By Sandy Robson
June 1, 2019
Whatcom County Council Chair Rud Browne announced in a press release on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, that he had withdrawn from the 40th Legislative District (LD) state Senate race. Browne, who resides in Bellingham, Washington, had filed to run for state Senate on Friday, May 17 at 3:44 PM, according to the listed 2019 candidate filings posted on the Whatcom County Auditor’s website.
While the news of Browne’s abrupt withdrawal from candidacy was unexpected and a surprise to some followers of local politics, the fact that he chose to also combine in his announcement, his public endorsement for current state Senator Liz Lovelett, who is also running in this year’s primary election race for 40th LD Senate, appeared odd in terms of the timing.
Senator Lovelett (D-Anacortes) was appointed in February of this year to fill the state Senate seat vacated by then-Senator Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) after he resigned on January 11, 2019 amid improper conduct and sexual harassment allegations. His resignation occurred shortly before the release of findings which resulted from an investigation initiated last fall by the Washington Senate.
The winner of this year’s 40th LD Senate race will serve out the remaining year of Ranker’s term which ends in 2020.
Last year, Browne announced his candidacy for the 40th LD House seat on March 17, 2018. It had been just two months since he was sworn into office as a County Council member for a 4-year term in January 2018, after having been re-elected in the November 2017 general election.
This year marks the second year of Browne’s 4-year County Council term, during which he filed, on May 17, to run for the 40th LD Senate seat.
A seemingly hasty endorsement
In terms of Browne’s endorsement of Lovelett, he is certainly entitled to support whichever candidate he may choose, however, his seemingly hasty endorsement of Lovelett is troubling in a couple of notable ways.
In his endorsement announcement of Lovelett, Browne said that he reached out to see how much she shared his concerns for some of the issues important to him, and that after a good discussion, he decided to endorse her. He added that Lovelett has also served in local government which he said he believes is “prerequisite to being an effective State Legislator.”
According to her campaign website:
“Liz Lovelett is an involved, dedicated, informed, articulate leader in the 40th Legislative District. As a fifth generation Fidalgo Island resident, Liz is rooted and invested in her community. She served Anacortes as a city council member for five years and was appointed to the Washington State Senate in 2019. She is an advocate for affordable housing, environmental justice, public safety, and is a conduit between local and state government.”
Browne, in his endorsement announcement, did not say whether he also reached out to speak with the other two Democratic candidates running in the primary race for the 40th LD Senate seat: Carrie Blackwood and Greta Aitken.
Carrie Blackwood states on her campaign website:
“I am a labor and employment law attorney, a skilled community organizer, accomplished negotiator, relentless advocate, coalition builder, educator, a Chicana, and a mother. I live in Bellingham with my husband and two children.”
According to Greta Aitken’s campaign Facebook page, she was born in Lima, Peru, and lives in Burlington, Washington. Her professional experience includes:
“State Certified Spanish Interpreter; a Notary Public, managed a taxpreparation and check cashing business for 15+ years in Pierce and Skagit County; worked as Social Worker, interpreter for attorneys, detainees and jails, hospitals, courts; Counseling Case Manager meeting needs of substance abuse families; intern at Sinclair Broadcasting Television at KATU in Portland, Oregon.”
The Searchlight Review contacted Carrie Blackwood and Greta Aitken on May 27, 2019 to see if Browne had reached out to them to speak with them prior to his announcement endorsing Lovelett, so that he could better evaluate whether they would be a candidate whom he might select to endorse.
Blackwood responded via telephone on May 27, and said that as soon as she was aware of Browne’s withdrawal from the race, she reached out to him, via telephone, and believes that was sometime around midday on Monday, May 20. She recounted her phone call with Browne, saying she respectfully expressed to him that she would hope to earn his endorsement.
The Searchlight Review asked Blackwood if Browne had asked her any questions in any kind of attempt to evaluate whether she would be a candidate whom he might select to endorse. She said, “There didn’t seem to be an opening for any kind of discussion — or interest.”
Greta Aitken did not respond to The Searchlight Review’s inquiry.
Rud Browne was also contacted by The Searchlight Review on May 27, via email, to ask if he had reached out to Blackwood and Aitken to speak with them prior to his announcement endorsing Lovelett, and if so, did he get to speak with them to evaluate whether they would be candidates whom he might select to endorse.
Browne requests Whatcom Dems’ email list
The email inquiry with Browne included some additional questions resulting from an understanding that he had reached out to the Whatcom Democrats and requested an email list from their organization that he could use to send out his announcement of his candidacy withdrawal and endorsement of Liz Lovelett.
Browne was asked to confirm if that understanding was correct, and was asked three related questions:
- If so, what exactly was the list you requested from the Whatcom Dems?
