Sixth District donnybrook
Spending, backgrounds, expertise at issue in competitive race
He’s the incumbent. He’s his party’s whip in the state Senate. He has more campaign money and a diverse list of backers that includes unions and large businesses. But in his run for re-election, Democrat Chris Marr is the underdog.
His opponent, Republican Michael Baumgartner, garnered more votes in the August primary, even though the business and military consultant was mostly unknown locally before he announced his candidacy shortly after moving to Spokane in January.
Both have impressive résumés. Baumgartner has a degree from Harvard University and worked on economic development issues for the State Department in Iraq and as a business adviser and consultant in the Middle East. Marr spent two decades running an auto dealership in Spokane and has held high-profile positions with Spokane’s chamber of commerce, Washington State University’s board and the state transportation commission.
Baumgartner’s August primary victory – by nearly 7 percentage points – gave him bragging rights but didn’t affect who would appear on the November ballot because they were the only two candidates running.
The race went negative even before the primary. Democratic leaders spread a false rumor that Baumgartner had recently moved to Spokane from Florida. The state Republican Party sent out a mailer with a red blotch on the side of Marr’s head labeled “red ink,” as in debt, but Marr supporters said it looked more like a cartoon gunshot wound.
Recently, the two have appeared at heated debates, and expensive mailers have begun flowing into mailboxes throughout the district.
Baumgartner labels Marr a “fundamentally big-government guy” who spent recklessly as a legislator, while indebted to unions, forcing the state into a deep hole that led the Legislature to raise taxes. Marr calls Baumgartner a carpetbagger who offers only vague, unrealistic solutions and who landed in the 6th District to start a political career – not serve the public.
Marr and Don Barlow made history in 2006, becoming the first Democrats in almost 70 years to win seats in the 6th District, which surrounds central Spokane and in recent years has become one of the most competitive districts in the state. (Barlow lost his House seat two years later.)
In the primary, Baumgartner criticized Marr’s fundraising success, arguing it made him beholden to special interests. But Baumgartner, too, has amassed an impressive sum. Marr, who’s got nearly $400,000, has collected more money for a 2010 Washington state legislative race than all but one candidate statewide. Baumgartner is closing in on $300,000 and has the fifth-largest campaign chest of any legislative candidate.
Classmate gave Baumgartner the idea to run
Marr’s campaign has hit Baumgartner repeatedly for his recent move into the district. Baumgartner grew up in and around Pullman. His mother is an elementary school teacher, his father was a professor at Washington State University. He moved to Spokane to attend Gonzaga Prep, but said he moved back to Pullman before his junior year because his brother was diagnosed with cancer. (He survived.) He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from WSU and a master’s in public administration from Harvard.
In an interview in August, Baumgartner said he got the idea to run for Senate partly from David Condon, who works for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and attended Gonzaga Prep with Baumgartner. He said he made the decision to run during the Christmas holiday and moved into the district in January. He cast his first vote in a Spokane County election in April.
In debates, Baumgartner stresses his Eastern Washington roots, saying he grew up “down the road” in Pullman, ran Bloomsday as a kid and hung out in Manito Park. He says much of what he learned overseas can be applied to state government.
“While it’s a bit different from the sense of what I was doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of my international experience, the sense of trying to help and the sense of service, is very much the same,” Baumgartner said.
Marr says that living in Pullman and hanging out in Spokane doesn’t show a commitment to the 6th Legislative District.
“I don’t go down and tell people in Pullman, ‘This is my home here.’ It’s not,” Marr said.
Baumgartner spent much of the past decade overseas as a business consultant or doing economic development work, including a stint with the State Department in Iraq and another with a firm contracted with the State Department in Afghanistan.
Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, who met Baumgartner at a luncheon at Harvard, wrote about Baumgartner, calling him an “architect of hope” for his work in Iraq. In 2009, he featured Baumgartner again, this time covering Baumgartner’s efforts to stop the narcotics trade in Afghanistan.
Baumgartner said he believes the United States depends too much on contractors to fight the war.
“In my view there’s a lot of war profiteering going on,” Baumgartner said recently.
Baumgartner is getting married on Sunday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane to a British woman who also worked for Civilian Police International in Afghanistan. He has no children.
Marr led efforts to scale back freeway plan
Marr has a longer connection to Spokane.
He started life in New Jersey and grew up on military bases. His parents split when he was 10, according to previous coverage in The Spokesman-Review. His mother worked two jobs as a waitress to support her four children.
At 16, Marr started working nights as a restaurant dishwasher, eventually enrolling at Santa Barbara City College and making ends meet working on an assembly line that made high school rings. After earning his master’s in business administration from San Francisco State University, Marr and his wife moved to Washington. He worked first for Ford Motor Co. and later for McDonald’s. They moved to Spokane in the mid-1980s and raised two children.
In the Legislature, he’s become a prominent party leader. He led efforts to scale back plans for the North Spokane freeway to make it more likely to be built. He’s been a vocal supporter of expanding medical education in Spokane and economic development programs such as efforts to bolster Spokane’s University District.
This year, he opposed tax increases on soda, beer and candy that the Democratically controlled Legislature approved to help balance the budget. Marr did, however, vote to raise tobacco taxes.
Baumgartner says Marr got a pass on the taxes because the Legislature had enough votes to approve them without Marr. Marr says it’s disingenuous to say he really wanted the extra taxes, because he’s said all along that finding inefficiencies in government is a better way to balance the budget.
Baumgartner cited multibillion-dollar increases in the state budget during Marr’s time in the Legislature.
“Our state is in a crisis, and it needs fundamental reform,” Baumgartner said at a recent debate hosted by Spokane’s Rotary Club 21. “That’s what you’ll get from Mike Baumgartner. That is not what you’ll get from Chris Marr. He’s voted for bigger and bigger budgets.”
Marr says Baumgartner is using misleading figures that include gas taxes that can’t be diverted for purposes unrelated to transportation, federal money and debt obligations that can’t be ignored.
“He’s talking about every dollar that flows into the state,” Marr said. “It shows a lack of understanding of the budget.”
Marr voted against the budget this year. In 2007, he voted for a two-year operations budget that raised the state-funded portion from $30.2 billion to $32.6 billion, according to the state Office of Financial Management.
In candidate forums, Baumgartner often notes that Marr only agrees with the Association of Washington Business in 43 percent of his votes, based on the group’s legislative score card. Baumgartner often compares that number with the 76 percent rank the group gives Democratic state Rep. John Driscoll.
“Chris Marr will not do anything except in an election year that is against the special interests that run this state. That’s the big unions, the labor unions, the public-sector unions,” Baumgartner said at the Rotary debate. “That’s who he answers to, and that’s why he has such an abysmal business rating.”
But Marr says Baumgartner’s focus on a lobbying group’s rank indicates that it’s Baumgartner who’s beholden to special interests.
Marr notes that he has strong support from several businesses that lean Republican and stresses that Baumgartner didn’t win the business association’s endorsement either.
“I don’t give anyone a blank check,” Marr said. “I represent the citizens of this state.”