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Democrats: Reichert's departure makes 8th District 'eminently winnable'

Mardie Rhodes has lived in the 8th Congressional District for the last 20 years. She says she's a retiree from the health care field.
KUOW photo/David Hyde
Mardie Rhodes protests outside Rep. Dave Reichert's office in Issaquah in February.

The Democrats challenging Republican Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District were by turns respectful and gleeful at the prospect of his retirement.

The seven-term congressman announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection in 2018.

Reichert's district stretches from King County across the Cascades and up to Lake Chelan. He’s won sweeping reelection victories in recent years. But Reichert’s district voted for Hillary Clinton last year, and Democrats said he was newly vulnerable.

One Democratic candidate, Issaquah City Councilmember Tola Marts, said Reichert’s decision came as a complete surprise.

“We had a City Council meeting that ran until 2:45 [Wednesday] morning, so I came home, I collapsed, I woke up four or five hours later and my phone started going ballistic,” Marts said.

The 8th District has been seen as more conservative since its boundaries were redrawn in 2010. But Marts said it’s not out of reach for Democrats.

“I think it’s eminently winnable for a candidate who focuses on bread-and-butter issues like jobs and housing and helping assure communities’ futures,” he said.  

Another candidate, Toby Whitney, called the 8th District a “purple” district. Whitney now works at Amazon, but previously he was the legislative director for longtime Congressman Jim McDermott. Whitney said he saw the Republican takeover of Congress in 2010, and he’s not shocked that Reichert is stepping down.

“If I’m Dave Reichert, I think it’s understandable that this is a really frustrating time to be there and I think it’s hard to get anything done, so I’m not entirely surprised,” Whitney said.

Reichert has faced pressure on health care votes and other issues. In May, he voted against the House Republican health care plan, saying it “does not provide the essential protections I need to support it.”

Democratic Rep. Denny Heck thanked Reichert for his “kindness and respect” during their time in Congress together.

Democratic candidate Jason Rittereiser praised Reichert’s career as King County sheriff as well.  “I think his public service stands on its own,” Rittereiser said.

But Rittereiser, a former King County prosecutor, said he can’t forgive what he views as Reichert’s inaccessibility. “Congressman Reichert held no town halls in the last six years," he said. "And that, I believe, is fundamentally against your role of a congressman.”

Democratic candidate Mona Das of Covington echoed that view on her website, saying, “unlike the current representative, my voice will be powerful and inclusive.”

In February, amid heightened concern about the fate of Obamacare, the liberal activist group Indivisible held a protest outside Reichert’s Issaquah office, calling for him to hold a town hall on health care.

Pediatrician Kim Schrier said she ran over there from her clinic. “I quickly went downstairs, changed into my jeans and boots, took my sign and went to the protest during my lunch hour,” she said.

Schrier said the event was inspiring.

“Sometimes we feel a bit alone in our political convictions,” she said.  “To really explain that we need a representative that will have town halls and speak with his constituents – I was very energized that day.”

In August Schrier became the latest candidate to run for Reichert’s seat. However, she said campaigning has given her new appreciation for his years in public service.  

“I have come, even in the short amount of time that I have been in politics, to really respect anybody who is willing to put themselves out there to serve their community,” Schrier said.

Year started with KUOW: 2005