Washam's law: Activist rising

November 13, 2010 

Richard Dale Washam, Pierce County assessor-treasurer, is a reasonable man. See things his way, and you’ll be fine.

He’s made a career of telling people what they’re doing wrong: lawyers, judges, elected officials, Republicans, Democrats, landlords, grocery clerks, neighbors, voters and just about anyone who disagrees with him.

He brings the same style to public office. His reproaches to employees typically include a red face and a wagging finger.

Before his election in 2008, he served as a self-appointed scold. He ran for public office repeatedly and gained notoriety as the county’s recall king. Five times, he tried to oust opponents who defeated him in elections.

His name was familiar, his accusations widely discussed. His background was not. Often dismissed as a crank and a fringe candidate, Washam rarely received the scrutiny accorded to the higher-profile candidates and officeholders he attacked.

His history is a study in contradiction. For years, he has cloaked himself in a mantle of integrity and denounced others for actions that mirror his own.

COMBATIVE RECORD

Between 1989, when Washam emerged as an activist, and 2008, when he was elected assessor-treasurer, he appeared in 42 separate court actions, mostly as a plaintiff – two lawsuits a year, on average. Always, he acted as his own lawyer, though he has no law degree and no license to practice.

He started most of the fights and lost most of them.

He was evicted from four apartments. He sued a landlord over a $13 garbage bill. He sued grass-roots Democrats who wouldn’t elect him to a folding-chair seat on a tiny precinct committee. He harangued a neighborhood Republican who wouldn’t vote to give him a $70 campaign contribution and called her “Satan sitting in the chair.”

During his many campaigns, his occupation and source of income presented a minor mystery.

“I’m not a wealthy man,” he once told a News Tribune reporter.

He painted a vague picture of his finances on campaign disclosure forms. He listed no assets. He called himself a pro se attorney, and a free-lance writer and actor. What he wrote is unclear. The News Tribune found appearances by Washam as a nonspeaking extra in two films: “I Love You to Death” (1990) and “Crazy in Love” (1992).

Court records say Washam was fired from a pharmaceutical sales job in 1980. His wife earned a steady income, but research and records suggest Washam didn’t get another salaried job until his election in 2008. In recent campaign records, he listed himself as retired.

Between his firing and his election, he rattled public cages, ran for office and sued people.

EVICTIONS

By the late 1980s, Washam reached his 50s. His well-tended hair silvered. He looked a bit like Michael Dukakis, the Massachusetts governor and failed presidential contender.

The resemblance ended there. In 1988, Dukakis wrestled with Vice President George H.W. Bush. Washam squabbled with his landlord.

Landlord/tenant disputes strike a minor theme in Washam’s history. Typically, they began with quarrels over maintenance or rent increases and ended with evictions. Each time, Washam sued, alleging retaliatory eviction and breach of verbal contracts. Each time, he lost on the merits of those claims.

Three times, he was ordered to pay attorney fees. Twice, he refused to pay, and landlords eventually gave in. In one case, he obtained a small settlement ($2,000) based on other factors. The final eviction was a loss – one of the few times Washam was forced to pay for the legal bills he’d forced an opponent to incur.

The first eviction came in 1988. Washam was living in a Midland apartment complex. He was a month-to-month tenant who typically avoided long-term contracts.

He’d complained to the landlord about a faulty front door, lack of outdoor security lighting and thugs in the parking lot who damaged his car.

He sent multiple complaints to the state attorney general and demanded payment from the landlord. The landlord answered with an eviction notice.

Washam sued, claiming retaliatory eviction. He lost the argument but held out for five months, refusing to leave until the court ordered him out.

He also dabbled in local politics. Like many disputes that followed, his first big battle started after he lost an election.

GRASS-ROOTS LAWSUIT

In December 1990, he was a newly elected precinct committee officer with the 25th Legislative District Democrats, a grass-roots subset of the Pierce County Democrats, based in Puyallup. The district club had about 60 members, including Washam, a frequent critic.

“He used to come to the Democratic meetings pretty regularly and voice his objections to what the county party was doing,” said John Thompson, who chaired the Pierce County Democrats at the time.

