In State’s Hottest Race, the Season’s First How-Low-Can-They Go Complaint – but Both Angel and Schlicher Can Point Fingers
OLYMPIA, July 31.—Shades of Mad Magazine! A new campaign flier that started landing in mailboxes in the 26th Legislative District Tuesday might have been ripped from the pages of that august publication – the flier from Democrat Nathan Schlicher appears to take a quote from the Kitsap Sun out of context, and supporters of Republican Jan Angel are crying foul.
On the other hand, a central charge in the many Republican fliers that have been landing in Pierce and Kitsap County mailboxes this last week has a big problem, too. The fliers chide Schlicher for voting for a budget requiring $900 million in new taxes last June 8 – but they overstate things by some $561 million.
And so things go in the state’s hottest legislative race, where no holds apparently are barred. Hard to say which side started it — judging by reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission, it looks like both campaigns and their supporters were ready to unleash their attack fliers the moment the ballots started hitting mailboxes a little over a week ago. Maybe that doesn’t come as a surprise. But both sides have committed rather large boo-boos. On the Republican side, the figure is wrong. On the other, Schlicher’s campaign makes a point by reprinting a quote from the local paper, while omitting the word “but” and everything that comes after it. Which creates a decidedly different impression.
Angel declares in a press release, “I challenge anyone to look at the content of what we send out and they are sending out and you will see we are focused on truth and facts. I will never let my campaign attempt to distort the truth like Mr. Schlicher has done. This is a new low.”
Says Schlicher, “Let he who lives in a glass house cast the first stone.”
Just goes to show the fun in store for the voters of the 26th Legislative District as this race steams toward November. It is the biggest thing in Washington politics this year, that little race for Seattle mayor aside. It is the only legislative race in this off-year election in which a Democrat faces a Republican. Fundraising appears headed for the moon. A week before the primary, counting independent expenditures, the total stands at $750,119.
A Million-Dollar Contest
The race seems a sure bet to top $1 million by November, and it may topple the record for a Democrat-on-Republican race set in last year’s election, when Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, unseated longtime Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. In that race a total $1,327,762 was raised, both by the candidates themselves and by big-spending independent campaigns mounted on their behalf. This one has a high profile because it affords the Senate Republican Caucus a chance to pick up a seat and solidify the control of the Majority Coalition Caucus, which now holds a 25-24 advantage over the Senate Dems.
Schlicher, a Tacoma emergency-room doctor, is seen as particularly vulnerable because he was appointed to the position in January and has never stood for election. And that goes double in a Republican-leaning district where Angel has won three races for state House. But more important, this year there is no other place for the state’s generous special interests to spend their money. The usual suspects from business and labor have been pouring in the cash for next week’s primary. Although the election won’t decide anything, both sides have been spending big in hopes of a good showing – Washington puts all legislative races on the primary ballot, even when just two candidates are in the running. The results are a crucial benchmark as the interest groups decide whether to continue financial support.
A $900 Million Charge
Both candidates voted for the final budget deal this year, but in campaigns it’s the little things that count – like the preliminary votes on budget amendments and on the bills that go nowhere. Voters in the 26th District started hearing all about them the moment the fliers began arriving. They’ve been coming from campaigns, from parties, from independent-expenditure efforts – “there’s been one every day,” Schlicher says. On the Republican side, many make the charge that Schlicher voted for a budget that would have required a $900 million tax increase. Take this one from the Good Government Leadership Council, the independent campaign backed by the independent Senate Republican Caucus Campaign Committee: “What’s Senator Nathan Schlicher’s prescription for Washington? Taxes and spending we can’t afford.”
And the fine print explains, “When Schlicher had a chance to vote for a no-new-taxes budget that included $1 billion in education funding, he voted ‘no’ in favor of a budget that would require a $900 million tax increase.” The flier references a vote that took place June 8.
