Reichert has found success with belief in common ground

Washington’s 8th Congressional District featured a high-profile race last year that many expected to remain close until the end.

Incumbent Dave Reichert, a Republican, had won by 3 percent of the vote in 2006, but it was clear that populist sentiment had shifted away from the GOP after his second term.

Two-time challenger Darcy Burner, a Democrat, was backed by the winds of change and some TV ads that showed her opponent hamming it up with an unpopular George W.

The Democrats managed a net gain of 24 Congressional seats during the election. It was less than the Republicans snagged in 1994, but still a sign that voters wanted some House cleaning.

Reichert escaped with his job intact, and even expanded his margin of victory to 5 percent of the vote in a year when turnout was at a record high.

What made the former lawman an exception during that cycle of change?

Reichert’s philosophies

Jeff Smith is a Democrat who helped Reichert win his first campaign to become King County Sheriff. He now works as chair of the 41st District Democrats.

“My take on Dave is that somewhere in his heart he is like a conservative Democrat,” Smith said. “I think his ties to the religious community and his career as a police officer are the things that tipped him in the direction of the Republican Party.”

National Journal now ranks Reichert as Washington state’s most centrist member of Congress. He generally shows a willingness to veer from the party line on issues like the environment and stem-cell research, but sticks with the Right on matters of fiscal policy, defense, and homeland security.

But how much of that moderate philosophy is at Reicher’s core, and how much is meant to garner votes in a blue state?

Reichert says he is pro-life, for instance, but swears he would never try to overturn Roe v Wade.

He also opposed bills that would have allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and more oil tankers into Puget Sound, but voted against legislation to require higher fuel-efficiency for automobiles – although he later supported a bill to raise the standards by 2016.

Reichert says this practice of compromise is part of his core beliefs.

“I think they’re very complimentary toward each other, because who I am is someone who likes to compromise and who wants to find a solution,” he said. “I’ve said in my career there’s always a solution and always common ground.”

Reichert has a history of meeting with groups that make most Republicans nervous. His first order of business after speaking with The Reporter was to hold talks with members of Earth Ministry, a group that advocates for environmental stewardship on behalf of people of faith.

“Anybody who wants to talk to me I talk to,” Reichert said. “When MoveOn-dot-org came in or Americans for Peace who want a Department of Peace (a bill sponsored by Democratic Congressmen Jim McDermott and Peter DeFazio) we always find somewhere where we can agree.”

One thing Reichert doesn’t budge on is national security – an area where he voted almost exclusively in favor of President Bush’s policies. He admits that keeping the country safe is probably the top priority for every member of Congress, but notes there’s “just a difference of opinion” on how to do it.

Moving forward

Republicans entered a period of self-reflection after the November election, and the party is looking for ways to rebound from the backlash. Leverage could come from the fact that Democrats are in power as the nation tries to rebound from an economic meltdown.

Reichert so far has voted against every bailout and stimulus package signed into law this year. He also supported a recent bill aimed at taxing 90 percent of the bonuses for executives that work for companies holding a significant amount of bailout money.

“When you’re handing a company American tax dollars, and then that company makes a decision to pay these guys exorbitant bonuses, I think you have to send a strong message,” he said.

Congressional Republicans were split on the issue of taxing bonuses – something Reichert claims was a political move. He says those who voted no didn’t want to legitimize what they considered to be a sloppy bailout package from Democrats.

“There’s no mixed message about whether we should tax these guys,” he said. “They’re as fed up with that disbursement of money as all of us are.”

Republicans have shown near unanimous opposition to the recent bailout and stimulus packages, as well as President Obama’s massive budget, saying they each demonstrate fiscal irresponsibility.

Democrats counter that desperate times call for desperate measures.

Whether or not the Republican negativity gains traction will likely depend on how the economy fares in coming years.

Meanwhile, Democrats are gearing up to take another stab at that supermajority that slipped through their hands during the last election.

They’re already busy generating rhetoric about the Republicans being a “Party of No,” and linking its members with ultra-conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

But the key will be winning swing district’s like the one Reichert works for.

Smith claims the Democrats never figured out how to reconcile the 8th District’s urban north with its rural south and east in past elections. He says the party may have found a solution in Suzan Delbene, a Medina resident who recently announced her intention to run in 2010.

“Her style is confidence-building,” Smith said. “I think she has the ability to put together the candidate persona that would appeal to voters here.”

Joshua Adam Hicks can be reached at 425-453-4290.