Bipartisan PAC backs state candidates seeking ‘new third way’
Washington Independents believes Ann Diamond, the Mazama resident running for the state Legislature as an independent, embodies the centrist approach most voters are looking for — candidates they say fit the political culture of Washington state.
The founders of Washington Independents, a new political action committee (PAC) formed less than a year ago, envision their organization as “a new third way between Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right,” said co-chair Chris Vance. Washington Independents puts forth “logical, straightforward ideas that most Americans support,” he said.
To Vance and co-chair Brian Baird, that means pro-growth, pro-free enterprise, pro-business, socially progressive and concerned about climate change. Vance is a former Republican state representative and former Republican state party chairman. Baird is a former Democratic member of Congress.
Diamond got a call from Washington Independents “out of the blue” shortly after she declared her candidacy for the Position 1 seat representing the 12th District seat last year. “They were trying to pull together, from the extremes of parties, and find something new,” she said. She liked the fact that Washington Independents included Democrats and Republicans from across the state.
Washington Independents contacted all 30-odd candidates who registered as independents in the primary. “Three deserved our support — they’re all good candidates who were serious about running,” said Vance.
Shortly after their interview, Diamond heard from Washington Independents again. They asked if she’d like to be their first endorsement as an independent candidate.
The new PAC spent about $48,000 to promote Diamond in the primary, running its own radio and print ads and sending out mailers. The other two other candidates the PAC endorsed in the primary both lost. Washington Independents spent $5,000 on one and nothing on the other.
Diamond and Washington Independents have had virtually no contact since that initial conversation. In fact, they’re prohibited by state law from coordinating their efforts. To create ads, Washington Independents looked at Diamond’s materials and echoed the basic themes of her campaign, said Vance.
Vance wouldn’t say if the PAC will continue to support Diamond in the general election because she might see that statement, violating the ban on coordination.
Washington Independents has no set ideology, although the PAC does have a few basic requirements, including a promise from candidates not to caucus with the Democrats or Republicans, said Vance. “We are not interested in supporting fake independents — Bernie’s [Sanders] independent, but caucuses with the Democrats,” he said.
The PAC also isn’t interested in candidates who say they’re Libertarians or Greens, parties Vance described as having “weird ideas.”
“This is the difference between our movement and other third parties. We’re not interested in starting a new fringe party,” he said.
Diamond sees herself as a regional representative of eastern Washington, a perspective underscored for her at a recent summit of independents from across the United States.
“They were all looking for a different way to represent their own district. They were not united on a platform, but united on the best way to unite their region,” she said.
The summit was organized by Unite America, a nationwide group that provides training and money to help independents run, according to Vance. Unite American has endorsed 24 candidates in races for governor, Congress and statehouses across the county, including Diamond.
Being an independent is so unusual in the United States that voters and members of the political establishment can be confounded. “That’s part of this — it has never been done before, so people don’t know how to think about it,” said Diamond.
Danny Westneat, a columnist for the Seattle Times, called Diamond “a unicorn — a fantastical being that can’t possibly exist.” It’s been more than 100 years since there was a “true independent” elected to the state Legislature, he said.
The last — and only — time there was an independent in the state House of Representatives was in the very first session in 1889, when there was one independent, along with eight Democrats and 61 Republicans, according to a history of the Legislature published by the state.
Okanogan County has been part of different Legislative districts over the years, but since the county was included in the 12th District in 1972, all representatives have been Republicans. The 7th district, which includes eastern Okanogan County, last had a Democratic representative in the 1980s, but since then has been solidly Republican.
No unified platform
Being an independent doesn’t signify anything in particular. Then again, in Washington, even having a party label doesn’t necessarily mean anything, since candidates are simply asked to state a party preference when they register. But that preference doesn’t imply that the candidate has been endorsed by or has any connection with the party.
Those who want to run as unaffiliated indicate their independence in various ways — they can leave it blank, or say they’re independent or unaffiliated, said Vance. “You can make it up. You can say you prefer the Humpty Dumpty party,” he said. The only restriction is the number of characters.
The candidate-registration form gives the candidate 16 spaces to enter the name of a party, which appears on the ballot followed by the word “Party.” A candidate can also check “States No Party Preference,” as Diamond did. If a candidate enters the word “independent,” it becomes “Independent Party.”
For state and county offices in Okanogan County, having no preference is rare — 16 candidates registered as Republicans, two as Democrats, two with the Independent Party, and two with “no party preference.”
Salley Bull, who is running against Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro in District 3, is listed on the ballot as a member of the Independent Party.
In addition, in the 7th District, both Republican incumbents face a Democratic opponent for the statehouse.
An organization called the American Independent Party was established in 1967 and supported George Wallace, who ran for president on a segregationist platform, the following year. The party later split into the American Independent Party and the American Party.
Although some Washington candidates have declared a preference for the Independent Party, there is no evidence of an active party in Washington. Researchers have found that most people in Washington and other states who say they’re with the Independent Party actually wanted to identify as independent of any political party.
In the Nov. 6 general election, Diamond faces Republican Keith Goehner, an orchardist from Dryden who has served 16 years as a Chelan County commissioner. He’s also been chair of the Chelan County Republican Party.
Goehner has been endorsed by the Douglas County Republican Central Committee, which contributed $200 to his campaign. He also received $1,000 from the Mainstream Republicans of Washington PAC. According to the most-recent filing with the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), there have been no independent contributions for Goehner. He could not be reached for comment.
State and county party organizations have contribution limits based on the number of registered voters. For county party organizations, that’s 50 cents per voter, which, in the 12th Legislative district, comes to almost $39,000 per election (primary and general). These limits apply to advertising coordinated directly with a candidate, said Kim Bradford, a PDC spokesperson.
PACs, individuals and businesses who campaign for or against a candidate — without coordination or collaboration — face no financial limits. All their contributions and expenditures must be reported to the PDC.
Beyond support from PACs, as of this week Diamond’s campaign had raised $89,000 and spent $63,000. Goehner’s had raised $52,000 and spent $43,000.
Washington Independents hopes its approach will appeal to voters who usually pick the lesser of two evils. “We want to give people another choice in the middle, which is where most Americans are,” said Vance.