With little political experience, even less money and no name recognition, Issaquah’s Karen Porterfield does have at least one thing nailed down – her passion for effective government.
A management consultant whose worked for years winning government grants for low-income housing projects, she is taking on Congressman Dave Reichert in the 8th District this year.
She believes that her perspective as an instructor of Public Administration would offer Congress something unique.
Her past – two parents dedicated to volunteerism and helping pass school levies – is also a distinctive note in her song.
Her parents were so involved in the community, she remembers learning math after they asked her to sort stacks of political mailers into zip codes. In addition to volunteering with kids programs, her mother helped found a food bank in Seattle.
“They were supportive in the community,” she said at her Talus home. “They just took us along with them.”
She held onto their optimistic spirit for change, but applied it to government.
After helping Congressman Jim McDermott with campaign fundraising, he gave her name to a Rotary friend at the Salvation Army. He was looking for someone to raise federal money for housing projects.
Her eight-month contract turned into 13 years of national housing projects. After a two-year stint at United Way, she felt a desire to make a deeper impact. She loved the idea of teaching others to help their communities. She’s now at Seattle University.
Her interest in running for office didn’t start until two years ago, when Dave Reichert won his reelection campaign. She recalls picking up a newspaper and asking herself, “Why does he keep winning?”
Democrats have run expensive campaigns against the incumbent in the past.
The district boundaries changed this year and now skip across the Cascade Mountain range. Most saw it as an attempt to strengthen the district for Republicans, but she saw it as an opportunity.
Democrats and Republicans have equal supporters, making independent voters the key to winning office.
So she began to ask Democrats whether she should challenge Reichert. When she got a positive response, she took a step forward. When the response was negative – often that she wasn’t wealthy enough, that she would get too frustrated, or that she was crazy to consider it – she let it empower her.
If government is going to change, voters have to change who gets sent back, Porterfield said. It shouldn’t matter that you’re an incumbent or personally wealthy.
“I just firmly believe that people want to be successful,” she said. “Our goal is to give them the tools.”