This is the sixth in a series of interviews I’m doing with candidates for the 1st Congressional district. You can read my first impressions of these candidates, as well my interviews with Laura Ruderman, Roger Goodman, Darshan Rauniyar, Suzan Delbene and Darcy Burner. I will gladly interview any candidate running for office this year, so if you would like an interview, please email me here.
Sen. Steve Hobbs patiently sips his cup of green tea before wading in to answer the tough questions. “When I get lots of political heat on me, it is nothing compared to what I’ve been through in Kosovo and Iraq. The worse that happens here is an angry PCO lets me have it.” Hobbs is many things; veteran, state senator and currently, candidate for congress in the 1st district.
Why is he running for Congress? “I’ve always had a sense of public service and our county is in a really bad place right now. I just look at this and say someone has to be willing to step in and stand up and fight for working families, and be willing to stand up to special interests, even when they are your friends. I have a record of public service and want to do it again in the other Washington.”
As with the other State Senator I interviewed, I had to ask the really important questions, “So Sen. Hobbs, is Doug Ericksen really a scum-sucking weasel or does he just seem that way?” Hobbs laughed, and then paused to answer carefully. “I don’t like saying bad things about anyone but . . .” Hobbs gives it another moment’s thought. “He represents his base very well, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
Moving right along to the issues, I asked him what his number one priority would be in Congress. “Jobs, who wouldn’t say that?” I note that no one I have interviewed has ever said anything BUT jobs, the question is how. “It’s a combination of things,” begins Hobbs. “We need to create a friendly business environment, we need to push initiatives that promote exports.” I had been typing very diligently but when he mentioned that, my head whipped up. He quickly clarified, “I’m talking about exports state-wide.” Continuing on, Hobbs stressed the need for “FDR-style investment in our infrastructure” to create a “base for economic growth.”
Since Hobbs is one of two candidates for this seat currently in office, I asked him about his proudest accomplishment as a legislator. “There are so many. Most are these are bills people don’t know about or hear about. I passed a bill that increased funding for career and technical funding. I am well-known as an educational reformer. I believe that it is important for people to get to college. The main problem is we are ignoring the 75% who don’t go to college. I’m talking about the people who don’t want to be a doctor, lawyer or an elected official. It is great that we are pushing architects but who is actually going to build the buildings or the airplanes we design?” He also cited his work on veterans’ issues, including a bill that would allow “military dependents” (children of vets) to transfer their credits smoothly, especially when it comes to standardized testing.
All this reform business has surely made Hobbs a controversial figure in the educational community. How would he characterize his relationship with teachers? “It is a little strained, mainly due to a misunderstanding over the health insurance issue. When I talk to teachers, one on one, when I can get past the top-level union PR machine, then we connect.” He talks about his recent efforts to take individual health plans that each school offers to its employees and relocate them all into one large state-wide plan. He also reiterated his support for Charter schools. “We tried to pass a charter school bill, it was a pilot project, only for schools that are failing. It allowed charter schools to be set up. Yes there is a funding issue with our schools, but in good times when there still is no change in the school’s performance, you have to look at other issues.”
On to local issues, what is your take on the proposed Gateway Pacific terminal project? “I’m for it. I want to make sure that the trains are covered, and that we ensure that while this is going on, that we are studying the effects, but I don’t want to see this delayed because it is so important. We need those jobs now. We need to get it operational for the jobs now and the future. When you have goods from our local farms, Skagit and Whatcom, they could go through our port up here instead of Seattle. This isn’t just about coal, it is about the future of our state. We have to move forward on this.” So for those of you keeping track at home, this puts Hobbs in
the same bucket as John Koster and 2nd district Congressman Rick Larsen in supporting the project, but not with any of the other democratic candidates for the 1st.
What about other issues on the ballot this November such as marriage equality? “I was the number two sponsor of the bill. This was a no-brainer.” He cracks a smile, “and unlike my opponents, I actually took the vote for it. My district is opposed to it, but I’m a moderate and to me this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart because I served with gays and lesbians, I still work with some of them in the national guard. How can I look them in the eye and deny them the same rights I have?”
How about the initiative to tax, regulate and legalize marijuana? “You know I did vote for medicinal marijuana in Olympia, but the federal government won’t recognize our authority on the state level. Maybe the solution is to be sold at pharmacies rather than have the dispensaries. I don’t want to see people go to jail for it, I feel it needs to be heavily regulated. The people who grow it in those big grows, they are bad people. If you heavily regulate it, then you won’t have that situation.”
Earlier this year, a gang of three Democratic senators switched sides to vote for the Republican budget which had already been voted down in committee. This guaranteed a special session and killed a number of bills slated to be passed. These three Senators (Tom, Kastama and Sheldon) are all members of the “Roadkill Caucus”, with Hobbs. Why didn’t Hobbs join them in their legislative maneuver? “Because I felt that you don’t provide any votes for any budget until reforms go through. We were successful the year before, we had a bipartisan budget but at the same time we funded family planning, we protected the most vulnerable. The budget should not be a social tool to punish people. Had they not sided with the Republicans but instead simply withheld their votes, we would have the same budget.”
So what makes Hobbs stand out from his competition? “No other Democrat in this race can win Snohomish, I can win Snohomish. It is going to be the key battleground. Name me one candidate that has won votes in Snohomish.You tell me out of those people running for this seat, I have the collection of labor and business. I can win over farmers. If we really want to win the house, you need to win the house and seat, you need someone who beats Koster and holds onto the seat. You need someone who can relate to the voters. I am that man.”
So, in a related vein, how is fundraising going? “Could be better. Suzan Delbene a millionaire, Darcy Burner has this wide network that is impressive, Laura is a professional fundraiser. I just need enough to stay competitive.” He did tote his endorsements including the Lake Stevens Police Guild, a handful of local firefighters, Weyerhaeuser and the National Auto Dealers to name a few.
So what is my personal impression of Sen. Hobbs? He is a conservative Democrat, generally likeable but ready to throw a few sharp elbows when he feels it is justified (see his answer on teachers, yowzer!) I feel that if Suzan Delbene wasn’t in the race, he would rocket to the top of the list as the “moderate choice for a swing district” but with Delbene mopping up the money and heavyweight endorsements, I have a feeling Hobbs might continue to serve in Olympia as opposed to D.C. but it is a long three months till the primary and if there was an opening on the right side of the field, Hobbs is well positioned to make the leap.