Campaign Cocktail

Do well Cantwell

Maria Cantwell, Democratic candidate for the US Senate, claims to understand the "new economy," but has she passed Campaign 101? Recent developments give off mixed signals.

Cantwell has been ducking joint appearances, according to her Democratic primary opponent, State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn. That certainly resonates with our experience here at the Weekly, where weeks of painful negotiations with the Cantwell campaign finally led to an agreement on a joint appearance before our editorial board later this month.

Whether Cantwell is avoiding the pugnacious Senn because of a personal aversion to mixing it up or a consultant's advice that focus groups prefer Maria solo is unknown. But the fact is nothing frustrates political junkies, journalists, and at least some ordinary voters more than not being able to see the candidates side by side. Political debate is the lifeblood of old-time electioneering. But that may be precisely the problem for Senn: Cantwell's solo efforts seem to be paying off.

The latest nonpartisan poll by the respected Stuart Elway, who is not working for any candidate in the Senate race, shows that Cantwell has pulled out to a 9-point lead over Senn and is within striking distance—8 points—of incumbent Republican Senator Slade "Skeletor" Gorton. Back in February, Cantwell drew only 10 percent among likely primary voters; now she's turned 21. The only possible explanation for this surge is that Cantwell has been successful in her strategy of using her deep pockets (she's a high-tech millionaire) to buy all those TV ads. So long substantive political debates, hello 30-second spots!

Cantwell is the first self-funded, high-tech, major-party candidate in Washington. Unfortunately, she's probably not the last.

Sleeping on boats with Mikey

How will embattled Lake Union live-aboards fare under a new Commissioner of Public Lands? Early indications are that lame-duck Jennifer Belcher's effort to give people living on their boats the heave-ho will be abandoned.

"They didn't make Sleepless in Seattle because Tom Hanks had a really great condo," quipped State Senator Georgia Gardner, Democratic candidate for the office, expressing her support for the live-aboards.

The 800-pound Democratic gorilla in the race, former Governor Mike Lowry, readily agreed. "It's a Northwest tradition. I don't see any reason to jettison that tradition," he said, as long as there is "protection against pollution" and "fair rent paid."

On the Republican side, Pierce County Executive Doug Sutherland, who is all but unopposed for his party's nomination, has been keeping tighter lips but has actually appeared at live-aboard rallies opposing Belcher's odd crusade.

Lowry and Gardner's first meeting of the campaign season occurred last week at the Weekly's offices. Lowry enjoys tremendous advantages in the race—great name recognition and the loyalty of the liberals who make up the Democratic base of likely primary voters. (Lowry may have more trouble in the general election, however, on account of the allegations of sexual harassment that drove him from the governor's office.) But Gardner clearly indicated she's not rolling over. In fact, the senator from Blaine was quite fiesty and plainspoken, and even cut off the ex-governor a couple of times. But Lowry maintained his Irish charm—cracking jokes at his own expense and praising Gardner frequently.

Both candidates offered extremely ambitious plans if elected. Both promised to radically alter the practice of cutting the state's forests to fund construction of schools. This practice, which dates back to the founding of the state of Washington, can be changed with a simple act of the Legislature, Gardner and Lowry argue. But numerous politicians have tried and failed to untangle this Gordian knot. Lowry and Gardner hope to do more: They see the commissioner's role as key in revitalizing distressed rural communities through programs as varied as planting poplars as a new timber crop to retraining loggers. Whether or not the office of the Commissioner of Public Lands is the appropriate pulpit from which to preach and practice this new gospel remains very much an open question.

What's in a name?

What's more trouble than one judicial candidate? A whole freaking slate of them.

This year three state Supreme Court and 10 King County Superior Court seats are being contested. The paucity of information available to the general public on these candidates is absurd.

The average voter looks for a familiar name, any name. This year Tom Chambers, a successful personal injury lawyer running for Supreme Court, Position 9, will likely benefit because old-timers who vote have a soft spot for that Seattle Sonic ballhog of the '80s, Tommy "Gun" Chambers. Not to mention that one of his opponents, a Court of Appeals judge and former counsel to ex-Governor John Spellman, is stuck with the unfortunate moniker of C. Kenneth Grosse.

But Grosse has a leg up on Geoff Crooks in the name-game department. Crooks, who has been in charge of the state Supreme Court's seven-member legal staff since 1979, this year hopes to join the court itself and is running for Position 2. How about a slogan like "Put Crooks in charge of the crooks"?

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