After the mid-term elections of 1990, county Democrats held a reorganization meeting. The Puyallup club met afterward and held leadership elections. The posts were puny: fancy titles that stood for sitting in folding chairs, drinking bad coffee and talking about how things ought to be.

Washam ran for executive board. He lost, 26-10.

He ran for state committeeman and lost by the same margin. The defeat was unacceptable. Washam sued Thompson, the county Democrats and the Puyallup Democrats and demanded a new election.

They hadn’t done it right, he argued, hadn’t followed the letter of state law. They held the leadership elections the same night as the big county meeting and didn’t give proper notice.

Superior Court Judge Frederick B. Hayes dismissed the suit. The meeting notice wasn’t letter-perfect, but it met the legal standard, he ruled.

Washam appealed. He accused Hayes of misconduct.

He lost at the Washington State Court of Appeals. He appealed to the state Supreme Court and lost again. The argument lasted three years.

THE CONTRACT

Meanwhile, Washam ramped up his activism, campaigning against a garbage incinerator and a fee for car-license tabs. He objected to a pamphlet briefly released in a Puyallup junior high school that offered advice to lesbian teens.

“Pornographic,” Washam called it.

The issue sparked his run for a seat on the Puyallup School Board as an independent write-in candidate. He lost, but he hatched an idea that became his trademark: the Political Employment Contract.

Starting in 1991, he filed the contract annually with the county auditor’s office, signed and notarized. He vowed to resign from office if 51 percent of the voters in the previous election signed a petition requesting it.

“If we’re not doing the job right, then our employer should be able to terminate us,” he said. “My employer is going to be the people.”

He hoped to start a national trend. He tacked the contract to his next campaign in 1992, when he ran for Pierce County executive.

THE SPOILER

Local Democrats had their own candidate: County Councilman Wendell Brown, who squared off against former Tacoma Mayor Doug Sutherland, a Republican.

Washam invented his own party. He called himself an “Independent Democrat.” He touted his contract and made his own signs, featuring his mugshot and two words: HIRE WASHAM.

He finished a distant third in the three-way race, garnering about 9 percent of the vote. Sutherland eked out a narrow win.

In 1993, Washam switched to the Republican Party and mounted a campaign for county auditor against incumbent Democrat Cathy Pearsall-Stipek. Again, he touted his contract.

Local Republicans gave him little love. At party functions, Washam would ask for support, declare his virtues and accuse Republicans of corruption, sometimes during the same speech. Pete McDougal, chairman of the county party, openly said Pearsall-Stipek was the better candidate.

Washam accused Pearsall-Stipek of illegal campaign practices and drew a little blood. He lost the race but won a moral victory. Without party backing, and despite being heavily outspent, he’d pulled 45 percent of the vote.

At the same time, he hounded a young retail clerk into a legal quagmire.

THE COPIES

The clerk was 25. Her name was Shannon Hanson. She worked at a copying store near Puyallup. Washam paid $253 for 10,000 campaign fliers. When he saw them, he wanted his money back.

“The quality of the printing of the pictures on the flyers were very poor and below any good standard. I told Shannon Hanson the flyers were not acceptable and they would have to be re-done as she had promised or I would like my money refunded.”

– Excerpt of Washam affidavit, 1994

Washam visited the store repeatedly. He badgered Hanson – screamed at her, insulted her, she said later. She told him to talk to the owners: her in-laws.

Hanson got laid off. Washam found out where she lived. He called her house. She filed an anti-harassment petition.

“Dale Washam came in on the average of 5 times a week to harass me, even though he knew I was just a clerk. Several times he came in and said he wanted to deal with me and only me. One time he came in and wanted to know my home address. And when I refused he said that legally I had to tell him my address. I still refused and he got very angry and stormed out of the store. The following day he came back and said, ‘I know where you live.’ ”

“...In February [1994] I was laid off and thought that would be the end of hearing from Mr. Washam. However, he then began calling me at my home. My name is not in the phone book. I never gave him my number or address. I told him I no longer work at the store and he must deal with the owners...”

