Democrat Suzan DelBene says she emphasize her experience with businesses and nonprofits and most recently as the state's chief tax collector.
Democrat Suzan DelBene joined an already crowded field in the state’s hottest 2012 congressional race Thursday, resigning as director of the state Department of Revenue to run in the newly redrawn 1st Congressional District.
DelBene is a wealthy former Microsoft executive and high-tech entrepreneur who spent nearly $2.3 million of her own money in an unsuccessful challenge to Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in 2010.
This year, with the state’s political map reshaped by redistricting, DelBene’s Medina home landed in the 1st District being vacated by Democrat Jay Inslee, who’s running for governor.
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The contest already has attracted at least five other Democrats and three Republicans. DelBene said she’ll distinguish herself by bringing “a unique skill set” to the contest, citing her experience working with businesses and nonprofits, and most recently as the state’s chief tax collector.
“I am running because I believe strongly that we need to get folks back to work and address the needs that the folks in the 1st Congressional District have in terms of employment and economic opportunity,” DelBene said.
After losing to Reichert in 2010, she was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to lead the Revenue Department.
In that role, DelBene said she worked on streamlining taxes for small businesses and on a tax-amnesty program that brought in more than $340 million in state and local taxes.
While she’s a millionaire now, DelBene said she understands economic hardship, recalling her family’s struggles after her father lost a job. She attributed her success in part to work-study and college loans.
“We’re eroding those opportunities right now and we need to put them back together so people have those options,” she said.
Asked whether she’d again stake millions on her own campaign, DelBene said, “I will do my part, and I think in the end I’m confident we’re going to have enough money.”
Some of her Democratic rivals said they’re not worried about her money edge.
“I don’t think that this congressional seat is going to be rented to the highest bidder,” said state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. “I think voters are more sophisticated than that.”
Darcy Burner, who ran twice against Reichert but like DelBene is now running in the 1st district, said too many people already believe government doesn’t work for the common person, and “they’re not necessarily going to react well to someone who puts millions of dollars of their own money into a congressional race.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz praised DelBene’s entry, calling her “a good fit for the district as a business Democrat.”
Pelz said he has some concern that there may be too many Democrats in the field, noting that the state’s “top-two” primary system could conceivably result in two Republicans advancing to the general election if Democrats split their votes among too many candidates.
State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur said he doesn’t think either DelBene or Burner, as “Microsoft rich types,” would play well in much of the district.
The new 1st District runs from the populous suburbs of Redmond and Kirkland north to the Canadian border, taking in most of rural Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the redistricting panel that drew up the state’s new congressional boundaries, has called it perhaps the most evenly divided district in the country.
Tim Ceis, the former Seattle deputy mayor and Democratic redistricting panel member, said the district cries out for a centrist.
“It’s a very moderate district. There are some extremes on each end, but the majority of it is really quite smack in the middle.”
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.