Congressman Dave Reichert relies on experience and notoriety as the former King County sheriff in his campaign for a third term as the 8th Congressional District's representative. Meanwhile, his opponent, Darcy Burner, has questioned his effectiveness in a recent ad.
U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert was a cop for three decades before he became a congressman. He doesn’t want voters to forget it.
He made his 30-year career in law-enforcement the cornerstone of his first campaign in 2004, and in explaining Reichert’s pragmatic approach to legislating, his staff still says, “Dave’s a cop.”
Over the past four years, his most notable work has been on legislation to help first responders and secure money for local law-enforcement agencies.
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In his first term, his experience as King County sheriff helped him land the chairmanship of a subcommittee charged with revamping federal emergency preparedness after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans — a prestigious position for a freshman lawmaker.
Now seeking a third term, and with a broader congressional record, Reichert, 58, is getting support from some groups outside the law-enforcement community. The state and national teachers unions, for example, have endorsed his re-election.
But his record as sheriff is still front-and-center in his campaign. And once again, he finds himself talking about the lessons he learned in his pursuit of the Green River Killer.
The nonpartisan Web site Congress.org ranks Reichert as one of the least influential members of Congress.
In its power rankings based on committee assignments, legislative activity and other factors, the group listed him 401st of 435 members for 2007. Only one bill he has sponsored since taking office in 2005 has passed Congress and is now awaiting the president’s signature.
Reichert’s opponent, Democrat Darcy Burner, says those statistics show Reichert is ineffective, and she’s currently airing a TV ad blasting him for his low ranking.
But Reichert says he’s gotten a surprising amount done despite being new, politically vulnerable and in the Republican minority for the past two years. He says he’s done it by working with Democrats, and that means he hasn’t always gotten credit. Instead, other lawmakers have made his proposals part of their legislation, he says.
“It’s not all about getting my name on a bill,” he said. “If she [Burner] is going to Congress because she wants to get her name on a bill, you know, that’s the wrong reason to go. I’m going because I want to change things. I want to make things better for this country.”
Reichert’s staff points to eight bills they say he has gotten passed through the House — although his name appeared at the top of only one.
In his first term, he led an effort to restructure the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ensuring it stayed under the Department of Homeland Security. That was a tough political fight, he says, and in the end his version of the bill wasn’t the one that passed. But much of the language in his bill ended up the final version that did pass.
He says the same thing happened in a more recent bill setting up a commission to study why U.S. citizens sometimes join terrorist groups. His version of the bill didn’t make it out of committee, but he worked with the committee chairwoman, Democrat Jane Harman of California, to combine their bills into one that passed.
He did, however, sponsor the PRICE of Homeland Security Act that passed the House and, on Monday, the Senate. The bill, which gives state and local agencies more flexibility in how they use homeland-security grant money, is waiting to be signed into law.
And last winter, his amendment to a homeland-security bill added $10 million for border security to help halt terrorist travel and human smuggling.
Burner’s campaign spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik, called $10 million “budget dust” and said Reichert has offered no solutions to the issues foremost in voters’ minds, such as the economy.
“If he can only point to a couple of small changes, some of which haven’t even happened, and he hasn’t passed a single bill since he’s been in Congress, it tells you something significant about his lack of effectiveness,” Kaushik said in an interview before Reichert’s homeland-security bill passed this week.
Reichert’s background also comes into play in his work outside law-enforcement issues.
In his endorsement interview with the Washington Education Association (WEA), he told teachers his experience as King County sheriff allowed him to empathize about unfunded mandates. He told them he had seen firsthand what was happening in some kids’ homes, and said he believes students’ home lives affected their academic performance.
That won over some WEA members who might not have agreed with all of Reichert’s politics, said Lisa Brackin Johnson, president of the Kent Education Association, who was in the interview.
Reichert ended up getting the WEA’s endorsement, as well as that of the National Education Association.
His life and career were shaped by his abusive father and the protective role he had to take as the oldest of seven brothers and sisters.
He and his wife, Julie, have been married for more than 35 years and have three grown children. Generations of Reicherts live in the area. Reichert himself moved to Renton in 1951. He now lives in Auburn.
His deep roots were obvious on a recent campaign stop in Black Diamond, when he excused himself from a conversation about his campaign to talk with a shopkeeper who used to play baseball with his cousins. Reichert isn’t adept at fundraising and doesn’t like political events, but he is at ease campaigning face-to-face.
At the Black Diamond Bakery, he ordered lunch, then worked his way from table to table around the entire restaurant, discussing issues, telling stories and posing for pictures before returning reluctantly to his table to eat his sandwich.
Green River fame
In his district, Reichert is recognized wherever he goes as the former sheriff who helped solve one of the region’s biggest murder mysteries.
He was assigned to investigate the Green River serial murders as a young detective. Nearly 20 years later, he was sheriff when Gary L. Ridgway pleaded guilty to killing 48 women.
In 2004, he published a book, “Chasing the Devil: My Twenty Year Quest to Capture the Green River Killer,” and donated his $150,000 in royalties to a Kent clinic that cares for drug-addicted babies. The clinic has a room named after Reichert and staff there said the congressman is a frequent visitor, stopping in to hold babies and see how the center is doing.
This spring, the Lifetime Movie Network made Reichert’s book into a TV movie, for which he received $50,000, before paying taxes and his ghost writer.
He takes exception to those who criticize him for using his Green River fame to advance his political career.
“I know some people are sick and tired of hearing me talk about it, but you know what? When you spend 19 years trying to find [the killer], how can it not affect you?” he said.
His motivation for the book and the movie was to help people understand the challenges vulnerable young women face on the street, he says. And he wanted the public to understand the emotional toll the case took on detectives.
“I never planned my life to be here [in Congress],” he said. “I never took advantage of this case or any other case or any other circumstance … . Life moved me in this direction and I saw this as an opportunity to help people and serve my country.”
Among law enforcement, Reichert is respected because of the time he spent on the street before becoming sheriff, said Jamie Daniels, executive director of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, which endorsed him.
“For our organization, it doesn’t matter how long he’s out of office as sheriff,” she said. “For us, that doesn’t wear out.”
Kaushik, however, says Reichert should be judged on his accomplishments in Washington, D.C., not on what he did as sheriff.
“That may have been fine to rest on those laurels at the beginning, but he’s been in Congress four years now,” Kaushik said. “He’s not Sheriff Reichert anymore. … He’s Congressman Reichert and he will be judged on that basis by the voters this November.”
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org