Wylie keeps state Legislature seat

Democrat surprised by margin of victory in district she was appointed to

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Democratic state Rep. Sharon Wylie took a substantial lead over Republican candidate Craig Riley Tuesday in her bid to win election to the 49th District seat she was appointed to in April.

Wylie was leading Riley by 3,043 votes or 13 percentage points, with 23,279 votes, or about 36.6 percent counted. Countywide, election officials expect a turnout of up to 45 percent when all the votes are counted.

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Nov. 8 general election results

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Wylie, a 62-year-old former Oregon legislator and Clark County legislative lobbyist, called the results in the heavily Democratic district “fantastic.”

“I’d say it’s very comfortable, and more than what we had hoped for,” she said from her election night party at The Atrium Lounge. “Not only am I happy about me, I’m really happy about Proposition 1,” the C-Tran sales tax increase to maintain bus service, which appeared to be passing soundly, she said. “There are a lot of people who have no other way of getting around.”

Riley, the 60-year-old owner of Riley Financial Inc., said the election wasn’t over.

“We haven’t given up,” he said. “We’ll just keep plowing ahead, watching how things move over the next few days. It was a beautiful campaign, we had great volunteers, we did everything that was right and should be done in a campaign.”

Wylie thanked her volunteers too.

“I’m proud that I had a lot of quality people, a team that spoke to the voters with respect and told the truth,” Wylie said.

She attributed her strong showing to “the fact we are the kind of community that really does come together and make decisions about what they want to do, that supports the library the way they have.”

“I tried to connect with people and let them know what we thought about the issues of the day,” she said. “If you look nationally, communities all over the country are turning away from the direction they were going. They’re saying, ‘Working people count, community services count.’”

Special session awaits

She said she would keep one of her campaign promises by beginning Wednesday to plan a community forum to inform citizens about the hard budget decisions that face lawmakers in the upcoming special session.

Because she was appointed to the 49th District seat to replace former state Rep. Jim Jacks, Wylie stood to forfeit her seat immediately upon the final vote tally if Riley won the contest. The winner will head to Olympia for the special session as soon as

the vote is certified.

Wylie, a 30-year veteran of state politics, served two terms in the Oregon Legislature before moving to Clark County 14 years ago. As a lobbyist for Clark County, she worked to win funding for the Center for Community Health, a state crime lab in Vancouver and a major freeway interchange, among other projects.

Three years ago she shifted from lobbying in Olympia to volunteering with Clark County agencies that help the homeless.

During her brief tenure in the regular 2011 session and the monthlong special session that followed, she voted with minority Republicans and against her own party at least four times, including on the state’s 2011-13 operating budget. “I’m nobody’s rubber stamp,” she said.

She won the endorsement of several major labor union and women’s rights and pro-choice groups.

Riley, whose firm offers investment and insurance planning, campaigned on his extensive background with Medicare and retirement investments. He warned that Washington state and the nation as a whole are not prepared for the wave of baby boomers and low-income families who will soon flood the health care market.

He said he believes the federal government should send the states the money it would otherwise spend to implement national health reform and let each state design its own program.

It was Riley’s third run for the Legislature. In 2010, he ran a close race against Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. This year he won the endorsements of the Building Association of Clark County and several major health insurance companies.

Wylie maintained a healthy fundraising lead throughout the campaign. As of Tuesday, she reported $153,025 in contributions to Riley’s $97,573. Riley also benefited from a $40,000 TV ad campaign bankrolled by a national Republican political group that attacked Wylie. Both candidates received hefty contributions from their respective political parties.

The 49th District covers Vancouver west of I-205 and Hazel Dell. Its boundaries will change with legislative redistricting in 2012, and candidates running for a full two-year term in 2012 will have to live within the new district boundaries.

Legislators are paid $42,106 annually.