The handwriting was on the wall since Tuesday’s first election results, and Democrat Irene Bowling conceded Friday morning that Sen. Tim Sheldon has won re-election in their 35th Legislative District match-up.
Ballot counts on Thursday evening put Sheldon, a conservative Democrat who aligned with Republicans to form a Majority Coalition Caucus, ahead by 3,500 votes.
Sheldon has been in the Legislature for 24 years. Bowling is a concert pianist and music teacher who runs a mall business in Bremerton.
“Considering how much money the Republicans put behind Sheldon, I think we did very well,’’ Bowling said by telephone. “Even piano teachers can put the fear of God into a 24-year incumbent.”
Sheldon said he hadn’t heard from Bowling after the vote and didn’t expect to. He also said he thinks the Republicans will continue to operate with him as a coalition in 2015 even though the GOP has an outright 25-vote majority without him.
“I think they’ll caucus with me. We have some history together, so I believe the Republicans will caucus with me, and I’d like to return as president pro tem,’’ Sheldon said. Two years ago Sheldon became the presiding officer, or pro tem president of the Senate, during absences of Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who normally marshals activity on the Senate floor. Owen coincidentally had the 35th District Senate seat before Sheldon.
Sheldon said he supports Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who plans to run for leader of the majority — whether it’s as Republican leader or as Majority Coalition Caucus. Retiring Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina had been coalition leader and Schoesler was leader of the GOP caucus within the coalition.
“I’m going to support him for it,” Sheldon said of Schoesler. “I think he would do a fantastic job. I think it takes someone who has been on Ways and Means Committee and has a knowledge of the budget. ... I think he’s a natural for the job.’’
Sheldon said the value in keeping the coalition is it may invite other Democrats to join. But he doesn’t expect the coalition to offer committee co-chair positions to Democrats this time around, which the coalition did in 2013.
“Maybe there is such a possibility in the House as things develop in these last few races (shrinking Democrats’ majority). I think coalitions are a wave of the future,” Sheldon said.
The Senate race was the most expensive in history for the rural district and among the most expensive in state legislative history — with more than $1.77 million spent. More than $1 million came from Sheldon’s campaign or outside groups funded by business, industry and national GOP groups. Bowling had help from labor groups and state Democratic groups that countered with their own mailers that took shots at Sheldon for holding two elected positions, including Mason County commissioner.
The onslaught of claims by GOP-allied groups — which made misleading or false statements that she backed an income tax and policies that could add $1 a gallon to the price of gas — had an effect on the outcome. Bowling said the same tactic was used successfully to derail Democratic challengers in other key races her party targeted in its bid to take back the Senate majority.
Her platform had emphasized taking action to boost state investments in K-12 schools, repeal unneeded tax breaks, find revenues for transportation improvements and pass other measures the Senate had bottled up.
“I’m really happy we ran a good clean campaign. We didn’t do anything dirty or underhanded … we stuck to the ideals we tried to portray,” Bowling said. Those ideas “were not to support big oil. They were not to support vested interests that have Tim Sheldon in their back pocket. It was to give people a voice … That didn’t happen. I’m sad it didn’t happen.’’
Bowling said she hopes to remain involved in some way trying to address some of the economic hardships she saw in the district during her campaign and that she had hoped to address as a senator. She said voters are alienated, and those who are disenfranchised didn’t turn out to vote.
“That’s too bad. They put their future in the hands of people who don’t represent the disenfranchised. I was trying to do that. I was really trying to reach out ...” she said. “I think there is a lot of disillusionment. People didn’t turn out.”