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Haddon and Hart hope to unseat longtime senator
Republican challenger Linda Haddon and America’s Third Party candidate Sarah Hart hope that the troubled ferry system will sink longtime Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s ship.
But the incumbent says that especially in choppy waters, a ship needs an experienced captain.
From the get-go, the two Oak Harbor candidates were hoping voter frustration with the state’s ferry system would help to unseat Haugen, the veteran 10th Legislative District state senator.
But some say Haugen’s
26 years in state politics may be hard to beat.
Haddon supporters, however, have waged an aggressive campaign so far, and have raised unsubstantiated charges that she has used public funds to run her campaign, a claim Haugen has rejected.
The attacks have not worried the veteran lawmaker, and Haugen recalled her first campaign for a state office.
After she won the primary, supporters printed a hit-piece attacking her opponent. After taking a look at the mailer, she decided that this was not her style.
“If this is what makes me win, I don’t want to win,” she recalled thinking.
“I went out back and made a fire and burned all but one,” Haugen said. “If I can’t run on who I am and what I stand for, I don’t want to win.”
The 10th Legislative District includes all of Island County, along with parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties. After the primary election on Aug. 19, only two will appear on the ballot in November’s general election.
Mary Margaret Haugen
Haugen, a state lawmaker since 1983, started in the House of Representatives and is now seeking her fifth term in the Senate. Her challengers tout that it’s time for new blood in Olympia.
Haugen says both her challengers have good ideas, but it’s her experience that will get ideas turned into laws.
“Even the most primitive tribe knows to send the young warriors out for the meat, but they look to the elder for leadership and guidance,” Haugen said.
Most importantly, Haugen says, she knows how to get things done.
“I talk to the Republicans.
I can walk across the rotunda and work with the House. I know I can walk into the governor’s office,” she said. “It’s one of the ways how
I get things done.”
She chairs the Transportation Committee, perhaps one of the most powerful positions in the Senate. The committee is responsible for issues relating to movement of goods and people, and tackles issues related to the ferry system and other state highways.
Haugen stresses that the position is vital to make sure budding ferry improvements come to fruition. She has only begun to address a 20-year maintenance backlog in the ferry system, Haugen said.
“As the chairman of the Transportation Committee, I really feel I need to get the ferries taken care of,” she said.
Hart and Haddon, though, contend problems such as inadequate ferry service for Whidbey Island result from Haugen’s failed leadership on transportation policy in the Legislature.
But Haugen said big steps have been taken toward a better ferry system, but government process takes its time. The ferry system was moved from commission leadership into the governor’s office. New leadership for the Washington State Department of Transportation and Washington State Ferries was the next step.
“It was very difficult to turn the philosophy,” Haugen said.
And while ferries are the link to the mainland for islanders, they are seen as a luxury for people who don’t rely on them.
“On Whidbey Island, the ferry is huge. For the rest of the state, it isn’t,” she said.
Haugen also defends the way the state planned for the replacement of vessels on the Keystone-Port Townsend run, but nobody could anticipate that they would fail and have to be replaced before new boats were ready, she said. Funds have been set aside for the new ferries, and they may go into production next year.
Haugen also stressed the high operation cost of the ferry system and vowed to continue to keep fares reasonable.
Though ferries and improving transportation are certainly top priorities, Haugen’s heart lies with education.
She is an advocate for a four-year university serving the district, and also supports adding more services and programs to the Whidbey campus of Skagit Valley College, as well as accessibility of more vocational training. Haugen has worked to reduce class sizes and increase school construction budgets, she said.
Haugen also said that creating a viable environment for small businesses is vital. She promises to be an advocate for local businesses in Olympia.
“One of the real big frustrations is, Boeing and all the big guys are down in Olympia all the time holding out their hands for tax breaks,” she said.
Besides government support, small businesses need a well-educated, trained workforce and infrastructure, she said.
Living on an island presents special challenges, but there are plenty of small-footprint industries.
“We need better infrastructure for telecommuting. On the South End you have great fiber optics, not on the North End.”
And she would like to see more “green” jobs in the county.
But she also wants to make sure that businesses already on Whidbey Island keep busy.
“I hope the new ferries, a part of them, will be built here,” she said.
Overall, Haugen said, she is dedicated to preserving the quality of life in the district.
She is dedicated to Puget Sound clean-up efforts and making sure that growth fits with the character of the community, she said.
“I didn’t run for the Legislature to be a politician. I ran for the Legislature to be a problem solver,” Haugen said.
“I hate partisan politics. I am more interested in what I can do for this county. It’s more about my children, my grandchildren living in this wonderful county,” she said.
The list of Haugen’s local supporters is long. She is endorsed by major law enforcement groups and healthcare groups, the majority of Island County’s elected officials, including the county prosecutor, assessor and Commissioner John Dean, as well as Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson.
Haddon, who lives in Oak Harbor, is a relative newcomer to the political scene but is a longtime community activist.
She is a former Island County planning commissioner, and served on the community task force that helped prevent the federal closure of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in 1991.
The recent crisis with the Keystone-Port Townsend ferry inspired her to throw her hat in the race.
“The ferry was the last straw,” she said.
Haddon said she wants to make sure that there won’t be a repeat of the Keystone-Port Townsend fiasco with other ferry runs or the aging Deception Pass Bridge.
She advocates tighter government spending. Haddon said the tax burden in the district has risen to an unacceptable level.
“You pay more and more taxes and see nothing in return,” she said.
Haddon said her family moved to Oregon in the 1990s, and she was shocked to see how things had changed in her absence.
“We came back here after 10 years and things had changed. Taxes were out of sight,” Haddon said.
