Behind the scenes guy from Sammamish now in the spotlight of state politics

Sammamish's Dean Willard wasn't planning on running for the state House of Representatives this year, but new he couldn't 'sit on the sidelines, and watch things being done poorly.'
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Dean Willard

Dean Willard always saw himself as more of a "behind the scenes" guy.

He's been involved in and around the machine of politics ever since he interned as a high school senior with Alaska Attorney General Will Condon.

Since then he has stayed close to the legislative process, serving time as a legislative assistant and involving himself with campaigns at a local and state level.

"I always found the process aspects fascinating," he said. "And the interpersonal dynamics of politics always interested me - that if you wanted to make a difference, here in Washington for example, you had to not only believe in yourself but you had to get 49 other people to believe in you, and the Governor, and all the committees... It is a challenging process to be involved in, but also a rewarding one."

It is a process Willard has followed closely, most recently as a member of the 5th District Democrats, a district committeeman for that group, and chair of the King County Democrats Endorsement Committee.

From behind the scenes he has taken note of the shifting political sands in the 5th District, which spans the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish to Snoqualamie Pass. It is a shift he believes augers well for a Democrat to win a seat in what is currently an all Republican district.

"I spent most of 2009 looking around for the right candidate for the district," Willard told The Reporter over coffee at Grimaldis in Issaquah last week. "I had been talking with business leaders, people involved in education, people involved in civic causes. As we got closer to December, the conversation turned around to 'well Dean, maybe it's going to be you.'"

And so now the behind the scenes guy has been thrust into the spotlight - Willard announced in December he would run for one of the two 5th District seats in the Washington State Legislature's House of Representatives.

He will challenge incumbent Position 2 Representative, Republican Glenn Anderson.

"What really motivates me is that I want to see things done well," Willard told The Reporter. "I am open to the idea that there might be someone who can do it better than me, but what would be really frustrating is to sit on the sidelines, and watch things being done poorly."

Willard's anti-politician sense of do-it-yourself may well resonate with voters who he says are "suffering from incumbent fatigue."

The information technology consultant, who moved to a home on the shores of Pine Lake with his wife in 2007, said the results of recent elections made it clear to him that the 5th District was losing its tinge of red, increasingly more open to ideas and issues which have been the traditional domain of the Democratic party.

"Now is the time for robust debate about what the 5th district is at present, as opposed to what it was 10 years ago," he said. "I believe it is more suburban, more philosophically moderate."

Willard points to the fact that 57 percent of the district voted for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, and the narrow victory of Dino Rossi in this electorate in 2008 gubernatorial election, as evidence that traditional political allegiances were breaking down in hand with a changing demographic.

"R-71, which Glenn Anderson voted against, passed here with some 56 percent of the vote, and 1033 failed, but Susan Hutchinson outpolled Dow Constantine," he said. "What this tells me is that there is a very large group in the middle who care more about the issues and the ideas of the candidates themselves, rather than the typical, cookie cutter political ideologies."

Willard also points to districts like the 45th, 48th and 41st, which in recent times have been dominated by Republicans but which are now held by Democrats.

"They are referring to the 5th now as the Republican Alamo," he said.

Willard said he was inspired by the ability of local politicians like Rodney Tom, Fred Jarrett and Marcie Maxwell to reach across party lines and focus on issues rather than labels.

For Willard, the two big ideas and issues will be tax reform and funding for schools - two things that he says as inextricably linked.

"Everyone can see that funding for K-12 basic education is in a very poor state," he said. "Government services overall are very poor because of the economy, but the economy is also amplifying the flaws of the current system."

Willard said the flaw of a state so reliant on sales tax is that economic cycles exacerbate funding issues for things like social services - when the economy is good, discretionary spending is up, revenue is up and so there is money for programs. But when the economy is down, the time when social service programs are needed the most, discretionary spending falls and the money dries up.

"What we have is a tax system that is very regressive," Willard said. "It places an undue burden on the poor and middle class, and it doesn't provide stable, predictable revenue for services." He added that the Business and Occupation Tax was very unfair to small businesses, and that exemptions on property tax often favored large businesses.

"We need to look at why our system isn't working, and how we can make it fairer."

Willard said it had been almost 8 years since the commission headed by William H. Gates Sr released its report on Tax Alternatives for Washington State, but that very little had been done to implement it.

The commission concluded that "our current system is fundamentally inequitable to low- and middle-income people, unfair to many businesses," and that "while our tax structure, which was put in place in 1935, might have worked well for a mid-twentieth century manufacturing economy, it doesn’t work well in today’s economy with its greater dependence on the service sector."

Taxation has always been an issue that falls sharply along party lines. It will be a monumental challenge for the new man Willard in this changing 5th district.

Sammamish looks set to be a big player in state politics this year, with the announcement just before Christmas that resident Greg Hoover would run for Position 2 in the state House of Representatives.

Hoover, a realtor, real estate attorney and member of the 5th District Democrats, will challenge incumbent Jay Rodne, a Republican.

According to his campaign web site, Hoover's interest in law and public policy began with his father, a retired police officer.

"When Hoover was very young, he experienced the tragedy of having two officers come to his home to tell him his father had been shot in the line of duty," the Web site reads. "My family learned a lesson that day. Tough times don't last, tough people do. This is the message of my campaign."

Hoover is also the co-founder of Runners for Autism, a non-profit organization that promotes awareness of Autism and similar disorders.

The Reporter plans to catch up with Hoover in coming weeks to hear his plan for Washington politics and the 5th district.

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