Eyes throughout the state will be turned to the 16th Legislative District this fall to see whether a relatively untested Democrat can hold the seat her father won for 11 consecutive terms.
Incumbent Rep. Laura Grant, D-Walla Walla, is battling two familiar Republican faces and a self-styled Reagan Independent who is a novice campaigner.
Former candidates Terry Nealey and Kevin Young -- both of whom failed to unseat her father, the late Rep. Bill Grant -- each are taking another shot at the only legislative seat in Eastern Washington held by a Democrat outside of urban Spokane.
Voters will narrow the field of candidates in the Aug. 18 primary. The top two vote getters advance to the Nov. 3 general election.
The major question before voters is whether it's to their advantage to keep a voice in the majority party in Olympia, or if a Republican, or perhaps a Reagan Independent, better represents the relatively conservative district's stances on the issues.
Grant is resting her campaign on the former idea.
Much of the work of the Legislature is done in caucuses, where members of a political party get together behind closed doors to figure out whether there are enough votes to pass a particular piece of legislation.
The Democrats currently hold a 62-36 majority over Republicans in the House -- more than enough votes to pass legislation requiring a simple majority if they vote as a bloc, but not enough to overcome the two-thirds majority requirement for approving new or increased taxes.
Grant said as a Democrat, she's been able to stop bills that would work against Eastern Washington's interests from going to a vote by the full House by swaying opinions inside the caucus room.
"I feel like we have to have someone in there to explain why these are not Republican issues coming up," she said.
Being Eastern Washington's voice in the majority Democratic caucus sometimes has meant going against the caucus's position on issues, she said.
She voted with Eastern Washington Republicans on several issues during the 2009 session, including voting against the biennial operating budget because she disagreed with cuts Democratic budget writers made.
"The perception is that things I voted for were Republican issues," she said. "They were Eastern Washington issues. ... It can't be about partisan issues. I'm there to represent Eastern Washington."
Nealey and Young disagree that the 16th District needs representation in the majority party.
Nealey said it's more important for a representative to reach across party lines and convince people to work together, and he believes he's the candidate with the experience to do that having worked on a number of committees in Dayton to accomplish local projects and promote economic development.
"I'm concerned we're pretty close to a supermajority now," Nealey said. "I think it is a problem if either party ever has a supermajority. I think it's important for a Republican to be voted into this position. I think the majority party has made some mistakes, especially in the budget."
Young said a lawmaker's character is more important than party affiliation.
He believes he has the fortitude and moral fiber to be a strong voice for the business community and against taxes and big government.
"I actually don't want to be in the majority," Young said. "Go back to biblical times and almost every great thing done in history was done by a minority of people. It never took a majority. It took people doing the right thing, having a strong backbone and a stiff neck. ... I think if you're in the majority, your vision gets clouded because you have power. You think you can bully it through."
Roberts would rather see someone fresh and independent fill the seat as he blames politics as usual by members of both parties for the problems the state faces, including a massive budget deficit.
He thinks lawmakers have been too reactive and not proactive.
"We've had the same old politicians that go around year after year and say, 'I promise...," Roberts said. "It's like they're complacent. ... My idea of what a politician should be is somebody who's active, not waiting for something to happen."
Though a first-time candidate, Roberts thinks his passion and concern are what the district needs.
"I'm worried and I care and I know where to look for solutions," he said.
Family: Married with three children
Occupation: Fifth-grade teacher; incumbent state representative
Why she's running: Grant wants to continue the legislative legacy of her father, the late Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla.
"Dad left a very clear arrow to follow," she said. "I feel I have clear directions what the voters of the 16th District want. I have Dad's previous record to go by."
She describes herself as a conservative Democrat who favors fiscal responsibility and creating a more favorable climate for small businesses by reforming the business and occupations tax.
She also favors amending the state's "use it or lose it" policy for water rights for farmers so that water conserved can be used to expand production.
She opposes cuts to levy equalization for schools and imposing a cap and trade scheme on carbon emissions in the state.
Family: Married with two adult children and five grandchildren
Why he's running: Nealey is running because he wants to curb overspending in Olympia.
He considers himself a conservative Republican who would advocate for a prioritized approach to the state budget, focusing on education first, then human and health services and public safety.
He opposes cutting levy equalization and imposing a cap and trade scheme on carbon emissions in the state.
He believes it's important to adopt an energy policy that diversifies the state's energy production to include wind, solar and nuclear. He also wants to improve the state's business climate by lowering unemployment insurance and workers compensation rates for employers and reforming health care policy.
Family: Divorced with two adult children and one grandchild
Occupation: Corrections officer at Washington State Penitentiary
Why he's running: Roberts said he's running because he's tired of politicians making promises and not delivering.
"I see things getting bad," he said. "I see the same politicians. I see the same candidates acting like politicians."
He describes himself as a Reagan Independent who would promote the same fiscal policies as former President Ronald Reagan.
Roberts said he believes in cutting taxes and reducing the size of government. He also wants to improve the state's business climate, and said he'd do so by visiting all of the businesses in the district to ask what they want and need, then delivering it in Olympia.
He wants to make state government more efficient by reducing the number of administrators.
He opposes illegal immigration and imposing a cap and trade scheme on carbon emissions in the state.
Family: Married with three children
Occupation: Construction and farming
Why he's running: Young said he feels the yoke of government regulations and restrictions as a businessman and homeschooler, and wants to ease those restrictions.
"Every time I turn around, it's another tax, another regulation, another fee," he said. "It's another way of the government putting their thumb on me. In a free market society, there is no control. There is oversight. When I look at what's going on today, I don't see the state government here ... working to make a good business climate."
He describes himself as an ultraconservative Republican who would never vote to raise taxes or increase the size of government.
He'd look at how to cut government costs by making agencies more efficient and reducing the size of administration.