For the first time in two decades, state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen faces a battle against an election opponent who can match her both in campaign dollars and name recognition.
The 10th Legislative District Democrat was bested by 5 percentage points in the August primary election by Republican state Rep. Barbara Bailey. They were the only candidates on the primary ballot.
The race is one of three Senate contests statewide that could tilt control of that body to Republicans. Bailey, 68, has made that prospect a centerpiece of her campaign.
What Bailey has not highlighted in her campaign is Haugen’s crucial 25th vote in the state Senate for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Haugen announced early in the 2012 legislative session that she, after much soul-searching, had decided to cast the deciding vote for the measure.
The decision was difficult for Haugen, who said that her hesitation was as much generational as it was religious. She was under pressure at the time from her party caucus, religious conservatives and gay-rights activists.
“I have very strong Christian beliefs, and personally I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant of others,” Haugen said in a statement issued Jan. 23. “I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule.”
Haugen’s vote in favor of the bill set the stage for Referendum 74, a ballot measure that, if passed, would keep in place the law allowing same-sex marriage.
Haugen, 71, is seeking her sixth term in the Senate. If she succeeds she will likely continue her chairmanship of the powerful Senate Transportation Committee, which generates the $9 billion biennial budget that funds highways and the state ferry system.
Haugen’s hold on the 10th District has been unshakable for five terms. She says she wins elections by paying close attention to the needs of her district. Despite a late start in her campaign, Haugen says she expects to do much better in the general election than her primary results might indicate.
“Democrats tend not to turn out for uncontested primaries,” Haugen said, pointing to her ramped up campaign effort post-primary. “I hadn’t spent much on my campaign before then.”
She also notes that she was the target of some “nasty hit” mailings just before the primary, paid for by the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee, that distorted her record.
Another tough advertisement — this one directly from the Bailey campaign — hit district mail boxes in recent days, attacking Haugen for her opposition to Initiative 1053 requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote for approval of tax increases.
Haugen says the state Constitution requires only a simple majority to pass bills in the Legislature and the supermajority requirement on tax measures has forced severe cuts in vital programs — especially education.
“The supermajority basically gives 18 members of the Senate one-and-a-half votes on tax measures,” she said, 18 representing one third of the Senate’s 49 members.
A case now before the state Supreme Court could, for the first time, result in a ruling on the constitutionality of I-1053. Opponents of the initiative argue that a supermajority can be imposed only through a constitutional amendment, not the initiative or referendum process.
Bailey, who has held the 10th District Position 2 House seat for the past 10 years, thinks she has a good shot at winning, especially on issues like I-1053. A key argument she makes to the district’s voters is that she could help the GOP win control of the Senate.
Asked if the loss of Haugen as the powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee would be detrimental to the district, Bailey responded with an emphatic, “Not one bit.”
But Haugen says that Bailey’s desire to convert the Senate to Republican control is not a good enough reason to unseat her. She says Bailey too often votes with her party over the needs of the district.
“What is important is what best serves the interests of the 10th District, which has been my primary concern,” Haugen said.
Bailey says she cares about the district as much as Haugen, but as a member of the House minority party has not always been in a position to deliver on legislation.
Bailey said the Legislature’s chaotic budget process leads to uncertainty in the business community and puts a damper on the creation of new jobs.
“We have a taxing system that is onerous on small businesses,” Bailey said.
Bailey has been endorsed by the Association of Washington Business, which rates her voting record on AWB issues at a lifetime measure of 91 percent. Haugen, who often votes against her own party’s positions, is rated at 71 percent in favor of the group’s issues.
Haugen points to her support from Republicans, such as former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro. She also has the backing of Curt Johnson, a Skagit Valley farmer and staunch Republican who is president of the Western Washington Agricultural Association.
“No one in Olympia has done more for Skagit agriculture than Mary Margaret Haugen,” Johnson said in his endorsement statement.
Haugen is standing for reelection after a somewhat tumultuous couple of years, during which she had to fight to keep investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure on track.
But the year 2011 brought a messy break between Haugen and the three unions that represent most of the 1,600 ferry employees whose budget she also oversees.
The year before, a KING 5 investigative project reported on how a few ferry system employees had been reimbursed for travel from their homes to and from terminals when they were called in to fill shifts.
To Haugen, it appeared that some employees were “milking” the system.
Public outrage was followed by a legislative scramble to “fix” the problem. Haugen led the way with a measure that would have stripped ferry employees of some of their bargaining rights.
All three unions — the Marine Engineers, Masters, Mates and Pilots and the Inlandboatmen’s Union – are backing Bailey in the general election with both contributions and endorsements.
The Washington State Labor Council withheld its endorsement of Haugen, despite her largely pro-labor voting record in the Senate. Council political endorsements call for two-thirds approval by the members.
Ferry union representatives argued against any endorsement in the 10th District Senate race.
However, all three unions are backing Bailey and have contributed to her campaign.
Bailey says that all she did in exchange for the support of the ferry unions was promise “to listen” to them when they have issues. The ferry unions represent her only labor support on her list of endorsements.
Haugen’s endorsers include unions representing police and firefighters, electrical workers, health care workers, teachers, aerospace workers, operating engineers and building trades workers.
The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee is working to preserve Haugen’s hold on the 10th District seat. Hers and two other Senate seats now held by Democrats are said to be in play for party control of the Senate.
The two women are not that far apart in age, but very much in their backgrounds.
Haugen’s story is that of a blue collar homemaker who was born and raised on Camano Island, married there, gave birth to four children, and operated a beauty salon out of her home for 20 years.
Her formal education ended with her 1959 graduation from high school in Stanwood and, that same year, from Mount Vernon Beauty School.
She served on the Stanwood School Board for 10 years and in 1982 was elected to the state House of Representatives. She moved to the Senate in 1992.
Bailey, a graduate of State University of New York, has made her professional mark as a consultant and trainer in the hotel industry. Before being elected to the House in 2002, she was a member on the Oak Harbor Comprehensive Planning Task Force and the Island County Joint Committee on Tourism.
She and her Navy veteran husband live in Oak Harbor and are the parents of four adult children.