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    With Hispanic help, Democrats hope to win in Eastern Washington

    They have a lot of faith in Vickie Ybarra, who would be the first Democrat since 1992 to be elected to the Legislature from Yakima County. Meanwhile, Democrats also have their eyes on Doc Hastings' congressional seat.
    Vickie Ybarra.

    Vickie Ybarra. None

    Long in the shadow of Republicans, Democrats in Central Washington are hoping to get a foothold on elective office in 2008, banking on a maturing Hispanic community, particularly in Yakima County, and political enthusiasm seems to be running high.

    Democratic hopes center around Vickie Ybarra, a nurse and former State Board of Health member active in the Hispanic community, which makes up nearly 40 percent of Yakima County residents. The 14th District hasn't elected a Democrat to the Legislature since 1992, but Ybarra would not be the first Hispanic. Rep. Mary Skinner, a Republican retiring after seven terms, is Hispanic.

    Yakima and the 4th Congressional District in general make up the heartland of Republican territory in Washington, but veteran Democratic activists are talking about a "blue wave" that they hope will put Ybarra in Olympia and — a long shot to be sure — send a Democrat to Congress for the first time since 1994.

    For as long as most can remember, Yakima County has been to Republicans as central Seattle has been to Democrats — inviolable territory where the minority party had to look for sacrificial lambs (or donkeys or elephants, as the case may be).

    Why are central Washington Democrats feeling better about 2008?

    Several reasons are cited by Paul George, Yakima County Democratic chairman, beginning with huge (for his area) turnouts at political meetings this year. He cites more than 600 at an annual county Democratic convention in April and a record 1,800 at the presidential caucuses in February, compared to only 400 at Republican caucuses.

    Ybarra is the best candidate the party has fielded for the Legislature in some time, and the 14th District seat is open, vacated by Skinner. The president of the Yakima School Board, Ybarra is a nurse, former member of the State Board of Health, and director of planning and development for the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. She is an instructor with the University of Washington's School of Health and Public Medicine. She figures to be a key in getting out a larger Hispanic vote than in most elections. George sees the Hispanic vote, which has been depressed by the complexities of the county's all-mail ballot, as the key to resurgence of Democrats in the region.

    Despite their numbers, Hispanics have not been a strong political factor in the county. Seattle Democratic Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney grew up in the southern Yakima Valley, but her political career came on the west side of the Cascades. Hispanics have won some local contests in the southern part of the county and hope to elect Wapato Mayor Jesse Farias, a Vietnam War hero, to the county commission, which hasn't had a Democrat since 2000.

    Arid Eastern Washington is changing demographically, and although most of the attention has been on growth in the Hispanic community, there has been an influx of outsiders attracted to the region for its expanding wine culture and appeal as a retirement destination. Yakima, the Tri-Cities of Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco, and Walla Walla in particular are impacted by the incomers, who may bring with them a more liberal political outlook than the conservatives who have dominated the political scene for generations.

    This impact is most apparent in Walla Walla, which has been the subject of flattering profiles in The New York Times and other national publications, but expensive new housing and other indicators of a changed population are beginning to be in evidence in the Yakima area, as well.

    While this will not necessarily mean a loss of Republican control, it bodes well for attractive candidates from either party, particularly those who can speak to cultural and livability issues that will be of more importance to the incomers than party loyalty or family voting history.

    Yakima County is the largest in the seven-county 4th Congressional District and perhaps the most vulnerable to changing demographics. The county supported Jay Inslee, a Selah Democrat, in his successful race for Congress in 1992 and stayed with him two years later when he was defeated by Republican Doc Hastings of Pasco, who has represented the district since. Hastings handily won each election since, but in 2008 a Kennewick lawyer, George Fearing, hopes to take advantage of anti-Republican and anti-Bush sentiment — as Hastings took advantage of the Republican "Contract with America" in 1994.

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    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 12:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    Fearing's chances: A Republican would have a better chance of taking Ted Kennedy's seat than Fearing has of beating Hastings.


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

    This story is full of error: Where to begin?

    First off, Vickie Ybarra would not be the "first Hispanic ... elected to the Legislature from Yakima County." The sitting state representative, Mary Skinner, is Hispanic. Maybe the fact that she is a Republican Hispanic means she's not Hispanic enough for your reporter.

    Secondly, Jess Farias may be a nice guy and we should all recognize the sacrifices he made for his country during the Vietnam War, but I have never heard him referred to as a "war hero" as did this "objective" story. Once again, your reporter's views are creeping into the piece.

    Thirdly, your reporter's statement that the county commission has not "had a Democrat since 2000 and never a Latino" is also wrong. Jesse Palacios, a Republican Hispanic, served two terms and retired in 2007. He now sits on a Lower Valley city council. Once again, maybe the fact he is a Republican makes him less of a Hispanic in your reporter's eyes.

    It would be interesting to know what evidence there is that backs up your reporter's assertion that the Hispanic vote has been "depressed by the complexities of the county's all-mail ballot." I found it to be a very simple ballot. Why would Hispanics have a more difficult time than Anglos completing one? More importantly, how can your reporter state something like that as fact? What proof does he have that statement is true?

    By the way, Yakima County's auditor is a Democrat and she is the person responsible for counting votes. That is worth remembering when you read that 5,000 ballots from Hispanic-surnamed people were discarded because of ballot errors. (I assume that is a statewide number, but I am not sure since this is just another unclear part of this story.)

    It seems to me that your reporter called just the Democrat operatives he mentions in the article and reprinted their "facts" as facts. Sloppy journalism, for sure.

    The overall premise of the article is interesting and timely: Will strong Latino candidates (like Ms. Ybarra) help the Democrats gain a toe-hold in Central Washington? Unfortunately, the story so biased and full of errors and opinion that it fails to successfully answer that question.

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

    My error, sorry!: In my article on Central Washington Democrats, I made a couple of inexcusable errors, for which I apologize. Vickie Ybarra would not be the first Hispanic to serve the 14th District. Mary Skinner, the incumbent, is Hispanic; my apologies to Ms Skinner. Later in the story I stated that there had not been a Hispanic county commissioner; I am informed that is also inaccurate. I'll stick with the gist of my piece, that for Democrats the importance of the Hispanic vote in this area, Yakima County in particular, is critical if they are to turn it into competitive campaigns. But that doesn't excuse some sloppy reporting--what can you say about a Bellinghamster loose in the wine country? Sorry, folks.
    Floyd McKay

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    RE: My error, sorry!: Those corrections are reflected in the current text.

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 5:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    Why publish McKay? What value does he add?: It kind of makes you wonder how many other pontifications by Mr. McKay are full of similar errors. Thank you Bruce for exposing the factual mistakes that Mr. McKay made in his original story. In Mr. McKay's defense I guess it's easier to skip facts that don't fit your storyline and blame it on too frequent trips to wine country.


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 8:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    Another thing: What the heck is the "University of Washington's School of Health and Public Medicine?"

    If you mean the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, she's certainly not the director of development. Here's her bio page.

    Posted Tue, Jun 3, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    RE: Another thing: Well, you're right, and this one's my fault. In the editing process, a chunk of text somehow got deleted. It's been fixed, and here's the corrected passage:

    "The president of the Yakima School Board, Ybarra is a nurse, former member of the State Board of Health, and director of planning and development for the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. She is an instructor with the University of Washington's School of Health and Public Medicine."

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