There have been several strange twists to the current controversy about Rep. Matt Shea, what he said in an online chat with some folks on the right advocating violent responses to folks on the left, and when he said it.
But the most pretzel-like twist may have come from an unexpected source, the Washington State Democratic Party.
Shea, for those who don’t follow these things closely, is a Republican. So it wasn’t surprising when the state Democratic Party issued a statement condemning his participation in the chat with people talking about slamming faces of opponents into Jersey barriers, even if Shea’s main contribution was to offer to do background checks on possible adversaries.
They called for the House Republican Caucus to expel him, but that wasn’t so strange. Most people realize that if the House GOP doesn’t pay much attention to Democrats a few feet across the aisle in the House chamber, they don’t give a rat’s patootie about statements emanating from the party office in Seattle. But you gotta take a shot, right?
The strange thing they did was try to raise money off the whole Shea controversy.
It’s not shocking in 2019 that a political party will try to maximize its money intake at every opportunity. It took a fair amount of chutzpah, however, to send out a letter asking for donations with a message that “Matt Shea shows that EVERY election and EVERY vote matters,” so please click a button for the automatic online donation of your choice.
For most of Matt Shea’s six legislative elections, the state Democratic Party has done little or nothing to keep him from getting elected or re-elected. A quick review of the history:
In 2008, Shea first ran for the open seat created by Rep. Lynn Schindler’s retirement. Although this is a solid Republican district, in general there are two times when you have a chance of busting through that deep party preference. One is when there’s no incumbent in the race. The state party gave Democrat Tim Hattenberg, a county party official, a whopping $2,000, the same amount they gave the candidate running against Rep. Larry Crouse, the long-time incumbent.
In 2010, Shea was running in his first re-election campaign, which is the other time a good, well-funded candidate has a chance of breaking through that barrier. Shea ran unopposed, so not only did the state Democratic Party not spend any money there, it didn’t help find a candidate to force him to campaign. Crouse also ran unopposed that year, so apparently neither of those elections mattered to the Ds.
In 2012, the state Democrats paid the most attention – which is to say, the most money – to a race involving Shea, giving Democrat Amy Biviano, who was running a spirited campaign against him, $3,000.
In 2014, they didn’t recruit any candidate to run against Shea. It may have been a strategic decision because he faced a strong Republican challenger. But state Democrats also did not find anyone to run for the other legislative seat, which was open, so maybe they just wrote off the whole thing.
In 2016, none of Democrat Scott Stucker’s $849 came from the state Democrats. While it could be argued that Stucker wasn’t a strong candidate, if every election matters, part of making it matter is finding a candidate who is competitive. That year, Shea raised $119,000, but because of light opposition didn’t have to spend $72,000 of it, allowing him to sock that amount away into his surplus account.
In 2018, the state Ds gave a grand total of $728 to Ted Cummings, Shea’s Democratic opponent. And that wasn’t even cash, it was an in-kind contribution of a list of Democratic voters. Cummings was a candidate with some appeal to independents, but with limited financial support his percentage between the primary and the general election actually dropped slightly.
For two decades, it’s been easy for Seattle-based Democrats to write-off the 4th Legislative District – and most of Eastern Washington, for that matter – as deep red Republican territory. It allows them to avoid any responsibility for trying to change the political landscape, then look down their noses at the choices voters make.
That’s politics. Republicans do the same in some Puget Sound districts where the choice is between a liberal Democrat and a progressive Democrat. Money’s tight, you pick your fights.
It’s a bit hypocritical, though, to try to raise money off the results of that strategy. Unless of course they are going to put all the money they raise off their Shea-based pitch into next year’s campaigns in the 4th District.
Don’t bet on that.
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