(EDITOR’S NOTE: With two weeks till ballots are mailed for the August 17th primary, we’re taking a closer look daily at the candidates in two contested local races. This week, we are bringing you stories about WSB conversations with the four contenders for 34th District State House, Position 2. We began Tuesday with Joe Fitzgibbon (story here); today, Mike Heavey.)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When a candidate takes his/her turn speaking at a political group’s endorsement meeting, you might liken it to a baseball slugger stepping to the plate, ready to hit one out of the park.
When Mike Heavey spoke to the 34th District Democrats the night they decided who to endorse in the 34th District State House Position 2 primary, his speech – which startled some people to the point of audible gasps – was more like an announcement he wasn’t taking a swing in this particular stadium: He said he wouldn’t seek the endorsement, facing two rivals who were “known quantities” in that arena.
By name alone, Heavey, a 30-year-old West Seattle resident, is hardly unknown. His father is a former state senator and current King County Superior Court Judge. He has been working for King County Councilmember Jan Drago in recent months, representing and/or assisting her at high-profile events dealing with current top-of-mind issues like the South Park Bridge.
But when we talked about that notable night during our recent conversation at a coffee shop in White Center, he had no regrets about withdrawing from that particular endorsement process. Instead, he told a family story or two about triumph despite the absence of a certain endorsement or two.
Rather than groups, his online endorsement list features individuals – names you’d recognize, names you probably wouldn’t.
(Photo from his 1st visit to WSB’s spot at West Seattle Summer Fest last weekend)
Heavey says his father’s advice for campaigning was to “doorbell, doorbell, doorbell.” And there are two other politically experienced “patriarchs” in the family, he mentions – including his uncle. “He was state Labor Council president during my dad’s first campaign, and endorsed his opponent. … So I saw Uncle Larry at his 80th birthday party and he asked, did the state Labor Council endorse you? I said no. ‘You’re keeping up the Heavey tradition’, he said.”
So Heavey is pragmatic about the situation: “I think the majority of the average 34th District voters just want good schools and clean water and a safe community; I don’t think they are that obsessed with what the 34th District Democrats said or some acronym for a labor union … What wins is who can knock on the most doors and most effectively communicate the message to the voters.”
And he cites his involvement with a recent high-profile success in the latter – running the “Eastside field office” for King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s successful campaign last year, a campaign that did not necessarily look like a sure bet – until the votes were counted and the sizable victory margin was clear. Heavey says he learned a lot from that.
Now, he says, while his Democratic opponents in his view “were focused on recruiting PCO’s” (precinct committee officers) for support, “we were focusing on doorbelling and fundraising.” In the latter category, he has the lead, by a few hundred dollars, as of this morning.
“I think that direct one on one contact is the best way to articulate your point of view, and why you’re the best candidate in the race. … While (he, Marcee Stone and Joe Fitzgibbon) are all Democrats, the voters are looking for someone whose values mirror their own, and (who wants to) go down to Olympia and, when the budget gets tough, represent the values they stand for.”
“In West Seattle, Burien, Vashon Island, people consistently support human services and education levies. So my job in Olympia (would be) to protect those interests (in budgeting).”
As for what he would seek to tackle personally, if elected: “The initiative process – that (would be) my number-one priority as a freshman legislator – much-needed initiative reform is my #1 goal.”
For example: “The affidavit you sign on the back – the Attorney General says there’s no legal backing to enforce it … I think strengthening that clause, (implementing) identifiable penalties for committing fraud, would go a long way. The real issue is that the voter-initiated law, as it was set up by founders of our Constitution … they had a much-different vision in mind, they didn’t have to deal with carnival circuits of signature-gatherers descending on our state from California.”
(Not that he is opposed to the initiative process – in fact, when we arrived at the coffee shop to interview him, the signature-gathering period was still under way, and he was encouraging someone else in line to sign a petition on the counter for income-tax-initiative I-1098, which he says he wholeheartedly supports.)