– Excerpt from Hanson petition, May 9, 1994

Washam fought the anti-harassment petition. In a signed affidavit, he denied visiting the store as many times as Hanson said. He denied screaming at her, insulting her or asking for her home address.

He admitted calling Hanson at home, but not to harass, he said – only to inform. He wanted to make sure she and her in-laws knew he was suing them.

“I have called Shannon Hanson only two times at home, both times it was regarding the lawsuit against her and her father-in-law,” Washam wrote.

He persuaded the court to deny the petition and moved forward with his lawsuit: a demand for $253, filed in small claims court.

The case lasted another year. Hanson’s relatives paid Washam off to get rid of the headache. He was the winner.

He started his next campaign with another lawsuit, filed April 11, 1994, against Pearsall-Stipek. For the rest of the decade, she became his favorite punching bag.

RIGHT AND WRONG

In 1993, during her first race against Washam for county auditor, Pearsall-Stipek described her opponent charitably.

“I think he means very well,” she said.

In 1994, after a year of Washam’s berating, she called him, “an extremely desperate man.”

Washam’s lawsuit attacked how the auditor’s office counted absentee ballots. At that time, staff members opened ballot envelopes before the polls opened and prepared them for computer counting.

The suit argued for ending the practice, though state law allowed it. Washam argued that election workers could read the ballots early, mentally tally the totals and secretly pass them to favored candidates.

The suit had nothing to do with his campaign, he said.

“What I’m doing has to do with what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said.

He sniped at Pearsall-Stipek throughout the fall. He complained that she advised voters to use two stamps to mail return ballots. He attacked her spending on office furniture (she’d spent less than the county budget allowed).

“She’s a liar,” Washam said.

“He is a very sick man,” Pearsall-Stipek said.

She won the election with 52 percent of the vote. Washam had shaved the margin, coming close to victory with a do-it-yourself campaign, limited means and no establishment support.

Less than a year later, Washam and other activists filed a petition to recall Pearsall-Stipek.

On another front, he fought with Puyallup Republicans. One of them had filed an anti-harassment order against him.

‘STAY AWAY FROM ME’

Roma Zubrod, 41, was a member of the 25th District Republican Club. She’d grown weary and wary of Washam. He carried a bottle of peroxide and washed his hands constantly. He maligned others and praised himself. Zubrod had told him to leave her alone. He wouldn’t.

“He had been aggravating me profusely, always bugging me,” she recalled.

Washam refused to join the party, but he wanted support and a $70 campaign contribution from the club. When Zubrod and other members refused, he got angry and red-faced, wagging his finger.

“Mr. Washam verbally abused me, calling me stupid when I disagreed with him. ... In September 1993, Mr. Washam became verbally abusive because we had canceled a meeting – I told him to stay away from me and never speak to me again. He stated, ‘You are Satan sitting in the chair.’”

– Zubrod affidavit, May 19, 1995

The boiling point came in May 1995.

“Mr. Washam, upset over procedures in our local club, verbally stated that ‘He would make me pay,’ and when asked by my husband if he was threatening me, he stated yes, it was a threat and a promise. He physically started moving toward me in a room full of people, and was stopped by the club president.”

– Zubrod affidavit, May 19, 1995

Washam fought the anti-harassment order and persuaded the court to reject it. He had free-speech rights, he said. Zubrod’s statements were “malicious falsehoods” designed to harm his political career.

In a recent interview, Zubrod said she wanted to create a public record in case Washam’s behavior escalated. She thought he was dangerous.

In 2008, she heard news of his election as assessor-treasurer.

“When I found out he won I said, ‘Oh my goodness, what has happened to people in Pierce County?’” she said. “I never thought he would actually get elected.”

RECALL

Washam’s recall battle against Pearsall-Stipek took shape in fall 1995. His petition repeated accusations from prior campaigns, including the absentee-ballot issue.

A visiting Thurston County judge, Paula Casey, dismissed the petition. None of Washam’s charges met the legal standard, even if Pearsall-Stipek had bent rules here and there.

