Democrat vs. Democrat II: Sommers LAUNCHES, touts experience, independence

Magnolian and State Rep. Helen Sommers is facing what some believe is a credible challenger for her legislative seat this year.

The challenger is Democrat Alice Woldt, but the fact anyone else at all is running for Sommers' seat in a primary election is unusual for the 36th District Democrat, who has been in office for more than three decades.

Her longevity paid off when a sizable number of movers and shakers showed up to support the diminutive lawmaker at her cam-paign kickoff party at McCormick & Schmick's last week.

Among them in a crowd of roughly 200 were a slew of state politicos; Port Commissioners Pat Davis and Paige Miller; former Seattle mayor Wes Uhlman; King County Council member Larry Phillips; former and current heads of the Pacific Science Center, George Moynihan and Bryce Seidl; and State Attorney General candidate and former City Attorney Mark Sidran.

Sommers said she has also been endorsed by Mayor Greg Nickels and by organizations that include NARAL, the Teamsters, aerospace machinists at Boeing, the State Coun-cil of County/City Employees, public-school employees, the Washington Public Employees Association, Law Enforcement Administrators of Washington and Local 32 of the plumbers and pipefitters union.

Support notwithstanding, Som-mers' campaign slogan this year is "Unbought and Unbossed," and she describes herself as an "independent thinker and doer."

Speaking at the kickoff, Sommers noted her first election to the legislature 32 years ago was an upset be-cause it put a Democrat in the 36th District office for the first time in three decades. "Instead of looking back, I suggest we look forward," she added.

The state is facing significant challenges, and dealing effectively with them is tied into education and pre-paring state residents for the chang-ing, knowledge-based economy, Sommers added.

"I am one of the people in Olympia recognized for supporting education, especially higher education," she said. Sommers also said she supports Initiative 884, which would create a $1-billion Education Trust Fund to shrink class sizes, expand preschool access and increase college scholarships and enrollment.

As chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Sommers also worked to strengthen the safety net in social services in this year's budget, according to an endorse- ment letter sent out by fellow 36th District Democrats Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

Sommers, in a later telephone interview, said she one of the reasons she should be reelected is her long ex-perience in making tough fiscal decisions in Olympia as a budget chair.

"If I'm not there," she cautioned, "that key position will certainly move somewhere else in the state." Sommers also said she is working to make sure the replacement for the Alaska Way Viaduct serves the needs of the city.

Sommers' campaign manager, Bonnie Beukema, said the political race is a great opportunity to show how popular and well-respected Sommers is.

"We want to get a lot of individuals involved so we win by a sizable margin," Beukema added. The goal, she said, is to develop a list of "1,000 friends of Helen" who can be tapped for contributions and who can volunteer to work on the campaign.

Beukema said the Sommers campaign team includes a political consultant, but also that the race won't be a negative campaign. In the meantime, Sommers and volunteers have already begun doorbelling to drum up support, and a number of fund-raisers are planned for the coming months.

However, Sommers will play the experience card. "I think I've gained a lot of respect and credibility," she said of her time in Olympia.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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