August 25, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 34
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Eric Oemig, candidate for 45th District Senate seat speaks with the SGN
Eric Oemig, candidate for 45th District Senate seat speaks with the SGN
"I would support any law that seeks to eliminate discrimination and creates fairness and equality in our lives," said Senate hopeful Eric Oemig.

Last year, Democratic candidate Eric Oemig challenged 45th District Republican State Senator Bill Finkbeiner. With Finkbeiner's resignation to "try a different path" in late April, Oemig now faces Rep. Toby Nixon. Both men are affiliated with one of the Eastside's most influential companies: Oemig is a former Microsoft engineer and Nixon is currently a Program Manager there. Oemig spoke to the Seattle Gay News about his campaign and his stance on GLBT issues.

Seattle Gay News: Why did you get in this race? Was there a definitive moment where you felt called you or was it more gradual?

Eric Oemig: It was not so much a moment as a series of moments, like any other huge life-changing decisions. Many of them occurred while I was lobbying for food safety issues or active with my television show. I finally realized that I could talk to a 1000 people about a 1000 different issues or else I could go to Olympia and get the job done.

SGN: The demographics of the 45th District are changing; how does your candidacy fit into those changes?

EO: My candidacy reflects those changes in that I am college-educated and have a high-tech background, like many of the people in my district. In some ways, I bridge two worlds - I grew up working on my father's farm, the son of a public school official, but ended up working as an engineer. In the end, though, my candidacy is about what many of us want - fiscal responsibility and bottom line results.

SGN: Right now, lawyers for Gay and Lesbian couples are deciding whether or not to challenge the state Supreme Court's ruling upholding Washington's Gay marriage ban. What is your position on the ban?

EO: I was amazed by the circular logic that was arrived at, which was along the lines of "We don't need to protect this class of people that are already protected." But the decision also made it clear that the judicial branch wants to put the burden of this decision on the legislative branch. That's why it's so important to elect forward thinking legislators.

SGN: Why do you think there is so much opposition to the idea of marriage equality?

EO: After over seven thousand door to door visits and conversations with people, I see this as a disconnection where there is a misunderstanding about government's role in religious institutions. We should not be telling a religious institution how to protect its traditions, but we definitely should not be legislating discrimination.

SGN: Every day Gay and Lesbian couples and their children suffer from the inequality of our laws due to discrepancies in how they are treated in systems such as health care, which is an area your campaign stresses. What can be done to rectify these inequities?

EO: Gays and Lesbians have the same issues as non Gays and Lesbians - access to health care, for example, and quality schools. Today this is one of the areas that the Family Medical Leave Act doesn't reach out to. We're seeing things change incrementally, but I would support any law that seeks to eliminate discrimination and creates fairness and equality in our lives.

SGN: What makes you different from your opponent, Toby Nixon?

EO: The most important difference, which encompasses so much under its umbrella, is that I believe that government plays an important role protecting and providing for the basic health, safety, welfare, education and equality of our citizens. This breaks down into so many issues where he's out of step with the district: schools, competitiveness between businesses, or even providing for a transportation system that voters have overwhelmingly asked for.

SGN: State officials are rewriting the rules regarding the use of Medicaid to pay for gender reassignment surgery. That means that despite the opinion of doctors - who recommend the surgery - patients will be denied the opportunity to receive treatment. What is your position on the issue?

EO: I would have to truthfully say that I don't understand the issue well enough, and that I don't understand all the implications of the legislation. But I do know that some children are born with ambiguous genders [and] that to refuse to pay for treatment for that seems unconscionable.

SGN: A few years back, the state legislature passed an anti-harassment and anti-bullying bill. However, no money was made available to pay for training that is now required. What are your thoughts about legislation that is passed but not funded like this?

EO: We see unfunded mandates all over the place. It's a result of political pandering under the dishonest guise of doing something. Honest legislation makes the appropriate investment to make itself meaningful. If we acknowledge that there is a problem that merits addressing, then we need to include the cost of its legislation.

SGN: How do you think politics has changed over the past decade?

EO: The biggest change is this divisive polarization along party and ideological lines. The best solutions come when all sides come to the table and compromise.

SGN: Bill Finkbeiner has been criticized for allowing partisan politics to influence his stance on issues. In a political atmosphere that seems increasingly divisive, how would you avoid letting such partisan politics influence your decision-making process?

EO: The first thing is to realize that I am not a politician first, but a businessman, engineer, and father. My first alliance is to my internal moral compass. My second is to the people in the district, and last of all is deference to the party.

SGN: Republican representative Mike Armstrong told the Seattle Times, "I'm hoping the citizens of Washington state look at their local elections and realize that person really has no ties to the federal party." Would you similarly distinguish yourself from the federal party?

EO: That's an interesting comment. When your party controls all three branches of the federal government and you then want to distance yourself from that leadership, it sends up a disturbing and alarming red flag.

SGN: Do you think Bush's low approval rating will affect local races?

EO: Absolutely, and they should. What we see is that Bush's policies have not worked and will not work and that we need to go in another direction. My opponent has contributed to Bush's campaign and supports many of Bush's policies, which don't work, and won't work at the state level already.

SGN: Are Gay rights something that should be determined at the state or the federal level?

EO: Human rights should be determined at the federal level, always. I tend to err on the side of strong state rights, but the litmus test I use is this. If we were to annex Iraq as a 51st state, what kinds of laws would we want them to follow? That's what should be determined at the federal level.

SGN: Do you have any worries about electronic voting this coming election day? Didn't King County have some discrepancies last time?

EO: I do favor a move towards all mail-in ballots. As a computer programmer, I can absolutely tell you, electronic voting machines are easy to rip-off. Two episodes of my television show were devoted to electronic voting and probing the lawsuit in Snohomish county about irregularities. It's important to consider this, because it doesn't matter what people think if we don't count the votes honestly.

SGN: According to a recent Seattle Times poll, half of Washington troops believe the US should withdraw from Iraq within the next 18 months. Where do you stand on the issue?

EO: I really wish that in the State Legislature had some power to influence how soon we would be bringing our troops home. We never should have gone in and we should be redeploying as soon as possible. Hopefully, there is some super-secret information that I'm not aware of that could justify Bush's reluctance to withdraw the troops but I don't know of it.

SGN: Was Bill Finkbeiner's dropping out of the race a good or bad thing for your campaign?

EO: It was a positive development. Not because it changed what I was fighting for but because Toby Nixon, my new opponent, is so extreme and on the wrong side of so many issues that it makes choices in November even easier.

SGN: How would you characterize your campaign?

EO: The biggest thing that defines my campaign is that it's about money and spending smarter. Too many times politicians pander or squander on overpriced Band-Aid® rather than investing in solutions in welfare and education that can end up saving us money.

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