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State Employees Snub Kastama at Labor Council Endorsement Convention – and Gathering Offers a Few Surprises

No Nod in Auditor’s Race, DelBene is Favorite in the First

Green-shirted members of the Washington Federation of State Employees turn their backs on state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup.

SEE ALSO: House Leaders Nixed in Labor Council Endorsements – Pension Bill is New Litmus Test

SEATTLE, May 7.—When state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, got up to speak at the state Labor Council’s endorsement convention Saturday, you could hear the sound of a hundred chairs suddenly being scraped back at the same time. The green-shirted delegates representing the Washington Federation of State Employees rose in unison.

And then they turned around.

They stood with their backs to him for the duration of his speech, a dramatic showing of what they thought of his vote this year for a Republican budget. Kastama was one of three Democrats who broke party ranks. That vote changed the course of the just-finished legislative session, injected the GOP into the final budget deal, and forced passage of reforms that didn’t sit well with some of the state’s largest and most influential labor unions. Saturday was payback time. Labor pointedly snubbed Kastama in his bid for secretary of state. “If Sen. Kastama is going to turn his back on us, we are certainly going to turn our backs on him,” said Steve Pointec, a worker in the state Department of Employment Security.

The Labor Council stamp of approval instead was offered to every Democrat in the race except Kastama – meaning a joint endorsement of former state Sen. Kathleen Drew and former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. Out in the cavernous meeting hall of the Machinists’ Union, where more than 500 delegates represented labor unions from across the state, the word was that the anti-Kastama demonstration wasn’t the surprise. It was that Kastama had shown up at all. Though a few of the rank-and-filers privately admitted that by itself took guts.

Kastama, candidate for secretary of state, takes it in stride. In the background is Kim Wyman, also running for secretary of state and the only Republican who dared to show.

And Kastama seemed to gulp a little as he looked out across the room and saw the Federation’s backside. But he kept right on. He said, “You are probably fiercely independent and I’m fiercely independent, too. I have been criticized for that. You see an example of that here today.” Afterward, he said he always knew his vote on the Senate floor would cost him support in his bid for statewide office. All he can do now is explain why he thought bipartisanship was important. “This won’t be the last time,” he said.

Other notable decisions Saturday from the labor council’s Committee on Political Endorsements included a sole endorsement of Suzan DelBene in the hotly contested race in the 1st Congressional District, left vacant by Democrat Jay Inslee’s resignation to run for governor. And in a surprise move, the convention offered no endorsement in the race for state auditor, reserving the right to make one later.

The COPE convention is one of the two key pre-election events on the Democratic side of the aisle, ranking in importance alongside the state Democratic convention. Though no one expects labor to endorse a Republican, an endorsement from labor can be a make-or-break decision for a Democratic campaign, opening labor’s considerable campaign-contribution war-chest and sending legions of volunteers into the field. The council already this year has offered endorsements in three of the state’s top races – Jay Inslee for governor, Maria Cantwell for Senate, and Bob Ferguson for attorney general. Its action Saturday filled out the rest of the slate. The endorsement is of particular significance in legislative and down-ballot statewide races, in which a few hundred thousand dollars, spent either way, can change the outcome.

Reporters and visitors were allowed to watch the speeches, but the afternoon deliberations were closed to outsiders.

Suzan DelBene, candidate for Congress to succeed Jay Inslee in the 1st District. To the right, Labor Council president Jeff Johnson.

May Narrow Field in 1st District

The labor council’s endorsement of DelBene is the signal many had been waiting for in the crowded race for 1st Congressional District, and might force other candidates to make some hard decisions before filing week opens May 14.  A seeming army of Democratic candidates have been angling to succeed Inslee, who has represented the suburbs north of Seattle for the last dozen years. Though two candidates have already dropped out – Reps. Marko Liias and Roger Goodman – there still are enough people in the race to form a rock ‘n’ roll band. Candidates Darcy Burner and Laura Ruderman have been aiming their pitch at “progressives,” Nepalese immigrant Darshan Rauniyar has been mounting an “outsider” campaign, and state Sen. Steve Hobbs, a member of the Legislature’s business-friendly Roadkill Caucus, has been angling for centrist votes.

But DelBene, who mounted a strong campaign for Congress two years ago in the 8th Congressional District, outflanked them all when she became the last to enter the race this spring, in part because as a former tech executive, she has the ability to dump her own money into her campaign. Her speech hit all the buttons – support for the labor agenda, hostility toward the “recklessness and greed of Wall Street.” And she said she alone among the Democrats has the ability to build a broad Democratic coalition that can beat the lone Republican in the race, John Koster.

“To turn this tide one thing we need to do is to make sure that the first district remains blue,” she said. “The new first [district] is one of the most competitive in the country, and if we don’t win here we can’t take back Congress. John Koster advocates for a radical agenda that will roll back nearly a century of progress. He wants to dismantle Social Security and Medicare as we know it, so we have to unite behind a candidate who can beat John Koster. This means we need a progressive candidate who can appeal to voters across the district.”

