As ballots drop this week, some of the most influential unions in Washington are pouring big money into an Eastside legislative race, trying to unseat moderate Democratic state Sen. Mark Mullet.
Labor-backed political-action committees supporting Mullet’s progressive Democratic challenger, Ingrid Anderson, have spent more than $1 million — the most on behalf of any legislative candidate so far this year.
The money gush isn’t done — an additional $510,000 in donations to a pro-Anderson PAC were reported on Monday, according to filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
The flex of political muscle against a Democratic incumbent could be a harbinger.
If the effort to oust Mullet succeeds, leaked chat messages from a political consultant this week suggest other incumbent Democratic legislators deemed insufficiently pro-labor could be targeted in 2022 — including two veteran Seattle lawmakers.
In the private online chat, a screenshot of which was obtained by The Seattle Times, an associate at a prominent Democratic consulting firm on Monday pointed to state Sens. Jamie Pedersen and Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, and Steve Hobbs, of Lake Stevens, as potential targets in 2022.
“Jamie, Reuven, Hobbs all getting primaried in 2022 if this ends up working. (Good!),” wrote Jamie Housen, an associate at NWP Consulting, the consulting firm founded by longtime Democratic consultant Christian Sinderman.
Sinderman replied in the chat that he’d recently spoken with Carlyle for 30 minutes on the subject.
“He will lose. I mean maybe not, but he deserves to,” Housen responded.
Both Sinderman and Housen downplayed the exchange as casual banter.
“It’s hot take by a young operative that certainly doesn’t reflect my opinions or any official statement at all,” Sinderman said, whose firm is working on the Anderson campaign.
The screenshot was captured by someone who saw it because Sinderman had the chat window open while sharing his screen on an unrelated Zoom call about a political mailer. He called the leak “shocking and disrespectful.”
In a direct message on Twitter, Housen, a relatively new associate at NWP, said: “It’s disheartening that a few private, irreverent texts were made public.”
Pedersen, who represents Seattle’s ultraliberal 43rd Legislative District, who had seen the chat messages, said he believes the spending against Mullet “absolutely” is a “shot across the bow” aimed at other elected Democrats.
“If you think they are spending $2 million just on Mark Mullet — it’s not rational. These are smart, strategic people that we are talking about. So clearly the purpose of it has to be to intimidate people,” said Pedersen. “There is no other way to understand it.”
Carlyle, who represents Seattle’s 36th Legislative District, said he didn’t take the chat messages seriously and had a “very thoughtful” conversation with Sinderman. “I think this is an unfortunate product of political chatter … from a young, inexperienced person learning the ropes,” he said.
The race between Mullet and Anderson is a rare instance of powerful Democratic Party-aligned groups seeking to take down a Democratic incumbent.
The intraparty fight in East King County’s 5th Legislative District is both a display of raw political power and a reflection of frustration among progressives at Mullet’s opposition to policies such as a capital-gains tax on the wealthiest Washingtonians.
In an unusual move, Gov. Jay Inslee has weighed in, endorsing Anderson and criticizing Mullet for opposing a proposed clean-fuel standard to reduce automobile emissions.
The district, which stretches from Lake Sammamish to Snoqualmie Pass, includes all or most of Issaquah, North Bend, Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Carnation. Not long ago, it had been considered a swing district which elected Republicans. Mullet, a businessman, was elected in 2012, running as a moderate.
Mullet said the massive spending against him is puzzling as he has sided with Inslee, unions and climate activists more often than not. “They want to send a message to every other Democrat that if you are not with them 100%, they will take you out,” he said.
When it comes to PAC support, Mullet is far from defenseless. Business-backed PACs already have put more than $550,000 into independent expenditures on his behalf. And his own campaign committee has raised roughly $390,000 to Anderson’s $190,000.
Anderson, a nurse at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, noted she doesn’t control the independent spending by unions supporting her, but said she is honored by their backing.
“I am very vocal at being a huge advocate for working people,” she said. “I tell them we are not going to always agree, but I will always come to the table and listen.”
No Republicans were on the ballot in the Aug. 4 primary, leading to the Democrat versus Democrat matchup in the Nov. 3 general election.
Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer of SEIU 775, which represents home health care workers, denied the heavy spending in the Anderson-Mullet race is intended to send a message to other elected Democrats.
SEIU 775, as well as the union’s state council and SEIU 925, which represents education workers and child care providers, have donated more than $1 million to Washington Cares, a PAC supporting Anderson.
Glickman criticized Mullet’s legislative record, including his opposition to the state’s new benefit aimed at helping offset long-term care costs for the elderly and infirm. The program, passed on a bipartisan vote in 2019, is funded by an employee payroll deduction of .58% of wages starting in 2022.
“I can honestly say that among the organizations that are funding this effort, this is about one thing and one thing only — and that is Mark Mullet vs. Ingrid Anderson,” Glickman said.