Despite a full slate challenging the state Supreme Court justices up for election — and a whole lot of Richie Rich-tier money being thrown at TV stations for commercials — all incumbents are retaining their seats, according to preliminary results.
That includes Justice Charlie Wiggins, of Bainbridge Island, who was hit with a last-minute advertising push to the tune of about $1 million on behalf of his opponent, Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Dave Larson.
The ads were paid for by two business PACs using the good cop vs. bad cop routine: one bought ads praising Larson, one bought ads slamming Wiggins for his vote in a criminal law case.
However, it wasn’t likely the criminal law case that drew the ire of Washington state’s wealthiest. The slate of challengers was critical of the court’s rulings on education funding and striking down charter schools. Business leaders are also not too enthused about the court’s ruling on a $15 minimum wage case.
This spending put Wiggins in the hot seat, and made him appear to be the most vulnerable of the three justices up for consideration in the general election.
You might also think Wiggins was hobbled because the Seattle Times endorsed Larson, but do voters rely on newspaper ed boards to tell them who to vote for? What is this, the 1890s?
Apparently, it didn’t matter and all that gazillionaire money was for not, as the latest results from the state Secretary of State show Wiggins comfortably leading about 58 percent to 42 percent. (CORRECTION: I’m sure that money made the people at the TV stations very happy).
An interesting comparison here — pointed out by Wiggins — is the race between Justice Mary Yu and Gonzaga Law professor David DeWolf, which Bill Gates and Paul Allen and that uberwealthy guy from Camas did not spend their money on, resulted in virtually the same split: 58 percent to 42 percent.
(In both races, the incumbent campaigns outspent their challengers.)
The issue underlying this story of Big Money in Politics is the wisdom of electing judges. Federal judges are appointed, and some believe this is a better way, as making judges stand for election turns them into politicians, as everybody knows there is nothing political about the federal courts.
However, I found it interesting when explaining its thinking, former state Sen. Rodney Tom, a political shapeshifter from the ritzy East King County enclave of Medina who represented one of the PACs, said the criminal case in the critical ad wasn’t necessarily the issue that brought together some of the richest business bros in the state … It was, however, an issue that could be easily explained in a fleeting TV ad full of shadows and foreboding music and a sex offender.
A group of notable criminal law experts, including former Kitsap Prosecutor Russ Hauge, responded that the ad explained nothing and requested it be taken down.
Wiggins told me yesterday he was thrilled to see the numbers turn his way, though he was sweating when he learned the amount of money being spent on behalf of his opponent.
“I was quite worried,” Wiggins said. “People kept telling me to not worry, but it’s a little hard to not worry about something like that.”
Wiggins also wondered if the plan backfired: the $1 million campaign made news, and was well-reported by the Seattle Times and also reported, maybe not as well, by me.
Larson did not respond Thursday to a phone message, and an email, left with his campaign.