State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, and his Republican challenger, Michelle Caldier of Port Orchard, engaged in two robust debates last week on the issues. One of the debates was in Bremerton on Tuesday. The other was in Gig Harbor on Thursday. They have at least three more forums scheduled before the election.
Before that they sat in the same room for an Aug. 29 meeting with the Kitsap Sun editorial board. In all those meetings they focused on issues one of them will try to tackle as a legislator in Olympia in 2015.
An incident after the editorial board meeting launched a side show that has picked up steam. Caldier said Seaquist is trying to intimidate her. Seaquist said Caldier’s allegations are false and that he is consulting with an attorney. Both say they want the escalation to stop.
For the Kitsap Sun meeting both candidates had driven their cars, with Caldier parking directly in front of Seaquist. After the meeting they separated to their cars and Seaquist took at least a couple of photos. Caldier said he did it as she was getting into her car. He said that is not true, that she was in the car when he snapped the shots.
Seaquist said he was checking messages on his phone when he saw the the trunk open on Caldier’s car and the hard top slide into the trunk. He said he hadn’t seen a hard-top convertible in some time and wanted to snap a quick photo to discuss the car with someone he knows. The model of the car was prominent on the car’s tail section and he said he knew he would never remember it. So he took a shot.
Caldier confronted him about the photo and both agree he acknowledged snapping a picture. Her recollection of the conversation afterward was a little fuzzy this week, but he said she complained that she had been photographed at her house. He said he told her it wasn’t anyone doing it on his behalf.
On Sept. 2, four days later, Caldier posted a Facebook entry reading: “I came out of a candidate interview and saw Rep. Larry Seaquest, my opponent, taking pictures of me as I got into my car. Wow…. I felt like I was being stalked!” Some of her Facebook friends described that as “creepy” or “gross,” and some suggested it was an act of desperation.
On Sept. 5, three days after the Facebook post and a week after Seaquist took the photo, she filed a report with the Bremerton Police Department. The report includes a couple of statements Caldier said do not reflect what she told police. The report said Caldier told police Seaquist had taken other photos of Caldier in the past and that he just laughed at her when she asked him why he was snapping more pictures. On Friday she said she told police other people had snapped pictures, that Aug. 29 was the first time Seaquist himself had done it. Also, she said Seaquist did talk to her about the photos when she confronted him.
Both candidates question the other’s motives in the incident. Caldier said she doesn’t believe his story that he was impressed with the car because she believes he has seen it before. She said it’s another chapter in a long history of the opposition trying to intimidate her. Seaquist said he hadn’t seen her car before and that he did nothing wrong, that his sole interest was the car and that Caldier is falsifying what happened to turn it into a campaign issue.
Candidates can expect to have their photos taken in odd places, to be followed. One of the comments on Caldier’s Facebook post came from state Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, who wrote: “They pulled that on me all last run. I was followed frequently and many other weird things. What a journey.”
Keith Schipper, Angel’s communications director in the 2013 campaign, said he was tasked by the state Republican party to track Angel’s opponent, Nathan Schlicher, for part of that campaign. A tracker’s job is primarily to go to all the opponent’s events possible and to film, seeing if a candidate can be caught saying one thing to one group and something else to another. Or, if the tracking yields real gold, the candidate has a “Macaca” moment, a reference to the 2006 Virginia Senate race when Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen referred to a Democratic operative as “Macaca,” which he said was gibberish, but Democrats said was an intentional racial slur. Allen lost the election.
Schipper, who also tracked Jay Inslee in 2012 when he ran for governor and is working on Republican legislative campaigns again this year, said officials from the candidate and the party are mostly polite to the opposition tracker. It’s the people hosting the events who can get hostile. So parties’ and candidates’ campaigns in larger races typically know better than to hassle the tracker.
The 2013 26th District Senate race was unique, though, in how high profile it was for a legislative race. That each side employed trackers was because it was so high stakes. It was the most expensive legislative race in state history. It was the only Republican-Democrat race in the state and affected the balance of power in Olympia. Both candidates said they were followed.
That race was a legislative exception. The Seaquist-Caldier race, while close, is unlikely to draw so much attention that the state party would employ operatives. And even if the state party did, taking pictures at a candidate’s house is unlikely.
