This is the fourth 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, and Darshan Rauniyar. I will gladly interview any candidate running for office this year, so if you would like an interview, please email me here.
Suzan Delbene brought a quiet but direct energy to our interview. “I’m a workhorse, not a show horse,” she said, echoing her line from a recent labor forum. “We need more workhorses in public office, people getting involved in the details of crafting good policy.”
Delbene has a rags to riches biography. Her father lost his job as an airline pilot when she was growing up, and the family just scraped by. When Suzan graduated college, her parents moved in with her because they had nowhere else to go. Since then, she worked her way up the ladder to become an executive at Microsoft, a candidate for Congress in 2010 and then most recently, head of the state Department of Revenue.
Which brings us to 2012, where she is running for the newly created 1st district. “I’m running because I believe strongly that we need to stand up for the middle class. Today, I don’t think we are giving people the same opportunities and chances. The previous generation invested in us so we could have those opportunities, and I don’t think we are doing that today, we are letting that fall apart.”
Without missing a beat, she dives right into the economy. “My number one priority is getting this economy back on track. How do we do that? First, we need to get our financial system on a sound track, so that people feel their investments are secure. We need to implement a modern Glass-Steagall Act, that would separate investment and commercial banking.” Without diving too much into policy, she discussed about the community aspects of the Great Recession and how her experience helps.
“I know what it is like to start a small business, you need to know how the real world works before you craft policy, so you know how it has an effect. My experience is unique. In my personal experience, its not just an issue of money for families, it is pride, it is confidence and building a steady economy makes our communities stronger.”
“Infrastructure, is actually two issues,” Delbene begins. “To help business build a strong economy, we need to invest because they build their business model on top of infrastructure that we provide for them, but education is part of our business infrastructure.” She cited the need for an educated workforce, and how thoroughly intertwined the issues of economic growth and investment in education are. “[Education and infrastructure] are things we have invested in the past and it is much cheaper to keep them going. Not investing is just going to create a worse problem for us down the line. That’s not just policy, that’s a smart budget decision.”
But what about education specifically? At first, Delbene highlights the obvious, “Our education is underfunded,” before moving to the technical, “Early learning is critical. If we can get kids on track there, that determines their success through their education. Every dollar spent in early learning saves us seven dollars later on helping kids get caught up.”
As for K-12, she notes that we have had lots of debates about it but, “we haven’t made it a priority yet.” When we got to higher education, Delbene once again tied it back to economic growth. “These are institutions that have given us vital economic growth, they provide the great new ideas for the future and create new economies. Investment in basic research turns into business ideas and you can track that. We can show how we have prospered from those investments.”
I asked her about the proposed Cherry Point terminal and she gave what I am beginning to describe as the basic boilerplate answer. “I see that the permits just got submitted, we need a thorough review and we have to let that process happen. It is an economic opportunity, yes, but we need to understand the impacts before we do anything. There is a process in place and we have to let that happen.”
Considering what happened at our last meeting, I asked about marriage equality and Delbene reiterated her support. “I support marriage equality, I supported it in my last race and was endorsed then by the Equal Rights Washington and the Human Rights Campaign, and host of other gay rights groups.”
I asked her about her position on foreign policy, considering that the whole realm of foreign affairs has not gotten much attention this campaign. “I’ve traveled around the world,” she begins, “We need to live our values in our foreign policy, there is so much we can do, being proactive with aid and helping people out. I’d like us to think long-term and proactive, not reactive, we should be able to help people out and get them on the right path before our alternatives becomes military. We don’t think strategically or long-term enough.” But, like clockwork, the conversation shortly returned to the economy. “We can’t even make a budget decision that isn’t even more than a few months ahead.”
What does she describe as her biggest strength in this campaign? She immediately cited her strong fund-raising where she has pulled in over $340,000 in the last quarter. Delbene attributed that to her strong listening skills and her business experience. She also touted the her recent labor endorsements from the Machinist and Aerospace Workers 751, and the Teamsters No. 28.
However, the big news that we are breaking here on The Political Junkie is that Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen has endorsed Suzan Delbene for Congress. Jensen, a bit of a local political maverick, represents the largest population base of the 1st Congressional District that is in Whatcom County. Here’s a picture of them taking a walking tour of Ferndale.
So what was my impression of Suzan Delbene? She is a great deal stronger in person that she is on the stump. She has a quiet, thoughtful presence, and a dogged persistence to staying on a message that resonates with people (“Jobs, Economy, Business,” wash and repeat) which is something I can admire as a former campaign manager. She is definitely racking up endorsements from some heavy weights, and her cautious, steady approach contrasts greatly with some of her Democratic opponents (see tomorrow’s interview with Darcy Burner). She might be just the right fit for this new 1st Congressional District, and Delbene’s opponents underestimate her at their own peril.