Battle for 44th District House seat ignites political fireworks

A once-polite race for an open state House seat in Snohomish County is now a raging battle with spending by the candidates and their supporters approaching a million dollars entering the election’s final weekend.

Voters in the 44th District are the targets of attention as that’s where Democrat Mike Wilson of Everett and Republican Mark Harmsworth of Mill Creek are competing Tuesday to succeed Republican Mike Hope, who resigned in July.

Campaign literature arrives almost daily in the mail and television ads air frequently on cable channels. Some extol the candidates’ virtues, others attack their views.

But not every ad is produced and paid for by either Wilson or Harmsworth.

Rather, they are the product of independent political committees funded largely by labor groups, businesses and political parties. As of Wednesday, spending by these outsiders had reached almost $450,000, according to records posted online by the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Much of their dough is used to boost or blast Wilson, an Everett resident and longtime Cascade High School teacher.

The Washington Education Association, which represents teachers statewide, and Working Together for the 44th House have spent a combined $309,000 in support of Wilson, an active WEA member.

Working Together for the 44th gets its money primarily from unions representing state employees and health care workers and the Washington State Labor Council. The Harry Truman Fund, which backs Democratic House candidates, is also a major contributor.

Meanwhile, a committee known as Change Olympia has spent $69,000 on mail pieces and commercials opposing Wilson and probably isn’t done taking aim at him.

Its sole source of money is the Reagan Fund, which backs Republican House candidates. And the Reagan Fund is fueled by contributions from associations of insurers, Realtors, builders, dentists and hospitals, as well as the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington D.C.

Harmsworth, a consultant for high-tech firms and Mill Creek councilman, isn’t ignored in all of this.

WEA has shelled out nearly $36,000 on mailers criticizing the Republican hopeful, though some of the material wound up at the homes of voters in Pierce County.

And the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County has spent $15,000 on mail pieces supporting Harmsworth.

The candidates themselves continue to raise and spend money at a pretty good clip.

Wilson had collected $239,388 in cash and in-kind contributions as of Wednesday morning and had spent most of it, according to the PDC website

Records show the state Democratic Party had shelled out roughly $50,000 to cover the cost of several mailers.

Harmsworth had raised $216,540 in donations and in-kind contributions and spent $199,023 as of Wednesday morning.

Nearly half of his cash contributions come from Republican organizations, while the state Republican Party picked up the tab on $63,000 worth of mailers in the past two weeks.

Not all the friction between the two candidates is generated on the campaign trail.

The Everett School District is investigating the use of cross-country runners to distribute campaign material for Wilson in mid-October and the Democratic candidate’s use of school computers to send a handful of campaign-related emails earlier this year.

Harmsworth’s campaign incited the email probe through a public records request. And it helped publicize concern of parents about the cross-country runners, eliciting rebuke from Wilson’s campaign.

Wilson did acknowledge responding to a couple emails while at work and attributed the use of student athletes as a misunderstanding.

Though neither investigation has yet found its way into electioneering materials, they lurk as an element voters may hear about in the final days of what is the most closely watched contest in Snohomish County this year.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623; and on Twitter at @dospueblos

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