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Senn Hangs On To State Insurance Post

Statewide offices

State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn survived a looming scandal and won another term Tuesday.

In the battle to lead the state’s public schools, former union leader Terry Bergeson clobbered maverick millionaire Ron Taber.

Senn won re-election easily despite stumbling last month when the public learned she was under investigation by the state auditor’s office.

Senn apparently converted the public heat into campaign cash, raising more than $400,000 that she used to advertise her pledge to “Put Consumers First!”

“People cut through a lot of the commotion,” Senn said Tuesday night. “They told me again and again, ‘We know you’re being attacked, and we like the fact you have the guts to stand up on behalf of consumers.”’

Senn was one of five state office holders to successfully defend their jobs Tuesday. Not a single incumbent lost.

Senn, 47, pulled off her re-election bid with almost no contributions from anyone she regulates.

The industry not only didn’t back Senn, but some of the state’s biggest companies are suing her for rejecting their rate increases. She is often accused of driving insurers out of the state.

The industry’s candidate was Republican Anthony Lowe, a King County deputy prosecutor who called Senn a hostile tyrant, and bad for consumers.

Lowe, 35, said he could lower rates by increasing competition for the insurance dollar.

The race tightened to a dead heat last month, according to polls, after allegations surfaced that Senn bullies employees, hires unqualified friends and shreds documents.

The charges were such that one West Side newspaper called Senn “Nixonian” in her quest for power.

Senn adamantly denied the charges calling them rehashed, bogus allegations by disgruntled employees. Senn also said she expected the fury around her office to pass with the election.

Lowe sounded disillusioned by the verdict Tuesday.

“I’m concerned that some of the issues of truth and integrity and good government didn’t seem to matter to the voters,” Lowe said. “If people aren’t interested in that, I don’t know that I’m interested in working in government.”

In the schools superintendent race, Bergeson, 54, won handily against the self-financed Taber, a millionaire who advocated rewiring the state’s education system.

Bergeson is a lifelong educator and union leader.

She worked as a teacher in Alaska and Massachusetts, a school counselor in Tacoma, and an administrator in Kitsap County. She’s also past president of the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union.

“I think this shows people want someone who’s for kids and not for dismantling the system,” Bergeson said Tuesday night. “We can’t attack people and expect them to be partners in improving education for our children.”

Bergeson’s opponent, Taber, called her a stooge of the liberal education establishment and its “radical experiments with our children’s education.”

While Taber railed against public schools and teachers’ unions, Bergeson often ended campaign speeches with phrases like, “I’m proud of my profession!”

Taber, 54, is a retired businessman who made his fortune off low-income apartments.

He was criticized and mocked for some of his comments, such as suggesting student drug dealers should be caned, and calling Spanish the language of dishwashers and fruit pickers.

Bergeson accused Taber of trying to buy the election after he pumped more than $500,000 into his own campaign. But Taber’s money didn’t buy him more than 40 percent of the vote.

In other state races:

Lands Commissioner: Jennifer Belcher will continue to oversee the state’s public lands after beating a former employee who questioned her competence.

Republican Bruce Mackey was one of Belcher’s top managers when he quit the state Department of Natural Resources in May. Mackey said he could no longer stomach working for the first-term Democrat who manages five-million acres of state land.

Auditor: Democrat Brian Sonntag won a second term by beating Republican challenger Robert B. Keene Jr.

Sonntag was re-elected with about 55 percent of the vote while spending less campaign cash than any other statewide winner.

The auditor is the state’s watchdog, with the freedom to investigate fraud, waste and abuse by state officials.

Attorney general: Christine Gregoire coasted to victory over Republican challenger Richard Pope, winning her second term as the state’s top attorney with more than 60 percent of the votes.

Treasurer: Democrat Mike Murphy beat Republican Lucy Deyoung in the race to oversee the state’s books. Murphy fills the seat left vacant by outgoing Dan Grimm.

Lieutenant governor: Democrat Brad Owen won a tight race against Republican Ann Anderson. Both Anderson and Owen are veteran state legislators.

The job they seek calls for presiding over the Senate, and assuming the role of governor if the incumbent dies.

Secretary of state: Republican Ralph Munro sailed to re-election Tuesday with about two-thirds of the vote against Democrat challenger Phyllis Kenney.

The secretary serves as the state’s top elections officer and handles corporate filings.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo