By: The Seattle Times Editorial Board
State Sen. Mark Mullet is an outstanding representative of the 5th Legislative District between Issaquah and Snoqualmie Pass.
He’s proven to be a strong advocate for education, taxpayers and transportation, voting to increase school funding, limit taxes and improve Highway 18.
Mullet is also a moderate, suiting a largely rural district that also extends from Carnation to Black Diamond.
Reelection this November seemed like a sure thing.
Instead, Mullet faces a fierce challenge from a fellow Democrat running against him, Ingrid Anderson, backed by a tsunami of PAC dollars from special-interest groups.
This board strongly endorses Mullet for reelection to a third term. It’s also deeply concerned when big spending political groups of any stripe stoke division, stack chambers and enforce fealty.
Anderson, a North Bend nurse, has a compelling personal story and commitment to workers. But she has little civic experience beyond advocating for the nurses union. She unyieldingly echoes the positions of big labor organizations spending more than $450,000 to oust Mullet. And, worse, she credulously repeats phony smears against Mullet that collapse with any scrutiny.
This is a troubling preview of the direction Washington’s Legislature could be heading — toward more polarization, more activists and less tolerance of diverse viewpoints. Voters in District 5 should consider these broader issues.
The massive spending is also seen by Olympia insiders as a warning — with the subtlety of a horse head — that other moderates in the Legislature will be taken out if they don’t fall into line.
“I think it’s appalling,” said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat chairing a party committee trying to win Senate seats.
Pedersen said Democrats have a chance to win four other seats, in the 10th, 17th, 28th and 25th districts. But those races are getting relatively little support as unions pour resources into unseating Mullet.
“I get that people have disagreed with some decisions he has made. I personally think those are good representations of his district,” Pedersen said. “But even if you disagree with him, I don’t know why you would make the calculation that you’re better to take him out than get two additional votes.”
Another tight race is in the 19th District, where state Sen. Dean Takko, a Longview Democrat, received fewer votes than Republicans in the primary.
Yet just $7,124 is being spent by independent groups to support Takko. Meanwhile PACs spent more than $450,000 so far on Anderson, including $276,962 from the Washington Education Association PAC and $173,214 from a Service Employees International Union PAC. That’s independent spending, in addition to direct campaign contributions limited to $2,000.
“I’m disappointed some of what we call our friends are going after him,” Takko said of Mullet. “I just don’t understand it — he’s been a good Democrat, a good moderate Democrat.”
Takko, a former county assessor and utility commissioner, said local government experience helps in Olympia. “A lot of people coming in from the outside with a philosophical agenda don’t understand the legislative process and the compromises you need to make,” Takko said. Mullet served on the Issaquah City Council before running for the Senate in 2012 as a social progressive and fiscal conservative. His early career was in finance; he now operates Zeeks Pizza and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream franchises.
Mullet said he promised voters he wouldn’t get pulled far left, and believes that keeping that promise helped him get reelected in 2016.
Whether that still aligns with District 5 will be seen Nov. 3. One recent signal was the 2018 carbon-tax vote. Mullet is an environmentalist — he supported last year’s clean-energy bill — but didn’t support the tax. That drew heat from some allies and Gov. Jay Inslee. But Mullet’s position turned out to mirror the district — and state — which voted no.
Perhaps Mullet’s biggest sin was defending equity principles in the McCleary school funding plan.
To ensure basic education is equitable statewide, and prevent the system from favoring students in wealthier areas, the plan has restrictions. It requires the state to directly fund basic education and limits how much districts can supplement that with local levies.
When the WEA pushed to relax those restrictions — seeking to raise more money locally, where it can bargain for additional raises — Mullet held firm.
Anderson’s campaign is spinning that as anti-education. After Mullet explained himself in an Op-Ed, noting his wife is a public-school teacher, Anderson falsely said he’s badmouthing teachers.
Don’t be fooled by the deceitful smears. Mullet voted for historic increases in education funding and teacher salaries. Then he pushed for property-tax relief for residents footing the enormous bill. Now he’s on the capital committee helping fund schools.
During a meeting with this editorial board, Anderson hewed to talking points of public-employee unions and balked at policy nuances and trade-offs. For instance, Anderson adamantly defended the second annual raise for state employees in July, despite a projected $8.8 billion shortfall in state revenues. The raise deepens the hole, increasing state wage spending up to $800 million.
Anderson seemed incredulous that the raise will result in spending reductions. She couldn’t say where she’d cut spending to cover the raise’s cost.
“I don’t have an answer for that,” she said. Mullet said the Legislature should have had a special session to cancel the raise and start addressing its budget crisis. Still, they’re both Democrats who align on larger issues. So the race prompts broader questions.
Is Mullet an effective representative? Clearly.
Will Anderson be more effective? Unlikely. The Legislature is not the Seattle City Council — yet — and inflexible members on extreme ends of the political spectrum are marginalized.
Do voters want a representative willing to ruffle feathers on behalf of principles and the district? That’s Mullet to a fault.
Or do voters want a novice who will be a reliable vote for PACs that are basically trying to buy the seat? That’s Anderson.
The choice should be obvious: Vote for Mullet and against political bullying.