Opinion

It's harmful when outside billionaire tries to influence elections here

The right to vote – or not to do so – is a cherished one in our country. Throughout history, Americans have struggled and even died, to preserve our form of participatory democracy.

However, it seems that some people are taking that democracy into their own hands – or at least wallets – in Washington’s elections this year.

Tom Steyer is a liberal San Francisco hedge fund billionaire. He has no known home in Washington. He has no neighbors in Washington. But Steyer has spent $2 million here in the last two years trying to change control of our state Senate to Democrats. He believes that these people he helps elect will then support his radical environmental agenda which includes dramatically raising the cost of the energy that drives our economy – from gas for our cars to electricity for our homes.

Essentially, Steyer wants to replicate the same single-party control in Washington which has been so disastrous in his home state of California.

All Americans have the right to participate in the electoral process, but there can easily be abuses when someone tries to influence local elections in a state where they don’t live.

Pierce County is in a unique position. Steyer’s money last year went into a 26th District state Senate race in an unsuccessful attempt to win that seat for the Democrats. This year his money is flooding into another suburban Pierce County district to defeat incumbent state Sen. Steve O’Ban. Some estimate that as much as half a million dollars of Steyer’s money will go to promote O’Ban’s opponent. Similar amounts are going against incumbent senators Andy Hill in King county and Doug Ericksen in Whatcom County.

Why is it harmful when a California billionaire tries to influence an election in another state? Because he never hears about the unintended consequences from his neighbors.

Steyer has no neighbors here. If his tactics overreach, he doesn’t hear about it when he goes to the grocery store. If he hires people who make false attacks against O’Ban, he doesn’t get an earful when he fills up at the gas station. And if he wants to support a candidate who he hopes will drive up the cost of Washington gas by a dollar or more a gallon, he won’t hear the complaints about that either.

Canvassers reportedly have been hired with Steyer’s money to go door-to-door to promote O’Ban’s opponent. The canvassers don’t have to be supportive – or even know anything about her. O’Ban’s opponent can (and does) deny any knowledge of their tactics.

The canvassers don’t even have to live in Pierce County. Some have admitted being hired and bused in from Seattle. And if the canvassers aren’t knocking on the doors of their neighbors, their behavior can be aggressive and threatening because they don’t run into them at the store either.

Here are some of the complaints about canvassers purchased with the California billionaire’s money. These anecdotes have been shared with campaigns or party officials:

• Ignoring “No soliciting” signs.



• Being rude and argumentative when asked to leave.



• Yelling at an 8-year-old who answered the door.



• Being belligerent with a police officer when the officer confronted him for being at a voter’s door in the dark; the canvasser said he had a “right” to solicit until 9 p.m.



• Insisting that residents open doors – refusing to just leave materials on the door step.



• Refusing to identify themselves.



What I’m hearing is that residents who are canvassed in this manner are angry, they are afraid, they are calling the police.

Neighbors are respectful when they knock on the door of a neighbor. Neighbors promote their favored candidates, but also the values of their communities. Neighbors disclose who they are. They don’t frighten people by incessantly knocking on doors after dark after being told to go away.

Engage in democracy and talk with an actual neighbor who comes to your door during an election. But say “no” to the influence of these hired out-of-town canvassers. Let’s respect the values of our neighbors and our communities and vote for candidates who represent us – not a liberal California billionaire.

Rob McKenna, a Republican, is a former state attorney general.

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