Yesterday evening the Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle held a Forum for First Congressional District Candidates at Seattle City Hall.

Metropolitan Democratic Club

Six candidates spoke, five Democrats (Darcy Burner, Suzan DelBene, Roger Goodman, Darshan Rauniyar, and Laura Ruderman)  and one Republican (James Watkins).  They are  vying to fill the Congressional seat now held by Jay Inslee, who is running for governor.

Democrat Steve Hobbs was unable to attend. Apparently there is another Republican running as well.

Former Gov.Mike Lowry moderated.  (He told so many jokes and giggled so much that he reminded me of the giggling Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins. Uncle Albert is the guy who floated into the air while singing I Love to Laugh.)

All the Democrats (except for Mr. Rauniyar) seemed accomplished and knowledgeable.

Most impressive was Rep. Roger Goodman (State Rep, for the 45th LD, which includes Kirlland and Redmond).  He’s Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and has been in office since 2006.  Prior to that he served in Washington D.C. and as an environmental lawyer, among other positions.  He says he worked with Al Gore.

Goodman spoke intelligently and passionately on issues such as the environment (“Unless we get fossil fuel cars off the road we’re not going to have [clean] air to breathe”); the stimulus package (we needed a more massive stimulus, private companies are hoarding money and aren’t creating enough jobs);  Iran (the current regime in Iran is largely a result of bad US policy in the past); immigration (securing our borders is a myth, just as is the war against drugs), and legalization of marijuana.

Goodman seems to be the most battle-hardened candidate.  He said it’s naive to think you’re gonna change Congress as a freshman. The place runs you.  You have to navigate.

I reported previously on Rep. Goodman’s appearance before the King County Legislative Action Committee. See this article.  He spoke passionately then on taxation, education and the need to end the failed war on drugs.  Here’s my favorite part:

During the question and answer people, we asked about how to beat back against the anti-tax mentality that led to the passage of I-1053. Goodman said we need angry. We’re in a box. How can we message it? “We need to get rid of these wasteful tax exemptions.” But that message doesn’t win with the voters. Republicans have a nine syllable platform. It’s nonsense but the voters can understand it (they think).”

Since her 2008 loss against  8th CD’s Dave Reichert, Darcy Burner has been serving as head of ProgressiveCongress.org in D.C.  Her strengths are her connections with the netroots, her previous experience running against Reichert (twice), her organization skills, her financial resources, and her ability to connect with people and the audience. It seems, too, that she learned a lot while in D.C.

Several times during the candidates’ forum, Burner spoke directly to the audience and asked people to raise their hands. She asked, who in the audience thinks that the problem with the Democrats in Congress is that they didn’t compromise enough?  (Of course, nobody raised their hand.)

Burner was great at making forceful quotable pronouncements that bespoke progressive populist themes about inequality and injustice. “The rules are rigged for the 1%,” she said.

Burner said that when New Gingrich was Speaker of the House he made rules changes that broke Congress by design. In order to consolidate power in his hands, he eliminated Congressional research budgets, thus handing over policy decisions to lobbyists. We must fix this rule. (Darcy said this forcefully.)

Bankers are breaking the law when they foreclose on so many veterans. The bankers need to go to jail, she said.

All candidates were asked for their opinion on the $800 billion stimulus package passed in 2009. Mr. Watkins (the Republican candidate) said it was a failure and a waste.  When it was Burner’s turn to speak, she told of her meeting with the Republican mayor of Bothel, who said he liked the stimulus package because it paid for adding a lane to I-5. Burner said that the stimulus package was weighed too heavily towards tax cuts for the rich; such tax cuts are not stimulative. (Damn Republicans!)

After the forum I hung around and spoke to several candidates.

I asked Ms. Ruderman whether the winner will be determined by which candidate raises the most money. She thought not. She said that in fact 80% of self-financed candidates lost elections recently. Ya need to raise enough funds to be viable, but more important is connecting with supporters and the voters.

I pointed out to Mr. Watkins, the Republican, that he had misspelled “Congress” in his campaign literature (he failed to capitalize the ‘C’). He asked me, “Weren’t you at the transit meeting in Kirkland last summer?” Yes, I was, I said. “Well, I’m the guy who gave you a ride.” I said, “Oh, I remember. You said that not all Republicans are evil.” Watkins said the same thing to everyone at the forum: see, I don’t have horns. Personally, one-to-one, Republicans often seem like nice people. I told him, though, that I’ve had many sleepless nights lost to anger at what Republicans have done to our country, e.g., the wars. Watkins said that Democrats share the blame for that.

I asked Watkins if he’d ever held office. He said he ran for Congress in 2010 against Jay Inslee and got over 40% of the vote.

During the forum, Watkins had repeated GOP talking points about the need to lower taxes and eliminate regulations so that businesses can hire.

Alas, as Goodman said, Republicans have a nine syllable platform, and Democrats need to get a lot better at educating and connecting with voters, so they stop voting against their own self-interest and the interests of the country and the world.

Connecting with those swing, low-info voters will be important for the 1st CD candidates.  The district extends from near I-90 to the Canadian border. (Go here to see the boundaries. Also check out the 9th CD map to see the southern boundaries of the 1st CD.)  The district has been called one of the competitive, evenly matched in the nation.