If there’s a clue to what transpired in the recent 12th legislative district Senate race, it might be found in one line from a newspaper ad placed by winner Brad Hawkins: “Puts public service before politics.”
In the 12th District contest, Republican Party leadership decided, one could arguably conclude from the voters’ perspective, to put politics before public service — which may partly explain why Hawkins was a decisive winner over fellow Republican Jon Wyss. Hawkins, who lives in East Wenatchee, drew more than 60 percent of the votes in Okanogan County — where Wyss lives — and about 56 percent of the votes district-wide.
Hawkins won despite the active opposition of other Republicans including retiring Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, whose position he will fill, and 12th District Rep. Cary Condotta (who was re-elected).
The internal falling out in the 12th District surprised me, I have to admit. The knock against Hawkins, according to his opponents, was that he was unprepared, inattentive, absent too often and not best friends with everyone in the Republican caucus. In an endorsement for Wyss, Parlette cited what she called the need for “more teamwork and more self-discipline … and having the right temperament.”
I’m still trying to figure out what all that means. It sounds like a report card note along the lines of “doesn’t work or play well with others.”
Maybe I’m missing something here. But if so, 56 percent of the voters in District 12 either missed it too, or didn’t care. I don’t know if the electorate paid much attention to the endorsement skirmishes and internecine party warfare, but it seemed not to make much difference in the voters’ view — whereas Hawkins’ performance did seem to make a difference.
As a 12th District state representative for the past four years, Hawkins has been visible and active in responding to constituents’ local needs, particularly after the fires of 2014 and 2015. He showed up, listened and then tried to make things happen in Olympia.
Hawkins may have some ideological beliefs that put him squarely in the conservative camp, but if so we rarely saw evidence. I really don’t know if he is considered a party loyalist, but he apparently wasn’t suitably loyal for the Republican establishment.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because something similar happened in the District 2 Okanogan County commissioner race in 2012. The Republicans targeted two-term incumbent Bud Hover for elimination and found another Republican candidate to challenge him. Ray Campbell won that race by mere handful of votes. In an ironic reversal, Hover’s son Andy (also a Republican) took the District 2 seat back in the recent general election after Campbell was eliminated in the primary.
Hawkins, like Bud Hover before him, apparently wasn’t Republican enough — whatever that means in Washington state, whose statewide office candidates have rarely been successful in recent years given the heavily “blue” bent of the west side.
Wyss was a credible candidate with worthy credentials and deep Okanogan County connections. That may have actually worked against him in one sense. Wyss works for Gebbers Farms, which was in the news last year when it requested vacation of Three Devils Road. The public uproar was substantial, but the county commissioners approved the vacation anyway over angry opposition. I’m certain that decision had something to do with the defeat of the two incumbent commissioners — Campbell and District 1’s Sheilah Kennedy — who voted in favor of the vacation. It was widely perceived as a favor to the company and a slap in the face to the public. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that resentment washed over Wyss, fairly or not.
In my time here I’ve come to believe, and have said often, that the 12th District has been well-represented in Olympia. I have always liked and respected Parlette, Condotta and Hawkins and regarded them as approachable, reliable public servants. I have no idea where they fall on the mainstream-to-Tea Party spectrum and frankly don’t care as long as they stay tuned into and prioritize our local needs as well as the state’s biggest issues.
Hawkins has made a point of doing just that, which his House of Representatives replacement in the 12th District, Mike Steele, would do well to take note of.