The race for a House of Representatives seat in the 13th District is warming up with contenders Mathew Manweller and Kaj Selmann attempting to draw sharper distinctions between themselves.
Selmann, a Democrat and general contractor from Moses Lake, and Manweller, a Republican and Central Washington University political science professor, are on the Nov. 6 ballot to fill the state House position now held by Republican Bill Hinkle of Cle Elum, who decided to not seek re-election.
Manweller says he’s the better candidate because of his political, legal and economic education and understanding.
“He’s a nice guy and all, and this isn’t a criticism,” Manweller said earlier this week, “but his (Selmann’s) line of work hasn’t put him in a position to have that kind of experience and education.”
Manweller also said his experience and leadership representing CWU faculty at the Capitol in Olympia during the 2010 legislative session also makes him the better candidate.
“He (Selmann) would take two to four years to become as effective a legislator that I would be on Day 1 in Olympia,” Manweller said. “I already have the respect of many legislators, and I know the names of half of all who are serving.”
Selmann says he can do the better job in Olympia because of his thorough logistical ability to finish projects he starts. He said he has the better skills to determine the action that must be accomplished, map out the step-by-step strategy to accomplish the goal and build support from both Republicans and Democrats to get the job done.
“Instead of an adversarial political situation and taking hard sides, I would get support by helping my fellow legislators to better understand why what I propose makes common sense,” Selmann said.
“I do this every day in my work now.”
Manweller is a skilled politician, Selmann said, in the sense that he knows how to elevate himself politically.
“I’m better skilled in developing a project, or any kind of goal, and going the distance to its successful completion. I’m better at the logistics side and the better candidate,” Selmann said.
Selmann said he knows how to work closely and cooperatively with those who hold views that are widely different from his own, and he’s done this for years in Grant County with both Republicans and Democrats.
“What party someone belongs to is absolutely not the main thing in getting along,” Selmann said. “I look at their character. There are honorable people in both parties who I’ve worked with.”
He said he has no use for double-talking politicians who have given political service a negative connotation through actions that are divisive instead of consensus building.
Manweller said he has a positive, well-known track record in working cooperatively with Democratic Party legislators and leaders in Olympia, including the more liberal Democrats, to support legislation in support of the state’s higher education system.
“In Olympia I’ve worked arm in arm with (liberal Democrats) to accomplish what needed to be done,” Manweller said.
Manweller said if he is elected he will take an unpaid leave of absence from his duties at CWU during winter quarter to coincide with the 2013 legislative session.
Manweller has stirred up local political discussion over the years. He hosts a political commentary show on KXLE radio called “The Right Opinion.” Before he ran for office, he wrote a column for the Daily Record’s opinion page and served as head of the Kittitas County Republican Party.
Manweller made the news in September 2010 after he was in a physical altercation with Kittitas resident Fred Huber in the KXLE parking lot. The fight followed an earlier vocal confrontation during the Ellensburg Rodeo Parade involving Linda Huber and Dino Rossi supporters.
A video of Manweller getting into a loud, heated discussion about the minimum wage with protesters in downtown Ellensburg in 2008 is posted on YouTube.
Selmann said the incidents do more than raise questions about Manweller’s ability to get along with others.
“It’s beyond that in my mind; it should be a disqualifier for running for office on the basis of temperament,” Selmann said.
Manweller acknowledged he sometimes lets his passionately held beliefs get the better of him in political discussions, and said he continues to work on that. As for the altercations, he said he believes they were sparked by others.
“There is a value to having a passionate outlook about representing the residents of this district,” Manweller said.
Manweller asked if Selmann thinks he’s such a loose cannon, then why did members of the CWU Faculty Senate, many of whom hold political views vastly different from his, elect him to be their president in 2009?
He said if he has such an alleged inability to get along with people why would the CWU faculty send him to Olympia in 2010 to advocate on their behalf in the Legislature on issues that directly affect them?
In that legislative session, CWU didn’t go backward in state funding, “and I’m proud we weathered the storm,” said Manweller.
Kittitas County has been politically picked on in the past five years by some state agencies, Manweller said, including being targeted with groundwater well restrictions in Upper County.
“Why are we the only one that gets shut down?” he said, and questioned why other Yakima River Basin counties were not also targets of restrictions.
Selmann said he has a better understanding of the region’s geology and hydrology and the irrigation systems important for agriculture and will be better at finding solutions to the basin’s water supply problems and conflicts.
Both candidates support the Yakima River Basin integrated water enhancement plan that aims to improve water supplies through federal and state-funded projects during the next 20 years.
Selmann said he especially wants to pursue pump-storage projects that involve pumping large amounts of water into higher-elevation storage reservoirs when there’s an over abundance of water and hydropower. When water supplies are less and wind and hydropower sources drop, releases of the reservoir water can generate hydropower and boost water for fish habitat, irrigation and cities.
Manweller, as a state legislator, said he’ll push for full funding of the basin’s integrated plan knowing it is supported by a diverse number of water interests who usually are at odds with each other.
“The benefits and economic growth from the plan becoming a reality will pay for itself 10 fold,” he said.
Selmann acknowledged that Manweller has raised much more in campaign funds. As of Friday, Manweller had raised $113,461 to Selmann’s $13,413. Manweller had spent $64,609 to Selmann’s $7,682.
Selmann said he’s turned down donations from interest groups that are not located in the 13th District or don’t have a presence in the district.
Most of his funds, Selmann said, have come from friends and family members and residents of the district.
“My opponent has taken tens of thousands of dollars from interests outside the district and, in some cases, outside the state,” Selmann said.
He questioned how Manweller can say he will focus on representing the district when he’s taken a large amount of funds from outside the district.
Manweller said Selmann likely didn’t so much turn down funds as much as he wasn’t offered donations.
“Credible candidates raise adequate campaign funds,” Manweller said, and added it’s naive to think a candidate can run without fundraising.
He said Selmann was interviewed by many of the same interest groups as he was in the district in hopes of gaining their support but didn’t get it. Manweller said, to his knowledge, Selmann didn’t host fundraising events.
Manweller said the average state House or Senate campaign in Eastern Washington ranges from about $80,000 to $150,000 in raised funds, and his total so far is in that range.
He said his campaign began active fundraising in September 2011 and has had a regular series of fundraising events.
State campaign financing rules limit any one person’s donation to $900, he said, and most of his contributions are in the $10 to $50 range.
“Much of it, maybe 90 percent, came to the campaign unsolicited by us,” Manweller said,
Manweller said it seems hypocritical for a Democrat to criticize a local candidate for taking funds from people outside the legislative district, when governor candidates, for example, including the Democratic candidate, have taken millions from all over and from out of state.
“I get money from someone in Bellevue and they say it’s a crisis in democracy,” Manweller said.
His campaign funding sources won’t have any influence over him as a state legislator, Manweller said.