“Bad judgment isn’t a basis for a recall,” Casey said.

Sherry Bockwinkel’s activism in the 1990s centered on some of the same issues Washam targeted.

Known primarily as the sponsor of the state’s 1992 term limits initiative (later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court), Bockwinkel also focused on ethics in local government, including Pierce County, her home turf.

Like Washam, she decried Pearsall-Stipek’s ballot-counting methods. In an infamous 1996 incident, Bockwinkel and another activist were ejected from the auditor’s warehouse when they tried to take photos of election workers counting absentee ballots. A judge later ruled the ejection violated laws governing open public meetings.

While no fan of Pearsall-Stipek, Bockwinkel and her allies didn’t join Washam’s recall efforts.

“None of us helped him,” she said. “He was the kind of guy that would jump in front of the parade.”

She remembers seeing Washam throw tantrums at meetings on term limits. At another meeting, he wanted other activists to pray before they started talking.

“We were just talking about throwing the bums out,” she said. “He’d blow up. He had tirades back then. I don’t need to be around a person that’s that explosive.”

Washam was well-intentioned, Bockwinkel said. She applauded his efforts to uncover malfeasance – but she couldn’t work with him.

“When you tried to help him, it was impossible,” she said. “He’s really a solo agent.”

RECALL REDUX

That November, Washam ran for a seat on the Pierce County Charter Review Commission and lost.

Less than four months later, in February 1996, he filed a new recall petition against Pearsall-Stipek. It rehashed earlier charges (the absentee-ballot issue), and added new allegations culled from a wrongful-termination suit filed by a former employee of the auditor’s office.

The suit said Pearsall-Stipek mixed politics and official business at work, and retaliated against those who complained about it. (The county eventually settled the suit for $350,000.)

Washam saw clear justification for a recall: proof of mismanagement, an employee bullied and belittled by the boss at taxpayer expense.

Superior Court Judge Waldo Stone kicked the recall petition out of court a month later. The allegations didn’t meet the legal standard; they reflected poor judgment or honest mistakes.

“We have an imperfect auditor with imperfect personnel. But I can’t find any evidence of misfeasance, malfeasance or violation of oath of office,” Stone said.

Another loss. Washam blamed the judge. He appealed to the state Supreme Court. He lost again and blamed the justices again. The high court violated its rules, he said.

Pierce County risk manager Mike Panagiotu said defending against Washam’s second recall petition had cost taxpayers $19,138. The county hoped to get some of the money back from Washam, who saw no reason to pay.

“I haven’t had my day in court at all,” he said.

In a four-year span, Washam had lost two elections to Pearsall-Stipek and two recall bids. At every level, voters and judges rejected him. He’d triggered arguments at public expense and ignored the bill.

NEWT GINGRICH

Washam aimed higher with his next legal action. The complaint, written in June 1996, targeted Newt Gingrich, speaker of the U.S. House and architect of the 1994 Republican revolution and the “Contract With America.”

The complaint also named the Washington State Republican Party and party chairman Ken Eikenberry, former state attorney general. State leaders had crafted a “Contract with Washington.”

The idea was his, Washam said – stolen, plagiarized and bastardized by Gingrich and his cronies.

“Defendants claimed the concept of a contract to be their own, when in fact, it belonged to the plaintiff,” he wrote in his complaint.

Washam said local Republicans heard him speak about his contract at party functions. They’d passed the idea to national party leaders, who wrote an inferior version. The Gingrich copy omitted the recall element – the most important part.

Washam’s complaint demanded “actual, special, general, compensatory and punitive damages.”

Eikenberry, now 78, remembers the case.

“This Washam files a lawsuit against Gingrich and against me, claiming that we stole his idea,” Eikenberry said. “I didn’t know him from a bucket of bolts.”

Gingrich’s lawyer filed a brief in federal court, calling Washam “a perennially unsuccessful political candidate and litigant,” and calling his complaint “a publicity stunt.”

Washam filed a blistering reply. Moving the case to federal court was preposterous, he said. Gingrich’s lawyers were wasting taxpayer money.