Nonetheless, Caldier said that when she was living in a home she rented before she bought her current home she saw people taking pictures of her at her house. She said some were also taking pictures of her sister. And one day a neighbor caught people going through her mail. Since Caldier recently returned to Kitsap County after years living in Kenmore, it’s possible someone supporting Seaquist was trying to investigate whether she deserved a residency challenge.
You might remember the private investigation that went into former County Commissioner Josh Brown’s residency during his first run. When Lary Coppola ran for mayor he found matches stuck in his door, presumably a tactic to see whether he lived where he claimed his residence.
If the Caldier mail incident was campaign related, Schipper and Fred Finn, who represented the 35th Legislative District as a Democrat for four years, said it was unlikely it was ordered by the party or Seaquist’s campaign. Schipper likened it to supporters who go out and vandalize campaign signs, adding it would more likely be a supporter going rogue. Finn agreed. “Sometimes supporters have more energy and enthusiasm than common sense,” Finn said. “I can’t imagine it’s anything organized.”
Whatever motive Seaquist had in taking the picture, it is unusual for a candidate to be taking a photo of another candidate. “You don’t ever see candidates doing that to each other,” Schipper said. “You don’t see their staff members doing it.”
Caldier again looked at the incident in context of the whole campaign. “I’ll take a lot, but this one was kind of the last straw. This is moving forward to November and it feels like the behavior is escalating,” she said. “I want the behavior to stop. I would never take pictures of him without asking his permission. For him to be sitting in his car taking photos of me without asking my permission is wrong.”
Seaquist makes no apologies and said he has no interest in meeting with Caldier to resolve the issue. “Everything here has been created and invented by Dr. Caldier. Nothing here was started by me,” he said. “This is not a misunderstanding on my part. This is entirely a creation of hers. I have done nothing intimidating.”
Particularly galling to Seaquist was another single assertion in the police report. Caldier, when told Seaquist had not committed any crime, said his action concerned her because “she has been told that Seaquist had been violent in the past with people.”
On Friday Caldier said that comment referred to what she heard from Marlyn Jensen, a Gig Harbor Republican who ran against Seaquist in 2008. Jensen, also contacted Friday, said her relationship with Seaquist was fine during the 2008 campaign, but repeated a charge she made in newspapers in 2009, that when she went to Olympia to lobby on a couple of issues he yelled at her in his office. She was lobbying on a property rights issue and neither he nor his legislative assistant were there when she went by, so she and others left bags of dirt from their properties with a handwritten note urging Seaquist to vote for property owners.
A few days later Jensen returned to Olympia to lobby on another issue and said she went back to his office and was told by his receptionist to go in. She said Seaquist berated her for leaving the dirt. On Friday she repeated what she said five years ago, that she feared for her safety.
In 2009 Seaquist denied he did anything to make her fear for her safety. He said he can be firm, but invited anyone to call any legislator or member of a Navy crew he was ever affiliated with and that they will confirm that he is “famous for being calm and cool under pressure.”
Caldier said she filed the police report to end the escalation of intimidation. Seaquist doesn’t believe that, because the final statement in the report is, “Caldier does not want Seaquist contacted.” He said he thinks that’s evidence she plans to use the police report to escalate her own personal campaign against him.
Seaquist said he is “prepared to launch a lawsuit. The very essence of my character is being challenged.”
At their core you have two candidates who have fundamentally different ideas about how state government should operate. That might be the focus of the remaining campaign.
In 2013, during the most expensive legislative race in history the campaign became particularly nasty. Angel accused Schlicher of taking the low road with his ad that said she would cut mammograms. Schlicher took exception to campaigns targeting him for voting for budgets he said she voted for, too.
Schlicher’s backers put out ads saying Angel supported tax breaks first for A. deceased millionaires and B. big oil companies over education for kids. Angel’s supporters advertised that Schlicher was against early reading intervention for children because a contributor didn’t like it and that he opposed a 2/3 majority for tax increases.
All of those arguments mischaracterized the opponents’ positions, but anyone willing to make a concerted study at least could look at those claims and make a calculation as to where the candidate stood on issues that would face the Legislature. A resident of the 26th might not have appreciated the inundation of advertising that blanketed the district, but do you think that same resident might not prefer that to what we’re seeing in the 26th Legislative District Position 2 race this year?