OLYMPIA — Democratic businessman Denny Heck says he is guardedly hopeful the political gridlock he campaigned against can be unlocked.
Heck, who grew up in Vancouver, lost to Jaime Herrera Beutler in 2010 in a 3rd District race. On Nov. 6, he won a resounding victory in his campaign for Congress in Washington’s newly created 10th District, capturing more than 58 percent of the vote against Republican Dick Muri of Steilacoom.
“I think every Congress is mostly colored in its personality by its incoming class,” Heck said in an interview after his election. “Two years ago, it was the Tea Party. (This time) I think it’s going to be a bunch of people of both political parties — like me — who have talked about moving the economy and sitting down and breaking gridlock.
“There is a pent-up hunger in America for problem-solving. There really is.”
Whatever happens, Heck is wasting no time getting ready to take the job in January. On Friday, he named his campaign manager, Hart Edmonson, as his chief of staff. Jami Burgess, a Tacoma native and a graduate of Stadium High School, will serve as his No. 2. Both have worked for retiring U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, and Burgess has a background in military issues.
Heck, whose election means Washington state will have six Democrats and four Republicans in the U.S. House, flies to Washington, D.C., this week for his first week of orientation and likely meetings with members of the Northwest delegation. He already has met with veteran U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, who has talked about the need for higher taxes, and Rep.-elect Suzan DelBene, the Democrat who last week won the 1st District seat vacated by newly elected Gov. Jay Inslee.
Heck’s trip coincides with Congress returning to work Tuesday to deal with looming tax increases and spending cuts dubbed “the fiscal cliff.”
But Heck will be able only to watch from the distance.
“It’s the members of the lame-duck (Congress) that are going to take the issue up,” Heck said. “It would be unconscionable to fail to act and thereby plunge us into another recession.”
Despite his catchy campaign themes to “Give Congress Heck” and take on the “Tea Party Congress,” Heck could be facing long odds in his bid to help end congressional gridlock. Democrats increased their majority in the Senate, and Republicans increased theirs in the House.
Even so, Heck said he thinks voters are clear: They want lawmakers to sit down like adults and solve the nation’s problems, doing what is needed to get the economy moving.
“Out of every big challenge comes opportunity, which is certainly what the 113th Congress has before it — a huge challenge and a huge opportunity,” Heck said. “Remember what floats my boat: It’s solving problems. If things were going along swimmingly, I would not have done this.”