Doorbelling is not the primary means of reaching voters in Washington's Seventh Legislative District; meeting voters where they are often involves small town festivals. That's where we meet Sen. Shelly Short and Karen Hardy.
Normally, elections in odd-numbered years in Washington are for local offices and measures. But this is an unusually active year at the legislative level. Voters will decide five state Senate and three state House races. That’s especially important in the Senate because the balance of power is precarious. The Majority Coalition, which includes 24 Republicans and one conservative Democrat, holds a one-seat lead.
One of those seats up for grabs is in the Seventh District, which covers parts of 10 counties in northeast Washington, including the northern suburbs of Spokane.
It’s reliably Republican. But this year, the Democrats have fielded a candidate who has vowed to be run again next year if she doesn’t win in November.
The Seventh District is one of the biggest in the state. Most of it is rural and campaigning door-to-door isn’t an efficient use of time.
So, candidates such as Republican Senator Shelly Short often meet voters at events such as the annual cider fest in the town of Marcus, population about 180. It’s along Lake Roosevelt, about 15 miles northwest of Colville.
“These community events, the parades, the fairs, Fathers’ Day rodeo, all of those things are where you see people gathered. And we’ve always said that’s our rural form of doorbelling,” Short said.
State Highway 25 runs right past the town. You’d miss it if you weren’t paying attention, but on cider fest day, Marcus is a destination. State troopers re-route traffic on the highway so that classic cars, fire engines and Cub Scouts can have a short parade route. Passengers in the cars throw candy for the kids. Shelly Short shakes hands with people along the route.
The Seventh has long been a rural district. Now it dips into suburban Spokane, which requires its representatives to think about urban issues too. But Short says she hasn’t changed her approach much.
“I think most folks want us to make sure we’re doing thoughtful balanced budgets, making sure that we’re helping our small businesses and not being a burden. And so those things, kind of, they cross the urban and rural divide all at the same time," she said.
Short served three full terms as a state House member, and during this year’s session, was chosen to replace Brian Dansel as the district’s senator. Her big success this year was getting approval for a bill that provides tax incentives for an Alberta company which recently announced plans to build a silicon processing plant just south of Newport. That’s a big coup in an area where the economy often struggles.
“They’re building an entirely new manufacturing plant; 130-to-150 really good family wage jobs," Short said. "They’re going to have to meet all the permits. You know, they’re meeting with all the regulatory agencies, nothing sidestepped. But I am super proud to have been a part of that.”
Short went against her party’s leaders and voted against an increase in the state property tax designed to satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate that Washington spend more money for public schools.
Short is challenged by Democrat Karen Hardy.
At an weekend harvest festival north of Spokane, Karen Hardy is giving a visitor a ride in a buggy pulled by two large black work horses. She’s the head teamster at the Rocking K Ranch in Deer Park. She trains the horses, cares for them, runs them at events like this. She and her team work weddings, hay rides, sleigh rides. Occasionally they pull a harrow in the fields.
“But mostly these are just what I call city work horses (laughs), which means they have to be trained for traffic and buses. Buddy knows how to read stop lights. He watches the cross signal and sees it flashing; he knows when it’s going to change,” Hardy said.
Hardy grew up in a rural area south of Seattle and spent summers at a family farm in Kentucky. She left for awhile, worked for an airline for 20 years and then came back to the farm. She and her husband leased a place in New Mexico, then moved back to Washington. They now live with their eight horses in Stevens County. Hardy says it’s not right that voters in her district often have only one choice on the ballot.
“There’s a lot of people out here that are very like-minded, very progressively-minded, very independent, not necessarily Democrats, but definitely not conservatives,” she said.
When no Democrats stepped up to run for the Senate during this year’s special election, Hardy decided to throw in her cowboy hat.
She says rural northeast Washington has struggled economically while Republicans have represented the region in the legislature and Congress. She says the district needs someone more interested in working together to solve common problems than in following political ideology. And she says working with horses is good training for working with politicians.
“I can’t force these big horses to do anything. We have to agree on it and we have to come to an understanding that we’re going to do this together because it’s what’s best for all of us, kind of like working in the legislature,” Hardy said.
Hardy sees this election as a chance to get acquainted with the district’s voters. If she doesn’t win this year, and the August primary shows she has a long way to go, she plans to run again next year.