- Did the Whatcom Dems provide an email list to you? If so, what kind of email list was it?
- If you were given an email list by the Whatcom Dems did you send out your announcement to the names on that list?
Browne responded with this overall statement:
“As most State Legislation enacted directly impacts local governments I believe as many other local elected’s do that the most effective members of the State Legislative are those who have first served in local government.
“As Liz Lovelett is the only Democrat running that has any local government experience I am satisfied she was the most qualified of the three.
“As for the question about the Whatcom Dems email list, I neither asked for, nor did I use their list for my endorsement of Liz Lovelett. I did however send it to the press and about three Dem group email addresses.”
Browne’s response did not directly answer the first two questions about whether or not he had reached out to the other two Democratic candidates to speak with them prior to him announcing his endorsement of Lovelett. It’s unclear why, in his email response, he did not mention that Carrie Blackwood had reached out to him on Monday, May 20, and that he had spoken briefly with her that day.
Even though Browne maintains he did not request or use the Whatcom Democrats’ email list for his endorsement of Lovelett, for whatever reason, in his email response, he did not acknowledge that he, in fact, did contact the Whatcom Democrats and asked for their organization’s email list.
In a May 28 telephone interview with Whatcom Democrats Chair Andrew Reding, he told The Searchlight Review that Browne had contacted him and requested the Whatcom Democrats’ email list.* Reding said that proprietary email list consists of members of the Whatcom Democrats and includes anyone who requested to be on their email list. When asked if Browne mentioned why he was requesting the list, Reding said, “He just asked for the list and did not say it was for any purpose.”
Asked if he provided the Whatcom Democrats’ email list to Browne, Reding said, “No, the list is only available to certified Democrat candidates.” He explained that Browne did not get certified as a Democrat as he has not applied for that certification by the Whatcom Democrats.
It is still unclear why Browne asked for the Whatcom Democrats’ email list. Keeping in mind that he filed to run for 40th LD Senate in the afternoon (3:44 PM) on Friday, May 17, and then had withdrawn from the race the following business day, Monday, May 20, sometime around midday, it seems unlikely that Browne’s request for the email list would have been for his 40th LD Senate campaign.
Browne’s 2018 late, lackluster endorsement of fellow Democrat
Moving on, the second reason that Browne’s speedy endorsement of Lovelett is troubling stems from what occurred in last year’s 40th LD House seat race.
After losing in the August 7, 2018 primary election for the 40th LD House seat, Browne had waited until November 1, 2018, only five days prior to Election Day during the November 6, 2018 general election, before finally endorsing fellow Democrat, Debra Lekanoff, for the 40th LD House seat.
According to a 2018 press release that was posted on her campaign website, “Lekanoff grew up in Yakutat, Alaska. She is Alaska Native, part Tlingit and Aleut and of the Seal and Salmon tribes, respectfully.” Lekanoff lives in Skagit County which is within the 40th legislative district.
Browne’s November 1, 2018 Facebook post announcing his endorsement of Debra Lekanoff seemed less an endorsement, and more like a defensive response to some Whatcom Countians who, at that time, were voicing their disapproval of a campaign mailer Browne’s campaign sent out to voters in the 40th LD shortly before the August 7, 2018, primary election.
The disapproval expressed by some people was due to Browne’s campaign mailer which they felt was a negative attack on a fellow Democrat. And, the mailer was aimed, among other things, at Lekanoff and the campaign contributions coming from Native American Tribes and Nations.
What’s behind an endorsement?
The headline of Browne’s November 1, 2018 Facebook post read: “Why I have decided to endorse Debra Lekanoff.”
Browne’s so-called endorsement consisted of seven paragraphs. It contained numerous detailed statements about how racially and gender diverse an employer he has been, and how he has “supported many women & minorities running for office, donating time and money to multiple causes intended to encourage racial, religious and gender equality.”
His endorsement of Lekanoff also included an explanation, perhaps an attempted justification, of why he had not thrown his support behind her much earlier.
In the seventh and last paragraph of Browne’s endorsement of Lekanoff, he finally stopped talking about himself, and got to the actual endorsement, albeit a lackluster one:
“Though Debra Lekanoff and I differ on many things, we agree on many more. I endorse her for the 40th District House race.”
That was it — Browne’s failed attempt at an endorsement of his fellow Democrat, Debra Lekanoff, a woman of color, who, if elected, would be the first Native American woman to ever serve in our state’s House of Representatives.
What appears to be at the bitter root of Browne’s 2018 endorsement of Lekanoff was an effort to serve the endorser, more than the endorsee.
Looking now at his recent endorsement of Lovelett, it raises the question of whether it may have been to serve Browne, more than to serve Lovelett. It will be interesting to see if Browne ends up running for a 40th LD House seat next year, and what state level backing he may receive.
