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December 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Washington Democrats felled by booze and gambling
The Michael Walter King story reads like a Shakespearean tragedy: Golden boy lands his dream job as executive director of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. Two years later, he’s cleaning restaurants and living in a “sober house.” Democrats lose their majority in the Washington Senate. Then a judge sentences him to 25 months for embezzlement.
(Read The Seattle Times’ initial account of what happened in this February story by Andrew Garber and Brian Rosenthal. Reporter Jim Brunner followed up on the investigation in September. And here’s Sara Jean Green’s Tuesday report on King’s sentencing.)
Washington Democrats must be kicking themselves. If they’re not, they really should be. Don’t politicos hang out together in bars just as much as they do in board rooms? How did no one question King’s absences from work? Or that he perhaps drank a little too much during happy hour?
Humans tend to do a good job at hiding their vices. King had no prior record. Clearly, he knew he had a problem when he reportedly confessed his transgressions to an associate.
The sad irony is Senate Democrats didn’t lose their majority during the 2013 legislative session because of failed legislative policies per se. They simply didn’t pay enough attention to the guy handling their campaign money, and that mistake may have cost them dearly.
Several sources say the $330,000 or so King spent to fuel his habits could have been funneled into some critical races. The most notable election, of course, is former state Rep. Tim Probst’s failed attempt in 2012 to unseat conservative Republican state Sen. Don Benton in the Vancouver area. Probst lost by 78 votes. That outcome set the stage for two Democratic senators, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, to join with Republicans to form the Majority Coalition Caucus.
Probst, still living in Vancouver and specializing in workforce development, says an infusion of cash from the SDCC was needed in the closing days of his campaign.
“It would have made a huge difference; $20,000 would have been one more mailer, and the mailer we wanted to send out would have made a difference,” he said over the phone Wednesday.
Throughout the 2013 session and after, Democrats publicly blamed the MCC (with its one-seat majority) for being too conservative; for failing to pass important measures like a transportation funding package, a Washington version of the Dream Act for illegal students, and the Reproductive Parity Act protecting insurance coverage for abortions.
Truth is those probably could have been legislative victories for Democrats. They created their own problems months before the session even began, when they entrusted their campaign coffers to someone too blinded by booze and casinos to make the right investments in elections and results.
Says Probst of King: “He’s a good man with a bad addiction. (The party) has made the adjustments and have tighter controls now. It’s just too bad that it’s in hindsight.”