Residents in the 2nd Legislative District on election night will choose one of two candidates to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Randi Becker. Their choices consist of a well-known former state lawmaker with more than a decade of experience in local policymaking, or an enigmatic former union officer whose identity — even among the party for which he’s declared — is rather scant.
Pierce County Councilmember Jim McCune, a Republican, and Democrat Rick Payne will face off in the Nov. 3 general election after finishing in the top two in August’s primary election. Payne took in 29 percent of the vote as the sole Democrat while McCune clinched 21 percent in a crowded five-way race for the Republican vote.
McCune, a former four-term 2nd Legislative District lawmaker, is currently serving his last allowable term as county council member, where he chairs the county’s Public Safety, Human Services and Budget committees.
The 69-year-old candidate is a familiar face in local and legislative politics, though he might be most well-known for the hard stance on safe injection sites he took in 2018 with an ordinance that banned the use of them in unincorporated parts of the county.
Amid the ongoing coronavirus health crisis and recession, McCune looks to sell himself as the candidate who would best serve the conservative interests of the 2nd Legislative District while aiming to curb the passage of potential tax increases from the majority Democrat Senate and House.
Going into November, McCune said in a recent phone call that he’s feeling pretty confident about the results. Reliably-red voters turned out considerably in August with 33,662 ballots going to Republican candidates and 14,136 going to Payne.
“Don’t put the cart before the horse, but it is a Republican district. It is what it is,” he said.
McCune tackled the trail pretty early this election cycle, having knocked on doors at about 12,000 houses in the district, he said.
“Even with COVID in place, he’s been making an effort to talk with voters,” said Tiffany Sevruk, chair of the 2nd Legislative District Republicans and the president of the Thurston County Women’s Republican Club. “He’s just a very genuine person.”
Sevruk said she met McCune for the first time this year while he was campaigning for the primary. She said she’s lived in the district for 20 years, and found McCune to be in step with the district’s political priorities, calling him a “true conservative.”
In an interview with the Nisqually Valley News, Payne said that he’s not accepting donations or endorsements because “this district is not for sale.” It’s by design, he said, and he’s looking to run a campaign that is not drawn on by special interests.
“I think it’s no problem that we’ll flip the seat,” said Payne, 52, of Graham. “It’s been red for years, and with all the Democrats coming out of the woodwork, it’s going to change.”
Payne, a registered Democrat precinct committee officer, is a retired union officer with the Department of Corrections. Describing himself as a policy-over-party candidate, Payne is looking to leverage a grass roots, small campaign to draw in voters.
Back in 2016, Payne voted for Trump — but not because he was a Republican.
“I voted for Trump because I figured a businessman running the government would help. On deals with foreign dignitaries, he can pull through,” he said, adding that Hillary Clinton’s response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks also influenced his vote.
Payne said he’s reconsidered his vote for the upcoming 2020 election, largely due to Trump’s soft handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the issues, Payne doesn’t land in camps that have been traditionally occupied by Democrats in recent years; for an example, he’s in support of repealing Referendum Measure No. 90, which was passed as Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5395 and would require school districts to adopt or develop a comprehensive sex education curriculum. He’s also against raising taxes this upcoming legislative session.
At the same time, Payne said he believes Inslee hasn’t gone far enough on mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Inslee, he said, should have enacted a rent freeze during the pandemic, ceased all foreclosures on mortgages, and placed a moratorium on debt collections during the pandemic.
Despite Payne’s victory in a reliably-red district in the primary, some are scratching their heads at his campaign and candidacy.
Dave Little, chair of the 2nd Legislative District Democrats, said his organization decided not to go through with a political endorsement of Payne due to a number of Facebook posts their party found questionable.
Little said they found posts on Payne’s profile that they considered anti-immigrant and sexist, as well as posts he said were unfoundedly critical of the party’s presidential ticket. One post, Little said, also reflected support for President Donald Trump.
“We didn’t feel he was a ‘true blue’ kind of guy,” Little said. “We felt like we really didn’t want to go forward with this, especially for someone who is unable to stay in communication.”
Little added that just because a candidate says they’re a Democrat on the ballot doesn’t mean that the party has backed that person.
The 2nd Legislative District Dems have already posted endorsements for most party affiliates running in local races, including Veronica Whitcher-Rockett in the 2nd LD Position 2 race and Michael Steadman in the Thurston County Commissioners District 2 race.
“It’s a mystery. He’s kind of a quandary,” said Leeroy Perkins, a precinct committee officer and the 2nd Legislative District Democrats’s state committeeman.
Perkins said Payne only showed up to one meeting since the start of the campaign season. His lack of communication with the party, tied with his low fundraising numbers, has left Perkins skeptical of his status as a candidate (Payne’s campaign has opted out of regular reporting, instead opting for the “mini-reporting” option, according to the Public Disclosure Commission).
“I’m starting to wonder if he doesn’t just like seeing his name in the voters pamphlets,” he said. “He’s shown no interest really in talking to us, or asking for our help, or anything really.”
Of Facebook posts that might miconstrew his position with the party, Payne said he’s been a long time Democrat in the area and that his record within the party stands for itself. His family is very politically mixed, he said, and so sometimes he’ll share posts that give the impression he’s not a Democrat.