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Tensions boil over in State House race following accusatory campaign mailer

In a campaign mailer sent out Wednesday, 36th Legislative District State House candidate Sarah Reyneveld accused her opponent, Liz Berry, of celebrating “white nationalist and domestic terrorist Republican Representative Matt Shea.”

The mailer printed by Reyneveld’s campaign, which was sent out to 36th LD voters on October 14th, marks a significant escalation in tension between two progressive Democrats.

Liz Berry is the director of a powerful special interest group whose PAC donated thousands to white nationalist and domestic terrorist Republican Matt Shea. Liz even ‘celebrated’ Matt Shea when he passed their legislation. By working with Matt Shea, they gave him power even though her fostered racist and nationalist sentiment,” reads the mailer.

Berry is the Executive Director of the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ), a Seattle-based lawyer’s association. WSAJ is a 501 C(6) organization and has an affiliated political action committee (PAC) called the Justice for All PAC.

PDC records show that the Justice for All PAC did contribute to Matt Shea’s campaigns in 2016 and 2018.

Before the Justice for All PAC donated to Shea, he had already been involved in far right political causes. In 2015, Shea was associated with the Spokane chapter of ACT! for America, an anti-Muslim organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

However, Shea’s involvement with extremist groups that advocated domestic terrorism was first reported by Rolling Stone in October 2018. The last donation made by the Justice for All PAC to Shea was received on August 28th, 2018.

In a Facebook post this evening, Jason Bennett of Argo Strategies, a political consulting firm working with Berry, noted that Berry’s position at WSAJ is separate from the organization’s political arm.

Liz Berry is Executive Director for Washington State Association for Justice, not Chair for Justice for All PAC. She doesn’t vote on PAC donations for Justice for All PAC and she doesn’t even sit on the board (and hasn’t at any time of the donations referenced),” said Bennet.

PAC donations are typically dictated by the board and advised on by a government affairs director.

Bennett went on to say that the contents of the mailer are especially egregious given Berry’s past exposure to political extremism.

Liz Berry worked for Gabby Gifford’s, who, you know, was shot in the head by a domestic terrorist. One of Liz’s best friends died that day. To insinuate or allude that Liz somehow celebrates or supports this is disgusting and offensive. Perpetuating it is also disgusting and offensive.”

In a statement this afternoon to the Wire, Reyneveld stood by her campaign’s decision to distribute the mailer, maintaining that the information is correct and that it is of interest to voters.

Voters have a right to know that Liz Berry is the director of a powerful special interest group that sought out Matt Shea to prime sponsor their legislation when his extreme views were well known, celebrated Shea’s work when the bill passed, and that the organization’s affiliated PAC donated thousands of dollars to Shea’s campaigns,” said Reyneveld. “Telling the truth, however inconvenient, is not an extreme measure. Who we partner with and financially support should matter. I raised this in a public forum previously and Liz didn’t respond. Liz still has not denied any of the facts in the mailer.”

In an email to supporters Thursday morning, Berry called the mailer “slanderous” and said the campaign’s tactics reflect desperation on Reyneveld’s part.

Some of my campaign advisors are urging me to attack Sarah back. I will not do it. I will not attack another woman to win this race. I have dedicated my career to helping women become political and civic leaders in their communities. This will never change,” wrote Berry. “Don’t get me wrong; I want to win! And I know Sarah wants to win; she wants to win so desperately that she will go to extreme measures to do so. With our nation already deeply divided, I feel painfully sad that Sarah has stooped so low to accuse me of celebrating a domestic terrorist.”

While the mailer did not elaborate on its allegation that Berry “celebrated” Shea, it linked to a Trial News article written by Berry following the 2018 legislative session titled “A Legislative Session to Celebrate.”

In the article, Berry highlighted several bills the WSAJ legislative team helped pass. One of those bills was HB 1128, sponsored by Shea and now House Speaker Laurie Jinkins. Outside of mentioning Shea’s involvement as a sponsor, the article did not include any plaudits for him individually.

The bill raised civil arbitration limits, or mandatory arbitration limits, to $100,000. The impetus behind raising civil arbitration limits is to allow individuals to pursue a wider range of claims without having to wait for a court date, which can take up to two years due to backlog.

The bill passed 71 to 25 in the House with bipartisan support. In addition to Jinkins, who was a lead sponsor with Shea, Democratic legislators who voted for the bill include Reps. Eric Pettigrew, Frank Chopp, Nicole Macri, Joe Fitzgibbon, Noel Frame, and several other still-serving members. 21 Republican House members voted for the bill.

The legislation later moved on to the Senate and again passed with bipartisan support.

Reyneveld, an Assistant Attorney General, said that she probably would have voted for the bill, though she maintains that the issue lies with the Justice for All PACs donations to Shea and Berry “celebrating” her organization’s work with him.

Cosponsoring that bill, which I most likely would have voted for, is not the same as a special interest group’s PAC donating to Matt Shea and Liz Berry herself celebrating her organization’s work with him. I strongly support Speaker Jinkins and look forward to working with her.”

A person with knowledge of Speaker Jinkins’ opinion of the mailer said she was angered by it. Jinkins did not respond to a request for comment made by the Wire at the time of this article’s publication.

Speaking to the Wire Thursday afternoon, Berry said she and Reyneveld have been friends for over ten years, making the mailer feel all the more personal.

The two have organized playdates with their kids, and visited the Woodland Park Zoolights together with their families last December.

I use the word sad because it’s true. I feel sad that our race has come to this. Again, Sarah and I are friends, and I still consider her a friend. I’ve been saddened over the months as these attacks have unfolded and for her to mail the people in my parent group, my neighbors; my favorite butcher in Queen Anne got it. These are my people. To get this mailer, and it’s not true, it’s false, it’s really extreme, and it’s just beyond the pale,” said Berry. “I won the primary by nine points. I won 51% in a three-way race and Sarah is very angry. She’s been wanting to be in elected office for a long time. And I commend that, because I’ve worked a lot to get more women in political and civic leadership positions.”

Berry and Reyneveld agree on most policy issues. Some reporting draws a distinction between their respective comments on how to approach the state’s budget shortfall.

Berry earned the endorsement of The Stranger due to her stated commitment to fighting against cuts, in whatever form. The Seattle Times Editorial Board endorsed Reyneveld for proposing what they view as a more realistic approach: ensuring services for vulnerable populations are preserved “even if that means some nonessential state employees are let go.”

The candidates are vying to replace Rep. Gael Tarleton in a Seattle district that extends from Carkeek Park to Belltown and includes the Ballard, Magnolia and Queen Anne neighborhoods.

Berry and Reyneveld will clash in a debate hosted by The Stranger on Monday, October 19th.

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