Randi Becker and Bruce Lachney have more in common than the state Senate seat that she holds and he wants to take away from her in the general election next month. Both live on farms. They have worn many and similar hats, including elected officeholder and professionally (Lachney has been an airline pilot, Becker an airline flight attendant). Now their lives have diverged in perhaps the state’s most tightly contested race for the Legislature (Becker finished five votes ahead of Lachney in the primary election in August). So just who are they, not only in the political arena but also away from it?
LACHNEY: ‘Put others ahead of yourself’
Some of the formative thinking behind Bruce Lachney’s philosophies about life and politics occurred in the cockpit of a military jet.
His experience as a pilot in the Marines for six years, including missions in the Far East and Somalia, broadened his awareness of service before self. He puts a lot of stock in that when explaining why he has given his time to community efforts such as education and grassroots issues like land-use, and now is fixed on winning a seat in the state Senate and trying to help straighten out Washington’s budget problems, especially as they relate to schools.
“The military gave me a sense of purpose for putting others ahead of yourself. I learned you take care of your troops first,” he said.
Lachney, 52, also feels a sense of obligation to Washington taxpayers who helped pay for his earliest college education (he’s now back in school finishing a masters degree in public administration). “If I’m elected to the Legislature, I can use the skillset that my education helped me develop,” he said.
Education runs through Lachney’s public service to this point and his campaign as a Democrat in the Second Legislative District. He’s a member of the Clover Park Technical College Board of Trusteens and a former Eatonville School Board member. A focus of his campaign is improving the system of funding public education through changes in the state’s tax structure, such as repealing some tax exemptions and creating new taxes to take pressure off the state’s sales and business-and-occupation taxes. He noted some type of reorganization is essential for the state to meet a court-ordered requirement for funding of education, which long-term is best for preparing students for the global economy.
“The budget and education come first. We have to manage the budget (in order to help) education the way the state it’s obligated to,” he said.
Lachney, whose career as a pilot includes 22 years flying for Delta Airlines, was born in Seattle. Home now for him, his wife Ann and their two children is a farm in the Eatonville area where he grows cranberries for Ocean Spray. The 94 acres also produces rhubarb, cattle, timber and hay. The work it requires is how Lachney unplugs in a mind-clearing, therapeutic way from the campaign, which has been grinding since April.
“The farm is very cathartic,” he said. “You have to keep up with it. And plants don’t talk back.”
Dialogue with voters about the issues keeps him motivated for the campaign. “The biggest jazz I get is being able to help people with their problems. If you’re not a problem-solver, this isn’t for you,” he said.
Lachney’s government-level involvement with problem-solving includes time as a member of the Pierce County Planning Commission, an appointed body that wrestles with land-use issues. He believes government exists to provide help for people when they need it, and that everyone can and should have a voice in its processes and decision-making. With that in mind, Lachney vows to stay involved if he doesn’t win the Senate race, just as he did after he lost a bid for Pierce County Council in 2008.
“The hill doesn’t disappear just because you lose an election. There is work to be done to change things for the better,” he said.
BECKER: ‘Still a lot I want to accomplish’
Randi Becker was a fairly typical high school student – 4-H member, homecoming princess, athlete. She wasn’t necessarily expecting big things of herself – certainly not the stuff to some day be a state lawmaker – until her art teacher convinced her otherwise.
In her senior year, Reed Warden, now deceased, “told me I was a lot smarter than I gave myself credit for. He made me believe in myself” by steering her into honors classes, Becker recalled.
Now Becker, 63, is in a race for re-election to the state Senate. She can look back on a varied professional career that has included working as a medical practice administrator, a real estate agent and an airline flight attendant. And, she said, “there is still a lot I want to accomplish,” especially for constituents in the Second Legislative District that she has represented in Olympia since winning her first election in 2008.
Becker, a Republican, is an advocate of minimizing government’s role in people’s lives and making it efficient and affordable through budget cuts aimed at ending “unsustainable” spending by the state. She pays special attention to healthcare issues as a result of having worked in the medical industry, in which she started as a receptionist and retired after running a surgical clinic. She also is a strong supporter of funding for public schools and higher education, wants to improve the economy so more people in the 8 percent-plus unemployment ranks can find jobs, and aspires to be a voice for “people who work for a living” and the rural communities of her district.
Some of Becker’s personal inspiration comes from a grandfather who emigrated to the U.S. from Sweden and became an entrepreneur, starting a bus line to Mount Rainier and buying gold mine rights in Montana, among other ventures. His belief in opportunities for people willing to work hard were passed along to family members, she said.
Becker grew up on a dairy farm in Enumclaw and now lives with her husband, Bob, an Air Force veteran, on a 20-acre spread near Eatonvlile where they have horses and beef cattle. Working in her yard is a favorite way to unwind from the rigors of campaigning, which this year included minor surgery that took her off the campaign trail for a hile.
“There isn’t a a lot of spare time, but there’s something really soothing about woking in your garden and yard,” she said. “I haven’t had much time for it this year, so it’s not looking too good.”
That’s a tradeoff she’s willing to make for her public life in government.
“What I like is helping people see the other side of an issue. I also like that as a common, everyday person, I have the ability to make law,” Becker said. She credits the support of her husband for the time commitment she must make in that role.
She said the best part of the long days of a campaign that began in the spring and won’t end until a few weeks before Thanksgiving is going door to door and talking to voters. “You never know what you’ll run into when you’re out doorbelling, but that’s what it’s all about for me. It’s about the people – not only trying to win their vote, but finding out what’s important to them,” she said.
If her time in the Senate ends after one term, she won’t drop out of sight, Becker said.
“I retired once. It didn’t stick,” she said, referring to when she retired from the medical industry. “My life doesn’t end if I lose this election. I’ll remain active in healthcare and higher-education issues.”
A silver lining would be more time for volunteering, she said, something she hasn’t been able to do as much as she’d like. But she’s focused on staying in elected office.
“There’s a lot I still want to do” in the Legislature that only people with her background can do, she said. She believes legislators who represent big-population areas can’t understand issues from the perspective of people in “smaller, rural communities” that dot the Pierce County and Thurston County areas of the Second District.