that CEOs don’t get paid if their companies go bankrupt.

    CEO’s should get a low base pay and bonuses for good performance. If you’re in the red all you’re getting is your base pay.

  6. 8

    paycheck writer spews:

    under that scenario, a person making $105k a year could potentially take home less money than someone making $95k a year.

    not too smart if you ask me.

  7. 9

    paycheck writer spews:



    Residential construction work is “hard to fill”?

    not hardly – but people need to be willing to pay more for US citizens to do the labor – and that means pay more for their houses.

  8. 10

    Michael spews:

    Good point! So scratch that, pay the higher rate on the amount OVER 100K. Not sure what I was thinking when I wrote that.

    @9Huh? I don’t see anyone talking about residential construction. Personally, I think we need to start using the programs we already have and enforcing the rules that are already on the books before we go creating more.

  9. 11

    paycheck writer spews:


    your point being that we do not need immigration reform seemed based on the premise that there are two categories of jobs that illegal immigrants fill:
    1. highly educated positions that companies cannot fill due to lack of US citizen qualifications
    2. hard to fill jobs because US citizens dont want to do them.

    I doubt point #1 has any relevancy, as highly edcuated people can always enter this country legally – that has never been an issue.

    My other point about residential construction is that those are jobs US construction workers would happily fill, but not for $5 an hour.

    illegal immigration has destroyed the US labor market just as much as shipping jobs off to china has. It displaces US workers AND lowers wage rates – AT THE SAME TIME.

    if I misinterpreted what you were saying, then my bad..

  10. 12

    Michael spews:

    I doubt point #1 has any relevancy, as highly edcuated people can always enter this country legally – that has never been an issue.

    It has relevancy because employers continually ask for reforms to let more people come here to work, while we have workers who could be retrained for those jobs. Immigration reform is bigger than just illegal immigration.

    My other point about residential construction is that those are jobs US construction workers would happily fill, but not for $5 an hour.

    illegal immigration has destroyed the US labor market just as much as shipping jobs off to china has. It displaces US workers AND lowers wage rates – AT THE SAME TIME.

    Sounds like we’re agreeing on this one.

  11. 13

    Steve spews:

    @11 I’ve seen situations where legal immigrants are used by management to lower wages. Heck, it happened to me years ago.

  12. 14

    Michael spews:

    Lot’s of folks in healthcare are trying to bring in people to work as RN’s, for example, when they could take people that are already CNA’s and LPN’s with years of experience and get them their RN. ‘Course, they’d have to pay those folks more than the person they bring in on a temp visa and the multi-millionaires at the top of the food chain might have to content themselves with being simple millionaires. The horror.

  13. 15

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @11 “I doubt point #1 has any relevancy, as highly edcuated people can always enter this country legally – that has never been an issue.”

    Based on what I read in the business press, you’re not very well informed on this topic, and I think a lot of business executives would dispute your conclusion.

  14. 16

    paycheck writer spews:


    I am plenty informed on the topic old man….why dont you just sit back and fade away – your time has long since past – and you wasted it all.