Two of Three Washington State Supreme Court Races to be Decided in Primary!

Washington State primary voters on Sept 19, 2006 will decide at least two of the three Washington State Supreme Court races this year. Washington State has this odd law. For most judicial races, if someone wins a majority in the primary, they win the election. There is no general election vote.

According to the official state webpage of Washington Courts:

“In most instances, a judicial candidate who is unopposed or who receives more than half of the votes in a primary election is thereby elected to the position–he or she does not have to run in the November general election. But if there are three or more candidates, and no one wins more than half the votes cast, the two with the most votes must face each other in the November general election.” (The exception is some district court races.)

In two of the three Washington State’s Supreme Court races this year only two candidates filed. That means that who wins these two seats will be decided by primary voters on Sept 19, 2006. The third race has 5 candidates but if anyone receives a majority in the primary, this election is also over.

The two races that will be decided in the primary are for position #8 between incumbent Gerry L Alexander and John Groen; and for position #9 between incumbent Tom Chambers and Jeanette Burrage.
State Supreme Court Justice Position #8

Gerry L Alexander is currently the Washington State Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, having twice been elected to this position by his peers. Justice Alexander was first elected to the state’s Supreme Court in 1994 and was reelected by Washington voters in 2000. From 1973 to 1984 he was a Superior Court Judge. He served on the Court of Appeals from 1985 to 1994.

John Groen is the candidate recruited by the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) to run against Alexander. It is part of their continued effort to stack the state Supreme Court with so called “property rights advocates” who oppose growth management. While Groen has argued cases before the Supreme Court, he has never been a judge in any of Washington’s lower courts.

Groen was the only judicial candidate to ignore the spirit of the campaign contribution law passed by the Washington State Legislature earlier this year.

While other candidates, including his opponent, chose to abide by the new limits before they went into effect, Groen collected some $128,000 that was over the contribution limit of $2800 for the primary and general election.

(Actually now with filing ended, because the primary will decide this election, candidates in this race will only be able to accept $1400 per contributor, as of the date the law went into effect. The same goes for position #9.)

State Supreme Court Justice Position #9

Tom Chambers is an incumbent Supreme Court Justice, first elected in 2000. He was past President of the Washington State Bar Association and the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. He has written over 100 articles and has been active in community organizations.

Jeanette Burrage was the executive director for 5 years of the conservative NW Legal Foundation which pushed so called “property rights” issues. She was involved in drafting Referendum 48 to limit growth management and zoning . Voters decisively defeated R-48. Initiative 933 this year is another incarnation of this same attempt to gut growth management by pushing a “pay or waive” proposal on growth management.

Burrage ran previously for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. She served one term as a King County Superior Court Judge but lost the next election. The King County Bar Association in the past has rated her as “unqualified”. You can read more about her in a recent comment thread on Postman on Politics.

State Supreme Court Justice Position #8

Five candidates are running for this position.

Justice Susan Owens is the incumbent. She ran and won her seat in 2000. Prior to that, she was a District Court Judge in Western Clallam County for 17 years. For 5 years she as the Quileute Tribe’s Chief Judge and for 7 years the Chief Judge of the Lower Elwa S’Klallan Tribe.

Until filing week, Steve Johnson, the candidate recruited by the BIAW, was her chief opponent. By the end of filing last week, three other candidates filed for this seat; Michael Johnson, Richard Smith and Norm Erickson.

If any one of these candidates receives a majority in the primary vote, they will win the election on Sept 19th, otherwise the top two vote getters will appear on the November General Election ballot.

The wild card in these races will be the BIAW’s free spending politics to win more seats on the Supreme Court at any cost. Unfortunately the new campaign contribution limitations law to limit contributions in judicial races has a significant loophole. It does not limit contributions to so called independent PAC’s.

This loophole was exploited in 2004 when the BIAW spent lavishly “independently” to help elect Rob McKenna as Washington State’s Attorney General.

Also previously the BIAW spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect two other members to the State Supreme Court, Richard Saunders and Jim Johnson. When there were no contribution limits on judicial races, a lot of this was given directly to the campaigns.

As noted in the PI:

In 2004, the BIAW and its affiliates helped elect Jim Johnson to the Supreme Court by pouring more than $225,000 into his campaign. Johnson outspent his opponent more than 3 to 1 and on the court has been a reliable defender of property rights — a key issue for the home builders.

Again this year large amounts of money are being spent independently by PACs run by the BIAW. This year they are running an independent PAC called Walking for Washington.
As the Seattle PI noted:

The Building Industry Association of Washington, or BIAW, which promotes a conservative, pro-property-rights, anti-regulation political agenda, is by far the biggest donor — at least $121,048 so far this year — to Walking for Washington. The program is run out of BIAW headquarters in Olympia by the builders’ political director, Elliot Swaney.

Walking for Washington is going door to door, identifying voters and handing out literature supporting Groen and Steve Johnson.

Voters who want to support the current Supreme Court Justices can go to their websites to read more about their campaigns and make donations to help offset the money of the BIAW.

Gerry Alexander

Tom Chambers

Susan Owens

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