Lekanoff was victorious not only in having been elected in the November 6, 2018 general election to serve as the new state representative for the 40th LD, but also in surviving the existing racism in our country, state, and counties that was hurled at her, and in thriving despite that.
Much of the hurling was done by her Republican opponent in the 40th LD House race, Michael Petrish, of Anacortes. While campaigning, Petrish made multiple bigoted remarks about Native Americans and made anti-tribal treaty/anti-tribal sovereignty remarks.
What seemed to surprise local Democrats in both Whatcom and Skagit counties even more than Petrish’s exhibited bigotry, was what another Democrat who also had run in the 40th LD House seat primary race, Tom Pasma, a Bow resident, did after losing in the August 7, 2018 primary.
In early September of 2018, Petrish’s campaign had sent out a campaign mailer to some registered voters in the 40th LD, advertising his September 19, 2018 town hall. The mailer featured Pasma, who at that time was the State Committeeman for the Washington State Democrats from the 40th Legislative District, publicly endorsing the Republican candidate, Petrish.
The front side of the mailer advertised that Pasma, a “Prominent Longtime Democrat,” would be the featured speaker at the Republican candidate, Petrish’s town hall.
The back side of the mailer stated that “Michael Will Represent You, Not Special Interests.” Those special interests were identified in the mailer as “tribal special interests.” In the section referencing Lekanoff on the back side of Petrish’s mailer, the word “tribal” was used four times.
So, here was Pasma, a leader in the local Democratic Party who chose to throw his support behind a Republican candidate, not to mention a bigot, rather than choosing to support a Democratic woman of color with over two decades of experience as a public servant.
Now, here we are in this 2019 primary election race for the 40th LD Senate seat in which there are three Democratic candidates and one Republican candidate running — Browne, immediately upon withdrawing from this primary race, throws his support behind one of those three Democratic candidates.
It’s frustrating to see Browne make this rapid endorsement decision without first reaching out to all of his fellow Democrats who are running for 40th LD Senate, and before the primary election season even really gets into gear. Yet, last year during the general election, when it was a fellow Democrat, who is a woman of color, running against a bigoted Republican candidate, Browne waited until there were only five days left before Election Day to finally throw his support behind his fellow Democrat.
A ‘prerequisite’ of prior government service is a barrier
One last thought on all of this. Browne said in his endorsement that Lovelett “has also served in local government” which he believes is “prerequisite to being an effective State Legislator.” And, in his statement responding to The Searchlight Review’s questions, Browne said: “As Liz Lovelett is the only Democrat running that has any local government experience I am satisfied she was the most qualified of the three.”
The attitude that prior service/experience in local government is necessary for candidates to be an effective legislator is another barrier that keeps individuals who want to represent underrepresented people and communities from being able to do so now, not later.
When a young Bronx-born Puerto Rican Democrat from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was running for Congress in 2018, some people said, She can’t just go from working as a waitress and bartender with no prior elected experience, to run for, and serve, in the U.S. Congress. Her background and experience, of course, consisted of so much more than that narrow-minded view.
Representative Ocasio-Cortez certainly proved those naysayers wrong after getting elected in November 2018, and since starting her term this year serving in Congress, as she has already set things on fire, in a good way, and in a way that’s been needed for quite a while.
Here’s to more of that — removing barriers — and encouraging and enabling all kinds of talented, capable people to participate and succeed in politics.
*Update (June 5, 2019) specific to the information provided by Whatcom Democrats Chair Andrew Reding to The Searchlight Review during his May 28, 2019 telephone interview conducted in relation to this article:
The Searchlight Review was contacted, via email, on June 4, 2019 by Rud Browne. In his email, Mr. Browne said he had spoken to Andrew Reding about what Mr. Browne asserts is the difference between his statement he provided, via email, to The Searchlight Review (which is published in the article) in which he said, he sent his press release “to the press and about three Dem group email addresses,” and what The Searchlight Review quoted Mr. Reding as having said. Mr. Browne asserts that his own account he provided was accurate.
After receiving Mr. Browne’s June 4 email, The Searchlight Review contacted Andrew Reding on June 4, 2019, and spoke with him, via telephone, and read back to him the notes taken during his telephone interview conducted on May 28, 2019, some of which were included in the article. The Searchlight Review asked Mr. Reding to point out anything read back to him that he would consider to be a misinterpretation of the record of what he told The Searchlight Review in that May 28 telephone interview. Mr. Reding said that all of the information read back to him regarding the record of that May 28 phone conversation was correct, and that none of that information been misinterpreted by The Searchlight Review. However, Mr. Reding also told The Searchlight Review in his June 4 telephone call that when he had answered the questions asked of him during his May 28 telephone interview, he must have recollected things incorrectly when he was recounting that information to The Searchlight Review.