In the campaign to pick Washingtons next secretary of state, seven candidates fighting to emerge from the pack have a common problem: how to raise money and get attention for a down-the-ballot office that rarely draws a spotlight unless an election goes bad.
If anyone has a built-in advantage for the Aug. 7 primary, it is former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who lost his re-election bid in 2009 but is best known around the state. The longtime Democrat was recruited by the state Democratic Party chairman, Dwight Pelz, in a bid to break Republicans half-century hold on the secretary of states office.
Nickels quickly emerged as the top fundraiser with more than $105,000. But Republican Kim Wyman of Lacey and Democrat Kathleen Drew of Olympia are keeping pace, while conservative Democratic state Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup has raised more than $52,000.
Nickels opponents are fighting back against any edge that money gives him. Wyman is emphasizing that as Thurston County auditor she is the only candidate who has actually run an election.
And Drew, a former state senator who beat Republican Dino Rossi during the 1992 Year of the Woman, points out that she is the Democratic Partys nominee, the only woman from her party running for state executive office this year, and the only candidate who has streamlined a state agency.
All four leading candidates, including Kastama, are touting their personal integrity and their independence or experience in nonpartisan or bipartisan efforts. And all say three-term Secretary of State Sam Reed and his predecessor, Ralph Munro, have done a good job keeping the office and its elections independent of partisan influences.
But in a year when government institutions are still unpopular in opinion polls, Kastama is going furthest to disassociate himself from party trappings and seek out what one national writer is calling the radical center.
After flaws in the 2004 governors election were exposed, Reeds office put into place a slew of election reforms some authored or shepherded through the Legislature by Kastama.
Kastama says he recently showed independence and courage by aligning with Republicans to pass a budget counterproposal in early March as well as joining liberals in voting for same-sex marriage.
After struggling to collect as much money as the others and getting booed at the state Democratic convention for his budget vote, Kastama has gone searching for independent voters attending a recent meeting of disabled veterans in Yakima and making stops in mobile home parks.
Its very clear the groups I am appealing to are centrists and moderates, Kastama said. Its been shown through polls that the political parties are getting more polarized. You are getting this centrist group in the middle, and the question is is that group politically viable?
Seeking attention, contributors
Voters might overlook the three minor-party candidates in the race. David J. Anderson of Olympia is campaigning on the idea of permanently making the office nonpartisan. Anderson, who is running without affiliation to any party, has raised just $250, according to recent Public Disclosure Commission data.
Anderson managed the successful top two election campaign for the Washington State Grange in 2004, which gave Washington its current primary runoff system. Anderson says a nonpartisan like him is needed to protect the top two from ongoing legal assaults by the political parties.
But he hasnt had electoral success since that campaign. He sponsored Referendum 70, which dealt with the Electoral College and went nowhere in 2009. Last year he submitted an alternative political map for the state Redistricting Commission and criticized the process for lacking transparency.
The other minor-party candidates are Karen Murray of Quincy, who is with the far-right Constitution Party but has joined forces with progressives on the left in trying to undo the top two, and retired state employee Sam Wright of Olympia. Wright says he filed simply to draw attention to his advocacy of a new Human Rights Party.
Murray said she opposes the top two runoff because it has marginalized minor parties by making it hard for alternative candidates to get onto the November general-election ballot. She would like to bring back poll-site voting, and she says the Office of Secretary of State needs to secure better funding for its archives and state library functions, which are important to historians such as herself.
The candidates disagree on whose experience best matches the needs of the office.
Nickels, a Chicago native who first got involved in politics at age 16 in Seattle, says he has a record of getting things done as nonpartisan mayor in charge of a complex city. He says his background proves he can look out for all voters and, as he likes to point out, he is the only major-party candidate in the race without big ties to Olympia.
Nickels, who has no college degree, has lectured on government at Harvard, oversaw $4 billion city budgets, secured a $17 billion expansion for Sound Transits mass-transit program, and also sat on the King County Council.
As mayor, Nickels said, he brought many people together to address issues with city police accountability. He wants to use those same skills to spur a statewide discussion of citizen initiatives and the way money might be corrupting that political process.
Nickels also wants to see stronger review of initiative signatures and thinks paying signature gatherers by the hour, instead of a per-signature bounty, would discourage fraud.
Drew, who came to Washington from Ohio in 1981, beat Rossi for a seat in the state Senate in 1992. Most recently, she worked six years in state government until stepping down a few months ago.
She considers herself the underdog in the race against Nickels but is backed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, whom she advised on government reform issues. With Nickels, she shares endorsements from the Washington State Labor Council and NARAL Pro-Choice.
As evidence of her independence and integrity, Drew said, she stood up to both political parties after a major, illegal-campaigning scandal in the early 1990s to author the Ethics in Public Service Act. More recently, she crafted legislation for Gregoire that merged five state agencies into three and oversaw the drafting of legislation for new procurement rules that could save the state millions of dollars a year.
Wyman, the lone Republican and therefore the candidate with the clearest path to the November ballot, grew up in California and went to college there.
In touting her experience, Wyman said she has run elections and also has had oversight of the auditors licensing and record-keeping functions. As auditor, she says, her office has found efficiencies and run good elections, including in 2004 when in contrast to King County her vote totals matched the number of ballots received.
Wyman said she has good relationships with county auditors, winning endorsements from 55 current and former auditors of both parties as well as several past secretaries of state. And as the spouse of a military officer, she says she has seen firsthand the difficulties that overseas voters can have casting ballots.
Looking beyond elections
Nickels has other ideas for improving the office. He would turn the agencys corporations division, which handles corporate registrations, into a one-stop-shopping portal for businesses that need licensing, registration and other information from the states many agencies.
Kastama, who used to oversee sales for the Giant bicycle company in several Northwest states, would go even further. He said the agencys portal can be used to link businesses with the state Commerce Departments export efforts, and he would draft an economic development agenda for the agency.
Kastama also has been a vocal advocate of efficiency in state government through use of Toyota Corp.s Lean manufacturing and other business-efficiency tools. Frustrated by the small steps made with Lean under Gov. Gregoire, he would turn the Office of Secretary of State into a demonstration project for streamlining services.
Kastama also would post a scorecard prominently on the wall just inside the agency entry for visitors to see how well the agency was doing. He would invite third-party auditors into the agency to give frank assessments of how well reforms were going.
Wyman says she would continue the work of Reed and Munro, who led trade delegations overseas, often at the expense of businesses that paid to go along.
Other candidates say they too would promote international trade, but Nickels said this is a poor time to spend taxpayer money on foreign travel. Anderson would focus on welcoming dignitaries and interests from overseas; Murray wants to focus on American markets for in-state businesses.
Drew says her preference in the near term is to spend the money on a printed statewide voters guide for primary elections, which Reed has managed to fund only once in 12 years.