If you thought the double-overtime Legislative session was hyper-partisan, wait until it wraps up. That’s when the race for control of the state Senate blasts off.
Derek Kilmer’s election to Congress in November opened the 26th Legislative District Senate seat. Democrat Nathan Schlicher, a doctor from Gig Harbor, was appointed to fill the seat in this Legislative session, and is running to serve out the remaining year of Kilmer’s term. Rep. Jan Angel, a three-term Republican from Port Orchard, opposes him.
At stake is functional control of the state Senate. Democrats hold a 25-23 majority, but Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon defected to form the Majority Coalition. If Angel wins, the Majority (presuming it stays together) gets some breathing room. It is a swing district, picking Democrats for two of its three Legislators, but also voting 56 percent for Republican Rob McKenna in the 2012 governor’s race.
Legislators can’t raise money during session, but both political parties are primed for a full-on effort once the session ends. State GOP chair Kirby Wilbur told the Kitsap Sun the party will be pioneering get-out-the-vote techniques. Democratic operatives say the party’s allies will spend as much as necessary to help Schlicher, a first-time candidate, hold the seat.
That primes the race as the most expensive in state history. For context: the the most expensive Senate race in state history cost more than $1.3 million, with attorney Jack Connelly spending $1 million in 2012 in a losing campaign for a Tacoma seat. In 2010, Democrat Chris Marr and Republican Michael Baumgartner spent more than $1 million combined for a Spokane Senate seat. That’s a ton of money for ads, and since much of it is likely to be spent through independent expenditures, that translates to lots of negative ads. Get ready for a brawl.
Both lawmakers, serving in minority parties, had even innocuous bills bottled up this session in a show of partisan gamesmanship. Angel got 2 of her prime-sponsored bills signed; Schlicher got 1 out of 17.
Angel, 66, a former Realtor, was a Kitsap County Commissioner from 2000-08 before being elected to the House. Angel has raised $179,918, including $25,000 from the state GOP, is a clear conservative. She scores a 91 from the Washington Conservative Union and a 20 from the state labor council. The Seattle Times editorial board blasted one of her bills – to drug-test welfare recipients – earlier this year.
The race is decided in November, but campaign manager Adam Isackson said results from the August primary will set a tone for the fall campaign, so the candidates will be “in a full sprint” to raise money the moment the Legislature ends. He has a nifty statistic on the race: “The 26th legislative is probably the most conservative district in the state with a Democratic senator.”
Schlicher, 30, is way over-educated for a job in the Legislature, holding both law and medical degrees from the University of Washington (he works as an emergency-room doctor at St. Joseph’s Medical Center). He has raised $126,497. He fashions himself a “citizen legislator,” a jab at Angel’s decade-plus in office. “If anything, this year has magnified that need (for citizen legislators), with hyper-partisanship and career political behavior.”
Last week, he brought his three-week-old son, Henry, into the caucus room while waiting for the Legislature to end the budget stalemate. Henry responded by filling his diaper. “My son is so frustrated by the lack of action that he blew out his shorts,” said Schlicher, laughing.
For those scoring at home, that’s one produced stinky diaper, to zero produced budgets.
But if the stalemate ends, neither candidate is going to have much time for laughs in the next few months.