A state senator and her opponent in this year’s campaign are both upset about a series of mailers that criticize the incumbent and distort some of the facts.
At least four glossy flyers attacking Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, hit mailboxes in congressional District 10 last week. The mailers, sent out by the state Republican party and a political committee, go after Haugen’s voting record and fault her for cutting school funding and raising taxes. “Has Mary Margaret Haugen failed our schools? And our children,” one mailer states in bold type next to a photo of a school girl.
Haugen, who labeled them as “hit pieces” and “dirty politics,” blames her opponent, Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor.
“It’s pretty awful. Some of them are just plain false,” she said. “My biggest problem is when they are outright lies.”
Bailey, however, said she’s also angry that the “negative” mailers were sent out and she had nothing to do with them. She didn’t even know about them until a friend who received them in the mail showed her.
“Sen. Haugen knows and I know that we don’t have any control over independent expenditure,” she said. “I’ve always run a very clean campaign. I’ve been accused of smearing Mary Margaret. That’s simply not true. I take great offense at someone making that accusation against me.”
Haugen isn’t buying it. She sent a clean campaign pledge to the Senate Democratic Caucus, requesting that they not send any hit pieces on her behalf. She said she’s always run clean campaigns and nobody has ever sent out hit pieces on her behalf. She said Bailey could have prevented such attacks.
“If she can’t control the people in her own camp, how can she be an effective senator?” Haugen asked rhetorically, referring to Bailey.
Yet Bailey claims Haugen supporters did send out hit pieces four years ago when Oak Harbor resident Linda Haddon was running against her. During that election, Haugen scolded Democratic party officials for a mailer that tried to link Haddon to President Bush’s “failed economic policies.” In a recent interview, Haddon said Haugen’s supporters sent out mailers about her that she characterized as “somewhat negative,” but she admitted they were nothing compared to the anti-Haugen mailers.
Haddon said she was very upset by the mailers her supporters sent out and didn’t want any negative campaigning, but she had no control what others did. She explained that, under state law, she couldn’t have anything to do with the pieces.
Three of the recent mailers targeting Haugen were paid for by the political committee Good Government Leadership Council and created by POLIS Political Services. POLIS, headed by Stan Shore, was criticized in 2001 for trying to dilute liberal votes by helping a Green Party candidate in a House race. The Good Government Leadership Council’s sole donor is the Leadership Council, which supports Senate Republicans.
Joel Graves, a spokesman for the Good Government Leadership Council, said the mailers were not sent out on behalf of any candidate, but were only meant to educate the voters.
Another mailer was sent by the Washington State Republican Party. It focuses on Haugen’s voting record and her length in office.
“Rep. Bailey asked us to stick to the facts and the truth, which is exactly what we did in that mailer,” spokesperson Meredith Kenny wrote in an email. “The piece we sent out accurately reflects Sen. Haugen’s record. There’s nothing negative about comparing the voting records between the two candidates.”
The mailer sent by the Republican party, however, states that Haugen voted to protect her pay while other legislators voluntarily took pay cuts; the mailer cites an Aug. 11, 2011 Whidbey News-Times story, but inaccurately paraphrases the story. Haugen did not vote to protect her pay, but told a reporter at the time that she was declining to voluntarily cut her wages by 3 percent as Bailey had pledged. But Haugen changed her mind later that year and signed the paperwork to cut her pay.
Two of the mailers emphasize that Haugen voted for the largest tax increase in state history. Referring to her vote on the Senate’s budget bill in 2010, the mailers claim “she voted for an increase of $804 million at a cost of $1,200 per family per year.”
The math, however, isn’t correct. With about 2.6 million households in the state, the $804 million would cost a family about $309 a year.
Graves explained that the “$1,200 per family per year” comes from a document created by Sen. Joe Zarelli, ranking Republican on Senate Ways and Means. He’s referring to tax increases over the budget cycle, which is two years; that’s $600 a year for a family of four. Among the tax increases that supposedly affect families, he includes cigarette taxes and a change in out-of-state, business-and-occupation taxes in response to a lawsuit by Dot Foods.
The budget did, however, include a temporary, three-year 0.3 percent sales tax increase.
“The funds were directed to the Education Legacy Trust Account to maintain support for property-poor school districts through the state’s levy equalization program, providing funding for approximately 16,000 students to continue to receive state-funded all-day kindergarten, and allow approximately 34,000 students to attend institutions of higher education with the assistance of the state need grant,” according to a response from Haugen’s office.
Also, Haugen said there was a larger tax increase in the 1980s that she voted against; Republican leadership claim the 2010 bill amounted to the largest tax increase in the operating budget in the state’s history.
“In the simplest possible terms, this was a very big tax increase and Haugen voted for it,” Graves said.
One of the mailers states that Haugen voted to increase sales tax by 7 percent, but it’s a play on numbers. What it’s referring to is the temporary increase of 0.3 percent that was included in the Senate’s budget bill.
Yet Haugen said what most upset her is the claim that she has failed the schools. A mailer states that she slashed more than $4 billion from the state’s education system; she explained that she voted in favor of budgets that included massive and painful cuts in all corners of the state budget.
“I have always prioritized education,” she said. “I have 20 grandkids in public schools in the state. Would I vote to slash school spending? Absolutely not.”