With the upcoming Aug. 5 primary election, even races with only two candidates are turning up the volume on their messages to voters in anticipation of the Nov. 4 general election.
That includes the state senate race for the 42nd Legislative District, which will pit incumbent Doug Ericksen, a Republican from Ferndale, against Democrat Seth Fleetwood, a former member of the Whatcom County and Bellingham city councils.
Fleetwood asked last week if he could respond to two “hit pieces” that were sent out by the Washington State Republican Party in recent days.
For those readers who don’t have them handy or, like me, don’t live in the 42nd, I’m including pictures of the mailers here (please excuse the quick smartphone snap quality).
One of the mailers features a poorly-edited picture of Fleetwood in sunglasses and a suit in front of a house with a moving van labelled, “Bad Ideas Moving Co.”
(For those who want to know, it sounds like that picture came from a Democratic Facebook page's photo album for another candidate's campaign kickoff).
That mailer makes the following claims:
-- “Seth Fleetwood is a career politician who moved into the district days before the May filing deadline to run for office.” “
- “Seth does not own property in the district so his wealthy campaign donors have provided him with a multi-million dollar mansion to live in while he runs for state Senate.”
-- “Seth Fleetwood (D) owed thousands of dollars in back taxes to the IRS.”
-- “Seth Fleetwood is running to advocate for Seattle political interests, including a 10 cent increase in the gas tax and burdensome new regulations that would add an additional dollar to the cost of gas.”
-- “While serving on the Bellingham City Council, Seth Fleetwood voted four times to increase property taxes by the maximum amount allowed under state law.”
The most recent mailer features the same sunglasses-wearing Fleetwood, but this time photoshopped in front of a bunch of $100 bills.
That mailer makes similar claims, such as "Seth Fleetwood likes to raise your taxes. Pay his own? Not so much."
In our conversation about the "hit pieces," Fleetwood read aloud from the fliers.
“ Seth Fleetwood’s double standard on taxes. I have to stop doing my radio voice when I read these,” he said. “It’s so deceptive and misleading and based on the things they don’t say, almost to the point of abject dishonesty. They clearly have a low opinion of the voters. They leave impressions with the voters, but they don’t say absolutely relevant things that would give the entire picture.”
So, we walked through the list of claims.
1) Fleetwood did move to the district so he could run for the spot in the senate, but he did so because the state redrew the districts in 2012, effectively moving his old neighborhood into the 40th.
“They imply I’m a carpetbagger, when in fact I’ve lived in the district most of my life,” Fleetwood said. “I was born and raised in the 42nd district and lived there for 18 of the last 20 years. The only reason I moved is they redrew the lines for redistricting purposes.”
Fleetwood also said the claim he, “a part-time politician in county government,” is a career politician, coming from “the Republicans who are promoting Doug Ericksen ... takes some gall."
Ericksen, who was first elected to the legislature in 1998, has served six terms in the state house and one term in the senate.
Fleetwood served on Whatcom County Council from 2002 to 2010 and Bellingham City Council from 2010 to 2014.
2) The claim about Fleetwood’s housing being provided by wealthy donors is not true, he said.
“I’m a renter, and they’re the landlord,” Fleetwood said. “I don’t know if the landlords have given me a campaign contribution or not.”
Looks like the landlords have not, according to reported campaign contributions on the Public Disclosure Commission’s website.
“It’s not a multi million dollar mansion,” Fleetwood continued. “It’s a nice home and I’m living there.”
As an FYI, the assessed value of the home, located at 1504 Irving Way, is $1.3 million, according to the Whatcom County Assessor’s website. (The picture used for the mailer is not his house.)
3) Now for those “back taxes.”
The mailers refer to a financial disclosure form Fleetwood filled out between 2001 and 2005, while he was on the county council.
“That’s just not true,” Fleetwood said. “I have always paid my taxes and I’ve always been in good standing with the IRS. It was a simple payment plan that was paid off in an orderly fashion.”
4) What about that 10-cent gas tax?
“I do not have a statement on my website that says I support a 10-cent gas tax,” Fleetwood said. “There’s nothing on my website stating that, so it’s inaccurate.”
After talking for a few minutes, we speculated that the mailer might refer to this sentence under the “Issues” section of Fleetwood’s site:
“I’d start with closing a tax loophole for big oil companies that would have raised millions to expand all-day kindergarten and reduce class sizes.”
5) Finally, Fleetwood said the tax votes he did make on Bellingham City Council were for good reason.
“When they say raised by the max allowed by law, what they don’t say is the max allowed by law is 1 percent,” Fleetwood said. “It’s an amount that doesn't even keep pace with the cost of inflation.
“What they don’t say is when I was on the county council, for eight straight years I voted for a balanced budget with no increase in the regular property tax,” he continued. “Their narrative is I’m a big Seattle tax-and-spend liberal. It’s deceptive. My history of voting doesn’t support that.”