Heavey would require signature-gatherers to be Washington residents, and would raise the fee for submitting an initiative. He says it’s so low right now that “it allows the system to be gamed.” Overall, he says, the process needs reform because “I think we’ve seen the downside of how these initiatives can affect our overall state budget – like transportation (funding), with the car-tab (taxes) – I think that everybody likes to pay less taxes, so it’s really easy to vote that way, but as a state, I think we have certain values supporting a strong education system, caring for the less fortunate, and that people don’t necessarily (understand) the direct correlation, ‘if I vote for this (initiative), this (service) will be cut’.”
Asked what he sees as this past legislative session’s greatest success, Heavey ponders a while and offers “not instituting an all-cuts budget. … I think they did a good job of raising revenue while making sure that critical front-line services don’t get cut.”
But some observe, we note, that the “revenue raising” isn’t exactly hitting those who have money to burn. Acknowledging that, Heavey muses, “That’s the big debate – do we add (taxes like a soda tax) or close loopholes; at some point, we’ve got to look at sunsetting some (loopholes) … but it’s not fair to cut somebody’s subsidy all at once; that could have a ripple effect in our state’s largest employers.”
Another achievement in the past session, he adds, was the passage of a “definition of what education means, so we can see what we spend”; he thinks the court ruling about inadequate state funding of education was an important one, and he hopes that an income tax resulting from I-1098 could bring “a much-needed revenue source for education. … fully funding it is always going to be a challenge.” And education, he says, is where he hopes to achieve a House committee assignment if elected, though he knows “it boils down to where the leadership wants to put you.”
We switch gears – how did he decide to carry on the family tradition of seeking elective office?
“I love helping people,” Heavey says, tracing that back to his first jobs after college, bartending and waiting tables. “I think the service industry is a valuable experience for anyone. … I liked the idea of someone coming (to an establishment to enjoy) a meal and a drink, and to be a part of that, is an enlightening experience.”
He had studied political science and criminal justice in college, and that eventually landed him in an unusual job with the online travel-booking service Expedia: “There’s a large community of organized crime that seeks to defraud Expedia on a day-to-day basis – they steal credit cards, use them to buy a ticket for a lowlife criminal, who exchanges it (for something lower-cost) and pockets the cash.” While he recalls the job as a “great experience” that taught him much about how businesses work, “at the end of the day, it got frustrating – I was protecting a bottom line and we would never arrest (the culprits).”
He went on to work on what he described as “crime prevention through environment design – helping businesses maximize profitability through mitigating their costs associated with fraud and lawsuits … that was great, I met a lot of people, saw how small businesses worked, but when the economy went south in 2009, the budgets for these preventive projects went by the wayside.”
And that, he says, is when he went to work for the Constantine campaign. “The executive’s race was heating up – Dow had served with my dad; I hold him in the highest regard, and I kind of wanted to get back to that notion of public service. … So I jumped in and started with four people in an office, $1.2 million raised in a down economy … we thwarted the Republicans’ best chance (to take the executive’s office); I was really proud of the work that we did. Along the campaign trail, I went to district organizational meetings, and that’s where I met Jan (Drago),” for whom he now works.
Heavey says his social-justice work also has pointed him toward politics. He mentions “letter-writing campaigns on issues from health care to abolishing the death penalty,” as well as volunteering at food banks, and working with substance-addicted youths. He talks about serving on a mentoring group at a treatment facility, “meeting with (young people in recovery) and talking with them about how to make better choices in their life … a lot of times you’d see people fail, and go back out, but the one person who makes it, is a good feeling.” That leads him to musing on another area about which he says he’s passionate, “investing in more alternatives to incarceration,” such as a county crisis center to help mentally ill, drug-dependent people get access to help that can keep them from overwhelming front-line public services like jails and hospitals: “These people are sick, not criminal, and anybody who has worked in law enforcement knows they will get arrested just to get a bed or clean up.” The recent jail-siting process, he notes, which could have led to a municipal jail in West Seattle, had a silver lining: “Suddenly everybody was open to the alternatives (to incarceration),” moving away from the criminalization of alcohol/drug addicts who need help rather than punishment.
