People flocked to Jim Kastama’s Facebook pages after he voted to help Republicans seize the floor of the state Senate and pass their budget on Friday.
A few praised the Puyallup Democratic senator, but most were not so supportive. Commenters called him a turncoat or worse.
Cindy Poysnick, a former Puyallup School Board member, wrote she had “encouraged you to first run for the House. I am truly disappointed with your recent action and things you have been putting out for a while. I will not be supporting you for state office.”
Kastama said some 7,000 emails, mostly negative form letters, have deluged his inbox, and he’s had threats of pulled support. He said his statewide bid for secretary of state is the last thing on his mind right now.
But casting the deciding vote against his party – a vote that powered a coup the likes of which many lawmakers had never seen – won’t help when he returns to the campaign trail.
“Given the lay of the land originally, before Friday, he had an uphill battle. I think now, given Friday’s hijacking of the budget process in the Senate, (it) means he’s toast,” said Jason Bennett, a Seattle political consultant who works for Democrats.
That’s especially true in the primary, which skews more to the left, Bennett said. Kastama “went from somebody who sort of generated lukewarm feelings among the party faithful to open hostility.”
Others running for secretary of state might generate more enthusiasm among groups that give money and support to Democrats. The field includes Kathleen Drew, an official at the state Department of Enterprise Services; Zack Hudgins, a state representative from Tukwila; and the latest entrant, former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who, after losing the mayor’s race, has his own political baggage but also formidable name identification.
Kastama might make up for some of it with increased support among Republicans – local GOP voters cheered Saturday when his name was brought up at a caucus in his hometown (which he didn’t attend).
But Republicans may be more likely to back one of their own, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, in the primary election.
That would leave all the Democrats vying for a single slot on the November ballot.
Kastama acknowledges there could be political repercussions for his vote.
“Once you cross the Rubicon, you don’t go back, and on Saturday I did that. And I realize that,” he said. “I think it was necessary to shock the system into change.”
He said his defection was the only way he could see to secure reforms he sees as needed, such as a longer-term outlook for balancing budgets. He and Republicans take a dim view of Democrats’ proposal to shift some school payments into the next year’s budget.
And he said voters want someone as the state’s top elections official who will be willing to buck their party.
“My first three elections I wasn’t supposed to win. People have been betting against me for a long time,” Kastama said.
Kastama, then a business consultant, was first elected to the Legislature in 1996.
By then, the 25th District had become a swing district, though it once was solidly Democratic. Republican Rep. Hans Zeiger, a history buff, says all 25th District senators have been Democrats since 1932 when newly elected Sen. Nifty Garrett celebrated his victory by riding up the steps of the Capitol on a donkey.
But Kastama has survived in a district that is now closely fought between the parties, and he has a reputation for being a swing vote. Last year, he unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Senate to refuse to seat a new senator, Democrat Nick Harper, who had been the beneficiary of secretive campaign tactics by labor and other groups.
He also has sided with the Democrats on many budget votes, and this year became one of the key votes in support of same-sex marriage.
But the assist he provided last Friday to help Republicans take control of the Senate may be the final straw.
Some are mad about the content of the GOP plan he helped pass. It ends medical coverage for some disabled people, many of them struggling with substance abuse, who are not eligible for federal-state Medicaid but will be in 2014.
It cuts $44 million from the public schools, $30 million from colleges and universities and $311 million from social services including child-care subsidies for the working poor.
Others are upset about the process and the way the budget was sprung on Democratic leaders, who said they were fooled. Budget chairman Ed Murray said Kastama and Sen. Rodney Tom, another of the three Democrats who defected, had not been upfront with him about their intentions. Kastama said he had made it clear he was considering all options to secure the reforms he sought.
Erin McCallum, president of pro-business group Enterprise Washington, said Kastama is just being true to what he cares about, budgeting reform.
“To his credit, he is a man of principle, a man of ethics and conviction and I don’t think partisan politics really ultimately affects how he votes,” she said.
Sue Evans, a Puyallup consultant and former Kastama supporter whose clients have included trail lawyers and labor groups, complained Kastama is unpredictable.
It makes him more frustrating to groups on the left than other moderates who are clear about where they stand, she said.
She said the lack of organized Democratic Party activism in his district has saved him from coming back home to protests at local meetings, but he will need the support of those activists in a statewide run.
“He’s not going to get any money from any of the hard core special interest groups,” she predicted. “I’d be shocked if anybody gave him a dime.”
McCallum says that wasn’t coming anyway.
“Would Sen. Kastama have gotten the money form the Democratic special interest groups if he had not done that?” she said. “Probably not, from our analysis. Could he potentially see some independent expenditure work against him? Perhaps, but he may also see some independent work done in support of him.”
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826