Bizarrely Different Rules Govern Whether Candidates Can Attack Opponents in Voters' Guides

Dino Rossi pointing finger.jpg
With the primary over, U. S. Senate candidate Dino Rossi is sure to be polishing his attacks on incumbent Patty Murray. If experience is any guide, one forum he's probably thinking about is the voters' guide. How could this be? Last week, we reported on city prosecutor Ed McKenna's thwarted attempt to diss incumbent Edsonya Charles in said guide. Bizarrely, however, it turns out that state candidates play by different rules than city and county ones.

A state law expressly forbids candidates in city and county elections from saying anything--anything at all--about their opponents. Here's the exact phrase:

Any statements by a candidate shall be limited to those about the candidate himself or herself.

Candidates for state office, in contrast, merely have to refrain from submitting "false or misleading statements" about their opponents. (See the law that governs voters' guides in state races.)

Why the difference? Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission executive director Wayne Barnett says he hasn't "a clue." Tami Davis, the voter education and outreach manager for the Secretary of State's office, says the same.

In any case, the discrepancy explains why state Supreme Court judicial candidate Charlie Wiggins had this to say this about incumbent Richard Sanders in the voters' guide for the primary:

The incumbent was admonished by the Judicial Conduct Commission for interviewing sexually violent predators who had cases before him.

The looser rule for state candidates is also why Rossi was able to attack Governor Chris Gregoire in his voters' guide statement for the last gubernatorial race.

Governors in other states are controlling spending -- but not here. While we tighten our belts, state government spends more money and faces a growing $2.5 billion deficit. The incumbent's only answer: more tax increases.

Will Rossi step up his voters' guide attacks even more in his nationally-watched race against Murray? Will the words "Pork Patty"--the term now being bandied about in Republican circles to knock the senator in tennis shoes --creep into his statement along with self-promotion about Rossi's supposed business acumen?

Stay tuned. Before sharpening his rhetoric, however, Rossi might want to take note of a court ruling last month that reinforced the limits there are on state candidate statements. In his proposed primary statement, legislative candidate Matt Richardson took aim at incumbent Pam Roach--as fair game as any, one would think, given her loopy record and notoriously volatile behavior that got her thrown out of the Republican Caucus in January. Sticking to an exceedingly technical version of the facts, however, a judge ruled that Richardson could not state that Roach was banned from meeting with other Republicans because, among other reasons, the punishment is not permanent.

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