It wouldn’t be Pierce County’s 28th Legislative District without a pile of negative ads during election season.
The swing district — which includes University Place, Steilacoom, Fircrest, DuPont, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and parts of Tacoma and Lakewood — tends to be a hotbed of testy political mailers, and this year is no exception.
This year, direct mail ads against incumbent state Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, paint him as a career politician who voted to extend his own term limits and raise his pay.
Meanwhile, mail ads targeting Muri’s opponent, Democrat Mari Leavitt, suggest she supports a statewide income tax, an idea that has repeatedly proved unpopular with Washington voters.
Claim: One direct mail ad claims of Muri: “He even voted to extend his own term limits so that he could stay in office longer, which The News Tribune called ‘shamelessly self-serving.’ ”
The same ad repeats that last bit in large type on its reverse: “The News Tribune called Dick Muri shamelessly self-serving.”
The mailer is funded by the New Direction PAC, a group that has spent more than $2 million this year supporting Democratic legislative candidates and opposing Republicans. The group is funded in large part by political action committees run by House and Senate Democrats.
The facts: The News Tribune didn’t call Muri “shamelessly self-serving.” The newspaper’s Editorial Board — which is independent of the newsroom — used that phrase in 2008 to refer the Tacoma City Council, which Muri didn’t serve on at the time.
The Editorial Board was discussing a proposal to extend term limits for members of the Pierce County Council when it mentioned a similar plan that Tacoma voters had rejected the month before. The editorial said part of the backlash to the Tacoma proposal may have been due to “the way the City Council rushed the proposal to the ballot with minimal public discussion.”
“The haste looked shamelessly self-serving,” the editorial said, referring to the Tacoma City Council.
The same editorial said “a reasonable case can be made” for extending term limits for sitting members of the Pierce County Council, of which Muri was a member. Muri had championed the proposal to extend County Council members’ term limits from two four-year terms to three.
While the Editorial Board suggested the increase in term limits shouldn’t apply to sitting council members such as Muri, Muri didn’t actually take a vote that would have extended term limits for himself or other council members unilaterally. The vote he took was to send the proposal to Pierce County voters and let them decide.
Conclusion: False. Muri was not labeled “shamelessly self-serving” by The News Tribune Editorial Board, nor did he take a vote that would have automatically extended his term limits. Rather, he supported a measure to put the question before voters.
Claim: A road sign declaring “DANGER — STEEP TAXES AHEAD” is accompanied by an ominous message: “Mari Leavitt (D) and her special interest friends have a plan for you.”
The reverse side of the mailer reads, “The people supporting Mari Leavitt also support a massive new state income tax.”
Another mailer includes similar language on top of an image of a hypothetical 2017 Washington state income tax return form. “Mari Leavitt (D) and her special interest friends have Tax Day plans for you,” the ad says.
Facts: Leavitt has stated adamantly that she does not support an income tax. On Facebook Wednesday, she decried the inaccuracy of mailers that state otherwise.
“Let me repeat, I do not support a state income tax,” Leavitt wrote.
But that’s not true of some of the groups that have given her campaign money. The state Democratic Party included support for an income tax in its 2016 platform, while calling for the new tax to be “offset by cuts in regressive taxes (e.g. sales tax).” Leavitt has received $4,000 directly from the Washington State Democrats and another $20,700 from the 28th District Democrats, which has also received money from the state party.
Leavitt also received $2,000 from the Harry Truman Fund, the House Democrats’ political action committee, which counts the Service Employees International Union among its donors. SEIU supported a 2010 income tax initiative that voters rejected.
The mailers suggesting Leavitt supports an income tax are from Community Progress, a group that is funded largely by the Reagan Fund, the House Republicans’ political action committee.
Conclusion: The implication that Leavitt supports an income tax is false, based on the statements she’s made on the campaign trail. While it is true that some of her backers would like to see an income tax adopted in Washington state, she says she doesn’t share those groups’ views.
Claim: Another direct mail ad from the New Direction PAC slams Muri for voting to raise his own pay.
“Dick Muri voted to raise his own pay. But when it came time to vote to strengthen laws on equal pay and employment opportunities for women, Dick Muri voted, ‘No,’ ” one ad says.
Facts: In 2006, Muri — then a member of the Pierce County Council — voted with the council majority to give a 21 percent raise to then-County Executive John Ladenburg. Because County Council salaries are pegged at 60 percent of the executive’s pay, the action did affect the pay of County Council members, but not immediately.
That’s because county rules dictate that a sitting council member can’t benefit from a pay raise during the term in which it was approved.
Muri’s pay took a big jump in 2009 because he was re-elected in 2008, making him eligible for the previous hike tied to Ladenburg’s big pay bump.
In the Legislature this year, Muri voted against a measure that would have modified the state’s Equal Pay Act to allow employees to sue if an employer retaliates against them for discussing their compensation. The measure would have also made it against the law for employers to provide less favorable employment opportunities based on gender.
This week, Muri said he voted against the legislation because members of the business community said it would be a “litigation nightmare.” He said existing laws already provide protections for women to receive equal pay for equal work, and the measure “would have just made workplaces more litigious.”
Facts: Half-true. Muri didn’t vote to raise his own pay while in office, though he did take an action that would increase his pay if he won re-election.
He did vote against legislation that would have amended the state’s Equal Pay Act, due to the negative effects he said the measure would have had on businesses.