This is the first in a series of interviews I’m doing with candidates for the 1st Congressional district. You can read my first impressions of these candidates here. I will gladly interview any candidate running for office this year, so if you would like an interview, please email me here.
Right off the bat, Laura Ruderman wanted to correct the record. In my previous post on the Congressional candidates, I noted that she was “rocking her quirky soccer mom vibe”. She wanted to set things straight. She is definitely a “Baseball and Karate Mom”, not so much into soccer. With that critical correction out-of-the-way, we jumped right into the interview.
We started off with the basics, why is Laura Ruderman running for Congress? “I’m running for Congress because there is alot of important work to be done. We need to get the economy moving, we need to protect everyone’s rights, we need to support public education without tearing the system apart and we need to clean up the planet for our kids.”
Nice and succinct but there are several candidate’s running for the seat, what makes you stand out? Laura flashes me one of those big Anne Hathaway-eque smiles and launches right into it. “I have a record of serving in public office, and I am the only candidate that has been able to consistently beat Republicans in Republican districts, including when I unseated an incumbent Republican in ’98.” Ruderman, a former Microsoft employee, served in the 45th LD from 1999 to 2005. Laura went on to stress her work ethic. “Nobody works harder than me; campaigning or in the office. When I first ran, I personally knocked on 12,000 doors. The next election, I had personally knocked on 15,000 doors. In 2002, I personally knocked on over 20,000 doors.” For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of political doorbelling, this is really impressive. If you are lively, and in a dense neighborhood, you can hit 50 houses in an hour. Just think about that for a bit.
She also had a strong reputation of constituent service while in the state legislature. “When I got into office, anyone who called the legislative hotline got a call back from me personally. I work hard to make sure people know that they have a voice.” She cited this as one of the problems with our current political set-up. “Nature abhors a vacuum. When you have a gap between elected officials and the people they represent, then that’s where the money and the hate and the negative crap comes in. When elected officials and the people are close, the negative stuff just bounces right off.”
What would be your number one priority in Congress? “Well, you just got me on my soapbox about democracy so it is hard to get me off of it. Look, I don’t think it is realistic that a freshman can go to congress and change all the rules, but I can affect my behavior.” While she acknowledge that she will not be able to call back everyone who contacts a congressional office, she does commit to picking “at least 25 people a day” at random from those who contacted her office to call back.
From an issues perspective, a great deal depends on who controls the house next year. Whether she is playing offense or defense, she wants to protect social security (“Scrap the Cap!”) and medicare, ensure equal rights for women and the LBGT community and “nurture the beginning signs of the economic recovery we are seeing.”
In terms of her time in the legislature, Ruderman mentioned a number of proud moments. She is “phenomenally proud of voting for collective bargaining rights for state employees” and voting for the bill that required insurance companies to cover contraception. She talked with pride about the expansion of health care to poor children(SCHIP) but then, once again, went back to constituent service. “I was one of the first political campaigns to send out weekly email updates in ’98.” When she got elected, she continued to send weekly updates, but the state legislature put a stop to that by her second term. They have since changed their mind and now, all state representatives have online newsletters.
In terms of regrets from the state legislature, she quoted the recent movie Red Tails, “Experience is the harshest of teachers, because it gives you the test before the lesson.” She talked about a vote during her first term to make an assault against a referee more of a crime than any other assault. There had been a couple of high-profile kids sports parents yelling at referee incidents and they state legislature was looking into the issue. The bill passed 98 to 1, but Ruderman wishes she could have made that 97 to 2. How is this assault any more or less than any other, she noted.
Moving on to local issues, she addressed the proposed Cherry Point facility. “I support the development of a deep-water port, and right now the way to pay for it is with the coal export contract. Over the next several years, as we go through the scoping process, I hope we can find a different way to get it built. But I think we get into trouble when we treat things like emergencies that aren’t. We have some time to work out a better solution.” She has since clarified these remarks. See new post here.
