Small town politics make for strange bedfellows. The fight to see who will represent the 32nd District (Shoreline, Edmonds, and Lake Forest Park) is an exemplary case in point. Three candidates are facing off for state representative, position one: a liberal Democrat, Maralyn Chase (she is the incumbent as a result of being appointed to the position last winter); a moderate Democrat, Kevin Grossman; and a moderate Republican, Bob Ransom. Oddly, the Republican Ransom's and the liberal Chase's views are closer to one another's than either's views are to Grossman's.
The campaign's hottest issues concern Shoreline's creeks and business district. Thornton Creek has been the site of a huge imbroglio in Shoreline (see "Battle Creek," Jan. 31). City government, environmentalists, and Aegis—a developer—have repeatedly clashed over stewardship of the creek. Environmentalists charge the city is gutting its own regulations in an effort to help Aegis build an assisted living project too close to the creek. So far, the courts have agreed with the greens.
Grossman, the deputy mayor of Shoreline (population 56,000), feels the issue has been misunderstood. He believes the Aegis project is a good one, because it will ultimately serve the environment. Grossman says that the budget crises that are plaguing municipal, county, and state governments mean there is little money for the vital task of environmental restoration. Grossman's approach to the problem typifies the technocratic, nuts-and-bolts approach of this property manager to politics. He believes the Aegis project is a model for how cities can use new development to leverage some dollars for habitat restoration. In exchange for a variance from the required setback from one branch of the stream, he explains, Aegis agreed to spend money on mitigation in another area.
Chase is not impressed with this approach. "All the biologists say this is a bad deal for the fish," she says. "If you allow Aegis to build there, it's habitat degradation. I am not in favor of destroying urban creeks." Chase reveals a heart-on-the-sleeve activism that personifies her politics. In a political environment that has been hostile to the environmentalists' concerns, she pushed the 32nd District Democrats to pass a resolution on the subject and is helping to form the Shoreline Environmental Council.
What about Grossman's point that the city needs to generate money for the environment? Chase counters that funding can be found at the state level. But isn't the state struggling with a $1 billion deficit? She replies, "We can find money. There's a lot of money for salmon restoration."
Ransom, a Shoreline City Council member, calls the Aegis project "an in-your-face obscenity." He demands to know, "Why are we building on top of a wetland?" He characterizes Grossman's position as "pro-Aegis and to hell with the environment." Why is a Republican siding with environmentalists against a developer? Ransom says he and Chase are both "populists who are out there walking and talking with the public." Ransom feels that city government has ganged up with big business against its own citizens. "The city has gone way beyond reasonableness," he says.
This same feeling animates Ransom's critique of the plan to improve the Shoreline business district—from North 145th Street to North 165th Street on Aurora Avenue North.
Grossman says the state Department of Transportation is demanding changes in the area to improve traffic flow and safety. In response, Grossman says the city developed a plan to install street medians to discourage U-turns and left turns except at designated intersections, making traffic flow better and preventing accidents. In addition, the city wants to install 12-foot sidewalks, have a bus lane dedicated to transit, and upgrade the drainage system. All this, Grossman hopes, will create a better business climate, a safer street, and a healthier environment.
These plans have provoked a rebellion among some of the small business owners in the area. They took their concerns to their state representative, Chase, who became their champion and held House hearings on similar problems around the state.
Chase says the improvement plan would hurt small business. As the owner of a painting business, Chase says, "I've signed the front side of a paycheck. Small businesses provide 80 percent of the jobs" in this country, she says, and "we need to do everything we can to love them." She says the medians will hurt businesses, making them less accessible for customers and thwarting delivery trucks. The bus lanes will take out crucial on-street parking. She also claims that the wider sidewalks will result in the loss of businesses because some buildings will be condemned.
Ransom says he is on the fence about the improvement plan. He does, however, echo many of Chase's concerns about the bus lane and parking, the potential taking of property, and the impact on small businesses. "We need improvements—we really do—but the small merchants are going to get hurt," he says. "We need to compromise with the businesses. Grossman has turned solidly against them. They feel betrayed by him." The National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobby, has endorsed Ransom, an independent industrial vocational counselor.
So if Ransom and Chase both want to defend the people against big business and the government, what distinguishes them? They agree their major differences are on fiscal policy—she's for instituting an income tax pronto, while he wants greater efficiency in government before any new taxes are levied—and labor issues—she's a union backer through and through, while he would like to see more contracting of out-of-state government work go to nonunion labor.
For his part, Grossman seems bemused by his opponents ganging up on him. He seems happy to occupy what he sees as the sensible center. He hopes voters will concentrate "on what people have done on the ground as opposed to all the rhetoric."
Maralyn Chase offers the best mix for this district. She combines a liberal's deep commitment to economic fairness and environmental stewardship with a small businessperson's pragmatism.
Her Democratic opponent, Kevin Grossman, doesn't seem to recognize that the public has a right to object when they don't agree with the actions of their government.
The Republican contender, Bob Ransom, is unopposed for the Republican nomination. He has some intriguing ideas about how to improve state workers' performances but is philosophically blinded to the need for an income tax.
Chase is a longtime activist with a wide portfolio. So it comes as no surprise that in her first eight months as a state representative, she has unflinchingly taken up the causes of her constituents. What is particularly refreshing is that at least one of the causes—the small businesses objections to changes on Aurora—does not follow a strict party line. We hope that Chase can build on her concerns with small business to educate some of her more conservative allies in that fight on the need for comprehensive tax reform in Washington state.
Seattle Weekly Editorial Board