Tag Archives: Michelle Caldier

Two local House races watched by state for potential recount

The Washington Secretary of State’s office sent out notice it is tracking four elections for possible automatic recount. Two of them are local races, the House contest between Democrat Larry Seaquist and Republican Michelle Caldier in the 26th District. Seaquist is the incumbent, but late Tuesday Caldier led by 78 votes.

Democratic incumbent Kathy Haigh led Republican Dan Griffey in a 35th District House race by 223 votes.

To generate an automatic recount the margin must be less than 2,000 votes and less than a half-percentage point. The Seaquist-Caldier race fits well within than range. Caldier leads Seaquist with a 0.26 percentage point margin. The contest in the 35th does not, with Haigh holding a 0.68 percentage point edge.

The other races the state is watching is Initiative 1351 and a state House race in the 28th District. They are also keeping tabs on a race in the 17th and 44th District.

In county races the prosecutor contest is worth watching as well. Democrat Russ Hauge leads Republican Tina Robinson by 0.4 percentage points.

A manual recount could be ordered if the margin is any less than a 0.25 percentage point.

What to watch, then, will be how the late votes swing the contests. In the early years of all-mail-in voting late ballots favored Republicans decidedly. Those results have come close to evening out in the most recent years, however, and Kitsap Democrats expressed confidence Tuesday night that late votes will go their way. We’ll know a lot more around 5 p.m. when the county and state release the first day’s results of late-ballot counting.

LD 26-2 puts on a side show, unless this is the main event we can expect from here on out

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.

This is the photo Seaquist provided. He said there is one other, but that it would look just like this one because the two shots he took were one right after the other.
This is the photo Seaquist provided. He said there is one other, but that it would look just like this one because the two shots he took were one right after the other.

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.

CONTEXT

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.”

MOTIVES

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.”

NOSTALGIA

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?

Fearing an October surprise, we discover a candidate lives here

This election, like any other, could see its fill of well-timed surprises. We tried to avoid one recently and might have prevented it all together. In the end it might never have happened, because there doesn’t seem to be much reason to launch a residency challenge of Republican Michelle Caldier.

Caldier is running to unseat state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, in the 26th District.

Looking into candidates is something we should do as a matter of course, but we don’t find everything. We check court records, including the bankruptcy courts. We don’t hire private investigators. A candidate’s opposition sometimes does. They’re free to spend the money.

Part of my motivation goes back to 2004. Sherry Appleton, who has represented the 23rd District since then, was running against two Republicans, back when Washington primaries meant picking one candidate from each party. Frank Mahaffay beat Paulette DeGard for the Republican spot on the ballot. It was in October that I learned of Mahaffay’s court-verified financial issues. Because it was so late in the election season Scott Ware, then the editor, and I debated whether to include the problem in the election profile. In the end we decided we couldn’t leave it out. Appleton won by a large margin, so I don’t think that one piece of information ruined it for the Mahaffay, but I wished I had found it before the primary.

I learned of Mahaffay’s financial issue through a tip. Since then I have found some things ahead of the partisan tipsters, one candidate’s two bankruptcies, for example. Still, political parties are working hard to find any indiscretion they can. No doubt we will get emails from people doing opposition research. It was an email from an oppo researcher that informed me of auditor candidate Kelly Emerson’s recent employment as commissioner in Island County. I don’t mind investigating the stuff sent to me by the studious partisan operatives, but the more we rely on them the bigger the chance that they will sit on an issue waiting for the most opportunistic timing to lob a bomb.

With Michelle Caldier I did wait a while to see if someone would publicly ask the question how a Kenmore dentist came to seek election in a district that is miles from either of the 26th District’s book-end bridges. I gave the operatives some time to speak up. After all, the primary between Seaquist and Caldier will be little more than a straw poll. There are other races with more on the line in August. Eventually, though, I gave in to my question.

Using basic Internet skills I found two addresses for Caldier, one in Kenmore and another in Port Orchard. Searching county records the Kenmore property was still listed in her name. The Port Orchard property was not. Moreover the Kenmore property had four bedrooms while the Port Orchard place had one. I then contacted the Kitsap County Elections office to find out when she had registered to vote here. It was in November. I then found evidence that she had sold her home in Kenmore in May. Pictures of the home on a real estate listing looked to me that the house had been staged to present well for potential buyers, that it was unlikely someone had been living there too recently.

That was the information I had when I called Caldier and asked when she moved here. She responded that she would like to meet with me in person. I was a bit frustrated that she wouldn’t just deliver an immediate answer, but after asking again and getting the same response, I agreed. She came in the next morning with Chris Tibbs, Kitsap County Republican Party chairman. He took the blame for her reluctance to speak on the phone, saying he had coached the candidates, the first-time candidates anyway, to request a sit-down meeting.

The meeting itself was valuable and in the end I see no evidence of a residency issue. I’ll provide more details about her story later. She’s providing them, too. In short, she was motivated in large part to consider running by work she did on legislation in 2013. She grew up in Kitsap County, said she always considered it home, but established her dental practice to have enough business to serve the market she sought. For family reasons she and her sisters have moved back here. Her dental practice is a mobile one, stretching from Pierce to Skagit County. What’s more, in May she took ownership of a house in Port Orchard after renting a home or staying with family here since sometime last year.

The question over Caldier’s residency was an easy one to form. It came up for me from the moment she announced her candidacy. Seaquist, for his part, said he hadn’t been too concerned over it. But that doesn’t mean someone wouldn’t make an issue of the residency based just on the question, planting doubts late in the game.

If you have a question about any candidate, feel free to email me at sgardner@kitsapsun.com and we might look into the issue that makes you wonder. And do it as soon as you think about it. With Washington’s three-week election window from when ballots go out and when they get returned it’s even more important to avoid October surprises. Let’s keep peace at hand, if you know what I mean.