At the Whatcom Democrats meeting, she said that intends to caucus with the Progressive Caucus. I asked her to define what a “Progressive” means to her. “First of all, my husband made me promised to caucus with the General Aviation caucus too. Most people don’t know but you can caucus with multiple groups. But how do I define Progressive?” She paused, taking a moment to collect her thoughts. “I define a progressive as someone who wants to move forwards, not backwards, forward in creating a more just and equal society.”
But how does she square this view with the fact that in 2002, she was named a “Rising Star of the Year” by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a centrist group that advocated a more right-ward shift for Democrats on many issues and was staffed by former Bill Clinton campaign people. “I’m glad you brought this up,” said Ruderman, “The DLC came to many people’s attention late in its existence, when they became incredibly hawkish on the Iraq War. I did not agree with them on that position. Like the 95% of Catholic women that use contraception, just because you belong doesn’t mean you agree with everything they preach.”
However, she did like their approach to drafting policy. Let’s say you want cleaner air, she begins. You could legislate that the factory next door must install these scrubbers and filters in the next three years but that method doesn’t take into account the changes in technology over those three years. Maybe it isn’t the most efficient way to do things, and then it takes, literally, an act of congress to change that. The DLC looks at things from the results point of view. Instead, you pass a law that says the air must be this clean, you guys figure out how to do it in the next three years. Government sets the standard but does not determine the method, and that’s what she appreciated about the DLC. She also noted that local democratic heavyweights Frank Chopp and Ed Murray also were involved in the DLC at that time. “They helped me learned how to talk about progressive ideas and act on progressive ideas without scaring away independents and Republicans.”
Going back to her strengths as a candidate, she noted she is currently the only candidate polling at a net positive favorability with Dems, Independents and Reps. Net favorability is when you take the percent of people who like you, and subtract the percent that don’t. For instance, the President usually clocks in about zero (50 for, 50 against) while John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the house, clocks in at a negative twenty-eight percent. You can find some of the latest national polling data here.
I asked about the state of the primary and the money race. While noting that she had raised the most money and has the most cash on hand (i.e. she hasn’t spent it all), she said that she is confident she will have the resources to get her message out. “We know that the candidate with the most money doesn’t always win, just look at Meg Whitman and Cairly Fiorina in California.” History bears this out. In 2010, most of the self-funding candidates lost, including one of the current candidates in this race, Suzan Delbene.
But what does she think of her competition? “It looks like the three women candidates (Ruderman, Burner, Delbene) have separated out ahead from the three men (Hobbs, Goodman, and Rauniyar). On a global equality perspective, we have to give three cheers for that. It demonstrates the progress we’ve made.” Without missing a beat, she quipped, “Someone ought to figure out what they are doing at Microsoft, they are developing leadership in women like no other company.” But back to the competition, “I think all three of us would do a good job, I think the real question people need to tune into is who can actually get there.”
“I think in this sort of crowded primary, when people are so fed up with the talking heads, not even talking heads, the yelling heads, that getting to meet and see a real candidate in the flesh and blood is so important. Some time last Friday, I knocked on door 1,000. I’ve knocked on doors in Ferndale, Bothell, Goldbar, Rockport, Sumas, Snohomish, Redmond, Kirkland, and Woodenville. I’ve doorbelled in every county in this district, and I’m going to keep on working hard.”
All and all, I came away from the interview with the same impression I had of Laura at our first meeting. She is energized, upbeat, but brings the tenacity of a seasoned-campaigner with none of the glossy politician double-speak. She stressed her commitment to marriage equality, her passion for the LGBT community, but also touched on health care, retirements and the ever-looming economy. Overall, I was struck by the sensible realism that she projects. Her vision of public service is not a pie-in-the-sky, tackle the corruption and vanquish the bad guys, but a straight-forward “this is how we change things in the real world, one step at a time, one vote at a time, one race at a time.” A breath of fresh air during a tense political season.
Tomorrow, I interview Roger Goodman, who is also running for the 1st Congressional District seat. Feel free to share your thoughts on the race or the candidates in the comments below.