Monday, October 30, 2006

"Darcy Burner hopes her life story will appeal to voters"

A long story in the King County Journal:
If Darcy Burner has a muse, perhaps it's her 3-year-old son, Henry.

Uncle Francis let him stay up late to watch Mom debate Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in Bellevue, in what is becoming an increasingly contentious race in the 8th Congressional District.

Henry was still up when Mom and Dad got home. "Who won?" he asked. "I did," Mom said.

"Good," he said. To Henry, that apparently meant the days and nights of Mom off running for Congress were over. He wondered whether tomorrow was a stay-at-home day.

Not quite yet, Mom said. To which Henry replied: "OK. Go beat Dave Reichert."

Henry, it seems, has been paying attention.

Just how much Henry's encouragement of his Democratic mom might change the nation's course will have to wait until after Election Day. The 8th District is a key battleground in Republicans' efforts to keep control of Congress and Democrats' efforts to wrest it from them.

For sure, it's concern for Henry's future that has the 35-year-old Burner, of rural Carnation, running for Congress. She talks about him, and perhaps for him, in one-on-one conversations and in political speeches.

She comes to the race with a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics from Harvard University and five years' experience as a Microsoft product manager.

This is her first run for elective office.

She has taken heat for not voting in several elections although, according to her campaign, the Republican list includes elections in Redmond, where she doesn't even live.

Her record of public service is spotty. She was chairwoman of the Ames Lake Community Club and is active in a teen leadership position with the Civil Air Patrol, which she joined as a teen.

But candidates, including Burner and Reichert, use their personal stories to touch the hearts and minds of voters.

Burner's story is somewhat nontraditional and at times heartbreaking. A daughter was stillborn. With Henry, she spent many weeks in bed during her pregnancy.

She won't tolerate ceilings that thwart a woman's upward progress.

Even her own birth shaped her political views.

Adopted, Burner met her birth mother, Florence, for the first time while she was in college.

Burner and her birth mother have talked about the choice the 19-year-old faced back in 1970. She was living in Alaska at the time, which allowed women to make a choice about having an abortion, Burner said.

"It was her choice," Burner said. "It was her body."

She chose adoption. "She was in no position to raise me," Burner said.

Her birth mother has been married for 35 years now and lives in the mountains of New Hampshire.

Burner's sister is an FBI agent. She draws a laugh when she talks of her brother's "public service" — delivering beer.

"I am fortunate to have this broad definition of family," Burner said.

She was adopted by Ralph and JoAnn Gibbons, growing up in a military family. She learned the value of hard work and treating everyone fairly from her parents. Today, she speaks out for veterans, arguing that Congress has cut their medical benefits.

She wants Henry to grow up in a nation where promises are kept, including those made to veterans, like her father, that they will receive medical care.

Her parents have campaigned for her, including making calls from their home in Fremont, Neb.

A Catholic, Burner said she's glad she lived a "goody two-shoes" life. There are no skeletons in her past, although she understands her friends' initial questions about whether she really wanted to run for Congress.

She calls the hard-edged battles for office that rely on personal attacks the "politics of personal destruction."

Burner and her husband, Mike, have made it a point to make sure her political schedule sets aside family time. One of Henry's favorite destinations is the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.

That's harder now, during what she calls "the crazy last part" of the race.

Burner says she's a country girl — the Burners live in an 1,800-square-foot home near Ames Lake close to Carnation. She likes the rural living, especially the quiet at night and the trees, but still they're close enough to Seattle to enjoy what a big city has to offer.

Henry thinks they live in a rain forest.

His mom would like those Northwest forests to still thrive when Henry is grown. Not surprisingly, she's concerned about the environment. Global warming is real, she said. Just look at Mount Rainier, where the glaciers are melting and the ice caves are disappearing, she said.

She argues that middle-class families are getting short shrift in the power halls of Washington, D.C. Those families face too many economic pressures, including expensive early childhood education all the way to the spiraling costs of a college education, she said.

"I think we need to invest more in the middle class," she said. If she could fix just one problem in America, it would be to ensure that all its families can do well.

But Republicans criticize Burner because they say she would allow billions of dollars in tax cuts to expire. The tax cuts have put money into the pockets of the middle class, but Burner said that the tax code is full of loopholes for special interests and the wealthy.

Indeed, she argues, it's the Republicans who might not renew some key tax breaks, including the one for Washington state residents that allows them to deduct the sales tax on their federal tax return.

Reichert talks openly about the pressures to vote a certain way in the nation's capital. She said she's disappointed that in her view Reichert has turned into a "D.C. politician." She said she will continue to hold herself to the highest standards.

If Burner doesn't know the answer to a question, she said, she'll say so. But a representative should have an understanding of basic issues, she said.

Like other Democrats across the nation, Burner is hammering away at President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq and the lack of oversight of Bush's policies by the Republican-controlled Congress.

Those themes helped rally the Democratic faithful at a massive rally Thursday at Bellevue Community College.

It was the first political rally for Helen Bergerson, of Kirkland, a Democrat who has lived on the Eastside for nearly 30 years.

She's sensing a change in mood among her friends, even the ones in the political middle. The war is weighing heavily on their minds, she said.

Every day holds fear for those with a family fighting in Iraq, she said.

"It's time for a change," Bergerson said. "We are in desperate times."

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