Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: With friends like these, a Seattle legislative race heats up – over Matt Shea

Even though he isn’t on the ballot, state Rep. Matt Shea has a presence in the 2020 election. And not just in Spokane, where his decision not to run caused last-minute maneuvering in the candidate filings.

Now his name is being invoked in a West Side legislative race. It’s even between two Democrats, who supposedly are friends – or at least they were before they faced off against each other for an open House seat in Seattle.

To borrow from an old Ad Council public service announcement, friends don’t accuse friends of cozying up to Matt Shea.

As reported by the Seattle Times, Crosscut, the Stranger and other West Side news outlets, Sarah Reyneveld recently accused fellow Democrat Liz Berry of cozying up to Shea in a campaign mailer that stretched the boundaries of guilt by association.

“Before you vote you have a right to know,” it warns portentously. “Liz Berry is the director of a powerful special interest group whose PAC donated thousands to white nationalist and domestic terrorist Republican Representative Matt Shea.”

A black and white, somewhat blurry photo of Shea is on the mailer above a second jab: “Liz looked the other way and worked with a domestic terrorist.”

One might think she was holding the bottle while he poured in the gasoline for the Molotov cocktail.

To be clear, Berry is the executive director of the Washington State Association for Justice, an organization of lawyers, many of whom represent plaintiffs in injury, consumer, malpractice or workers cases. The association has a PAC, with the somewhat congratulatory name of Justice For All that has spread some $1.1 million around this year’s elections.

Between 2014 and 2018, Justice for All gave $5,900 to Shea, which, as legislative donations go, is not a lot of money. Considering Shea had minimal opposition in most of those campaigns, that amount was hardly the difference between him getting reelected and the Valley sending someone else to Olympia. The PAC backs mostly Democrats and their various party organizations, but can be a bit more bipartisan when it comes to fellow attorneys like Shea.

The PAC is separate from the organization, and Berry doesn’t make the decisions of who gets money. But the members feed the PAC. The last time the PAC gave money to Shea was August 2018, well before the House independent investigators report came out, but long after questions about his activities at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were well reported and some donors pulled their support.

The organization did back a Shea-sponsored bill that raised the arbitration limit to $100,000, which has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with giving lawyers a chance for a slice of a bigger settlement.

Beyond that, calling Shea a domestic terrorist is jumping pretty far ahead on that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. A legislative report raised questions about his involvement in certain activities; it was forwarded to federal prosecutors who thus far have not charged him with anything, let alone convicted him.

But for voters who’ve heard of him in the 36th District – which includes Ballard, Queen Anne, the Space Needle and parts of downtown Seattle – Shea probably makes a good boogeyman.

Berry responded with a fundraising email saying Reyneveld is her friend and she will not “attack a Democratic woman.” Then she accused her friend of sending out a slanderous mailer and wanting “to win so desperately that she will go to extreme measures to do so” and “stooping so low” – which kind of sounds like an attack, if somewhat more measured.

In her email, Berry also said their families have been friends, their kids go on play dates and they together went to the Christmas lights display at the zoo.

Just a guess, but if there are Christmas light displays to visit this year, it’s a safe bet the families will be making separate trips.

What’s the buzz?

During a Friday news conference with state officials who are homing in on the Asian giant hornet to protect the state’s honey bee population, one reporter asked how the so-called “Murder Hornets” would fare against the African killer bees. (It’s possible he’s been watching too many Saturday Night Live reruns from the mid-70s on the Peacock Streaming service.)

“It’s unknown,” managing entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger said. “The two don’t co-mingle.”

The giant hornets have entered the country from Canada, by way of Asia. The Africanized killer bees are moving north from Brazil, so it makes sense the twain have not met. But “Murder Hornets v. Killer Bees” has the makings of a great insect-themed horror movie taking place in some small town in the middle of the United States.

More from this author