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Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - Page updated at 08:07 A.M.

48th District candidate Whitfield had 1999 bankruptcy

By Warren Cornwall
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

James Whitfield
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Republican 48th District legislative candidate James Whitfield has made helping small businesses a central campaign theme.

The Kirkland resident touts his experience owning a business, saying it gives him firsthand knowledge of the difficulties entrepreneurs face.

What he hasn't discussed is how difficult owning a business got for him. Whitfield and his wife, Kristen Whitfield, declared bankruptcy in 1999, saddled by debts from a failed Redmond discount-home-products franchise they bought in 1997.

Whitfield, now 33, says he hadn't previously disclosed the bankruptcy because he thought voters might hear of it without learning the whole story and because he didn't think it was pertinent to the issues in the campaign.

Rep. Ross Hunter
"I don't know how I handled my finances as a 26-year-old is particularly relevant. We're not talking about making Washington state my personal checkbook," he said.

His Democratic opponent, incumbent Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina, said he didn't want to discuss his opponent's personal finances.

"I don't want to go attack people on what they do," he said. "I don't want to go there."

The House Democratic Campaign Committee, which coordinates Democratic state House campaigns, contacted The Seattle Times about the bankruptcy.

Committee director Tony Yuchasz said it runs counter to Whitfield's criticism of Hunter's handling of the state budget and to Whitfield's vows of fiscal conservatism.

"It's not about him as a person but it really is about his ability to manage money, and I think the record shows that he has not done a good job with that," Yuchasz said.

Whitfield and his wife declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in mid-1999. Under that type of bankruptcy, their debts were erased and he essentially began again. Whitfield said he kept a $50,000 loan from a relative and is continuing to pay that off.

Whitfield said he sold the franchise back to the company in 1998, deciding it was too much work for too little money. He tried to pay off the remaining debts, but ran into trouble when a computer-leasing company demanded large monthly payments, he said. The total debt at the time of bankruptcy was roughly $333,000, according to court documents. Whitfield said bankruptcy is a frequent fate suffered by people trying to start new businesses.

He since has changed professions, becoming a senior officer at Washington Health Foundation, a health-care nonprofit that that works to improve health care and access to medical treatment.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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