“The plaintiff, Dale Washam, did not file any complaint with any court in said action,” Washam wrote.

It was true. Washam had threatened to file a lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court, but he hadn’t actually done it. He’d formally served the complaint on Eikenberry and Gingrich and called it a lawsuit, but he hadn’t filed it.

The whole maneuver was a bluff.

Gingrich’s lawyer called it. So did a lawyer working for Eikenberry, who told Washam to file the case or fold.

Washam withdrew and accused his opponents of wasting public money.

Eikenberry was not amused.

“I wanted to go for costs against that turkey,” he recalls. “He really made me angry.”

Washam had no time for reflection. He was running for Pierce County executive again and promoting his contract.

‘I JUST WAS STUPID’

As before, Doug Sutherland (now the incumbent) and Wendell Brown squared off as the main candidates in fall 1996. Washam ran as an independent.

“I am an individual,” he told The News Tribune. “Whether I am a Republican or a Democrat … is irrelevant. I am an individual.”

He asked the secretary of state to bar election workers from opening ballot envelopes before Election Day – another dig at his old nemesis, Pearsall-Stipek.

Washam’s request included a signed affidavit from a county elections worker, Linda Dawson, who said staff members kept mental tallies of absentee ballot totals as they opened them.

Dawson later disavowed the affidavit. She said she hadn’t read it before she signed it. Washam had spooked her, called her into a lawyer’s office. He’d said the FBI was about to investigate the county auditor.

Dawson, now retired, still remembers the meeting.

“No FBI person talked to me – I never heard of it after that,” she said. “I just was stupid – I don’t know why I ever talked to him.”

Washam lost the election, receiving less than 8 percent of the vote. Six months later, in May 1997, he filed another recall petition against Pearsall-Stipek – his third in three years.

“He’s consumed,” Pearsall-Stipek said at the time. “He is totally obsessed.”

Again, the legal ritual played out. County lawyers argued against Washam’s recycled charges. Superior Court Judge Bruce Cohoe ruled the charges were insufficient. Again, Washam lost.

He had bigger problems. In fall 1997, his Puyallup landlords evicted him.

THE TENANT

He’d lived in a condo near the South Hill Mall for the past five years. It was a month-to-month lease.

He was a nosy tenant. He videotaped his neighbors. They were shady, “scuzzy,” he said in a court filing. One tenant left a propane tank on the back porch. Children threw rocks at Washam’s car.

“Druggie!” Washam sometimes shouted at visitors who came and went.

He figured the place was a drug den. There were chemical smells. He collected the license plate numbers from 360 vehicles and turned them over to Puyallup police.

Other tenants complained about the white-haired man with the video camera in unit 5. The landlords sent Washam an eviction notice.

He sued, claiming retaliatory eviction and general damages. Most of his claims, including retaliatory eviction and breach of contract, were dismissed. He demanded reconsideration. He accused opposing attorneys and the judge of misconduct.

The case lasted another five years. Washam successfully argued a claim that cited harassing behavior by an assistant manager at the complex. Near the end, the landlords’ lawyer, Alvin Mayhew, offered a settlement: $1,000 to Washam to end the case. Washam refused.

“Jesus Christ! What do you want?” Mayhew asked.

Washam complained about Mayhew’s intemperate language. The case was settled with a $2,000 payment to Washam.

CLOSE LOSS

While being evicted in fall 1997, Washam ran for office again. This time, he aimed lower: a spot on the Puyallup School Board.

It was the closest election he ever lost. Washam finished second in a 12-way race, losing by 178 votes. He smelled corruption and sued to overturn the election. A county judge dismissed his suit in early 1998.

Pearsall-Stipek was up for election in the fall. He mounted his third campaign against her.

It was another three-way race. Pearsall-Stipek, the incumbent, ran as a Democrat. Her chief opponent, Scott Smith, ran as a Republican. Washam listed himself as an independent.

