All Politics Is Local

Political Food Fight

In this race, the political is personal.

The level of vituperation between state Sen. Adam Kline and former state Rep. Dawn Mason, both Democrats vying to be the 37th District's (Rainier Valley, Madrona, Renton) senator boggles the mind. In order to find the differences between them on issues, you'd need an electron microscope. They lob the verbal equivalent of thermonuclear missiles.

After spending an hour with them, I can't help but wonder what happened to the intelligent, rational, albeit passionate politicians I have interviewed for years. In their place are a couple of brats involved in a school-yard brawl. What's going on?

Let's start with a bit of history. This Senate seat first became available in 1997, when Dwight Pelz left the Legislature for the King County Council. Kline won the appointment from Democratic Party Precinct Committee officers. The next year, Mason, one of the district's state representatives, challenged Kline. The bad blood between them included a restraining order against Kline from a Mason supporter and charges from Kline of dirty tricks by the Mason campaign. Both candidates ran full-on campaigns with plenty of fund-raising, doorbelling, and jockeying for endorsements. In the end, Kline won by 986 votes out of 15,448 votes cast.

This year, Mason was on vacation in Virginia Beach, Va., when she heard that no one had filed to run against Kline. She tossed her hat in the ring at the last minute by faxing a notarized signature to the King County Elections office. It seems highly unlikely that Mason can do any better than her last time out.

But she isn't showing any signs of backing off. She started attacking Kline before he even showed up at Seattle Weekly's offices for their editorial board interview (he was about 20 minutes late). She would barely let him finish a sentence before firing off one leading question after another. For his part, Kline lost his temper after about 60 seconds. His face reddened, he started waving his arms and four-letter words began flying from his mouth like bullets at a shooting range.

When asked about the tenor of the debate, they both insisted that this is the way people debate issues back East (Mason is from New Jersey and Kline is from New York). I ain't buying it. I'm from Boston and have witnessed a lot of candidates mix it up over the last 10 years of covering politics. Mason didn't bring out the short knives when she ran against Jim Compton for Seattle City Council member in 1999. This fight is personal, and therefore it's a waste of everyone's time.

Is this ugly feud representative of the way these folks perform in office? While numerous people have varied opinions about both Mason and Kline, no one says that temperament is a real problem for either of them. While they both deeply care about issues and are well-known for their fiery oratory, they have different strengths as legislators. Mason is known as a consummate deal maker, praised for her ability to form strong political relationships across party and geographical lines. Kline is recognized as someone who will stand firm on principle and take considerable heat when he feels it's necessary. While he isn't cutting deals, neither does he stand in the way of ones that need to be cut. They both have their fans and their foes.

In short, this race seems to be about two people who don't like each other very much, but not a helluva lot else.

EVANS V. JOHNSON

Former Gov. Dan Evans called to express his reservations about state Supreme Court candidate Jim Johnson (see "Liberty and Law," Aug. 1). The Republican executive appointed over 100 judges and justices during his 12 years in the governor's mansion. "They were the most important appointments I made, because they would last. I was very careful to determine that candidates for the judiciary had views based on the Constitution and not their own personal feelings." Johnson worked for then-Attorney General Slade Gorton while Evans was governor. Johnson "certainly is a good lawyer," Evans says, but the former gov. doesn't think he would make a good judge. Evans watched Johnson ring up a steady number of defeats as the attorney general's chief counsel on Indian affairs and become more passionate with each case. Johnson, according to Evans, had "an anti-Indian position that went beyond Slade. It went beyond what was appropriate. His personal views [on Indian issues] are so strong, I wonder if he can adequately fulfill the requirement" of keeping his own feelings out of case law. That's why Evans has endorsed Johnson's opponent, Judge Michael Spearman.

ghowland@seattleweekly.com

 
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