Two big donations have made an instant player out of a new political action committee apparently backing moderate Democrat Mark Mullet’s bid for governor.
The Coalition For Pragmatic Leadership, formed this spring when Mullet was mulling jumping this race, got $50,000 from Issaquah real estate magnate George Rowley, a longtime donor to Republican groups, and $25,000 from Washington Charters, which advocates for charter schools in Washington.
That’s likely the opening salvo in a free-spending battle between independent committees playing in the governor’s race outside the relatively strict limits on giving money directly to candidates.
Rowley Properties owns and operates about 80 acres of prime real estate in downtown Issaquah, squarely within Mullet’s state Senate district. He was one of the wealthy backers of a planned initiative to roll back the long-term care tax back in 2021. That campaign failed to qualify for the ballot during the sour climate for direct democracy caused by the Covid pandemic.
Washington Charters is a longtime backer of Mullet, one of the few Democrats willing to buck the Washington Education Association’s hard opposition to charter schools. The group spent heavily on the independent campaign¹ defending Mullet’s Senate seat against a progressive challenger in 2020, a campaign that was mostly about his support for charter schools and his opposition to the long-term care tax. The group has given his campaign for governor the maximum direct contribution of $4,800.
Per its filings with the Public Disclosure Commission, the PAC is affiliated with Enterprise Washington, a network of pro-business PACs that has historically supported Republican candidates for the Legislature.
Many in that faction of political players have long since abandoned the dream of a Republican in the governor’s mansion and recoil from the Loren Culp wing of the party. Some view Mullet as a unique opportunity to wrest some level of political control away from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, especially the public-sector labor unions that provide most of the money.
The Coalition for Pragmatic Leadership hasn’t reported any spending, and the folks involved didn’t respond to our inquiries, but look for Job One to be public opinion research. The biggest question about Mullet’s campaign is whether he’s got a real shot to get out of next August’s primary, given the presence of Attorney General Bob Ferguson and former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert.
The PAC isn’t subject to campaign contribution limits but it is barred by law from coordinating directly with Mullet’s campaign. Given Ferguson’s massive fundraising lead, look for more pro-Mullet money to flow through the committee.
Culp’s lawyer gets spanked
The Supremes suspended the law license of Stephen Pidgeon, the attorney who briefly brought a lawsuit challenging Loren Culp’s lopsided loss in the 2020 race for governor.
The ink was barely dry on that lawsuit before Pidgeon withdrew it under threat of severe sanctions from the attorney general’s office. The court’s decision is somewhat symbolic, as Pidgeon resigned from the bar last year. He told Jim Brunner at The Seattle Times that he currently lives in Alaska, where he gives religious talks.
As we’ve noted, Culp’s campaign was functionally a long con with small conservative donors as marks. The Pidgeon lawsuit was an attempt to keep that gravy train rolling a few weeks longer. Culp then tried to transfer the grift to a 2022 challenge to U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, but the voters of the 4th Congressional District consigned him to the dustbin of two-time losers.
Hansen succeeds Rolfes in 23rd District Senate seat
State Rep. Drew Hansen was appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat created by Ways & Means Chair Christine Rolfes’ departure for the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners.
As Kai Uyehara reported in the Kistap Sun, Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, edged out Brynn Felix, general counsel for Peninsula Community Health Services. The Board of Commissioners chose from three candidates chosen by the district’s Democratic precinct committee officers. Rolfes recused herself from the decision.
Somewhat unusually, given Hansen’s status as the senior House member from the district, Felix had the support of three members of the Senate Democratic caucus who don’t represent the 23rd, including Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, who represents the neighboring 26th District. The Senate seat will be on the ballot next year.
Hansen’s appointment to Rolfes’ seat continues – albeit subtly – the ongoing leftward shift in the chamber. Perhaps more interesting is who winds up with the seat on Ways & Means, which has been a killing ground for expensive progressive ideas in recent years.
A deep dive on ferry construction
David Kroman of The Seattle Times delved deep into the vexing question of why it’s so difficult to build new boats for Washington State Ferries. I live on ferry-dependent Vashon Island, we read with great interest and Kroman lives over on the Kitsap Peninsula and thus feels some of our pain. One tidbit that really jumped out at us is an irony with respect to the Jones Act, the federal law that requires that ships trading between U.S. ports be built in the United States.
That law – which generally makes domestic shipping more expensive than it would be otherwise – was enacted after World War I to preserve domestic shipyard capacity to ensure that U.S. Navy vessels could be built and maintained here. Well, the gist of Kroman’s story is that after its 2019 purchase by a large private equity company, Vigor Shipyards, which has built most of the ferry fleet in recent decades, is fat with military contracts, leaving it substantially less enthusiastic about building ferries.
Our Canadian neighbors have no Jones Act. Recently, BC Ferries got 18 bids for its new round of boats, all bids from overseas.
1. If you like a recurring theme in your PACs, that committee was called the Committee For Proven Leadership.
This article first appeared in the author’s political website, The Washington Observer.