A last-minute disclosure left a permanent stain on Pearsall-Stipek’s career: For years, she’d lied about her academic background, allowing voters to believe she graduated from the University of Washington with a double major. In fact, she hadn’t graduated at all.

She still won the election, with almost 46 percent of the vote. Smith got 36 percent. Washam finished third, with more than 17 percent.

The voters had spoken.

“They chose somebody else, so they’re going to have to live with it,” Washam said.

He didn’t apply the standard to himself. Six months later, he filed another recall petition against Pearsall-Stipek – his fourth in five years.

VICTORY

He added a new charge: perjury. He cited a pair of court cases where Pearsall-Stipek, under oath, had lied about her academic record.

“You can’t have people committing perjury, particularly an elected official, and not be held accountable,” Washam said, after filing the petition in May 1999.

Again, he lost the argument. A visiting Thurston County judge, Richard Strophy, ruled that Pearsall-Stipek’s false statements in court were “troubling,” but not sufficient for a recall.

Washam appealed to the state Supreme Court. He had his day in January 2000. Justice Phil Talmadge asked whether he was, “the little boy who cried wolf.”

Washam said Pearsall-Stipek’s claimed college degree gave her undeserved credibility. County lawyers argued that the false statements didn’t pertain to her duties as auditor.

The ruling was supposed to take weeks. The court chewed the case for nine months. Washam bridled.

In September 2000, a 7-2 majority ruled the charges against Pearsall-Stipek met the standard for a recall. Washam had six months to collect 50,000 signatures.

Victory. After five long years, Washam was the winner – but there was another snag: the ballot title for the recall election had to be certified by a judge. It took three months.

Washam had too many balls in the air: while fighting the recall battle, he was running (as a Republican) for assessor-treasurer against Democrat Ken Madsen.

He also got evicted from his apartment because he refused to pay a $13 garbage bill.

CROSS-EXAMINED

Washam and his wife had lived in a Puyallup townhouse complex since 1997. It changed hands in 1999. Washam asked the new owners whether they would increase the rent.

The owners, Darrell and Claudia Hanson (no relation to Shannon Hanson), said no – but in April 2000, they asked Washam to pay a fee for garbage collection.

“Dear Dale and Dorothy,

We are trying to think of different ways where we can avoid raising rents. One of them is as of April 6, 2000, you will be responsible for paying for your own garbage, it runs $13.32 per month.”

– Letter from Hansons to Washam, March 6, 2000

The Hansons also asked Washam to mow the lawn and offered to supply the mower.

Washam was displeased. The former owners took care of the lawn. The garbage fee was a rent increase. He refused to pay it.

He accused the Hansons of breach of contract, and demanded that they mow the lawn. If not, Washam would mow it and deduct $10 per month from the rent.

The Hansons answered with an eviction notice. Washam refused to move and sued, claiming retaliatory eviction.

“Because at present I am a candidate for Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer, I believe the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit is politically motivated to do harm to my present campaign,” he wrote in court documents.

The jury trial was held in mid-October. Darrell Hanson remembers the spectacle. Washam, representing himself, asked and answered his own questions at the court’s order.

“I’ve never seen a man cross-examine himself, but he did,” Hanson said.

The jurors reached their verdict in 90 minutes. Washam lost. He got kicked out of the townhouse less than two weeks before the election. (He lost that, too – Madsen beat him by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.)

The court ordered Washam to pay the Hansons’ attorney fees: $10,166.

Washam fought. He sought relief from the state Court of Appeals.

The Hansons gave up, said Danny Lazares, the attorney who represented them in the case.

“They’d already bled enough for what should have been a simple case,” Lazares said.

Once more, Washam had started a fight, forced his opponents into court, lost the legal argument and walked away from the bill.

“I don’t know how the guy got elected (in 2008),” Darrell Hanson said. “I don’t think the people who voted for him knew who they were voting for.”

SYMBOLISM

Washam fared no better in his fourth recall attempt against Pearsall-Stipek.

The legal delays tied to the case left him limited time to gather signatures. Pearsall-Stipek announced she would challenge their validity. That meant more court time. He abandoned the recall in May 2001.

