Elections

Voter suppression in Gig Harbor? Deceptive mailer called ‘utterly stupid’ by one candidate and ‘dirty politics’ by another

This mailer was sent to 70,000 voters in the 26th Legislative District over the weekend.
This mailer was sent to 70,000 voters in the 26th Legislative District over the weekend. The News Tribune

The campaign mailer makes it clear: Connie Fitzpatrick isn’t progressive enough. Instead, voters should write in somebody else’s name.

Problem is, that somebody else doesn’t want the job, and the mailer is being called voter suppression by the candidate at whom it’s targeted.

Its creator says he’s just trying to give voters more choices.

Voters in the 26th Legislative District began finding the slick, color mailer in their mailboxes over the weekend.

“Don’t be fooled by fake Progressives like Connie Fitzpatrick (“D”),” the mailer said.

Fitzpatrick is up against incumbent Republican Jesse L. Young in the race for state representative.

“It’s awful, it’s terrible,” said Gig Harbor area resident Dorothy Walker, a recipient and one of many who contacted The News Tribune regarding it.

“I think it’s just more dirty politics,” Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. “It’s a blatant attempt to suppress voters.”

The mailer urges voters to write in the name of Nathan Schlicher.

“Let’s write in a real progressive,” it urges.

Schlicher, a former state legislator, ran for the seat in 2013. He was visiting family in New Mexico over the weekend.

“I got a call saying, ‘Are you running for office?’” Schlicher said when reached by The News Tribune. “Then the world came unglued.”

Soon, he was inundated with queries, congratulations and outrage. Some callers were angry he was waging a write-in campaign. Others said they had just voted for him.

He is not a candidate for the office, write-in or otherwise.

“It’s the furthest thing from my mind,” Schlicher, an emergency room physician, said Tuesday. “I’m a happy private citizen.”

The true intent of the 70,000 mailers doesn’t seem to be electing Schlicher. Instead, it seems aimed at taking away votes from Fitzpatrick and giving a boost to Young.

Young said he knew nothing of the mailer until it started appearing over the weekend.

“It’s utterly stupid,” Young said Tuesday. It would be illegal for Young to participate in such an effort, he noted.

The mailer is similar to ones that appeared in the 6thand 19th Legislative Districts recently, according to the Seattle Times. They, too, urged progressive voters to write in a third candidate.

Both mailers are tied to the same political action committee called Conscience of the Progressives. The name is a feint. The group is funded by conservative advocates and donors, according to the Times.

The group is run by Glen Morgan, a conservative activist known for filing campaign-finance complaints against Democratic candidates and organizations in Washington.

Morgan sent out another flier last week in Thurston County using the same write-in language. He targeted the county commissioner’s race.

In a telephone interview Tuesday evening, Morgan said he’s never claimed to be a progressive.

“It’s not so much a write-in campaign,” Morgan said. “It’s to give voters another option.”

Morgan said he stands by the name of his PAC; he considers himself the conscience of the progressives even if he, himself, is not one.

Morgan said it would have been against the law to contact Schlicher before sending out the mailers.

In Gig Harbor, Schlicher has been trying to get the word out that he’s not a candidate. Some who wrote his name in have asked for replacement ballots, he said.

“It was perfectly timed, just when ballots were arriving,” Schlicher said. “It was well played deceptive partisan politics.”

“Is there another time you’re supposed to send that out?” Morgan responded when asked about his timing.

The mailer, which has Morgan’s name on it, also has the logo endorsements of Planned Parenthood and Fuse Washington, a progressive voters guide. The mailer doesn’t reveal they are endorsements from Schlicher’s previous campaigns.

Why not?

“You know, I never even thought about the date, to be honest with you,” Morgan said. “I just wasn’t even thinking about fitting the date in.”

Morgan was asked if he was trying to dilute the Democratic vote.

“My goal in this is to give people an option to send a message if they want to,” Morgan said.

Morgan calls the reaction to the mailer “ridiculous drama.”

“The response to this has been exceptionally over the top and way more disproportionate than the actual mailing justifies,” he said.

Young said he’s going to fight the very sort of tactic being used against his opponent if he’s returned to the House in 2019.

“Soft-dollar money is nontransparent,” Young said. “And it makes it harder for the average person to know the truth.”

Schlicher thinks he was chosen as the write-in candidate because he’s well known in the district from his earlier service.

“I can confirm I’m not running for office and after this I’m pretty certain I never will again,” he said.

On Wednesday, a coalition of groups cited by Morgan as “endorsements” on the mailers, including Planned Parenthood, Fuse, the AFL-CIO and others, asked the Public Disclosure Commission to refer the matter to the Attorney General’s office for an investigation into possible violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor
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