Eastside race one that could determine state Senate control
Republican Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond is being challenged by Democrat Matt Isenhower in one of the handful of races on the November ballot that could decide control of the state Senate.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
At a recent 45th Legislative District election forum in Kirkland, five of the six candidates had just answered a question on climate change.
Up last was freshman state Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, and the moderator mistakenly skipped him and proceeded to the next question.
“Everybody has one pass, right?” Hill said to laughter across the 60-odd people gathered at the Holy Spirit Lutheran Church.
The environment is a delicate subject in Hill’s first re-election bid, one of the most competitive races on the November ballot.
Hill faces a credible challenger, Democrat Matt Isenhower. But also targeting Hill is California billionaire Tom Steyer, who is dropping millions in elections around the nation to try to elect lawmakers more willing to act on climate change.
The race is one of a handful that could determine which party controls the state Senate, and has become this year’s most expensive legislative contest, with over $1 million raised between the two candidates. Steyer has given more than $260,000 to independent groups opposing Hill; at least one national organization has tried to offset that with independent spending supporting Hill.
But while Steyer’s money has attracted much attention, Hill and Isenhower are trying to define themselves on how they’d tackle big issues beyond climate change in the upcoming legislative session.
At the top of the list: how to come up with billions of dollars to fully fund K-12 education as part of the state Supreme Court ruling known as the McCleary decision.
Isenhower, making his first run for office, wants to close certain corporate tax breaks to raise money for education and protect the social safety net. Hill insists that devoting new revenue to education over the next several years will close the education funding gap.
Hill, a 52-year-old former Microsoft group manager, contends that the Majority Coalition Caucus that has controlled the Senate for the past two years has brought a bipartisan approach to budgeting. The coalition consists of all the Republican senators and two Democrats who caucus with the GOP.
Hill, whose seat includes Woodinville, Duvall and parts of Redmond and Kirkland, chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, making him the coalition’s chief state budget writer.
“I had my Democratic counterpart in the room for every single decision,” said Hill, referring to Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam.
Hargrove could not be reached for comment.
Hill also notes that the 2013-2015 budget he helped write added $1 billion in education funding. If lawmakers continue devoting most new revenue to education and holding down costs of other programs, the McCleary decision can be resolved, Hill said.
Isenhower, 34, is a U.S. Navy veteran with a business degree from Harvard who has worked as senior director of operations for Burger King in Tampa Bay and as a senior product manager at Amazon. He disagrees with Hill’s characterization of the budget.
“What we do know is the budget they produced is not sustainable,” said Isenhower, who lives with his wife and two children in Redmond.
Isenhower says the Legislature must find a way to fund education in the upcoming session without cutting the state’s social safety net.
“Homeless kids and hungry kids can’t learn, no matter how much you put into education,” he said.
Both Isenhower and Hill say they hope Congress will pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to collect sales taxes on online purchases. It could raise $478 million in state taxes through the 2015-2017 budget cycle, according to state Department of Revenue projections. An additional $217 million would go to local governments, which could also help fund roads and other needs.
Isenhower adds that he also wants to raise revenue by eliminating certain tax exemptions to businesses.
Both candidates acknowledged the need to pass a transportation package to fund highway and transit projects, though one such package died last year when the Senate refused to consider it.
Isenhower at the debate praised Gov. Jay Inslee’s task force on climate change — which will report in November on ways to reduce carbon pollution — as a good step. Isenhower says a cap-and-trade system to regulate carbon emissions makes sense to him.
Hill has been less clear about his perspective on climate change. In September, he told The Seattle Times editorial board that, “You can find scientists on either side of the issue” and that he hasn’t “looked at the data.”
Hill says those quotes were taken out of context and that he believes climate change is a serious issue. At the Kirkland forum, Hill pitched a better transportation system to reduce traffic as a way to fight climate change. But he said the state also needs to take a balanced approach to combat global warming in a way that won’t hurt the economy.
“I think, though, that it really is a national and international issue,” Hill said.
Forces on both sides of the Hill and Isenhower contest are pouring money into the race to sway the outcome.
As of Thursday, Hill had reported raising $880,000 — a big chunk of it from Republican campaign committees — to Isenhower’s $412,000. At least one outside group, the National Association of Realtors, has stepped in to support Hill with an $80,000 independent expenditure for TV ads.
Most of the money from Steyer, the California climate advocate, has paid for people to go door to door in the district to persuade voters to vote against Hill.
Hill rails against the spending, noting that Steyer doesn’t live in Washington or have business interests here, and probably has never visited Redmond.
Isenhower points out that he has nothing to do with Steyer, and Hill is raising his own money from special-interest groups inside the state.
“I don’t know Tom Steyer, I never met him, and the money he’s pouring in is through independent expenditures, which I have no control over,” Isenhower said. “The difference with Andy is ... that money is going directly to him.”
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report. Joseph O’Sullivan: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.