They had seen her every day for what seemed like the past week — whether it was on the sidewalk or out at the air show over the weekend, she was there, waving her signs.
On Monday, 7-year-old Luke was sure he was going to see her again. His father didn’t think it likely. But then, sure enough, the doorbell rang and Luke was summoned for.
“Do you know who it is?” his father asked. “Shelly O’Quinn,” Luke responded with a smile.
Though serendipitous for Luke, that sort of recognition is a big boon for O’Quinn, a Republican challenger in the primary to represent the 6th District in Olympia. She’s a David up against two Goliaths, incumbent Democrat John Driscoll and former state Rep. John Ahern.
“I’m running against basically two incumbents — one current, one former,” says O’Quinn.
Driscoll’s been in the seat for two years, and Ahern held it the eight years prior to that. As any student of history knows, when you’re David, you’ve got to take the first shot. In this case, O’Quinn needs to take down a Republican heavyweight just to move on to the general election in the fall.
The 6th District might safely be called a swing district. In 2008, it elected a Republican — Kevin Parker — to a state representative position, the third time in as many elections that the seat was held by a different party. In the state Senate race, Chris Marr became the first Democrat to win the district since 1940.
And Driscoll and Ahern’s race wound up close enough to help underscore the old axiom that every vote counts. After initially being declared the winner by 74 votes, Driscoll’s margin of victory was cut to 72 after an automatic hand recount.
“My margin was so thin, I’m taking nothing for granted this year. I’m running as if I were 10 points behind, because I probably am,” Driscoll says.
Driscoll is proud of the legislative record he’s compiled during his first term. He mentions several bills, including a $130 million bond sale authorization that, in part, helped fund construction at Ferris and Mead high schools.
But the ones that seem to have impacted him the most are the ones that “save lives.” He had only been in office three or so weeks when 16-year-old Lorissa Green of Cheney was killed in a crash at the intersection of Highway 195 and the Spokane-Cheney Road. Along with Parker, Driscoll helped get funding put together that paid for safety improvements.
Up against two Republican opponents in the primary, Driscoll says his plan is to let the issues and other candidates sort themselves out. When the general election rolls around, Driscoll says his track record on what he can do for the district will allow him to prevail.
“By more than 72 votes, I hope,” he jokes. On the Republican side of things, unseating Ahern may prove difficult for O’Quinn, a newcomer who’s never run for elected office. Ahern did the job for eight years, which gets to the crux of his argument for voting for him: “Experience counts.”
Ahern speaks of two major bills he passed, one that created a veterans’ home in Eastern Washington and a bill that made a fifth DUI conviction an automatic felony, increasing the amount of jail time mandated by a conviction. The bills underscore two of the three goals listed on his website: making Washington the worst state for felons to live in, and protecting veterans and seniors.
Ahern, a proud conservative, says the No. 1 issue for voters is taxes.
“First of all, the operating budget is entirely too high to begin with. I would just scale back, and I would privatize,” he says. “We just have to cut back — every department take a big hit.”
Ahern’s commitment to privatizing runs deep. He says two initiatives on the ballot, privatizing liquor distribution and the workers’ compensation insurance system, are good starts. He also advocates privatizing the ferry system and the state Department of Printing.
“The best way to do it is to go to the phone book and look under ‘Printing.’ Let it go out for bid,” he says. “Anytime you get government where private industry gets involved, that’s socialism.”
O’Quinn is also a Republican, also a conservative. She, like Ahern and Driscoll, sees the economy as the issue at the forefront of voters’ minds.
“I believe we need to bring fiscal responsibility and balance back to Olympia,” she says.
Though O’Quinn doesn’t have the legislative experience that her opponents do, she feels her background gives her a special perspective. She’s worked for profits and nonprofits, so she knows how seemingly small decisions can have long-lasting repercussions.
“It’s important to be fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money, that we have to work on developing a sustainable budget,” she says, ”but we have to understand that everything impacts people.”
When it comes to trying to shore up a nearly $3 billion deficit in the state budget, O’Quinn says that a priority system is needed, rather than just a big cut across the board.
“We need to say government cannot be everything, so we need to look at what government is doing and prioritize our spending,” she says.
Because of the state’s top-two primary, it seems Driscoll is all but certain to advance to the general election, leaving Ahern and O’Quinn to duke it out for conservative voters.
O’Quinn has had her conservative credentials called into question. Recently, a YouTube video surfaced of O’Quinn speaking to the Friday Morning Republican Breakfast Club.
Originally, the video began by showing O’Quinn’s logo, except that each “o” was replaced by President Obama’s logo. Though the logos have since been removed, the rest of the video includes edited cuts of O’Quinn speaking, interspersed with video titles underscoring the points she makes — “Shelly doesn’t care if river set-backs are 90 or 150 feet. Do you?” O’Quinn says she doesn’t have a problem with the video’s content so much as with how it was done — the logos, and the fact it appears to have been shot from below a table, out of sight.
Ahern told the Spokesman-Review his campaign had nothing to do with the video, but it’s clear he doesn’t think O’Quinn is a true conservative.
“Shelly’s kind of in-between moderate and liberal,” he says. O’Quinn says there’s a difference between willing to talk to moderates and being one.
I counter that to say I consider myself a reasonable, rational Republican who’s willing to have a conversation,” she says. “It doesn’t mean I compromise my values. It means I’m willing to have a conversation to figure out how we move forward with our state.”