BY SIAN WU
Hong Tran speaks with the freedom of a newcomer to the world of politics. In fact, she’s so honest about her stances on traditional Democratic issues like immigration, gay rights and abortion, that it may make some voters believe she’s radical. But Tran says it’s Cantwell who has abandoned her democratic base by toting the moderate party line as Washington state’s senator in D.C. Former lawyer Hong Tran hopes to unseat Cantwell in the September primary to run against Mike McGavick for the U.S. Senate seat.
Tran left her job at the Northwest Justice Project in Seattle four months ago to run for office for the first time. She has a history of providing legal services to people in disadvantaged communities, such as low-income families, battered women and the homeless. She spent much of her career on housing advocacy, representing plaintiffs who were denied affordable housing or faced discrimination or eviction.
As the underdog challenger (she has raised about $20,000 versus Maria’s $6 million), Tran has been particularly vocal about her opposition to Cantwell’s vote to authorize the president to go to war in Iraq. Cantwell has stood by her original vote, a move Tran simply cannot comprehend: “Maria just did not have good judgment in supporting the invasion and she shows continued poor judgment in not admitting that the Iraq War was a mistake.”
Tran has a unique perspective on wars, one that comes from first-hand experience as a civilian refugee of the Vietnam War. She fled Saigon at age eight by boat, first to Guam, then to a refugee camp in the Philippines. The experience not only changed her life, but also changed the way she views the impact of civilians in war zones. “I have a perspective on war that Maria Cantwell simply doesn’t have … the perspective of actually being impacted directly by war.”
Tran believes that one mistake the current administration and the Senate has made going into the Iraq war has been the lack of consideration of civilian loss of life in military offensives. “When you drop bombs and send in troops, innocent civilians die and no one talks about that when they’re debating whether or not military intervention is appropriate, and why not?”
While many have already predicted a Cantwell vs. McGavick matchup, Tran thinks she would do a better job running against Mike McGavick than Cantwell herself. “Democrats who would vote for Maria will also vote for me. But there are lots of people who would vote for me, but wouldn’t vote for Maria because they are so upset with the decisions she’s made. They just won’t vote.”
But she also acknowledges that some people will think they have to vote for Cantwell just because she’s the incumbent Democrat. “Democrats need to wake up to the fact that Maria Cantwell has divided this party – along the line that Lieberman has divided Connecticut,” she says.
Indeed, many of Cantwell’s votes in the Senate were deemed unpopular from many different camps. Anti-war activists are angry about her vote to authorize the president to go to war, and her recent rejection of Sen. Kerry’s plan for a pullout of U.S. troops. Pro-choice advocates are angry about her vote against a filibuster for Justice Alito’s confirmation.
All this has made the environment ripe for a newcomer to step in. The question is, will Washington progressives risk losing the Senate seat to a Republican by putting up an unknown against McGavick, who is running a very well funded and strategic campaign?
KUOW’s Ross Reynolds asked if Tran would vote for Cantwell instead of Aaron Dixon, the Green Party candidate, in the case that Tran loses the primary. She said that she would vote with the Democratic Party, even though she believes Cantwell has voted more in line with Republicans on certain issues. “I’m running as a Democrat because I want to have a role in shaping the policies of this country,” she said. “Greens don’t have that force. I don’t want to have my vote to be wasted.”
Tran notes that McGavick shouldn’t be that difficult of a candidate to run against, since he is a lifelong insurance executive and a newcomer to the legislative process.
“Cantwell’s lead has disappeared and it’s not because McGavick is such a great candidate,” she says. “People know how insurance companies squeeze the average consumer, and that shouldn’t be that hard to run against, but she’s having a tough time with that because she’s been such a horrible senator, and people are refusing to support her.
“Democrats have to wake up to the fact that Maria Cantwell is not the most electable Democrat in this race.”