Heck preps for transition to Congress

Democratic businessman Denny Heck says he is guardedly hopeful the political gridlock he campaigned against can be unlocked.

Heck won a resounding victory in his campaign for Congress in Washington’s newly created 10th District last week, 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.

“Both are top-caliber individuals who know the 10th District and the workings of Congress very well. They will help me hit the ground running in the upcoming challenging session of Congress,” Heck said in a statement.

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 just won the 1st District, which Jay Inslee used to represent.

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 maintained their majority 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.

Heck’s win was a defeat for Muri, a Pierce County councilman who had pledged not to raise taxes, to repeal Obamacare, to reduce deficits and to make the welfare of military veterans his top priority.

Muri predicts a rough ride for Heck — in January and again after the 2014 elections. “Denny is 60 years old. He’s used to getting things done. … He’s going to go back and find out he’s in a corner,” Muri said. “He’s in the minority, and I think in 2014 Republicans are going to pick up seats. The sixth year of any president is usually bad” for the incumbent party.

Moreover, Muri thinks the country is headed into a recession. He also thinks each chamber may get more entrenched.

Heck doesn’t seem to mind. He quickly mentions that when he ran and lost for state schools chief in 1988, he’d written a book on which was printed the Chinese character for challenge and opportunity.

“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.”