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Originally published Friday, October 27, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

There should be a place for a candidate like this

Incumbency carries either great political weight or acts as a strainer collecting only the starry-eyed base, but little else. Washington's 7th Congressional District...

Incumbency carries either great political weight or acts as a strainer collecting only the starry-eyed base, but little else.

Washington's 7th Congressional District is saddled with the ultimate liberal pasta catcher: Rep. Jim McDermott. The starchy, seven-term congressman is assured of winning again by a wide margin. The token Republican is Steve Beren, a former socialist. Only in Seattle would the Republican for Congress be a reformed Trotskyite.

McDermott will not have to worry about Beren. A tough election for Republicans nationally is just business as usual in Seattle.

If we lived in a country where two parties did not make politics a monopoly, McDermott might worry about the independent candidate in the race, Linnea Noreen.

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When asked, the average moderate or independent-minded voter would rattle off a list of desirable attributes in a candidate: smart, listens, passionate, critical thinker, articulate, open ... the list goes on. My guess is that if you did not put party affiliation next to the three candidates and voted only for their positions, voters would check off the box for Noreen.

Most races for Congress have devolved into a stinking pit of lies and a litmus test for or against President George Bush. Democrats cannot use that tactic when comparing Noreen to McDermott. The challenger has strong credentials that should appeal to independents, and both parties.

The 29-year-old worked in Seattle for the Al Gore campaign, then turned down an offers to go back East because she thought she could do more for her hometown by staying put. Since the 2000 election, she has worked for the Rainier Chamber of Commerce, the Seattle YMCA and created a program at Seattle Works that trained 20- and 30-somethings for board positions.

In an interview, she said she decided to run instead of lamenting what she calls a wasted congressional seat. She also wants her swim through the electoral mud to be an example for young adults.

"We have to prove to young people that government can work," she said. "We have to show them that it is important to be involved in the political process. Right now, there is absolutely no reason to get involved."

The contrast between the candidates was apparent at a candidates' forum Wednesday night at Olympic View Elementary in the Maple Leaf neighborhood. Unfortunately for the audience and the candidates, the forum was too short. The three candidates each had a couple of minutes, then lined up for a Q&A. There was time only for three questions, none of which had anything to do with the district.

Softballs were lobbed, such as: How would you vote on the recently passed "torture bill"? The real penetrator of the night was about corporations making electronic voting machines. The wasted opportunity did allow McDermott to stumble through an explanation of why he believes mail voting is bad. Something about tampering and a joke about the check being in the mail. Never mind that mail voting improves voter turnout.

Noreen was able to cut through all the visions of McDermott and Beren. Her answers were energized by a chord of nuance. She talked about finding common solutions in politics, something sorely lacking in Washington, D.C.

Noreen clearly wanted to talk about problems ailing the 7th District. She veered in her answer to ask, "Where are federal dollars for transportation?" Good question. Too bad the audience was more concerned about seeing McDermott in action than asking about what he plans to do for the 7th in his next term.

This election has shown how sick our democracy has become. This nation is going to continue to struggle if we merely elect officials on the basis of emotion, anger and party affiliation.

We need people on school boards, in city halls, in Olympia and in Washington, D.C., who can find a way to work together, to make real progress. If we do not have a place for these kinds of candidates, the extremities in the system win.

Noreen understands the system and understands that there are potentially good candidates out there, but that we are in a place too dark for most to bother.

"We're missing out on a lot of really great leaders," Noreen said.

Ryan Blethen's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is

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