Top row (L-R): John Lovick, Jesse Salomon, Jeff Sax, Maralyn Chase. Bottom row (L-R): John McCoy, Maria Cantwell, Susan Hutchinson, Savio Pham.

Top row (L-R): John Lovick, Jesse Salomon, Jeff Sax, Maralyn Chase. Bottom row (L-R): John McCoy, Maria Cantwell, Susan Hutchinson, Savio Pham.

Auditor: Careful what you say about rivals in voter pamphlet

Some candidates react to the push for “civility” over what they consider “free speech.”

EVERETT — In the voter guide posted online by the Secretary of State’s Office, Republican Susan Hutchison doesn’t mince words in why she’s trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell

“Our people deserve better than an ineffective Senator seeking an underserved 4th term,” begins her online candidate statement. “You are fed up with Seattle’s harmful polices (sic) which she accepts and supports — policies that jeopardize our future. You want a Senator who votes your pocketbook, not hers.”

But those aren’t the words 450,000 voters in Snohomish County’s will read in the pamphlet that county election officials are preparing to mail them for the Aug. 7 primary.

They’ll get this politically sanitized version: “Our people deserve better than an ineffective Senator. You are fed up with Seattle’s harmful policies — polices (sic) that jeopardize our future. You want a Senator who votes your pocketbook.”

It wasn’t Hutchison who took out the inferences to Cantwell. It was Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel. And Hutchison, former chairwoman of the state Republican Party, is peeved.

“There’s no reason Snohomish County should be censoring the free speech rights of candidates,” Hutchison said. “Elections are about choices and people can’t have choices unless contrasts are drawn.”

Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel

Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel

Weikel, a veteran elections officer, cited a section of the county administrative rules concerning voter pamphlets that empowers her to reject statements deemed to be inappropriate. The statement — and those of 11 other hopefuls on the ballot in Snohomish County — ran afoul of a provision barring a candidate from referring to or commenting on their opponent, she said

“We just want this publication to be about the candidate and what they bring to the table,” Weikel said. “In this particular publication, which is paid for with taxpayer dollars, you don’t get to say whatever you want to say about your opponent.”

She knows it’s a hard line. And while this year’s batch of statements isn’t as bad as some she’s seen, it’s important to stand firm and remind candidates they have other means by which to badmouth their foes.

“If a candidate wants to talk about why they are better or different, they have the ability to do it with their own material,” she said.

Each of the 12 candidates whose statements did not pass muster is challenging an incumbent state or federal legislator. Of the dozen, seven are Republicans, four are Democrats and one is a Green Party candidate.

It’s a higher number than usual, which Weikel attributed to a more impassioned political mood in the county, state and nation.

“This is a pretty important mid-term (election) and people are energized,” she said.

Jesse Salomon of Shoreline, a Democrat running against veteran Democratic Sen. Maralyn Chase of Edmonds in the 32nd District, wasn’t happy to have his statement edited by Weikel. He appealed her decision but county Prosecutor Mark Roe rejected the appeal.

Online his statement begins: “Maralyn Chase was appointed to the legislature in 2002 during George W. Bush’s first year as president. Since then traffic has gridlocked, property taxes have exploded, and the legislature has been in turmoil. It’s time for change!”

But in the county guide it will read: “Over the last 16 years traffic has gridlocked, property taxes have exploded, and the legislature has been in turmoil. It’s time for change!”

The decision violates his free speech rights, he said. Statements that are libelous or defamatory should be prohibited, but factual statements about an opponent are not prohibited by statute, he argued. Challengers are now forced to speak in code to get their point across, he said.

“People feel it is time for a change, so the length of time Sen. Chase has been in office is an issue. But I can’t say that,” he said.

Salomon, Hutchison and other affected candidates reached last week said the forced revisions could cost them votes. The pamphlet is the one source of information on which many voters will rely when they make their decision, they said.

Weikel thinks the opposite could occur as voters gravitate toward candidates who demonstrate civility.

“I don’t think it will cost them,” she said. “It could possibly gain them votes if they are not talking negative in their statements.”

Savio Pham of Everett had a paragraph rejected in the original statement submitted for his candidacy for state Senate in the 38th District. It criticized votes taken by the man he is trying to unseat, Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, although the now-excised lines refer to the incumbent only as “my opponent.”

Pham, a first-time candidate who is running as an independent Republican, said he wasn’t mad.

“I was trying to draw differences with Sen. McCoy. If that doesn’t abide by the rules, that’s OK,” he said. “I agree, we should be polite and I should concentrate more on what I want to run on.”

The auditor’s office objected to two lines penned by Jeff Sax, a Snohomish Republican and the lone challenger to state Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, in the 44th District.

“I was stunned. It’s a restriction on speech,” he said. “I think it’s wrong.”

He decided to take out one line and rewrite the other. That sentence originally read “I’m running because it is time for my opponent to retire.” Now, it will read, “I’m running because it’s time for a new representative.”

Sax, a former Snohomish County Councilman, said he understands the intent of the rules is to prevent name-calling.

“Quite frankly, political speech doesn’t have to be truthful,” he said, adding the auditor’s action could impact his performance in the primary. “There are a tremendous number of voters for which that pamphlet is the one source of propaganda that they will look at.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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