Chris Marr calls the 6th District the “swingiest” in the state, and the pitched battles for legislative seats in the past few elections underscore the point. This year is no different as Marr, the incumbent Democratic senator, squares off against Republican Michael Baumgartner, a newcomer.
Marr snatched the seat in 2006 from long-serving Brad Benson after a bruising battle, and it’s clear that both sides are still sore. And so a sharp-elbow campaign has unfolded, with juvenile jabs being traded. Voters would be wise to ignore those scuffles and focus on policy positions, experience and leadership qualities.
Few candidates have a more varied and impressive background to draw on than Marr. Before joining the Legislature, he was a Washington State University regent, a chairman of the Washington state Transportation Commission, a board member of Empire Health Services, president of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce (now Greater Spokane Incorporated) and an owner of a large car dealership.
He brings a sorely needed businessman’s perspective to the Democratic caucus. He voted against the final Democratic budget package because he recognized it wasn’t sustainable over the long haul. He opposes Initiative 1098, which would introduce an income tax for high earners, and supports Initiative 1053, which calls for two-thirds support in both legislative houses to raise taxes.
Those stances show that he can’t be tarred with the “tax and spend” label. Marr is more deal-maker than ideologue, so he is always searching for compromises. He took a run at reforming the state workers’ compensation system, but could not find enough support on either side of the aisle. He saw that an eight-lane North Spokane Corridor was not going to find funding, so he helped fashion a compromise that rescaled the project to four lanes. As a result, the project has moved forward.
It is a “my way or the highway” approach that has characterized the position of many Eastern Washington legislators over the years and left them out of the discussion on important issues such as transportation.
Baumgartner is new to politics, but he is bright and committed to public service. He interrupted his business career as a consultant to serve for three years in Iraq and Afghanistan as a political and economics adviser.
He conveys a small-government message, noting the increased spending that has helped create routine budget crises.
However, Baumgartner is in a tough spot because he does not have his opponent’s experience or breadth of knowledge. Marr has been part of an effective delegation that has delivered critical support for a variety of important Spokane projects.
Baumgartner has the potential to be an effective officeholder, but Marr is the wise choice in this race.