The Olympian Editorial Board kicks off its endorsements for the 2014 general election with a look at the race for state senator in Legislative District 35.
Two years ago, democratic Senators Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom crossed the aisle to shift control of the state Senate to Republicans by a slight one-vote advantage. Whether Republicans continue to control the chamber depends on the outcome of this fall’s general election.
The race in Legislative District 35, which represents Mason County and portions of Thurston and Kitsap counties, including Shelton, Grapeview and Belfair, will play a key role in determining that outcome.
Sheldon is a 24-year veteran of the state Legislature who calls himself a Democrat but votes and caucuses with the Republicans, and espouses the Republican party line on most issues. He faces his stiffest challenge yet from genuine Democrat Irene Bowling.
Bowling is the better choice this year. The state, the Senate and District 35 all need fresh ideas and a positive approach to solving a long list of critical issues.
Bowling is bright and has a clearly articulated agenda. Although she lacks experience in elected offices, Bowling is focused on the real needs of the district. She would have supported a transportation package to create jobs, repair Mason County roads and bridges and complete necessary projects, such as the Belfair bypass. Sheldon voted against a transportation revenue package.
She would do more to boost Mason County’s depressed economy. On statewide issues, she has a common sense approach to finding the revenue to fund pressing state obligations on education and mental health programs.
The 57-year-old who has a doctorate from the University of Washington and has operated a music school for 35 years, says the district needs a senator focused on its specific needs, not one who plays the larger political party game.
Sheldon has played a key role in the Legislature’s failure to act on big issues, such as meeting the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate for K-12 education funding or passing a transportation revenue package. And he continues to hold his position as a Mason County commissioner, a seat he should never have sought while serving in the Senate.
Sheldon’s motivation for deserting the Democratic Party appears to stem from personal issues, not out of any altruistic desire for the common good. Asked why he stopped caucusing with Democrats, he snapped “I caucused with them for years, and how did they treat me? They threw me bones.” He complains he was stripped of the meatier committee assignments and leadership roles.
Sheldon defends his switch to the Republican caucus saying he’s helped moderate its further right-wing tendencies. But he advocates downsizing the public sector workforce to cut government spending as the way to meet the state’s needs in K-12 education, transportation and mental health programs.
He’s unwilling to budge on a transportation revenue package until the governor hires a new Secretary of Transportation and makes other reforms at WSDOT. In our opinion, he’s lamentably comfortable with imposing pain on commuters and businesses to reform a state agency.
Bowling understands the big issues from a citizen’s perspective, not as backroom political player. It’s time for a change in District 35.