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Ballot briefing: DelBene, Celis offer few answers

Washington's first congressional district has an interesting race on its hands. Republican Pedro Celis is running against a fellow Microsoft alum, Democratic incumbent Suzan DelBene. (Facebook images)
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Washington’s first congressional district has an interesting race on its hands. Republican Pedro Celis is running against a fellow Microsoft alum, Democratic incumbent Suzan DelBene.

They’re running in a district that includes Skagit County farmland, the town of Oso, and extends down through Medina, home of the richest man in America.

I spoke with each candidate for about a half hour, and I’m still having a tough time nailing these two down.

The strategy is clear though: DelBene swept the primaries, so she’s not going to go after Celis, and continues to beat the drum of the typical Democratic rhetoric you’d expect.

Celis is new to the campaign trail as a candidate and still hasn’t polished the question and answer portion of the pageant. I struggled to find his position on several issues.

I asked both of them about immigration reform. DelBene talked about bill – HR15, which, she says, isn’t going anywhere because leadership in congress won’t let it.

“When we look at immigration reform, comprehensive is a very important word because in our district we have technology, we have agriculture, we have a border, we have many, many different issues that need to be addressed with respect to immigration reform and HR15 is a bipartisan bill trying to do reforms on all different aspects of immigration to address these issues and try to make sure as we change one thing we understand there are impacts in other areas and look at that across the board.”

Celis, who is himself an immigrant from Mexico, I thought would have the most to say about immigration reform, perhaps have some of the best solutions. His line for immigration reform is “wide doors, high fences.” He says it’s not fiscally responsible to deport illegal immigrants already here, but, he says, we can’t give them an easy ride to citizenship.

“I think you want to keep it simple. Some people say oh you need to do fines, a test for English, a long list of things. I wouldn’t start by saying here’s a long list of things for you to get citizenship. I would rather have some way for them to get some form of deportment protection status that gives them a couple of years for them to get themselves through the door.”

Here’s the thing: I spoke with each candidate for about a half hour. I asked about immigration, the budget, foreign policy, the minimum wage, and education. The questions were there, but the answers weren’t.

DelBene is playing it safe and sticking with party talking points – and why wouldn’t she? She earned 50 percent of the vote in the august primary. Celis? He got 16 percent, a far cry from the 47 percent of the vote Republican challenger John Koster received against DelBene in 2012.

Most strategists would take a challenger like Celis and put him on the attack. A key issue separating the two campaigns is federal spending. Celis failed to address it during my interview until he was nudged by a campaign advisor. And even when he did answer, it revealed his lack of depth as a candidate. He wouldn’t share any specific ideas on balancing the budget, saying: “I’m not going to jump into that because it’s so complicated.”

So, voters in congressional district number one, let’s not talk about the issues, they’re complicated.

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