Clark County native Denny Heck, whose career spans local and statewide Democratic politics and 20 years as a business entrepreneur, ended weeks of suspense Wednesday when he formally announced his candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird.
“This race will be about who has the depth and breadth of experience to go to Congress and make decisions,” Heck said in an interview with The Columbian. “I’m the only practicing capitalist in this race. Nobody has to teach me that 70 percent of jobs are created by small businesses. I’ve done that.”
In fact, Republican congressional candidate Jon Russell, a Washougal city councilor who owns a family health clinic, might consider himself a “practicing capitalist” as well.
Heck joins a crowded field that also includes three sitting state legislators and a former Bush administration official. He announced Dec. 14 that he was “strongly considering “ joining the race and was prepared to invest $100,000 of his own money in the campaign.
What made up his mind, he said, was double-digit unemployment rates in the 3rd District, especially in its struggling rural areas.
Trying to stimulate job growth in the district “would get me up early and keep me working late,” he said. He favors the use of investment tax credits to help businesses create new jobs.
Heck, 57, was born in Vancouver and graduated from Columbia River High School, then from The Evergreen State College in Olympia. He was elected to the state House of Representatives at age 23 and served from 1977 to 1985, representing the 17th District, which then included portions of Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties. In the Legislature, he served as Democratic majority leader and co-chaired the House Education Committee.
He resigned to become chief clerk of the House of Representatives, and in 1988 lost a campaign for state superintendent of public instruction. He later served as chief of staff to former Gov. Booth Gardner.
In 1993, Heck co-founded TVW, the state’s public affairs television network, where he hosted an award-winning public affairs program. He retired from TVW in 2003.
He was an original investor in Real Networks, the digital entertainment company that pioneered streaming media on the Internet, and co-founded Intrepid Learning Solutions, a Washington-based worker training program that now has offices in eight states. He is also the co-owner of Bruin Development and chairs the board of Digital Efficiency, an electronic medical records company.
In 2008, he performed a one-man historical drama, “Our Times,” which he wrote, in Vancouver and other cities. He and his wife donated the $30,000 in ticket sales to local charities.
Heck stressed that though he moved to Olympia in 1985, his roots in Clark County remain strong. “This is my home,” he said.
He’s not worried about competing with state Sen. Craig Pridemore and state Rep. Deb Wallace, two Democratic candidates for the open congressional seat who arguably have greater name familiarity with voters.
“I like and respect both of them. They’re fine legislators,” he said.
But Heck said he’s not convinced that serving in the upcoming legislative session will boost their congressional campaigns.
“I would not want to be spending 60 days in Olympia at the beginning of this campaign. And I wouldn’t want to be taking the votes they are going to have to take.”
Meanwhile, he said, “I’ll be campaigning every day.”
“I’m very clear-eyed about the magnitude of this challenge,” Heck added. “It’s a big district, a diverse district that is hurting because of job loss. I think these races always come down to who has the most cogent message and the means to get it out.”