All four candidates for the two 42nd District state House seats say they are pleased with their primary showings and expect a close race in November.
Voters in the district, which includes a slice of Bellingham and most of the rest of Whatcom County, face a clear political contrast: conservative Republican incumbents Vincent Buys and Jason Overstreet are both seeking a second term, facing spirited challenges from Democratic candidates who are mounting well-organized campaigns. County Democratic Chairwoman Natalie McClendon is running against Overstreet, while Matt Krogh, an environmental watchdog at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, takes on Buys.
Overstreet and Buys favor continued efforts to curb state spending and hold the line on taxes. McClendon and Krogh stress the need to maintain social services while protecting the environment.
In the primary, the vote totals in both races were close to identical, with the two Republicans holding healthy leads. After the second round of mail-in ballot-counting was completed Wednesday, Aug. 8, Overstreet had 53.6 percent of ballots cast, while Buys got 53.5 percent.
The 42nd District, has a long history of close elections, and its voters have turned out incumbents on several occasions.
Nobody knows that better than Buys, who unseated Democratic veteran Kelli Linville two years ago and inadvertently changed the course of Bellingham politics in the process, setting the stage for Linville's successful run against former mayor Dan Pike in 2011.
Although the recently redrawn district boundaries probably shifted significant numbers of Bellingham Democrats into the 40th District, Buys says he isn't taking anything for granted.
"I would have liked to see overall voter turnout a lot higher," he said. "You can't be too disappointed with a win .... I think it still has the potential to go back and forth."
Buys said he expects to continue to stress his fiscal conservatism. He wants to curtail unnecessary spending to enable adequate funding for public education. He also wants to reform the state worker compensation system to make it less costly for employers.
Democrat Krogh thinks he can overcome Buys' primary ballot edge by November, with a good network of volunteers that his reputation in the environmental movement has helped to recruit.
As Krogh sees it, Republican plans to curb spending on social programs are false economies that wind up increasing public costs. When social safety nets are eliminated, he said, the costs of dealing with the less fortunate are shifted to police, jails and hospital emergency rooms.
"We can't just close our eyes and pretend that tiny government is going to fix the problem," he said.
Overstreet said his district's voters should stick with Republicans if they want to avoid tax hikes. He contends McClendon and other Democrats will look for ways to raise tax revenue if they get the power.
"My opponent has made it pretty clear that she intends to look for tax increases if she is successful," he said.
Overstreet notes that state revenues are growing slowly as the economy recovers, and the state should adjust its spending to stay within the revenue that is already available.
McClendon noted that her incumbent opponent has raised a little more than twice the $24,000 in contributions she has reported so far, as is typical for incumbent legislators. But she still thinks she can overcome the lead that Overstreet showed in the primary, portraying herself as a practical problem-solver who will focus on putting people back to work.
As she sees it, Overstreet "has very much staked his position on the far right and he is not apologetic about it. The voters have a clear choice."
In November, she noted, Whatcom County voters will face a ballot studded with big-budget races that will fill the airwaves, including the race for the White House and the governor's mansion, as well as Democrat Maria Cantwell's defense of her U.S. Senate seat against Michael Baumgartner.
McClendon encourages voters to take the time to study the candidates and issues farther down the ballot.
"That's our challenge, to make sure that they understand that these are important races, and they do have an impact on how things work," she said.
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