With the election just eight days away, two of Washington’s three female candidates for Congress blew into Kirkland on a windy fall Monday to promote entrepreneurship and small business, science and technology education and jobs training as keys to restarting the economy.
Democrats Sen. Maria Cantwell and Suzan DelBene -- both facing conservative Republicans on Nov. 6 -- came to Kirkland to campaign and talk with owners and managers of two small downtown shops, two restaurants and a bank.
The focus was on small business and technology startups and programs to encourage banks to lend to them; education especially in science, technology math and engineering -- and getting DelBene elected.
In recent polls, incumbent Cantwell is comfortably ahead of State Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Bellevue -- 11 percent in a recent SurveyUSA poll for KING 5 television. But DelBene, the former state revenue director, Microsoft executive and startup entrepreneur, is locked in a tight race against former dairyman and Snohomish County Councilman John Koster. A SurveyUSA poll for King 5 last week put her up 46-42 percent, a boost from a previous poll that gave Koster the edge 46-42 percent.
Cantwell said DelBene would be an instant expert in Congress due to her technology background.
“We want to focus people on getting out the vote, supporting my re-election and on electing Suzan DelBene,” said Cantwell, on a 26-city campaign swing. “Suzan would automatically be seen as an expert in startup business, IT reform, net protection and things like that, and that’s a real advantage for our state.”
DelBene said she felt momentum going into the final week of the race in the first election for the huge new 1st Congressional District, redrawn last year in response to the 2010 U.S. Census and now considered a swing district.
“It’s been great to meet with people from the Canadian border to here in Kirkland,” she said. “Folks want to get the economy going again, and they understand how the public sector and the private sector need to work together. In this race, people have a clear choice in candidates.”
The candidates visited first The Grape Choice, a wine shop owned by Democratic State Rep. Larry Springer, who is also up for re-election, there chatting with Kirkland Chamber of Commerce Director Bruce Wynn about the need to encourage technology startup business. Cantwell noted the importance in that regard of STEM schools -- standing for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and a bill she co-sponsored in that regard, the America COMPETES Act.
"When I was in high school I took typing and Latin," she noted with some amusement.
Cantwell and DelBene also chatted with Springer about the changing nature of the wine business. Springer said when he opened the shop some years ago a majority of the wine he sold came from California wineries. Now 70 percent of the product he sells comes from Washington wineries.
The tour then moved on to Simplicity Decor, where owner “A” Leingboonlertchai told the candidate about difficulties he had getting a small business loan to open his new children’s store nearby, Simplicity ABC. U.S. Bank gave him a loan to open the first shop in 2006, he said, but would not approve a loan for the new shop, opened earlier this year, due to the weak economy. Banner Bank approved a loan, but not on the terms he sought. Finally, he found a loan through a private party.
Cantwell noted the importance of access to capital for small businesses in restarting the economy and said the Small Business Lending Fund she co-sponsored in 2010 would soon be up for reapproval.
The candidates also stopped at Ristorante Paradiso, where owner Fabrizo Loi talked about wanting to open a second restaurant, but being hesitant due to the difficulty of finding reliable employees.
At Banner Bank, branch manager Dave DuBois said lending was easing up to some extent. “We’re blessed here in the Northwest with a lot of high-tech companies,” he said. “Manufacturing and the housing market is still struggling.”
One issue holding back lenders, he noted, is that rates are so low banks fear that when rates do go up, they’ll be stuck carrying unprofitable loans.
The last stop was at the new Kirkland Avenue restaurant Volterra. There managing partner Michelle Quisenberry told the candidates she and partner Chef Don Curtiss had done well enough through the tough economy with their Ballard location to open in Kirkland. “We did well through the soft economy, so we doubled the number of our employees,” she said.
Before leaving for Bothell, DelBene, a Medina, resident, confirmed that as her campaign ads claim, she did in fact serve for a few years as a referee for youth football. “I did,” she said with a laugh. “I starting referring football in Portland and continued when I moved up here. But then I just didn't have time anymore with my career.”