by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
State Representative Marko Liias (D-21) announced May 17 that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at a run for Congress from the First District north of Seattle.
At this point, Liias's run depends on a chain of 'ifs.'
If Gov. Christine Gregoire decides to retire after two terms, and if the current First District incumbent, Congressman Jay Inslee, decides to run for governor to replace Gregoire, then the way will be clear for Liias to run for Inslee's seat.
'I'm waiting to see what Congressman Inslee is doing. And he's waiting to see what the current governor is doing,' Liias told SGN by phone during a break in the legislature's special session in Olympia.
Liias added that he understood the need for patience.
'The governor is focused - quite correctly - not on politics, but on leading the state through some very difficult times,' he said.
Liias has made his reputation as a successful legislator with an ability to work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle. He persuaded a number of Republicans to join Democrats in passing two anti-bullying bills in as many years.
Asked if he felt any reluctance to go to a Congress far more bitterly divided along party lines than the state's legislature is, Liias said he thought he would be able to apply the lessons he learned in this Washington to the problems of the other Washington.
'The legislature can be pretty bitterly divided, too, ' he said. 'The truth is that our politics in the country is very bitterly divided. I've shown my ability to work with both sides.'
'I think we need representatives who are progressive and have good values,' he added, 'but who can also get stuff done. I think I can bring that ability to the table.'
While Liias is popular in his legislative district - winning 54% of the vote in a tough re-election campaign against Tea Party challenger Elizabeth Scott - there is another potential challenger looming on the horizon.
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is likely to get re-apportioned out of his own Congressional district when Ohio loses one seat as a result of the 2010 census.
Kucinich has made no secret of the fact that he wants to remain in Congress, and he is openly shopping for a seat to run for. Washington's First District is one of the seats Kucinich is reportedly interested in.
'Kucinich has done a good job in Congress. I respect that,' Liias tells SGN. 'If he finds a place that's not adequately represented, of course he should run there.'
While a Kucinich candidacy might be welcomed by some progressive Democrats, local Democratic Party heavyweights bluntly told Kucinich to butt out.
State Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz, Congressman Rick Larson (D-2), and former King County Executive Ron Sims all issued independent statements telling Kucinich they preferred a home-grown candidate.
Liias said, 'It's important for them to weigh in,' but added, 'I've never been afraid of competition.'
Liias seems to be exactly the kind of home-grown candidate local Democratic leaders want.
'I was born and raised here [in the First District],' Liias says. 'I went to school here. I started a business here. There are all these little organic communities - communities I've grown up in. I've served on the [Mukilteo] city council, and two full terms in the legislature.'
Asked if he has spoken with Inslee, Liias answered, 'No, I haven't talked to him. I've kept a respectful distance.'
'I want his advice,' Liias added. 'If I run - and especially if I win - he's definitely someone I would turn to for advice.'
While Liias insists that he will represent all the voters in his district, he adds that he can't help but have a special interest in LGBT issues.
'We really don't have enough LGBT representation in Congress,' he said. 'We need proud, progressive LGBT representatives. LGBT families face unique kinds of discrimination that other families don't.
'I want to do a good job for all the people in my district, but I think LGBT families need representation.'
Liias says he is using his Facebook page as a forum to gauge public response. So far, he says, voters have been overwhelmingly encouraging.
'Other than people who know how grueling the campaign will be - who say 'Oh, are you sure you're ready for that?' - no one has said 'You're incompetent, you're dumb,' anything negative.'
Asked if he believes he can win the seat even if Kucinich runs as well, Liias says he is confident.
'I've never set out to do something I didn't really think I could do. You can't guarantee you'll win. My first campaign - I was running for the school board - and I lost.' Liias said.
'But I wouldn't put my family through the wringer if I didn't think I could win.'
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