In what could prove to be a competitive vote, at least in Whatcom County, Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene faces Republican challenger Pedro Celis for the 1st Congressional District seat in the Nov. 4 election.
The 1st District encompasses most of Whatcom County except for Bellingham, Sudden Valley and areas to the southwest. It also includes most of eastern Skagit and Snohomish counties and part of King County.
In the Aug. 5 primary, DelBene and Celis were the top two vote-getters, beating out five other candidates. In Whatcom County, DelBene took 40 percent of the vote, while Celis trailed with the second-highest tally at 26 percent.
Celis barely made it past fellow challenger Robert Sutherland when tallies from each county in the district were counted, with only 983 votes separating the two. Celis came out with 16.45 percent of the 118,004 votes cast to Sutherland’s 15.61 percent. DelBene took close to 51 percent of the total.
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If the voters who cast their ballots for other Republican candidates in the primary had picked Celis instead, he would have taken nearly 52 percent of the vote in Whatcom County, but only 30 percent in the district.
Before running, Celis worked for 14 years at Microsoft, where he became a distinguished engineer.
“I like to describe myself as the candidate with a charming accent,” Celis told a League of Women Voters of Bellingham and Whatcom County audience Oct. 8. “I’m running to preserve the American Dream.”
Celis legally moved from Mexico to Canada and then the U.S., becoming a citizen more than 20 years ago.
DelBene, an ex-Microsoft vice president, is fresh off her first term in the Republican-majority house, where she helped pass a farm bill while serving on the Committee on Agriculture.
Both candidates have said they would work to pass immigration reform. When asked by a League moderator what they thought about reform that allows a path to citizenship, both candidates said they would support some type of legislation that would allow it.
DelBene said she had consistently heard from constituents that immigration is a critical issue for the region.
“I am a lead on bill HR15 in the House of Representatives, a comprehensive reform bill. … Every piece of that bill is bipartisan,” DelBene said. “I believe if it was allowed a vote on the floor, it would pass. Unfortunately we haven’t been allowed that vote.”
Celis said immigration is good for the country, and so is enforcing the rule of law.
“I believe in a system that has wide doors and high fences,” Celis said. “It’s in our economic self-interest to do that. … I do not believe it’s fiscally responsible to deport (undocumented immigrants). You don’t want to reward that behavior, but need a middle path.”
Campaign finance and corporate rights
As of Sept. 30, DelBene’s campaign had raised about three and a half times as much as her competitor.
Celis’ campaign had collected $614,362, about $87,000 of that from committees, $462,000 from individuals, and $60,800 that Celis contributed himself.
Meanwhile DelBene had collected $2.2 million, more than $1 million of which was from committees, with another $1 million from individuals. DelBene, who contributed $2.5 million of her own money to run for election in 2012, has not contributed to her own campaign this season.
The two candidates differ in their stance on whether corporations should have rights, both in reference to the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision and the older Citizens United.
At the Oct. 8 voters’ forum in Bellingham, DelBene said a constitutional amendment is needed to overturn corporate personhood.
“I do not believe corporations are people,” DelBene said. “It’s important to have transparency in the funding of campaigns. It’s important when super PACs are providing information that people know who supports those organizations.”
Celis said he supported the court’s decisions and disagreed with having the federal government limit corporate or individual rights.
“One thing I disagree with is how much is spent. There’s way too much,” Celis said. “But I don’t think the solution is to have the constitution be amended to limit the right of free speech.”
As for Hobby Lobby, Celis said the decision was made that a company, like a person, has rights, and while the government can pay for birth control if it wants to, it can’t force an individual to pay for things they disagree with.
DelBene said she strongly believed it was the wrong decision, and women’s health care decisions should be made by women and their doctors, not politicians or employers.