As a first-time candidate with no record in elected office, Schrier makes a clear contrast with Rossi, a real-estate investor and legislative veteran making his fourth run for higher political office.
In the early 2000s, when Kim Schrier moved to Issaquah to start a pediatrics practice, Dino Rossi was a second-term state senator who soon would lead budget negotiations for Republicans in Olympia.
By 2003, Rossi had launched his first campaign for governor, ending in a historically narrow 2004 loss to Democrat Christine Gregoire. Four years later, he lost a rematch. Two years after that, Rossi ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate.
Throughout that time, Schrier was treating children at a Virginia Mason clinic, while raising her own son with her husband, David. While she occasionally volunteered for Democrats, she says she wasn’t interested in becoming a politician.
She was even a spotty voter, missing nearly half of elections over the past decade and a half, records show.
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“Running for office was never, never in the remotest corner of my mind,” Schrier recalled Saturday to a group of union campaign volunteers at the Machinist’s Hall in Auburn. President Donald Trump’s election, she said, “was a huge turning point for me.”
Schrier has gone from political neophyte to vying with Rossi in one of the hottest and most expensive 2018 midterm House races in the country: the contest to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, in the 8th Congressional District.
As a first-time candidate with no record in elected office, Schrier makes a clear contrast with Rossi, a real-estate investor and legislative veteran making his fourth run for higher political office. He last won an election in 2000, when he was re-elected to his state Senate seat. But polls show Rossi is as well-known as any Republican incumbent in the state.
Rossi has pointed to his experience as a state legislator, saying he knows how to negotiate multibillion dollar budgets and pass legislation. He has derided Schrier as part of “the angry crowd” of Seattle-style protesters motivated only by animus toward Trump.
In January, Mona Das, one of Schrier’s Democratic primary rivals, also commented on the resumes of her party’s 8th District candidates, including Schrier, wondering if a more well-known contender would jump in.
“Not a single one of us has any experience [in elected office]. That to me is really shocking,” said Das, who quit the congressional race and is running this fall against state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn.
An enlarged copy of Das’ quote is on display at Rossi’s Issaquah campaign office.
Schrier failed to vote in 18 of 40 elections since 2003, according to King County Elections records. Like many Americans, she regularly voted in presidential elections, but she frequently skipped some primaries and special elections, and she missed general elections in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
But in a year where a backlash against Trump and the House GOP majority appears to be brewing, Schrier and her supporters say her background as a doctor, mother and political outsider may be just what voters crave.
“I love the fact that she hasn’t been in politics before. She’s fresh. She’s going into it because she actually cares about it. She cares about what she’s fighting for,” said Melissa Rogers, of Covington, a member of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, who was among a few dozen volunteers who gathered in Auburn over the weekend to doorbell for Schrier.
Gradual move to “Medicare for all”
In a story that has become part of her stump speech, Schrier says she decided to make her first run for office after meeting with an aide to Reichert early last year.
Along with two other doctors, she made the case for Reichert to oppose a Republican health-care bill moving through Congress, one that would abolish large parts of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law and, estimates said, lead millions to become uninsured.
A few days later, Reichert voted to advance the bill in committee. He later would vote against the final version, but by that time Schrier had decided she would run against her longtime congressman. Facing a passel of Democratic challengers, Reichert announced last September he would not seek-election, leading Rossi to jump into the open-seat race.
Schrier, 50, placed second in the August primary, edging out attorney and former deputy King County prosecutor Jason Rittereiser, to face Rossi on the Nov. 6 ballot.
If elected, Schrier, whose website lists her fluency in Spanish and a local magazine’s “Golden Teddy Award” as favorite Seattle area pediatrician, would bring the least experience in government and politics of Washington’s current congressional delegation.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, also lacked elected experience before winning a seat in Congress in 2012, but she did lead the state Department of Revenue after losing her first run for Congress in 2010.
In the 2017-18 House, 222 members have had prior experience as state or territorial legislators, two are former governors and 35 are former mayors, according to the Congressional Research Service. Lawyers and business owners are also well represented.
Schrier says her different background would not be a bad thing, given the current state of Congress.
“There are a lot of people in Washington, D.C., with a lot of legislative experience. I do not dismiss that experience. But I think we need different kinds of experience,” Schrier said.
She frequently notes there are no female doctors serving in the House, and she has made health care a centerpiece of her campaign, outlining a plan to move gradually toward a “Medicare for all” system by first offering a public insurance option as an alternative to private insurance.
In a year that has seen a record number of women run for office, Schrier also could be part of a demographic shift in the Capitol. Eighty-four women now serve in the House of Representatives — 61 Democrats and 23 Republicans — according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Schrier has worked for 16 years as a pediatrician for Virginia Mason. She and her husband reported income of $210,000 this past year, mostly from her salary but also including $62,000 in stock dividends, according to her 2017 federal income-tax return, which she released publicly. (As he has in past elections, Rossi would not release his tax return.)
Schrier also reported a capital loss of about $215,000 — a hit she attributed to a missed bet on Apple’s stock price. In a financial-disclosure form filed with the U.S. House, she reported between $3.5 million and $13.5 million in assets, chiefly in tech stocks and other investments.
“Filling this missing voice”
Absent a voting record in the Legislature or even school board or city council, opponents — including Democrats in the primary and Republicans since then — have, at times, seemed to scrape for material to hit her in attack ads.
She has been slammed for statements made in Democratic forums or to media in the primary, such as indicating support for the carbon-fee initiative on the fall ballot.
Political opponents also have gone after her pediatrics practice in ads that accuse Schrier of turning away poor children on Medicaid. While it is true that Virginia Mason accepts just one of the state’s Medicaid insurance plans, officials at Virginia Mason and pediatrics experts have pointed out Schrier and other individual doctors have no say over that policy.
Schrier said she finds such attacks particularly galling coming from PACs allied with congressional Republicans, who have sought to cut Medicaid spending. It’s more evidence, she argues, of lacking perspective by some members of the House.
“I don’t think that lawyers and politicians should be devising a national health plan without a woman physician in Congress. I am filling this missing voice,” she said.