Washington political handicappers are being tested in suburban West Pierce County, home to one of 2020’s tightest legislative races. Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, has met his match in T’wina Nobles, a Fircrest Democrat, to retain the 28th District Senate seat he’s held since 2013 and Republicans have locked down for decades.
Nobles edged O’Ban by 235 votes out of 43,983 cast in the August primary. More than a million dollars have poured into the contest, with Nobles so far outraising O’Ban by nearly $50,000. (Four years ago, O’Ban outraised a different Democratic challenger by more than $160,000.)
“I have been elected three times because I think voters see that I fit the district well,” O’Ban told us in a joint interview with Nobles.
Yet the 28th is a swing district that lately has swung away from the right. Nobles is a powerful voice for that transformation, speaking up for working families in the era of coronavirus and other hardships.
We endorse Nobles for a four-year term representing West Tacoma, Lakewood, University Place, Fircrest, DuPont, Steilacoom and local island communities.
Nobles, 38, is a 15-year resident of the district who came to the area as a JBLM military spouse. Now in her second term on the University Place School Board, she has a clear-eyed view of public education challenges.
Likewise, her three years as president and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League make her well grounded on business and social service issues, particularly for people of color.
“I focus on anticipating the needs of our community, especially now during COVID 19,” Nobles said, noting how she’s led Urban League efforts to distribute personal protective equipment, mortgage assistance and student laptops.
Count her among a new generation of hands-on Black leaders mentored by Tacoma’s Harold Moss, who died Sept. 21. Her abilities have been noted nationally with a rare endorsement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
O’Ban, 59, is a capable incumbent whom we’ve endorsed in the past. The constitutional lawyer and Senate GOP caucus insider is a longtime apostle of cheaper car tabs and Sound Transit reform.
On mental health and addiction issues, O’Ban has few peers in Olympia. His day job as senior counsel for behavioral health for Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, which he’s had since 2017, has sharpened that expertise. But we’re concerned those dual roles may entangle his political interests with his professional duties.
O’Ban is a leader on integrated mental and physical healthcare; we hope he continues that important work in his county job or the nonprofit realm.
But in our view, Nobles should replace him in the Washington Senate.
For House Position 1 in the 28th District, Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, has earned a second term. Leavitt, the 52-year-old owner of a family orthodontics practice, knocked out the Republican incumbent two years ago, and while we didn’t endorse her then, she’s grown into the job nicely.
Among her achievements are pay raises for National Guard members fighting wildfires and commercial driver licenses waivers for veterans transitioning out of the military.
Republican challenger Kevin Ballard sits on the DuPont City Council and has admirable service as a former cop and Army helicopter pilot. But he doesn’t present a compelling argument to oust an incumbent who’s doing steady bipartisan work for her district.
If reelected, Leavitt will supplant her retiring seatmate, Christine Kilduff, as senior House member from the 28th. We think she’s up to the task.
Voters would do well to entrust Kilduff’s Position 2 seat to fellow Democrat Dan Bronoske. His Republican opponent is former UP City Council member Chris Nye.
As we said before the August primary, Bronoske, 40, would give Lakewood a seat in the statehouse for the first time in years. The West Pierce Fire & Rescue engine company captain has an impressive grasp of public policy issues and a master’s degree in public administration.
Across the Narrows Bridge in the 26th Legislative District, the time has come for a clean sweep of incumbents; a pair of Gig Harbor Democrats stand ready with new ideas and energy.
We’re sticking with our primary election picks of Carrie Hesch over Rep. Jesse Young for Position 1, and Joy Stanford over Rep. Michelle Caldier for Position 2. Both incumbents are completing their third terms.
Hesch, 48, is a Washington corrections professional with keen insights on how to reform the prison system and prevent marginalized women from becoming repeat offenders. Young tries to sound bipartisan but too often plays to the fringes, such as his unswerving support for right-wing caucus outcast Matt Shea of Spokane.
Stanford, 56, is a longtime substitute teacher for Peninsula School District. After losing to Caldier in 2018, she’s raised her game and speaks with authority on issues such as institutionalized racism and reopening post-COVID-19 society. Stanford knows first-hand the economic pain caused by the pandemic; she was laid off this summer from her job as outreach specialist for a home-sharing nonprofit.
Caldier works hard for her constituents, and this was a close call for us. But at a historic moment when the value of Black lives needs reinforcement, Stanford gives the Peninsula a passionate advocate for equitable access and equal justice for all.
ABOUT OUR ENDORSEMENTS
The News Tribune Editorial Board interviewed candidates and did other research before making our picks for the 2020 election. Endorsements are intended to promote civic discourse and encourage voters to dig deeper. Board members who sat in on legislative endorsement sessions include: Stephanie Pedersen, TNT president and publisher; Matt Misterek, editorial page editor; Karen Irwin, editorial writer; Matt Driscoll, local news columnist; and Pamela Transue, community representative and former president of Tacoma Community College.