Congressional candidate Darcy Burner on bipartisanship: “How’s that working for you so far?”

All other Democratic candidates for the position were on hand, save Hobbs, who did not attend the convention because he was on National Guard duty. While the convention may have been the last hurrah for at least a few of them, it gave them a chance to offer a few rather fiery sound bites. Said Burner:  “There are a lot of talking heads here and in Washington, D.C. who seem to have this fixation on bipartisanship and compromise and reaching across the aisle. I have a question for you. How’s that working for you so far? How do you like NAFTA? The Bush tax cuts? The bank bailouts? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? You need to be very careful to not send a wolf in sheep’s clothing, because you need someone who’s going to have your back when the chips are down.”

No Endorsement for Auditor

In the race for state auditor, Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, may have paid a price for his votes last year on unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation bills opposed by labor. Though he won labor’s endorsement in 2010 in his bid for Congress in the 3rd congressional district, in his strong bid this year for statewide office he fell just short of the two-thirds vote required for an endorsement. The convention instead took a wait-and-see stance. Though Pridemore has won endorsements from some of the larger unions, including the Federation, the convention’s failure to commit labor resources presents an opportunity for Reps. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way and Troy Kelley, D-Tacoma, who are running for the same position.

During the floor speeches, Miloscia hammered Pridemore and ignored Kelley. He pointed out that Pridemore earned a 31 percent voting record from the Labor Council in 2011. It should be noted, however, that Pridemore boosted his rating this year – in the just-released labor scorecard for 2012, Pridemore was a 100-percenter.

State Rep. Mark Miloscia, candidate for state auditor, waves a copy of the state Labor Council’s voting scorecard.

As Miloscia spoke, he waved a copy of the Labor Council newsletter announcing the scorecard. “How did you feel when my opponent voted yes on worker privatization, which some of us called union-busting?” he asked. “How do you feel when [he] voted for the largest benefit cut ever to your workers comp system and betrayed injured workers? How do you feel when [he] voted 31% last year and now [is] in the bottom third of all Democrats? Will you hold my opponent accountable today? Incredibly, some still trust politicians who stabbed unions in the back. Tell me, would you trust a politician with a 31% voting record? Don’t get fooled by excuses, false promises and tricky words. Unions get enough of that at the bargaining table. If politicians know they can abuse unions one year and then get their reward from the unions the next, if labor ignores your own scorecard, then so will every politician. Will you hold my opponent accountable? I stand with a 91% labor voting record today, the highest here, and I stood with unions even when it hurt.”

Pridemore responded that it’s all in the way the votes are counted. “It is said that the first rule of politics is the truth. So what is the truth in this election? The truth is that in the eight years that I’ve been in Washington state Senate, I have voted against the views of the state Labor Council exactly seven times. During those same eight years Mark Miloscia voted against the position of the state Labor Council exactly seven times.

“In the interest of fairness, state Rep. Troy Kelley, in his six years in the state House voted against the Labor Council 18 times. This campaign isn’t about who supports working people and who doesn’t. We all know that this campaign is about who has the experience the skills and values necessary to lead the Washington state auditor’s office in the years ahead. The question before you is who has the strength the maturity and the wisdom to support responsible efforts of the next governor when he is right and speak out against irresponsible actions that are wrong for the citizens of the state.”

Sen. Craig Pridemore, candidate for state auditor.

And in a not-so subtle dig against Miloscia’s votes against abortion and gay-marriage bills favored by Democrats this session, Pridemore added, “I intend to fight for the rights of everyone in the state, including those of women and those of gays and lesbians.” That remark brought cheers.

Other Endorsements

In other endorsements, the convention offered few surprises. Labor is backing all Democratic congressional incumbents as well as Democratic challengers in the 4th, 5th, and 8th congressional districts – Mary Baechler, Rich Cowan and Karen Porterfield. The convention also voted to oppose Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler for reelection in the 3rd  District, without naming a favored candidate. In the state’s new 10th congressional district, it is backing Democrat Denny Heck.

For Supreme Court, it endorsed Susan Owens for Position 2, Steven Gonzalez for Position 8, and Bruce Hilyer and John Ladenburg for Position 9, respectively.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee speaks with a supporter in the back of the hall following his address.

The convention voted to oppose this year’s anti gay-marriage ballot measure, Initiative 1192, and favor a yes vote on Referendum 74, the measure that would submit this year’s gay-marriage legislation to a public vote. It also voted to endorse Initiative 502, this year’s marijuana-legalization measure. Among this year’s legislative endorsements, there were two split decisions, both in Seattle districts. In the 36th District, Noel Frame and Brett Phillips got a dual endorsement. In the 46th, the dual nod went to Sylvester Cann and Gerry Pollet.

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