First-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene will face a re-election challenge this year from a fellow ex-Microsoft employee.
Republican Pedro Celis, a retired Microsoft software engineer from Redmond, plans to announce his candidacy officially Thursday morning.
Celis, 54, grew up in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s to pursue a career in computer science. He speaks with a heavy accent and plans to play up his life story in his campaign, recording his announcement video in both English and Spanish.
“I have experienced the American dream. I have experienced what’s great in this country and I want that to continue,” Celis said in an interview Wednesday evening.
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DelBene, 52, a former Microsoft marketing executive, was elected in 2012 to represent the state’s 1st Congressional District, which runs from northeast King County to the Canadian border.
The swing district is the state’s most evenly divided between Republican- and Democratic-leaning voters. As such, it’s likely the GOP’s best shot at flipping a congressional seat in the state in this year’s midterm elections.
Celis cited DelBene’s support for policies such as the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as a major reason he’s running.
“She’s not helping improve the economy. … We’ve been spending a lot of money and not creating a lot of jobs,” he said.
In an interview last week, Celis criticized another big Democratic priority backed by DelBene — increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from the current $7.25.
He cited a recent government report predicting some job losses if that raise were to occur. “She sees minimum wage as a living wage. I see it as a starting wage. I see it as an issue for minority kids,” Celis said.
A DelBene campaign spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik, dismissed Celis as “just another hyperpartisan Republican who is far too extreme for a moderate district. …
“If you like the way the Republican Congress has forced the irresponsible government shutdown, advocates for privatizing Social Security and launched a war on women, and want more of the same, then Celis is your candidate,” Kaushik said.
But Robert Jones, regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Celis’ background and life story “immediately make him a strong candidate.”
Jones argues that DelBene’s “reckless support of Obamacare” has left Washington families facing higher insurance costs, reduced services and loss of their health plans. “Washington will be much better off with Pedro Celis representing them in Congress,” he said.
Celis was born in Monterrey, Mexico. He earned a computer-science degree, then headed to Canada in his 20s, he said, “with one bag of clothes and a box of books” to go to grad school. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
He moved to the U.S. in 1986 to take a job as a professor of computer science at Indiana University Bloomington. He later worked for startups in California and Texas before moving to Redmond to work for Microsoft, where he wrote database software. He retired in 2012 as a “distinguished engineer” after 14 years there.
This is his first run for office, but Celis has been involved in the Republican Party for years and served as Washington co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s primary presidential campaign in 2008.
He’s a former chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, a position in which he was frequently quoted in news stories as a supporter of national immigration reform.
This year, Celis was active in supporting state legislation to authorize college financial aid for students illegally brought to the United States as children. That bill, known as the “Real Hope Act,” was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner