Sue Gunn’s background fighting for the environment goes back decades at the state and federal levels. No other candidate running for Congress in Washington’s newly created 10th district has such a resume. And none appears to be as clearly advocating as huge an overhaul to the political system as this self-described “scientist, optimist and crusader.”
Gunn filed last week to run as a “Prog Independent,” and as a “progressive” wants to make corporations more accountable, reduce the military significantly and put the economy on a more environmentally sustainable footing.
Also running in the 10th are Republicans Dick Muri of Steilacoom and Stan Flemming of University Place; Democrats Denny Heck of Olympia and Jennifer Ferguson of University Place; and Steve Hannon of Yelm, who is running with no party affiliation. The state’s “top two” primary system lets candidates be creative in party identification.
The new 10th runs from Shelton to Thurston County and north to University Place and Puyallup.
Gunn talked to The Olympian on Friday morning, and this post is the fifth in a series of reports on conversations with the candidates – following Muri here, Hannon here and Flemming here and Heck here.
Gunn retired from a lifetime of advocacy and scientific work last July. She holds a doctorate in isotope geochemistry and worked for the U.S. Geological Survey for more than a decade before doing environmental policy work in Olympia and Washington, D.C., for about 15 years.
One of her last roles was as campaign director for the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative, which she described as a coalition of environmental and recreation groups and state agencies.
As a candidate Gunn has no illusions about the challenge ahead. Heck, the Democrat, has raised $1 million and even the Republicans, who are trying to catch up with Heck, have raised more than $125,000 each. Although she applauded first-time candidates for stepping up, she said of Heck: “He’s a 1 percenter.’’
So instead of seeing if she can raise money, she is running what she called an experiment in democracy to see if she can draw grass roots help. Rather than pay a filing fee, she collected signatures from voters to qualify her candidacy for the Aug. 6 primary ballot.
“My goal is to talk about the issues that no one else wants to talk about. In many ways to get elected you have to stay near the center and not speak the truth,’’ Gunn said. “I think that is the problem with the two-party system right now. … The conversation bandwidth has gotten really tight. The capacity to produce solutions has gotten reduced.”
For her that means advocacy of women’s issues like equal pay and passage of an Equal Rights Amendment as well as protecting the environment and changing the way corporations function in the nation’s political life.
The question now is whether people will “step outside the box,” as Gunn put it. But she was encouraged by her work to collect signatures to get on the ballot. As she made her way among voters, she said: “People would hug me. Women embraced me. Others would say they have their candidates selected … People basically were charming.”
Gunn is ambitious in wanting change – everywhere across the country.
“It’s more than politics – I want to overhaul governance in America. … So I’m hoping that candidates like me across the country (will be) popping up like mushrooms in the night – and attempting to run as progressive independents outside the two party system,” she said.
Among issues at the top of her agenda: a push toward full employment, reduction in the size of the military, changing the federal law to require corporations register nationally and to agree to good conduct, and passage of legislation that is a serious answer to global climate change.
Gunn thinks the nation needs to create an environmental “restoration corps” – like the Civilian Conservation Corps that put people to work after Great Depression. The jobs could include clean up of polluted sites.
Gunn now lives in rural Thurston County but grew up in Chicago where Hillary Clinton was a classmate in high school. She also worked as an editorial assistant for the now defunct Chicago Daily News, which put her in touch with columnists like the iconic Mike Royko. From there she went into academic work and later advocacy on environmental issues.
After working with Congress during a series of administrations, writing bills and proposing legislative amendments, Gunn thinks of herself as expert on federal appropriations.
In her role with the Watershed Initiative, she worked with Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, who helped create a trail and roads program inside the U.S. Forest Service that repaired and replaced culverts and decommissioned roads – an effort to undo harm to fish habitat and water quality from old logging roads.
“Over the four year period I worked the issue, $225 million was provided that (restoration) account. Funds were distributed to forests across the country and the Olympic National Forest’s restoration efforts benefited greatly as well as many other of the national forests in this state,” Gunn wrote.
Gunn said she anticipated the nation’s financial crash in 2008, moving her own retirement savings to safer investments. She said corporate interests, which had a hand in that economic collapse, have too much influence on politics. She would weaken that hold by barring corporate donations to campaigns and making companies more accountable for ethics and harmful products.
Gunn wants corporations to register their charters nationally. This could lead to requirements for operating sustainably, ethically and with the involvement of community boards and citizens that are affected by its operations.
I asked Gunn about a few other issues:
BUDGET/TAXES: Gunn says the Bush-era tax cuts should expire. She would increase taxes on the 1 percent top earners – with a top rate “on the order of 49 percent.’’ She would similarly eliminate corporate subsidies, close tax breaks and reduce military bases around the world to reduce the budget gaps.
ECONOMY and JOBS: Gunn wants slower growth and an economy that creates fewer extremes in wealth. Although some Americans have fared poorly in the economic downturn she does not think that economic growth is “the” solution to the country’s problems. She believes growth has caused pollution and feeds a consumer lifestyle so that “in many ways we have become excessive in our consumption.’’
SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE: Like the other candidates, Gunn wants to keep both programs stable and funded to serve the elderly. Taxing the wealthy and corporations can provide the funds needed, while keeping Americans more healthy can help hold down costs, according to Gunn.
CLIMATE CHANGE: It is real and she is concerned. “I would work to develop legislation that really addresses the issue,” Gunn said, noting she would consult such experts as scientist James Hansen, who has offered ideas about a carbon tax, and others.
At the same time she wants to stop the opening of new nuclear power plants.
MILITARY: Gunn wants to close foreign many military bases, including in Germany, and thinks a restoration corps can give people an alternative way of doing national service. She said her candidacy is big picture of where she wants the country to move – toward an economy based on peaceful activities rather than from a military economy.
“I’m not talking about draconian efforts but a shift nationwide,’’ Gunn said.
Like others, she is making returning veterans a high priority. She thinks those struggling to get the right care should be able to get access to something like Medicare – rather than have to rely on a nearby military hospital. Overall, she regards the Veterans Administration as understaffed and overworked.
SOCIAL ISSUES: She supports a woman’s right to decisions about her body including abortion. She also supports recognition of same sex marriage.
HEALTH REFORM: Gunn said she doesn’t believe people should have to buy health care insurance. She also does not like the enshrinement of private insurers in the Democrats’ 2010 reform.
Instead, she favors moving toward a single payer health care system. If the Supreme Court strikes down President Obama’s reform, “I’d be willing to go at it a second time,’’ Gunn said.