A seasoned Republican candidate and a novice Democratic candidate are vying for one of the state’s key districts for higher education.
Gail Rowland, a retiree from Washington State University, wants to buck the three-decade trend of Democrats losing the District 9 Senate seat. She says her background as a former university employee, her community involvement and her long-term residency in the district make her a strong candidate.
But the 56-year-old political newcomer from Pullman is up against six-term Republican Rep. Mark Schoesler, who points to his years of experience within state government.
A fifth-generation farmer from Ritzville who at home drives around in a ‘66 Pontiac inherited from his grandmother, Schoesler chose to leave the House for the Senate this fall. He said he has already fought for Eastern Washington’s issues and already has professional friendships on both sides of the Senate aisle. “I believe I would be the most effective representative for the district.”
Rowland argues that it’s time to put a Democrat in the seat, especially one who knows the intricacies of higher education and government, experience she amassed during her 33 years working throughout the campus at WSU and serving on several campuswide committees. She retired in 2003.
“I think the Republicans haven’t done the things they could have in Eastern Washington,” said Rowland. In many cases, the needs of the East Side of the state get passed over, she said.
“I hope to be more of a collaborator with the legislators on the West Side,” she said.
Schoesler said during his time in the House, he was able to pass legislation regardless of whether Republicans were in the majority. He cited capital budget projects including funding laboratories, classroom buildings and greenhouses on the district’s campuses at Eastern Washington University and WSU.
But education is only half of it, said Schoesler. Among his goals as senator are to continue working on agriculture and water issues that affect both East Side and West Side residents, and to protect and support the smaller rural communities by improving the state’s general business climate, lifting burdensome regulations and making sure that the tools the towns have to develop infrastructure continue to be available.
The Senate has recently lost several senior Republicans, who stepped away to run for other positions or take other jobs, said Schoesler. That is why it’s so important to choose someone with experience who might chair a committee right away, he said. “That’s important not only to our district, but to all of Eastern Washington.”
Besides tending to the higher education constituents and the larger communities of Pullman, Clarkston and Cheney, both candidates have gone into the far reaches of the district, such as Pomeroy and St. John, to visit voters.
Rowland was particularly affected to see how small towns like Tekoa and Fairfield have struggled with diminishing state support since the repeal of the license plate tax. Fairfield’s Town Council was recently discussing how much to spend on a windbreak, budgeting down to the $3 shrub. “Now that’s really budgeting,” said Rowland. “They need more.”
Schoesler also has been campaigning around the district. People are the most important part of the job, he said, adding that as a state representative, he takes pains to address concerns in person. One morning last week, he was helping a constituent find answers about hunting season. Schoesler knew where to go and quickly got the man his information before hitting the campaign trial.
Both candidates say they have the support of a wide range of interests.
Schoesler points to his endorsements, which include the Washington Farm Bureau, a range of medical and dental industry associations, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, and the Federation of State Employees. His endorsements reflect just about every angle important to the district, he said.
Rowland’s first listed endorsement comes from Tom Foley, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. She also boasts a long line of individual supporters as well as the Washington State Labor Council and the National Organization for Women.
Voters will have a chance to see the candidates at a forum from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday in the Pullman City Council Chambers.