The fliers are correct in saying Schlicher voted for a Democratic budget proposal that day, but the figure is wrong. It was one of those no-snowball’s-chance partisan-position votes that frequently take place on the floors of the House and Senate during the course of a major debate. When the budget came up that day, Schlicher voted with his caucus for an amendment to the Senate budget proposal which mirrored a budget written by House Democrats. It required $339 million in new taxes and an $88 million college-tuition increase. Certainly it didn’t represent the full amount of the tax increase that was favored by the House Democrats at the time. A few days before June 8 the House Democrats also passed separate trailer bills that would have required an additional $255 million in taxes. Those bills never came up in the Senate and so Schlicher never cast a vote. The total still was a far cry from $900 million — the figure apparently refers to the amount of an earlier House tax bill from April, which didn’t get a vote in the Senate, either.
Schlicher Quotes Newspaper
Then it was Schlicher’s turn. His campaign delivered a flier of its own to 26th-District households headlined: “Warning: Misleading Attack Ad.”
It doesn’t correct the mistaken figure. Instead, it starts, “Jan Angel and her supporters are attacking Nathan Schlicher for his vote on the budget. The problem is…”
Here the ellipses appear in the original.
“Jan Angel voted for the exact same budget.”
In between the two blocks of type it reproduces what appears to be a clip torn from a newspaper, headed Kitsap Sun, July 22, 2013 – though it isn’t the actual clip. It quotes the newspaper as saying, “Some of the advertising criticizes Schlicher for his votes on the budget, which he said was odd, because Angel voted the same way he did. Angel said that was true on the overall budget…”
The quote stops right there. In this case the ellipses are added. The full sentence from the newspaper article goes on to say:
“…but not on individual bills that were part of the budget process.”
Tit for Tat
That does make a difference. On those preliminary votes Schlicher didn’t vote like the typical freshman lawmaker about to face a tough election campaign – whenever there was a partisan split on the Senate floor, Schlicher voted in lockstep with his caucus in the face of opposition from the other team. And as might be expected, every one of those votes was duly noted and cataloged for future campaign reference. For instance, the same flier from the Good Government Leadership Council notes correctly that during an April 5 budget debate Schlicher voted with his caucus for budget amendments that would have required $325 million in additional taxes. And so on.
If you compare all the votes on budgets and taxes, not just the final one, Angel certainly did not vote for the exact same thing, says campaign manager Adam Isackson. But what he calls particularly distasteful is the use of the quote from the Kitsap Sun. “I just think it is deceptive when they put quotes from a newspaper like the Kitsap Sun on there and they cut off the second half of the sentence that clarifies it. I think that is pretty low. Obviously Schlicher knows that Jan was talking about the budget process, not the final budget that was voted on in the special session.”
For his part, Schlicher says he thinks the use of the quote was fair, ellipses and all – both of them did vote for the final budget after all. And in the end it required a quarter-billion-dollar tax increase, not that far off from the version he voted for in early June. Angel voted against $160 million of those taxes, it might be noted, while supporting the spending bill. Schlicher says he would rather be talking about other issues – things like gun control or funding for medical services. But if it’s out-of-context quotes that bother you, he says there was one from Angel’s camp that bothered him. Another flier quotes an email he sent to a constituent, regarding the two-thirds-for-taxes rule that was tossed out by the Supreme Court this year. “They say Sen. Schlicher stated that he believes the two-thirds rule is unconstitutional. I went back and pulled that email and it said that while I agree with the court that the two-thirds rule is unconstitutional, I would support an amendment to the constitution that would make the will of the voters happen.
“It was the same. If they want to start crying foul, then they need to start looking at what they’re sending out.”
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
It’s not that anyone in politics cites Mad Magazine as their inspiration – sometimes it just seems that way. But anyone who grew up reading the magazine may recall that the same sort of quotesmanship was demonstrated in a memorable expose of movie advertising that appeared in the August 1954 issue. The piece displays a snippet from a newspaper movie review: “This is the kind of film I like to see taken out and burned. In fact, that’s what I did. I went up to the projection booth, took out the film and burned it! Boy, did I have a wonderful time.”
And in the movie ad, here’s how the critic’s quote appears : “This is the kind of film I like to see… Boy, did I have a wonderful time…”