It was a bureaucratic loss but a symbolic victory. Armed with nothing but persistence and self-taught law, Washam had pushed the recall process to the legal limit.

He’d also attacked Pearsall-Stipek for sins he’d committed himself.

In self-penned voter pamphlet statements tied to his runs for elected office, he exaggerated his academic background:

 •  “College business major, graduated with honors” (1994 voters pamphlet)

 •  “College honors graduate Business Major” (2002 voters pamphlet)

 •  “College, honors graduate. Curriculum: Business Administration; Personnel Management; Communications; Business Law” (2008 voters pamphlet)

During a 2003 court deposition under oath, Washam gave a slightly different description of his schooling:

“Answer: I have a – a degree from Pierce College.

“Question: Associate’s degree from Pierce?

“Answer: Yeah. Yeah. I graduated with honors. President’s award.”

– Deposition excerpt, Washam v. Baker, Nov. 1, 1999

In 1970, Washam earned an associate’s degree in arts and sciences from Fort Steilacoom Community College (now Pierce College.) Pierce College spokeswoman Amanda Haines recently told The News Tribune how degrees were classified at the time of Washam’s attendance.

“Back in the ’70s, there was no transfer degree in business,” Haines said. “Rather, the business degree available was a technical degree that didn’t transfer to four-year schools.

“If a student wanted to transfer to a four-year school and study business, they would get an associate in arts and sciences. This was a general transfer degree that included the basic courses (English, math, science, etc.) that a student would need to complete their first two years at the university level.

“They would also round out those basic requirements with courses in the field they planned to pursue at a four-year school (such as business).

“It’s common to refer to that as having had a ‘business major.’ Even students now use that phrasing, and it’s not something we really go out of our way to correct.”

Washam also overstated his business background in self-penned voter pamphlet statements:

 •  “Business administrator for two major corporations” (1994 voters’ pamphlet)

 •  “Numerous years corporate management” (1998 voters pamphlet)

 •  “Management position world-wide corporation” … “Former corporate administrator” (2008 voters pamphlet)

He’d worked for a corporation as a pharmaceutical salesman. He hadn’t been a manager or an administrator, according to court records. He’d been fired from the sales job in 1980.

He claimed a long record of success acting as his own lawyer, but he’d lost most of his cases.

He said the 10 Commandments were “the foundation of the U.S. Constitution and should be followed in our daily lives,” but he hadn’t lived up to that self-imposed standard.

He claimed a happy marriage, but the union was marred by a 12-year affair that disintegrated into accusations of domestic violence.

In 2002, he announced his next campaign for county auditor. He ran as a Republican.

‘LACK OF LEADERSHIP’

His new opponent was Pat McCarthy, Pearsall-Stipek’s deputy. Washam called McCarthy a clone. He lost the election by a margin of 55 percent to 40 percent.

He challenged the result in court and lost. A visiting Thurston County judge cited lack of evidence.

In 2004, he toyed with a campaign run against County Councilman Calvin Goings, then shifted his attention to the assessor-treasurer’s office and incumbent Ken Madsen, who had defeated Washam in 2000.

Madsen had baggage. A group of former employees had sued him, claiming they were forced out of their jobs.

“I think that’s an indication of some real problems,” Washam said. “I think it shows a lack of leadership.”

The suits included allegations that Madsen and his deputies falsified some property assessments by using statistical appraisal methods rather than the physical inspections required by state law.

Washam said the computer-modeled assessments were illegal. The attacks gained little traction. He lost the election by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent. He filed a recall petition against Madsen four months later.

It centered on the computer-modeled assessments – the same argument Washam has raised since taking office in 2008. A visiting Thurston County judge dismissed the recall petition, finding Madsen had “a legally cognizable justification” for his actions.

Around the same time, Washam received an eviction notice, his fourth in 17 years. He sued, claiming retaliatory eviction, and accused his landlord of stalking him.

BLAST LAWSUIT

Washam had moved into a condo in the Summit area in 2000 after his previous eviction. He didn’t like his landlord, Renee Ausbun, who owned the complex and lived in one of the adjoining units with her husband.

