September 13, 2012 in City

Doug Clark: Write-in campaign nets ballot spot

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington’s most unlikely candidate rolled into Spokane this week on a campaign swing.

The name is Sharon Hanek, a West Sider who lives in Pierce County.

Thanks to her crafty use of the election law, she’s also the Republican candidate for state treasurer.

I asked Hanek to meet me at a South Hill Starbucks for coffee and chitchat, but not for purposes of endorsement.

The Clark column does not take sides in political races.

Not without substantial incentives, anyway.

There are a lot of compelling things about Candidate Hanek.

Her entourage consists of a 2006 Camry with 200,000 miles on it.

The 4-foot-10-inch mother of three has no press aides to keep her away from pests like me.

She has no real war chest. She uses recycled campaign signs.

Really.

She ran unsuccessfully for the House four years ago. Not wanting to waste her leftovers, she covers up the “state representative” part and applies a red “state treasurer” sticker.

But what really intrigues me about Hanek, 56, is how she used a write-in candidacy to get her name on the November ballot.

This is the first time, I am told, that any state candidate has successfully used such a write-in campaign to make the general election ballot.

More on that in a second.

Like most voters, I’m pretty much clueless when it comes to what the state treasurer does.

In terms of sex appeal, becoming treasurer is right up there with hitting a scratch ticket for a two-buck winner.

As for job qualifications, the treasurer must be able to add, subtract and probably keep track of all bribes coming in and payoffs going out of Olympia.

“Hopefully, there won’t be any of that,” said Hanek with a chuckle after she picked up her coffee and sat down.

The odds, as you might expect, are not with the write-in runner.

Hanek needed to convince 1 percent of Washington’s voters to scratch her name on their primary ballots.

That she wound up with more than 3 percent, or about 32,000 votes, is damned amazing.

Take a guy like me, for example. I usually vote while I’m on the couch watching reruns of “Storage Wars.”

It’s daunting enough to get all the circles filled, let alone write in somebody’s name.

To understand how Hanek did what she did requires some political expertise. Unfortunately, you only have me, but I’ll do my best.

See, in the old days primaries were all about the parties.

Voters could choose from this batch of Republicans or that batch of Democrats with the occasional batch of Libertarians or Communists sprinkled in for comic relief.

The winner from each party would then go on to tell horrible lies about each other until the voting finale in November.

God bless America.

Things changed significantly around here about five years ago. Today’s primary is all about the top two finishers, regardless of party, ideology or personal hygiene.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s say there’s an incumbent slumbering unopposed in the primary and you’d like to steal the job.

You have two choices: pay the filing fee or collect enough valid signatures.

That gives you the green light to run a legitimate write-in candidacy.

I use the word legitimate to differentiate from the usual comical write-ins that include Pee-wee Herman, Darth Vader and, sometimes, even Me.

But if you do your due diligence, garner the aforementioned 1 percent of the vote and finish second – no matter how distant – guess what?

Yep. You’ve made the Big November Show and have a shot at winning it all.

Hanek will face Democrat Jim McIntire, the incumbent.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, can this upstart have any chance to win?

Well, aside from being quite nice, she is a former CPA who knows a lot about numbers and finance and stuff I never paid attention to, which is why I’m stuck doing this for a living.

“If I’m a penny off, I go back and look for it,” she said.

Buy high, sell low – that’s my motto.

Urged by friends at the state Republican convention, Hanek decided to try the write-in method. She put the word out about her candidacy via the Internet and it worked.

That said, a win or a loss might boil down to what sort of political year it turns out to be.

Ask Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase.

The Republican pulled off the same primary write-in stunt two years ago, only on a county level.

Chase, a well-known political activist, went on to knock off Democratic incumbent Skip Chilberg in the general.

But 2010 was a bonanza for the GOP, if you recall.

“All the stars lined up,” said Chase, who called what Hanek accomplished huge.

“It shows you can achieve the impossible.”

Hanek, who is of Japanese descent, laughed when she told me that a win would make her Washington’s first female minority write-in candidate to become treasurer.

Not that anybody’s paying attention. “This is my first interview with anybody really important,” Hanek said.

Really important?

If that isn’t a cry for help, it’ll do until a better one comes along.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.

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