The ALEC question popped up. Jan Angel, the Republican candidate in a key state Senate race where donors are spending money like water, appeared to expect it.
ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, and state Rep. Angel, R-Port Orchard, is its Washington chairwoman. ALEC is a national conservative organization consisting of state legislators and corporate interests that collaborate on creating "model bills" to be pushed in individual states.
Angel and her opponent, Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, were answering questions from the League of Women Voters and roughly 100 people in Bremerton as part of their duel for the 26th District state Senate seat covering an area from south Bremerton to Gig Harbor. It's a special election in a swing district race that is being closely watched because of its effects on the tight balance of power in the state Senate.
ALEC is an important issue in a race where both candidates want to be seen as moderates. It happened to be Schlicher's turn to answer first when the ALEC came up. To him, it's an organization that hurts the middle class and lets lobbyists and legislators act in concert out of public view in writing bills. With its donors unknown, he said, "There's no transparency."
Angel acknowledged the question was likely prompted by her chair role but she said of Schlicher's contentions, "This is a bunch of hooey." As chair, she said, she passed ALEC recommendations to the caucuses of both political parties, not just her own Republicans.
An occasional Washington Democrat has belonged to ALEC, but all have severed ties. There are currently 14 Republican legislators in Washington who belong to ALEC, and most are considered among the most conservative lawmakers.
If Angel wins, the Senate's Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus will gain a slightly bigger 26-23 cushion. A victory for Schlicher, who was appointed in January to replace a Democrat elected to Congress, would leave the split at 25-24. But it would also make it much easier for Democrats to have a shot at regaining control of the Senate in the November 2014 elections. The well-disciplined Majority Coalition Caucus would likely maintain its tight control with the one-vote margin next year. A Democratic win, however, might create more momentum for aggressive transportation improvements later this year or in the legislative session that begins in January.
In the August primary, Angel, who has good name recognition from serving in the state House since 2009 and earlier on the Kitsap County Commission, scored first blood by taking 54.6 percent of the vote.
Already, the two candidates' direct contributions total nearly $1.1 million, far exceeding the $814,000 raised in 2012's most expensive legislative race. That was the bitter battle between Vancouver Republican Sen. Don Benton and Democratic challenger Tim Probst where Benton's 74-vote victory led two Democratic senators to switch sides to create the Majority Coalition Caucus. So far, Angel has collected some $624,00 and Schlicher has raised $472,000, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.
And that's not even the half of it. A Gig Harbor-based Political Action Committee — She's Changed PAC, aimed against Angel — has raised nearly $1 million in cash. Meanwhile, the Times reported that the Centralia-based Good Government Leadership Council, which is reportedly backing Angel, has raised at least $575,000 in cash.
Bottom line: This is a $2.5 million race with two weeks still to go.
At the League of Women Voters forum, Schlicher and Angel both portrayed themselves as moderates. Schlicher pointed to an endorsement by the editorial board of The Seattle Times, which also backed Republican Rob McKenna for governor last year, as a sign of his moderation. Angel demonstrated her moderate bona fides by saying she broke with the House Republicans 53 times on votes last session.
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