In two House races in the Northeast Seattle area's 46th Legislative District, four Democrats who never before have been elected to political office are dueling not so much on the issues as about everything else.
Democrat Sylvester Cann views his campaign for state representative as a continuation of the legacy of the late state Sen. Scott White.
After White died last October, then-Rep. David Frockt assumed his Senate seat. Cann, a former aide to White, narrowly lost to Gerry Pollet for an appointment to fill Frockt’s House seat.
Cann is now seeking to take the seat from Pollet, also a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 election. He is endorsed by White’s wife and says the race is especially emotional because of an ugly Senate campaign between White and Pollet four years ago.
Rep. Pollet, a longtime environmental activist, scoffs at that storyline, arguing that the 32-year-old Cann doesn’t have the experience for the job.
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“Sly was Scott’s session aide for one session,” Pollet said. “There’s loyalty there. Great. It doesn’t make him qualified to represent the 46th District.”
The personal feelings on both sides have intensified the campaign, one of a pair of Democrat-on-Democrat state House races in the 46th, which includes the Northeast Seattle neighborhoods of View Ridge, Northgate, Lake City and parts of Green Lake, as well as Lake Forest Park and Kenmore. In each race, two Democrats who never before have been elected to political office are dueling not so much on the issues as about everything else.
The other race, to succeed retiring state Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, pits party activist Sarajane Siegfriedt against Jessyn Farrell, the former executive director of the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition.
Pollet, 53, likes to say he has 30 years of experience working on Washington state issues — which just happens to be about the age of his opponent.
He’s basing his campaign on his advocacy in the effort to clean up Hanford, including leading the Heart of America Northwest, and his short record in the Legislature, where he has worked on open-government issues.
Pollet also proposed a bill to address towing fees that failed after being watered down in the Legislature.
More broadly, Pollet says, he has a better feel for the district.
“The name of this position is state representative,” he said. “It’s important to have been working with the district and to be able to represent the concerns of the people.”
Cann said he would be the better representative for the 46th because he would represent all of its residents.
“Not everybody in this district is a far-left liberal Democrat. You have to have a wider perspective,” said Cann, who called Pollet a strong advocate but not a strong legislator.
The biggest policy difference between the two candidates relates to education.
While both want to dedicate more money to schools, Cann is more supportive of increasing choice, accountability and other hallmarks of the so-called “education reform” movement. Both oppose Initiative 1240, which would allow charter schools in Washington state, but Cann said he supports the idea of charters in theory.
Meanwhile, Pollet has been trying to make an issue out of two criminal cases in Cann’s past.
In 2001, as a 21-year-old, he was charged with street racing in Kent. The charges were eventually dismissed in return for community service, although Cann missed a couple of court hearings, leading a judge to issue a bench warrant for his arrest.
And in 2004, he was charged with theft after taking two textbooks he says he could not afford from the University of Washington bookstore. Again, the charges were eventually dismissed after Cann paid a fine, but he failed to attend at least one hearing and again a judge issued a bench warrant.
Cann called the incidents “horrible lapses in judgment,” but he said they should not define him.
Pollet said “it’s up to the voters to decide” if the incidents matter.
Pollet took nearly 60 percent of the vote in the two-person primary.
Cann has raised slightly more money, however, about $106,000 to some $101,000 for Pollet.
There’s a similar age gap at play in the district’s other state House race, where the 38-year-old Farrell is taking on Siegfriedt, who is 63.
But Farrell says she has plenty of experience, including serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer and leading the Transportation Choices Coalition.
Siegfriedt paints that background as a disadvantage, arguing that it indicates that Farrell will focus only on that issue and won’t prioritize fighting for an income tax that Seattle voters want.
“In all the doors that I’ve gone to, and it’s been thousands of them now, I’ve heard exactly one person tell me that her number-one priority is transportation,” Siegfriedt said.
But Farrell said education would be her focus in Olympia. She noted that she is one of only a few legislative candidates in an open race who has earned endorsements from the state teachers union and the League of Education Voters, a group advocating for changes in education.
In the other race, the union is supporting Pollet and the league is supporting Cann.
“Transit is a really interesting and important issue, but at the end of the day I care really deeply about education,” Farrell said.
Both Farrell and Siegfriedt are calling for a more “fair” tax structure, including income and capital gains taxes to raise additional revenue and rely less on sales taxes. Farrell, who is supported by the environmental community, has floated a state carbon tax.
Siegfriedt said she also wants to become the housing champion of the Legislature, working to help get housing for those who need it.
Farrell got about 30 percent of the vote in the primary, while Siegfriedt got about 22 percent and four others split the rest.
Farrell has raised more money, about $91,500 to Siegfriedt’s roughly $63,000.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.