Friday Jolt: No deal in the 1st Congressional special election

Democrats' hopes for an orderly affair turn into a free-for-all. Says one official: "Democratic chaos has ensued."
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Darcy Burner

Democrats' hopes for an orderly affair turn into a free-for-all. Says one official: "Democratic chaos has ensued."

Washington State Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz is blaming former leader Darcy Burner, one of the five Democratic candidates running in the redrawn 1st Congressional District, for ruining his plan to have all the candidates running stand down in the simultaneous special election to fill former 1st District U.S. Rep. Jay Inlee's seat.

A bit complicated, but here's what's going on: Inslee resigned his seat in March to run full time for governor. That means someone has to fill his seat — the old 1st Congressional District — during December when his seat will be empty and before the new rep from the newly drawn 1st takes over in January. Voters in the old 1st — which overlaps with the new 1st, new 7th, and new 2nd — will all have to vote in two concurrent elections: a special election to fill Inslee's old seat (with both a primary and a general) and an election for the new 1st.

As Morning Fizz reported on Monday, Washington State Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz wanted to reduce the confusion by getting the five candidates running in the new 1st to agree to stand down in the special election,letting a placeholder candidate, Snohomish County Council Democrat Brian Sullivan, run unopposed for the Democrats. That way, voters in the special election wouldn't be looking at duplicate names on their ballot.

However, no deal was ever reached and Burner — a netroots star in her losing 2008 campaign against U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA, 8) — announced today (May 18) that she's running.

And to quote one Democratic spokesman: "Democratic chaos has ensued!"

“I am very disappointed that Darcy Burner chose to put her own perceived self interest ahead of that of the public by breaking ranks and filing in both races," Pelz said in an angry statement after explaining he wanted to minimize voter confusion and had reached "near consensus" with all the candidates. "I understand that the others will have no choice but to do the same.”

Two other candidates — former state Department of Revenue head Suzan DelBene and former state Rep. Laura Ruderman — sent out statements this morning saying they would run. Ruderman did not reference Burner, but DelBene, the frontrunner (moneywise and endorsement wise) did:

With another candidate who is running for the full two-year term also filing for the special election, it makes sense for the voters to now have a clear choice among the candidates who are serious about representing them for not just one month, but a full term.

Meanwhile, Ruderman's spokeswoman, Liz Berry, doesn't blame Burner, though she she said Burner's intention not to go along with Pelz was clear all along and that was a factor.

However, she says, "Laura always wanted to run [in the special] and always thought it was the right thing to do to be on another ballot."

Berry says: "If there was a deal, Laura wouldn't have backed out [of it], but there was no deal."

Indeed, as we reported on Monday: "Fizz hears Pelz has been meeting with the group of candidates ... , but hasn't yet gotten sign-offs from them all to sit out the special election."

Asked to respond to Pelz's jab, Burner spokesman Jeremy Koulish says, "Darcy and many of those we consulted with agree that where the districts overlap, confusion for voters would be greater from having entirely different candidates in the two different elections. In addition, she believes that the best way for a Democrat to hold the old seat in November is to have somebody on the ballot who will already be actively campaigning for the District and thus well-known. And because Social Security and Medicare cuts will likely be on the table, the stakes are too high to risk losing the seat to a Republican."

State Sen. Steve Hobbs didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he will join the special election race as well as the contest for the new 1st's seat.


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