For now, the two Democrats running for an open House seat from the 29th Legislative District are primary opponents. But under the state’s Top Two primary system, they might also be the general election finalists in this strongly Democratic district.
Recently, David Sawyer attempted to sway voters by distributing mailers that claim Ben Lawver moved to the 29th district – which encompasses South Tacoma, Parkland and portions of Lakewood and University Place – four months ago for the sole purpose of running for the district’s Legislative seat.
One side of the mailer features a picture of a house outside of the 29th District with the words: “This is the house Ben Lawver owns in another district while he runs for office in our district.”
On the other side, there is a picture of an apartment building accompanied by text that reads: “This is the place he’s renting. And claims to be living in, while he’s running for office in our district. Wow. Really?”
The mailer also features a “notice to voters” that says: “To qualify (for the state Legislature), Ben Lawver rented an apartment in the 29th Legislative District four months ago. The home he’s owned for years is in the 27th Legislative District.”
Sawyer said his campaign distributed approximately 15,000 of these mailers.
WHAT CANDIDATES SAY
Lawver, 34, says he recently sold his home in the 4400 block of South Seventh Street, and has been in the process of doing so since January, a fact he claims his opponent was aware of when the mailers were printed.
“My opponent knows that it’s legal to lie on mail pieces...” Lawver said. “The Supreme Court says it’s legal, but it doesn’t make it morally right.”
Sawyer, 29, says according to the Pierce County Assessor’s Office, his opponent still owned the property in question when his campaign printed the mailers earlier this month. He also said whether or not he still owns the property is not the point of the mailer.
“The reality is he moved here strictly to run,” Sawyer said. “That’s the point of the mailer.”
Lawver denied this accusation vehemently. He said he has lived in the Tacoma area for most of his adult life and in the 29th District for some of that time. Lawver said he lived in his South Seventh Street house outside of the district for fours years before being forced to move due to financial reasons.
Lawver also said he found his opponents’ accusations to be bizarre, considering Sawyer has only lived in the 29th District for two years himself.
Sawyer, a Puyallup native, has lived in the district since 2010. And while he did admit he hasn’t lived in the 29th for very long, he claims his priorities are different from Lawver’s.
“I didn’t move here for an opportunity, like my opponent did,” Sawyer said. “The first time he’ll ever vote in the 29th District will be for himself.”
Lawver no longer owns the property on the mailer, according to the Pierce County Auditor’s office.
Documents show Lawver and his ex-wife purchased the property in September 2007. In March of this year they were notified the property was being foreclosed on and would be auctioned off July 27. The property never made it to auction, however, as the house was sold last week, prior to the auction date.
Pierce County does not have records of Lawver registering to vote in the 29th District until this year, in records that date to 2002.
Lawver’s motivation for moving into the apartment is difficult to prove, as is Sawyer’s claim that it was done solely for political purposes. Lawver did, however, recently move from the 27th District to the 29th District, making him eligible to run for the open House seat. Foreclosure documents show financial trouble may have prompted the relocation.
Sawyer’s mailer also accuses his opponent of only living in the 29th District for four months. This claim appears to be false, as Lawver says he lived in the district prior to purchasing his house.
Political smell test
Having trouble sorting out the facts from the spin in political speeches, TV ads and mailers? We’re ready to fact-check this season’s campaign. Send questions to Political Smell Test at kim.bradford@ firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8670