WENATCHEE – In the former church that for two weeks has been the battlefield in the governor’s-election showdown, most of the regulars are paid to be there.
The lawyers are racking up billable hours. The reporters are living on newspaper expense accounts. And the crowd is dotted with party veterans and consultants who make their living turning the gears of politics.
But each day also draws at least two dozen people with no obvious stake in the legal combat. They’re mostly retirees, some from as far away as the Olympic Peninsula, who daily endure the old wooden seats and hours of charts and statistics.
“This is history in the making. You would think people would be a little more concerned,” said Port Orchard retiree Glenna Bailey, who spent most of last week watching the trial. En route, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to get a seat. In fact, the room has been less than half full.
“I thought the place would be swamped,” she said.
“What an opportunity,” said Aleta Baldridge, an East Wenatchee retiree.
Like Bailey, Baldridge is a Republican. She’s unhappy that Democrat Christine Gregoire was declared the winner – by 129 votes – over Republican Dino Rossi.
“We’re really glad that the sunshine and the light of day is finally being spread over what happens in this state,” she said. “After sitting here for two weeks listening to this testimony, we all know that things have been awry.”
Not everyone agreed.
“I’ve been following this since last fall,” said Democrat Susan Freiberg, an archaeologist who’s between jobs. “It’s maddening that it’s gotten this far. The Rossi campaign should have dropped it.”
Freiberg held a small notebook, full of two weeks of her notes from the trial. Tired of seeing herself in news photos, Freiberg hid behind the notebook when camera lenses panned the crowd.
Yes, the margin was close and errors were made, she said. But there’s no such thing as a perfect election. And she feels – as do the Democratic Party’s attorneys – that Republicans and their experts “cherry-picked” evidence of errors to suggest that Rossi should have won.
Judge John Bridges has said that he’ll issue an oral ruling in the case Monday morning.
“I think Rossi has the edge, just because of the testimony from the quote, unquote experts,” said Leo Marrs, a retired pulp mill accountant who spent most of this week watching the case.
“I think he (Judge Bridges) will throw the election out,” said Bailey. “How can you let an election stand with that many errors and that slim a margin?”
Sitting in the back row, Gordon Ellis was hoping for a different outcome.
“I think it’s going to be difficult to overturn an election,” said Ellis, Democratic Party chairman in Lincoln County, which is about 80 percent Republican. “We didn’t see anything like skulduggery.”
“It’s setting a bad precedent for an election to be decided by a single judge,” she said.
The regulars in the crowd acknowledged that every minute hasn’t been riveting. “Perry Mason” moments have been few and far between, with much of the testimony consisting of reports from dueling statisticians and forays deep into the details of election procedures.
“It’s basically pretty boring,” confessed Marrs, the retired accountant. “But I’ve got nothing else to do. Got my lawn mowed.”
“If it gets a little boring,” Bailey said, “I do a little crocheting.”
But she and the other stalwarts in the crowd repeatedly said the same thing: Despite some slow moments, the trial matters.
“I’ll tell you this,” said Baldridge. “I’ll bet you that our next election is run a lot better.”