His social-justice interests, he says, are rooted in his schooling: “My family put education first. In spite of what people’s conceptions of state senators (may be), they don’t get paid that much. My parents had to scrape and save to send me to the best schools. I went to a Jesuit (-run) school – the mission of the Jesuits is based in social justice … really carrying out what some believe the Christian message is, not just conversion.” Heavey also says he tutored while in college, and “made the biggest difference in teaching kids how to use the Internet … (it would) ignite their imagination for stuff they’re interested in, they’d want to look it up.”
What does he see as the hottest local issues in the district, and how they can relate to work in state government? For Seattle, there’s fighting crime, funded through “a lot of taxing authority (that) goes through the state.” He also mentions the current concern over how to curb “combined-sewer overflows” in parts of southwest West Seattle – with the responsibility falling to the county, fulfilling mandates made by the state – and observes that what’s happened in the community surrounding the pump station at Lowman Beach “shows some progress we’ve seen in how government represents these people – (the county) had a plan, (the residents) got mad, (the county) said we’re gonna pull back …” He views the issue overall as a “tough one,” acknowledging that while some might support the status quo – multiple overflows each year, no control project potentially digging up Lowman Beach Park and/or other local areas – “I think that’s not healthy … some people don’t recognize the overall problem.”
For Vashon Island, he is concerned about making sure the island has the level of ferry service it needs – both state (car) ferries and the passenger-only service currently provided by King County: “That is the success of sustainable development – being able to have all these people commute to downtown, having an effect on the carbon footprint.”
On another transportation issue, he mentions the Alaskan Way Viaduct: “My dad was on the Transportation Committee … I always heard The Viaduct was fine, it (was like) coffee tables put together. (So) I was always a retrofit person … but working for Dow, I saw what it took to have leadership (on the issue) – the tunnel was the best option to keep businesses open, it wouldn’t cripple the city while we build it. … It’s time to do something.”
Still on the transportation topic, he’s heartened by the recent push to finally secure funding to replace the now-closed South Park Bridge. “When I started working in King County, it was a really sad situation – (but) I’m very optimistic about the way the various government entites came together. It really is unprecedented for people who don’t have jurisdiction on the property saying ‘hey, we’ll chip in’.”
As for the campaign, it’s on with doorbelling, parades, festivals, other chances to meet voters. He remembers doing it all with his father during the senior Heavey’s campaigns, door-to-door campaigning plus “waving in parades … or standing on the overpass and waving signs.” Despite not having originally been on the political track, he says the family’s “long tradition” led him to “always kind of have it in the back of my mind … I always thought about and kind of idealized public service (but) I didn’t really fully understand the positive impact you can have until, as I go doorbelling, people are telling me the great stuff my dad did for them – (saying things like) ‘I will vote for any Heavey for the rest of my life because of the jersey barriers on the Spokane Street Viaduct and the 1st Avenue South Bridge’ … That makes you feel good … (even) when it’s cloudy on the horizon.”
ENDORSEMENTS: Here’s his current online list
FUNDRAISING: $29,650 in contributions as of early today (7/14/2010), compared to $29,156 for Joe Fitzgibbon, $28,693 for Marcee Stone, $5,112 for Geoffrey “Mac” McElroy, per the state Public Disclosure Commission website. (To see who has given Heavey money, go here.)
WHITE CENTER – SEATTLE OR BURIEN? “I am inclined to support Seattle annexing White Center, I think it’s a better fit.” However: “As a legislator, I’d like to advocate for a more-nuanced approach to annexation … I’d like to see if maybe we could have a dual annexation of the remaining area, which would require amending something … maybe even let the precincts have self-determination … at the end of the day, that might make everyone happy.”
Tuesday, we published the story of our conversation with Joe Fitzgibbon; tomorrow, it’ll be Geoffrey “Mac” McElroy; and on Friday, Marcee Stone.
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