He drew 410,718 votes in the Washington primary election. But Will Baker, the "International Man of Diplomacy," has become one of the most popular state politicians anyone never knew. Even his own party has forgotten him.
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The Republican candidate for state auditor, Baker, 41, goes unmentioned by top party officials and is missing in action on the state GOP Web site. Yet his Sept. 14 vote total approaches or tops his better-known fellow Republicans: gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi (444,337), U.S. senatorial hopeful George Nethercutt (432,748), and state attorney general candidate Rob McKenna (366,914).
Why the cone of silence? Privately, as the Nov. 2 general election approaches, even the GOP wants Baker, a Tacoma flower vendor, to lose to dreaded Democrat Brian Sonntag. "Let's just say," explains party spokesperson Suzanne Tomlin, "it leaves us in a difficult position."
It was difficult enough when state Republican Chair Chris Vance didn't fully check out Baker's political credentials in August before allowing him to step in as a last-minute candidate in a race for which no other Republican had filed. It was a move done largely to keep minority parties from gaining a political foothold, and it worked: Libertarian Jason Bush got only 12,577 in the auditor's primary.
Vance, who knew only that Baker had once run for secretary of state, was unaware Baker billed himself in that 2000 race as the "International Man of Diplomacy" and that he perennially runs for offices as a lark, relying on Austin Powers for some of his campaign sloganeering (in a 1999 Tacoma mayoral contest, he accused the incumbent of "shagging the people of Tacoma").
He has also been arrested 19 times in 12 years, mostly for marathon talking. Tacoma City Council members frequently end up calling the cops once the chatty Baker gets up to speak and speak and speak—something Vance could easily have learned. As the Tacoma News Tribune—which ran assorted jail mug shots of Baker when his candidacy was announced—recently noted: "A Google search on Baker would have picked up multiple accounts of his arrests, including this from the Seattle Weekly: '. . . Will Baker was arrested three times in three weeks for refusing to shut up at council meetings. He's such a pain that jailers leave his cell door open, hoping he'll leave.'"
The state GOP tried but failed to withdraw its letter nominating Baker for the auditor's race after learning that the mild-mannered anti-crime crusader, who sometimes calls himself a "vigilante activist," once went on a jail hunger strike for 22 days; though free to go, he refused to leave his cell. Says Tomlin, "When we came across his, uh, history, it was pretty much past the point where anything could be done." Now they're doing the next best thing: snubbing him, and offering no support.
But it's only gotten worse for the party of Lincoln. Egged on by all those obliging if clueless Republican voters (the closed primary prevented cross-party votes), Baker has taken advantage of his dumb luck by using the election forum as a bully pulpit for pet causes, such as Tacoma's most notorious modern homicide.
As the candidate says in his state Voters' Guide statement, "I believe the number one issue in the 2004 state auditor election ought to be the attempts by the FBI to cover up the events surrounding Crystal Brame's murder," referring to the woman killed by her husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, who then committed suicide, in April 2003.
His official statement also mentions the charging of former Pierce County Sheriff Mark French for possession of child porn, without making a connection to the Brame case. But he accuses Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg and others of trying to "cash in" on Brame's murder "by throwing a sales tax proposal" on the 2003 ballot.
"When [then] Tacoma City Council candidate Will Baker publicly opposed the way the City Council was handling the Brame murder/suicide and the tax proposal," he says in outlining his qualifications for auditor, "the County Council and the City Council arrested Will at several council meetings."
He adds: "Please call 60 Minutes. . . . "
Actually, that's a toned-down version of the statement originally submitted by Baker. In the original, he named two FBI agents he claimed were responsible for the cover-up. The secretary of state's office queried the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle. The names were omitted after federal prosecutors filed a lawsuit and a Thurston County judge decided the agents would likely prevail in a defamation action.
Baker, who didn't respond to phone calls and e-mails for comment, hasn't updated his longtime activist Web site (www.thetruthrocks.com) to include his positions on the auditor's race (incumbent Sonntag, who got 617,254 primary votes, is expected to cruise to a fourth term). He appears to have no endorsements, and his campaign, "Will Power," has not reported donations.
But the primary landslide has to be encouraging to the man who once said his campaigns serve as a good example of why the election system needs reform. The message, repeated 410,718 times, is this: Somebody out there actually might be buying this. GOP spokesperson Tomlin struggles to explain the voter appeal. "He was on a radio talk show and he was very well spoken and knowledgeable about the auditor's office," she says. "Maybe people heard that—and not the rest of the story."