Long session hits lawmakers’ campaign chests

Democratic Rep. Carol Gregory, left, will face Republican challenger Teri Hickel, right, in a special election in November. Gregory, D-Federal Way, was appointed in January to fill a vacant seat.
Democratic Rep. Carol Gregory, left, will face Republican challenger Teri Hickel, right, in a special election in November. Gregory, D-Federal Way, was appointed in January to fill a vacant seat. Courtesy photos

The Legislature’s marathon session this year isn’t just wearing down lawmakers’ patience — it also is preventing some of them from raising money for their campaigns.

Both state Rep. Carol Gregory, D-Federal Way, and state Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, are fighting to retain their seats in the November special election. But unlike their opponents, the two sitting lawmakers are prohibited from raising money while the Legislature is meeting in Olympia.

The ongoing session and its accompanying fundraising freeze could be more of a problem for Gregory, who is running a competitive race in a swing district that has been known to elect both Republicans and Democrats.

The Legislature has been meeting continuously this year since January, with the exception of a four-day break between sessions in late April. Lawmakers already have set a record for the most days in session in a single year, and it’s not clear when they’ll finish their work.

While Gregory was able to raise nearly $38,000 for her campaign during the brief April break, as of this week she still trailed Republican Teri Hickel, who had raised more than $61,000.

Both Republicans and Democrats are focused on the race between Gregory and Hickel in the 30th Legislative District, which includes Algona, Federal Way, Milton, Pacific, and parts of Des Moines and Auburn.

Democrats hold a narrow 51-47 majority in the state House. If Gregory loses in November, Republicans could take control of the chamber in 2016 by picking up just two additional seats, or force Democrats to share power by winning one seat and creating a tie.

Gregory is a school board member and former teacher who previously served as president of the Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers union. Hickel is a former executive director of Advancing Leadership, a community leadership program in Federal Way.

State Rep. J.T. Wilcox, co-chairman of the campaign committee for the House Republican caucus, said that although normally losing weeks of fundraising time would be “a big deal,” he thinks Gregory’s ties to the politically active statewide teachers union will help her raise plenty of money when the Legislature finally adjourns.

“She’s a former president of the WEA — by far the biggest player in money politics in the state of Washington,” said Wilcox, R-Yelm. “None of us doubt she is going to have a fully funded campaign no matter when it starts.”

Gregory was appointed in January to fill the seat formerly held by Democrat Roger Freeman, who died of cancer last October but still went on to win re-election. Her seatmates in the 30th District, Rep. Linda Kochmar and Sen. Mark Miloscia, are Republicans.

Dye, who was appointed after Susan Fagan resigned in late April, faces two challengers: Republican Richard Lathim and Democrat Kenneth Caylor.

But Wilcox said the fundraising freeze is less of a factor for Dye, whose race is unlikely to shift the party balance in the Legislature.

“It’s a pretty safe Republican seat,” he said of Dye’s position in the 9th Legislative District.

Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission, said the fundraising freeze during legislative sessions is designed to limit how campaign contributions might sway lawmakers’ votes on pending legislation.

“It was trying to limit special interests’ influence all around,” Anderson said.

The freeze also affects state lawmakers who are running for local offices. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, can’t raise money in her bid for the King County Council, while state Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, can’t raise money for his campaign to become the next King County elections director.

When lawmakers will finally leave Olympia is anybody’s guess. Even after passing a new two-year state operating budget last week — usually the crowning achievement of budget-writing sessions like this one, and a signal to adjourn — lawmakers remained at work deciding whether to delay Initiative 1351, last fall’s unfunded class-size initiative.

Lawmakers also still need to pass remaining parts of a transportation package and a bonding bill to pay for a $3.9 billion construction budget.