Ausbun watched Washam when he fed the squirrels in the morning, he said.

“I told her some of her behavior was weird and that I felt like she was stalking me. I tried to make it very clear to her that I did not want to have personal conversations with her nor did I want her stalking me as she had been doing.”

– Excerpt of Washam affidavit, April 22, 2005

The eviction was retaliatory, Washam claimed, a byproduct of “obsessive, unlawful harassment.”

“One time when I was dressed in a suit and on my way to give a political speech, as I was getting into my car Renee Ausbun came up to me, grabbed my arm and said, ‘Boy, you sure clean up nice.’ I felt that was an improper statement to make and I really did not want her touching me.”

– Washam affidavit, April 22, 2005

His countermoves kept him in the complex for another two months. On March 24, 2005, the day after his recall petition against Madsen was dismissed, Washam confronted Ausbun. A neighbor, Robert Glossen, was watching.

“After Mr. Washam pulled into his parking spot, he got out of his car and I heard him yell to Renee that ‘This is just the beginning: here comes round 2, 3, 4; this is going to cost you, $2,000, $4,000...’

Mr. Washam then continued to shout at Renee, and I heard him state, ‘I am the winner.’”

– Excerpt from Glossen affidavit, May 31, 2005

The Ausbuns sought attorney fees to recover costs from the eviction. Washam fought as he’d always fought, using every trick he’d learned in 25 years of litigation.

He argued for four years. He lost in Superior Court, got dinged with a judgment for attorney fees and sought relief from the state Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court.

He argued he didn’t owe the Ausbuns a dime for the legal action he’d generated. He lost. State judges ordered him to pay $7,996 in attorney fees.

He paid the judgment in February 2009, one month after he’d been sworn in as county assessor-treasurer and started collecting his taxpayer-funded, $122,932 annual salary.

It was his last lawsuit as a private citizen, a record that spanned at least 50 separate court actions over 36 years, according to available records. He’d lost most of them.

WINNING

His election bids slowed in the latter part of the decade. Washam ran for county charter review commission in fall 2005. He lost.

Then came 2008: Washam ran for assessor-treasurer. The incumbent, Madsen, was barred from another run by term limits.

The election featured a new balloting system: ranked-choice voting.

Instead of a primary that narrowed the field to two candidates for a general election, all candidates got one shot in the general election. Voters selected their first, second and third choices. The resulting math determined the winner in a series of rounds.

Washam ran in a field of six candidates, including political veterans Barbara Gelman, Jan Shabro and Terry Lee.

He led all the way. The first round gave him 65,676 first-choice votes – roughly 25 percent. Lee, Shabro and Gelman jostled for second place, splitting the bulk of the remaining votes. Each received about 50,000 first-choice votes – about 19 percent apiece. Other candidates got smaller slices and quickly dropped out of the count.

By one measure, 75 percent of the voters had selected someone other than Washam as their first choice – but ranked-choice votes weren’t counted that way. Washam gained credit for second- and third-choice votes, upping his total.

By the third round, only Washam (36.4 percent) and Gelman (32.5 percent) remained. The ranked-choice algorithm divvied the remaining votes.

The final tally:

Washam – 98,366 (51.9 percent)

Gelman – 91,067 (48 percent)

Finally, after two decades of campaigning, Washam was the winner.

One old element was missing: his political contract, the personal promise to resign if enough voters asked him. He hadn’t filed it in 10 years.

EPILOGUE

Workers at the Summit Trading grocery store on Canyon Road East read news reports of the election results and shook their heads.

They knew Washam too well. He’d been banned from the store before the election.

He was a regular, a chronic complainer. He’d gone over the top one day, hounding clerks about the way they stacked items. He’d followed a parent and child through the aisles, scolding them for handling the produce.

“We asked him not to come back,” store owner Gary Carlson said in a recent interview. “He just treats my employees so poorly that we just can’t deal with it. He thinks we’re all crooks. He’s just a bully. I just can’t believe that he got elected.”

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486
sean.robinson@thenewstribune.com

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