Haddon tackles Haugen for State Senate seat

Mary Margaret Haugen, left, and Linda Haddon explain  their views in interviews at the Whidbey News-Times office. Haddon is attempting to unseat the long-time State Senator from the 10th Legislative District. - Nathan Whalen / Whidbey News-Times
Mary Margaret Haugen, left, and Linda Haddon explain their views in interviews at the Whidbey News-Times office. Haddon is attempting to unseat the long-time State Senator from the 10th Legislative District.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen / Whidbey News-Times

Mary Margaret Haugen and Linda Haddon may not have a lot in common, but one thing they share in spades is passion.

In separate interviews with the two candidates for Washington State Senate, both women became emotional to the point of tears — though for different reasons.

Haugen, the veteran Democratic senator in District 10, has been under attack by Republican groups for her role in the Keystone ferry fiasco. She seemed genuinely hurt that some residents are critical of her after she’s served the district for so long.

“I love the district. I love what I do,” she said tearfully. “I love these people and I love helping them.”

Haddon, the Republican challenger, got worked up discussing money-wasting bureaucracy and the stagnancy of career politicians.

“I don’t define my existence with a title like senator,” she said, her eyes misting. “I’m a survivor, and most of all, I’m a crusader.”

Haddon and her supporters have been somewhat successful in focusing the election on the problems with the Keystone-to-Port Townsend ferries. The aging Steel Electrics were pulled from service just before Thanksgiving last year and were eventually replaced — temporarily — by a less-than-adequate boat. The bidding for permanent replacements is ongoing.

As the chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Haugen has been blamed for a lack of foresight.

“I don’t think anyone in Olympia understands the gravity of the situation,” Haddon said. “We need our boats.”

Haugen explained that inspectors from both Washington State Ferries and the U.S. Coast Guard told her the boats were in good shape just two weeks before they were pulled. Due in part to the ongoing ferry mess, there was a big shake-up in management at the state Department of Transportation.

“Nobody has been more

frustrated about this than me,” Haugen said, promising further accountability in the department.

Still, Haddon pointed out that Minneapolis officials were able to open a new bridge one year after the catastrophic bridge collapse. She points out that bids for the replacement ferries won’t be open until next month.

“If you can fix the bridge in a year, I want to know why we can’t have our boats,” she said, predicting that the boats will be delivered a year late, in 2011.

On the other hand, Haugen is quick to point out that she’s both an experienced and powerful senator with a record of getting things done. She’s served in the state Senate since 1993 and will be the senior senator if elected again.

“I write the transportation budget,” Haugen said. “I control the transportation dollars.”

Haddon, by contrast, would be a freshman senator in a minority party, but she’s not worried about being stymied.

“I’m a pretty tenacious person,” she said. “I get something in my teeth and I’m like a pitbull.”

Haugen helped the city of Oak Harbor a couple of times in the past year. At the request of city officials, she sponsored a bill that changes the population threshold at which a city would be responsible for maintaining a state highway within its limits. The law saves the city a great deal of money. In addition, she sponsored and negotiated a bill that saves the Oak Harbor Marina about $50,000 a year in tideland lease fees.

Haugen said she could have done a lot more for the city if elected officials would have better communicated with her. She said she got tired of offering help to former Mayor Patty Cohen and hearing nothing back.

“Oak Harbor needs to get over the fact that I’m a Democrat,” she said, though she added that she has a much better relationship with Mayor Jim Slowik. In fact, she said she’s found money to fund a fix to the traffic congestion on Highway 20 near the Wal-Mart development.

Haddon sees things differently. She said Haugen willfully neglected Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, which Haddon worked to help save from closure in the early 1990s.

“I don’t think Mary Margaret knows where the Navy base is,” Haddon said. “I’m serious. I’ve never seen her there.”

Haddon said it’s suspicious that Haugen opened a taxpayer-funded office in Oak Harbor so close to the election. Haugen admitted the timing was poor, but she said it truly had nothing to do with politics. She jumped at the chance to hire Oak Harbor resident Gina Bull as a legislative assistant.

While Haugen has had a lot of success with bipartisan efforts — most recently transportation funding measures — she didn’t hesitate to take a swipe at state Rep. Barbara Bailey, a Republican from Oak Harbor. Haugen said Bailey is known in Olympia for her partisanship.

“Barbara doesn’t know what’s going on down there,” Haugen said. “Sometimes she just doesn’t get it.”

According to Haddon, another big difference between her and Haugen is in government spending. Haddon said she’s a dedicated fiscal conservative and she’s aghast at the increase in spending over the last four years. She wants to cut spending.

“Apparently tax dollars for some in Olympia is just manna from heaven ...” she said. “We are in more or less a crisis situation. “We have a huge deficit staring us in the face. We’ve got to fund just the basic essentials we need as a people.”

When pressed about where she would cut, Haddon promised to go through the budget line by line. The only cut she would actually identify was the the public arts program.

“We don’t have money for roads, but we have the money for art projects alongside the roads,” she said. “Something is wrong.”

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