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Senator Haugen draws fire for opening office on Whidbey

10th District Democrat is challenged by Republicans

The state Republican Party is crying foul over Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s move to open a staff office in Oak Harbor next week, claiming the 10th District Democrat is using public funds for her reelection campaign.

But so far, the Republican Party has not complained to the referees.

Late last week, state Republican Party chairman Luke Esser accused Haugen of using “a publicly-funded campaign operative who will cost the taxpayers $58,000 a year.”

“Sen. Haugen should be ashamed of herself for using taxpayer funds on her campaign,” Esser said in a press statement.

Haugen said the charges are bogus.

“I’m a lifetime member of this community. People know who I am; I am not a person who is trying to rip off this state,” Haugen said.

Earlier this week, Esser would not say whether the Republican Party would file a complaint over the allegations. He also was evasive when asked if the party had already complained to state officials.

“We’re still gathering information. We may or may not take additional steps in the future. We have not committed to any such steps, nor have we ruled them out,” he said.

Officials that investigate charges that revolve around campaigns and the use of public funds said Tuesday no complaints have been filed, however.

Phil Stutzman, director of compliance for the Public Disclosure Commission, the state’s campaign watchdog, said no complaints had been filed.

“We don’t have any pending complaints at this time,” added Mike O’Connell, counsel to the Legislative Ethics Board.

The swiftness of the attack — Haugen announced her office opening just before lunch on Thursday and the state GOP fired its missive four hours later — may be a sign of the size of the target that’s been placed on the Democrat from Camano Island.

Haugen herself was surprised at the intensity of the attack, and was aghast at the claims.

She said the only costs covered by the state for her Oak Harbor office were for a secure telephone line and Internet access.

“I paid the rent myself, I bought all the furniture in there,” she said.

The senator’s office announced last week that Gina Bull will be the managing legislative assistant for the lawmaker’s new office in Oak Harbor. A “grand opening” is planned for 4:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 21. The office is located at 1091 SE Dock St., Suite 4, Oak Harbor.

Haugen said opening an office in Oak Harbor was not a campaign move. The senator said she could have added another staff person to her Olympia office, but instead wanted someone based in Oak Harbor, the center of the 10th District. She said she had tried to have an office in Mount Vernon years ago but it proved unworkable.

“The center of the district is Oak Harbor. Would it make sense to open one up in Stanwood? No,” Haugen said.

Some lawmakers in both parties, due to their posts as head of committees that deal with fiscal matters or other roles in state government, are authorized to have a second staff member.

Due to her leadership position in the Senate — Haugen is chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee — Haugen is authorized to have more than one staffer. Executive legislative assistant Nova Gattman works in Haugen’s Olympia office, and Bull replaced an existing worker who left after being promoted to a legislative assistant post in another office.

Haugen said she has hired Courtney Jones of Coupeville to work on her campaign and she started in early May, but said Jones was being paid by using campaign funds.

That’s something Esser could have easily checked with the Public Disclosure Commission, she said, but obviously didn’t.

Haugen also took umbrage at last week’s criticism from the state GOP that said she had mismanaged the state ferry system. She painted the claims as political and “ridiculous.”

But voters should get used to such stuff, she added.

Haugen squeaked to a win with a slim majority last time, and some in the Republican party — including her Republican opponent Linda Haddon of Oak Harbor — are expected to ride the ferry issue for all the political points it’s worth.

“They have targeted me because they feel they can win this seat. It’s going to be just as ugly as you can imagine,” Haugen said.

“I think, to them, they think they’ve found a weak spot,” she said.

“Which is fine,” she said, adding that due to her position on the Senate Transportation Committee, she was able to get a bill quickly passed at the start of the last legislative session to pay for new ferries.

“I was able to step up and get the money,” she said.

“I guess what upsets me the most is, people think I can work miracles,” Haugen added.

“I’ve been able to solve a lot of problems and help a lot of people, but I can’t build a boat overnight.”

Haugen isn’t the only lawmaker in the 10th District to open an office in her home district. Clinton Republican Rep. Norma Smith opened an office in Coupeville in early April and former Rep. Chris Strow once had an office in Oak Harbor.

Thirteen senators besides Haugen currently have district offices, said Steve Breaux of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

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