Smell test: Ads in Caldier-Seaquist race stretch the truth

As election day nears in Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula, opposing sides in a competitive state House race are sending out their final rounds of attack ads – and they’re not telling the whole truth.

State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, has already gone to court over his Republican opponent, Michelle Caldier, using Photoshopped images of him in attack ads. Now Caldier, a dentist from Port Orchard, says Seaquist’s supporters are using edited images of court documents to make her look like a criminal.

At the same time, ads from Caldier’s campaign have exaggerated how much college tuition rose while Seaquist was chairman of the Higher Education Committee.

The two candidates are fighting to represent the 26th Legislative District, which includes Gig Harbor, the Key Peninsula and Port Orchard.

The claim: Ads sent by a political action committee supported by Democrats and unions reproduce images of court documents and a list of 10 cases involving Caldier. The mailers cite “court cases, lawsuits, police reports, and even (being) charged for failure to obey law enforcement” as evidence that Caldier “thinks she’s above the law” and that she has a “record.”

The facts: Only one of the cases mentioned in the fliers involves anything criminal – and it was a misdemeanor charge that was later dismissed. That charge, which dates back to 2000, was a charge of failing to obey a peace officer or flagger.

Caldier said that charge stemmed from her driving past Husky Stadium in Seattle, when she followed a green light and didn’t see a police officer who was directing traffic.

The other cases listed are civil infractions, such as traffic tickets, or noncriminal cases such as Caldier’s 1999 divorce petition. One civil lawsuit deals with damages following a traffic accident.

Another case highlighted in the ads shows Caldier as a defendant, when in reality she was the petitioner. The image appears to have been doctored to change the word “petitioner” to “defendant.”

Conclusion: Deceptive. The implication that Caldier has a criminal record is false. Caldier has never been convicted of a crime, though she has appeared in court on civil matters and was charged with a misdemeanor 14 years ago. The images on the ads have been altered to make her record look worse than it is.

Caldier’s residency has also been called into question in recent campaign fliers paid for by the same group, Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Leadership.

The claim: Two fliers imply Caldier moved to Kitsap County with the intent of running for office. One of the fliers states that since moving from Kenmore in November 2013, Caldier rented a home in Port Orchard, changed her voter registration weeks later and by December was running for office. The second makes the same claims showing a “to do list” with the same priorities.

The facts: Caldier moved to Port Orchard last year and initially rented her grandmother’s house while beginning the home buying process, she said. Caldier now owns the home she lives in in Port Orchard and said she was elected to serve as secretary to her homeowner’s association board.

She says her family has deep roots in Kitsap, including her great-grandfather being the first postmaster of Kitsap County.

“I was born and raised here, my daughter was born here,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m from this district and I think it’s a stretch to paint me out to say I’m not from this district.”

Caldier said while living in King County she regularly came to Bremerton to help care for her ailing father. She moved back to be closer to him.

“I've been spending the majority of my time in Kitsap County for the last several years,” she said.

Conclusion: True on the facts, unfounded on the implication that the election prompted her relocation. Caldier did move from King County to the 26th District a year ago, initially rented a home and subsequently filed to run against Seaquist. But she says she moved back for family reasons, not to run for office.

Meanwhile, Caldier’s campaign has criticized her opponent’s work on college tuition.

Claim: Ads paid for by Caldier say Seaquist “doubled in-state tuition while serving as the Chair of Higher Education from 2006-2012.”

The facts: Seaquist has only been chairman of the House Higher Education Committee since 2011. In his first year as chairman of the committee, he and a majority of the Legislature voted for a budget that allowed tuition increases of about 34 percent over two years.

Since then, tuition has been frozen to stay at the same level.

However, in the entire time Seaquist has been in the Legislature – 2007 to the present – he has voted for other budgets that have increased tuition. If you include Seaquist’s time as a rank-and-file member of the Legislature, tuition has roughly doubled at the state’s largest universities since he took office.

Conclusion: Half-true. Tuition did not double during Seaquist’s tenure as chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, although it has roughly doubled for students at the state’s largest public universities during his time in the Legislature.