She stresses accountability in government and lowering property taxes, especially for seniors and veterans.
“Taxes aren’t manna from heaven,” she said.
Haddon also takes issue with unfunded mandates.
“The Legislature seems to be very good in passing bills without funding,” she said. “Also, there need to be some tough decisions made. That budget has to be gone through.”
Haddon said she believes in local control of schools.
“We’re supposed to fund education, but if we ever need something, we pass a levy or rely on volunteers,” she said.
Haddon recalled a meeting with a voter who had no time to visit because she was baking snacks for the local school, because the school district didn’t have enough money.
“Something is wrong with this system. We shouldn’t ask our citizens to bake snacks for our students,” she said.
Haddon also said she would take a look at the regulatory nature of state government.
“I do not believe that anybody in the Pacific Northwest and particularly Whidbey Island wants to see our way of life disappear,” she said. “But the very people that are here to protect the environment made the regulations so strong that farmers, businesses have to quit.”
“We have to use common sense,” Haddon added.
She said she would approach her new job, if elected, in a non-partisan way.
“If you get a bill, you vote on it,” she said. “It’s not about being an R or a D.”
“Change is what we need. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you keep getting what you’ve always got. The incumbent has been there for 26 years. Are things better?” she asked.
She also hinted at a self-imposed term limit.
“I won’t stay forever. I will go down there for a term or two to get some things done.”
Haddon acknowledges Haugen’s seniority in the Senate, but she said she wouldn’t stand back as a junior senator.
“Power is a very sacred thing,” Haddon said. “Coming in as a newbie you don’t have the same clout. But let me ask you this: If you had this kind of clout, wouldn’t you do something with it?”
“I don’t know if I could serve on the Transportation Committee, but I would try,” she said. “I am a very tenacious person.”
She recalled walking into the office of the Secretary of Defense during her time on the task force to keep the Navy base in Oak Harbor, demanding to speak to the secretary.
“I pay taxes. They work for me,” she said.
She ended up getting 30 minutes with military officials.
“I don’t tell you this made a difference, but I know how to fight a battle,” Haddon said.
Haddon is a certified “life celebrant” who conducts memorials and weddings. Her husband, Jim, manages a funeral home in Oak Harbor.
“I have spent years working with my neighbors in the 10th District to make our community a better place,” she said. “I still believe in private property rights, in local control of schools and in respect for the military who protect us.”
Haddon is endorsed by the Washington Oil Marketers Association and many well-known Island County Republicans, including county commissioner candidate Reece Rose and County Commissioner Mac McDowell.
Hart, also a newbie to the political game, burst onto the local scene when she announced that she had formed America’s Third Party along with David Jon Sponheim earlier this year.
“This is a centrist party. We try to meet in the middle to find solutions that work for all of us,” she said.
“We are tired of the two parties fighting. We need to get the two viewpoints together and find what works for the taxpayer.”
It’s the party’s goal to find innovative solutions, and Hart vows to focus on sustainability, affordable housing, better transportation and bringing environmental jobs to the district.
“I would be more proactive than the incumbent,” Hart said. “Personally, I think she has done a great job. But having been there for so long, she’s been deferring things.”
Hart also criticizes Haugen’s record on the ferry system.
Hart said the Keystone and Port Townsend harbors and docks have to be expanded for bigger boats, and the system should provide seamless transportation.
She also said that the Legislature has spent $285 million in the past five years on badly-designed boats, and the $85 million appropriated for the two new ferries may not be enough. The proposed approach also won’t solve long-term problems, she said.
Hart said a solution may be barges that are pushed across the water by tugboats.
“Tug boats have twice the power and a much better resale value than ferries,” she said.
Hart also criticizes the state’s spending on Highway 20.
“I was frustrated with Mary Margaret’s use of money building the highways,” she said.
Widening lanes instead of adding a new lane was costly and didn’t anticipate additional traffic from growth, Hart said.
She proposes a “Homestead Renewal Program,” designed to address the affordable housing need, where people can work to build homes using funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Hart, a fan of local farmers markets, said locally grown food is the key to sustainability and needs to be supported.
“I think it’s become too easy to buy food from the grocery store,” she said.
Hart wants the district to start building and marketing “green” products and services.
“In Washington, we have a great, incredible brain trust,” Hart said.
“We can build huge airplanes at Boeing and create software used around the world,” Hart added. “We need to be the forerunner in the next big innovation. That next big innovation is renewable energy.”
She envisions people building solar panels or windmills on Whidbey Island. Hart is also a supporter of the effort to protect open space.
Hart promised to tackle the state budget and to look at each program for ways to save money.
Using the phrase, “Bring Heart Back Into Politics,” a clever play on her name, Hart admitted that she is clearly more interested in inspiring conversation and outside-of-the-box-thinking rather than winning.
“Our expectations are low,” she said. “But we are in a great position here with the top-two primary. People aren’t really afraid to listen to us.”
Hart and America’s Third Party held two conventions, and about 40 people showed up at each one.
Hart is an academic achiever who graduated magna cum laude from Western Washington University and scored in the top 15 percent of the national teacher exam.
“I am hard-working. I am intelligent and I’ll work for the people,” Hart said. “I have a very logical mind.”
She said it has been difficult to campaign without a “party machine” behind her. But that’s OK in some ways, she said.
“You won’t see my signs on the side of the road,” she said. “I don’t believe in littering the visual landscape.”
“I am running to show people that anyone can run for office,” she said.
Hart, the third of nine children, moved to Whidbey Island nine years ago. She works as a substitute teacher and Web site designer.