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Published: Saturday, August 14, 2010, 7:11 p.m.

Unions use tricky tactics against Berkey in top-two primary

Groups on the left try a new tactic to oust Democratic Sen. Jean Berkey: touting a conservative candidate.

  • Sen. Jean Berkey

    Sen. Jean Berkey

EVERETT -- It looks like the political left wants help from Republican voters to oust Democratic state Sen. Jean Berkey in Tuesday's primary.
Two mailers arrived at Everett homes Friday that criticize Berkey for raising taxes and praise candidate Rod Rieger as a fiscally conservative Republican.
They aren't from his campaign. Heck, he's not even running as a GOP candidate.
They are the handiwork of Moxie Media of Seattle, the same firm that's been guiding a coalition of labor unions and progressive groups in a relentless campaign to unseat Berkey and elect Democrat Nick Harper.
Over the last three weeks, the firm has poured $275,000 into television commercials and numerous mailers, and has phoned and canvassed voters in the 38th Legislative District. The money is mostly from the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Federation of State Employees, the Washington Education Association and the Service Employees International Union.
"I'm being attacked from the left and now it appears that the same group is channeling money into courting the right so they can take me out in the primary," Berkey said Friday.
"I think it's outrageous. They've tried everything they can. Now that they're trying to come around from the right, is that a sign of desperation?" she said.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said early Friday she's waiting to learn if the same forces are behind the pro-Rieger literature.
"When you're attacking people from both sides, it's unprincipled," she said. "It's basically what gives politics a bad name."
Moxie Media representatives did not respond to several phone calls and e-mails seeking comment on the pro-Rieger literature.
The pieces, which cost $7,906 to produce and mail, are to be paid for by a political action committee called Cut Taxes, according to reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
The mailers list the top contributor to Cut Taxes as Conservative PAC. Both groups are only a few days old and list the same treasurer as a contact; neither had reported receiving any contributions to the state as of Friday afternoon. Those who called the treasurer were directed to Moxie Media.
The two pieces arrive as voting in the primary enters its final weekend. On Tuesday, the top two vote-getters will advance to the November general election.
From the outset, the coalition's goal has been to try to beat Berkey in the primary, which would require Harper and Rieger to finish ahead of her.
To that end, commercials and mailers are geared to increase voters' awareness of Harper and divert support from Berkey to him. It's a Democrat-heavy district so a lot of the material is aimed at swaying Democratic voters.
Her opponents portray the 71-year-old Berkey as a lawmaker who is too moderate for the district and too cozy with the banks and insurance companies affected by regulations written in the Senate financial institutions committee she runs.
They cast the 31-year-old Harper as a fresh face who will bring an infusion of new ideas and energy.
Until now, they've ignored the 45-year-old Rieger, who has raised just $800, mounted no serious campaign and on the ballot lists his party as Conservative, not Republican.
Getting his name in front of voters in this manner may boost his showing Tuesday.
"I see what they're doing," Rieger said Friday. "Obviously they want it to be Harper and me. They think I'll be easier to beat. It looks like an Anyone-but-Berkey attitude."
Harper said he's focused on conducting his campaign.
"These groups are deeply frustrated and are expressing it in the ways they can," he said. "I don't know objectively whether this material helps me or hurts me."
In the last few days, a pair of political committees funded by businesses spent about $12,000 to send mailers to voters expressing support for Berkey.
"She doesn't have any more control over what they say than I have control of what is said by the groups on my behalf," Harper said.
Brown said Friday she isn't happy with what's transpiring.
"My message to our Democratic allies is to support Democrats. If there are some with whom you disagree and can't support, than just support those you can," she said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;
Story tags » EverettLocal

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