The Democratic majority leader of the Washington Senate is facing her first reelection challenge by an opponent with a winning campaign history.
Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, a Republican, launched her campaign to unseat state Sen. Lisa Brown on Tuesday at a small gathering in front of Madison Elementary School, where she once served as a Parent Teacher Organization president.
Both candidates have proven popular when they’ve appeared on the ballot.
Brown has won all of her races for state Senate by more than 10 percentage points and beat her last opponent by nearly 50. McLaughlin has defeated both of her City Council general election competitors by more than 20 percentage points.
At her kickoff, McLaughlin focused on gridlock in Olympia and the numerous budget deficits that legislators continue to deal with.
“We cannot afford Sen. Brown’s inaction any longer,” McLaughlin said. “It’s time for real solutions, not blank checks.”
Though Democrats control the Senate, a few defections this year allowed Republicans to control the legislative chamber’s budget negotiations. Brown opposes the budget plan they drafted. McLaughlin says it’s the best option. House and Senate leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire are currently negotiating a deal to finalize the budget.
Brown said McLaughlin is simplifying a complex budget picture.
“Everybody knows that we’ve gone through a very tough economic situation,” Brown said. “It’s required unprecedented changes in the state budget that aren’t easily accomplished, especially if you’re going to do it in a thoughtful way.”
McLaughlin said she is unsure if she would maintain her Spokane City Council seat if she wins the Senate race. State law allows legislators to continue holding city offices.
Though McLaughlin has won easily in a council district that voted for Barack Obama in 2008, she faces some significant obstacles in a race against Brown – namely, that the 3rd Legislative District leans much more Democratic than her northwest City Council district. The 3rd loses the Republican-leaning Indian Trail neighborhood and gains the lower South Hill and Hillyard.
McLaughlin also begins her race well behind Brown in fundraising. Brown has raised about $154,000.
At her campaign kickoff, McLaughlin criticized Brown for not requiring a statewide vote for the approval of gay marriage.
Afterward, however, McLaughlin acknowledged that she would have opposed a gay marriage bill even if it required a public vote for implementation.
Brown has spent her time “on personal agenda items instead of solving the state’s $1 billion-plus budget,” McLaughlin said.
But Brown said issues of human rights and equality shouldn’t be delayed by budget issues.
“It’s not really a timing question,” Brown said. “It’s a question of her opposition to marriage equality.”