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The Morning Wire: Lower bridge tolls just in time for Election Day
Plus, Lisa Brown's zombie congressional campaign plays in Spokane politics, and the Observer is looking for talent
The payoff of one of this year’s more entertaining election-year ploys happened this week when the price of driving a car across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge decreased by 75 cents. The reduction is the handiwork of Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, with a strong assist from Senate Transportation Chair Marko Liias and their colleagues in the Democratic majority.
Randall’s 26th District on the Kitsap Peninsula is heavily dependent on the bridge that connects Gig Harbor to Tacoma. And while there’s no question that the tolls load a significant financial burden on everyday users, there’s also no question that reducing them is great politics. It’s like slipping every daily bridge commuter three crisp $50 bills a year.
Randall, as we note on the regular, is locked in a tough re-election battle with Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor. The Gig Harbor end of the district is generally more conservative than Randall’s home turf in Bremerton. Here she is flexing about the tolls on her Instagram feed:
The actual toll reduction was approved by the Washington State Transportation Commission in August, but they got pretty clear direction, not to mention a boatload of money, from the Legislature. For more on the interesting politics of bridge tolling, check out our deep dive from earlier in the year.
In related political news, Young’s campaign recently got a $108,000 infusion of cash from the House Republican Organizational Committee, the hard-money PAC controlled by House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox. This is a textbook example of one of the biggest loopholes in Washington’s campaign finance laws.
Brown’s surplus cash plays in Spokane politics
Since her unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2018, Democrat Lisa Brown, now Gov. Jay Inslee’s Commerce Director, has been using the leftover money from that campaign to play in politics in Spokane and elsewhere.
That’s got some GOP politicians out in the Inland Empire in a lather. Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns fired out a news release on the subject this week. We love a good surplus-money story here at the Observer, so we took a look.
Per the Public Disclosure Commission, Lisa Brown For Congresshas spent more than $104,000 on contributions to candidates, Democratic Party groups, and political action committees since 2019.
This year the zombie campaign has given $2K apiece to three Democrats running for the Spokane County Council. The council is expanding from three members to five this year, which gives Democrats a chance to seize control of the currently all-GOP body.
The largest checks, more than $46K in all, went to 509 Forward, a PAC that focuses on local politics in Spokane. Last year 509 Forward spent about $33K, mostly on two contested city council races in Spokane, where it was massively outspent by the Realtors and other business interests. One of its favored candidates, Zach Zappone, won; the other lost.
This year the PAC has spent $25K on public opinion research, an interestingly large number for Spokane. If anyone’s got a copy of the results, don’t be shy about shipping it our way.
Some targeted WEA money in the 47th District
The Washington Education Association routinely swings the biggest checkbook in Washington politics. We follow the teachers’ union’s spending pretty closely, so we spotted a comparatively minor spend in support of Democrat Claudia Kauffman in the open race for the state Senate seat in South King County’s 47th Legislative District.
Kauffman represented the 47th for one term beginning in 2007 before losing to Republican Joe Fain in 2010. Her second-place finish in this year’s primary was something of a surprise because the Democratic smart money was on Kent City Councilmember Satwinder Kaur. Since then, Kauffman hasn’t exactly been raking in the campaign cashMost of her big donors are Native American tribes and related PACs. (Kauffman is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe.)
She’s badly outgunned, moneywise, by Republican Bill Boyce, the current president of the aforementioned Kent City Council. (Boyce got less than 46 percent of the primary vote, compared to a combined 54 percent for Kauffman and Kaur.)
Kauffman also hasn’t yet enjoyed any independent support from New Direction, the main PAC working to defend and expand the Democratic majorities in the Legislature. The WEA is one of New Direction’s largest funders but also runs independent campaigns of its own.
The WEA spending on Kauffman is small, $21,000 for a 28,000-piece direct mail campaign, but no doubt sharply focused. One of the WEA’s locals in the district, the Kent Education Association, just ended a strike against its school district. Before he was elected to the city council, Boyce spent 16 years on the school board, including a long stint as board president. There’s gotta be some history there…
In related campaign spending news:
Boyce had a television ad running this weekend on Seattle-area TV. Given that we saw it in the 34th District, we assume his campaign bought time in the entire market rather than more targeted cable. That’s an expensive way to reach the comparatively few people with a vote in that race. That’s a sign Boyce’s campaign is flush with cash.
Citizens For Progress, which is part of the network of pro-business PACs that operates under the umbrella of Enterprise Washington, just spent a small amount of money on a website opposing Kauffman. The PAC spent heavily to oppose Kaur before the primary and appears to be swiveling its financial guns.
Housekeeping: Mark your calendars for the Re-Wire Conference, and The Observer’s looking for a reporter
If you squint past the glare of the fall campaign, you can see the 2023 Legislature looming in the clammy mists of winter.
Some 150 politicians will get up to various mischief. Hundreds of new laws will be proposed. A few will pass. Many more will die in interesting ways. Influence will be peddled. Horses will be traded. Tens of billions of the taxpayers’ dollars will be spent. The occasional tantrum will be thrown. I’m going to need some help covering that.
On Dec. 5, readers and supporters of the Observer and the Washington State Wire will gather for the annual Re-Wire Conference to preview the session and look back at the results of the election. Watch this space for more details in the coming weeks.
The event is a way to raise money to hire the Observer's first salaried employeeto help cover the session and generally expand and enhance our journalism. A formal job posting will be forthcoming, but we're interested in hearing from talented writers with a deep interest in politics, government, and the influence thereof.
Thanks for your attention. The Morning Wire is the free midweek update from The Washington Observer and the Washington State Wire, which track politics, government, and the influence thereof in Washington State. It’s made possible by our paid subscribers. To get access to The Sunday Observer and the warm glow of supporting independent journalism, please consider joining them.
Arya’s fans must not be denied
That’s assuming 200 trips a year across the eastbound bridge. The westbound span is free.
Brown was the most formidable of the nine Democrats trounced by GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers since 2004; she only lost by 10 percentage points. The last Democrat to hold the 5th was the late Tom Foley, who lost it as the sitting Speaker of the House in the Republican Revolution of 1994.
The change was forced by a 2018 law sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, who holds the House seat Brown occupied back in the day. The bill passed with bipartisan support because the old system was ripe for the kind of legal challenge that forced a similar change in Yakima County.
She did get $60K from the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, but overall her fundraising is well behind other Democrats in swing districts.
The Woman Who Lets Me Live with Her serves as Queen Of The Money without salary in return for a substantial equity position; Arya gets paid in kibble, fetch, and the best spot on the couch.