WorkSource employee felt that veterans blew her political email “way out of proportion”

Eighteen pages of emails obtained from the Washington Employment Security Department contain communication suggesting that Sen. Patty Murray’s re-election campaign met with a state worker with the purpose of asking for campaign work to be done using state resources.

On August 12th of this year, WorkSource employee Sally Garcia sent an email using her official state account and computer to a list of military veteran clients of Employment Security, with the purpose of motivating support for Murray’s campaign in the Vancouver, Wash. area. Almost immediately, responses trickled in from annoyed and infuriated vets and Garcia opened a line of communication with management.

In one email sent by Garcia to WorkSource business services manager Patrick Williams on the same day her political email was sent, Garcia implied that the idea for sending a state-sponsored email to solicit veterans to get out and vote for Patty Murray came via an August 11th meeting with the Murray campaign. Garcia also suggests that she should have had the foresight to know that veterans would “blow it way out of proportion.”

Kerala Hise — the individual named as a point of contact on Murray’s campaign in Garcia’s original email to veterans — is identified as a field organizer for People for Patty Murray in a separate email sent from Hise’s email address to Garcia’s official Employment Security account. To date, all requests for comment sent to Murray spokeswoman Julie Edwards have failed to receive any reply.

On August 12th, as the seriousness of Garcia’s actions became evident, she included her union representative in the chain of communication, forwarding nearly every email sent and received during what must have been a frazzling summer afternoon.

Meanwhile, Williams went up the ladder to Employment Security southwest Washington area director Robert Brown. Brown subsequently directed Garcia by email to “cease communication on this or other matters using your veterans email list until further notice.” Other emails imply that an order to recall the original email was given, and a meeting was called for the morning of August 13th at which Garcia, Williams, Brown and the union representative were to be present.

Although the details of the August 13th meeting and any subsequent disciplinary actions are a confidential personnel matter, Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison confirmed earlier this month by email that the department “takes this matter very, very seriously, and the disciplinary process is under way and moving rapidly.”

In that same email, dated Sept. 13th, Hutchison also stated for the first time that the entire matter had been referred to the State Executive Ethics Board for review. The news of the ethics complaint filing came nearly a month after Employment Security officials had met with Garcia, a local manager and a union representative to discuss what had transpired. Hutchison defends the interval as a period during which the agency was conducting its own inquiry.

“In the early going, the WorkSource managers and our H.R. Office were focused on investigating the potential violations of our agency policies and activating our internal disciplinary process,” Hutchison told me by email this afternoon. “Once the bulk of our investigation was completed, we then had the necessary information to craft an ethics complaint that contained the details needed by the Ethics Commission.”

Although the Board officially neither denies nor confirms the existence of a complaint, a source close to the Board has confirmed receipt of the complaint. If the Board takes up the matter for investigation, the results of their work may not be available for months, possibly until after the November 2 election.

Other messages within the eighteen pages of emails sent and received by Garcia on her state computer on August 12 make it clear that before she and her managers moved to mitigate the damage, several veterans voiced their disapproval regarding the political communiqué. Three of the four replies from veterans contained in the department’s public document release register condemnation ranging from light finger-wagging to outrage.

“I do believe there is a conflict of interest for you to endorse a particular candidate,” one veteran politely wrote in reply. “You may want to rethink your position before you send out emails such as this one in the future.”

Although there is no evidence suggesting that the Murray campaign requested the email be sent, other infuriated recipients saw it as an open door to voice indignation for the incumbent Senator.

“I queried [Murray] long ago about the problems with the rewording of the Vietnam-era GI Bill,” another vet explained, asserting that a change in verbiage narrowed the window of time in which veteran’s could use certain benefits. “I received a nice letter from her… which amounted to not wanting to do anything about this matter… I had to drop out of school because my benefits ran out when the wording was rewritten and she didn’t care.”

I learned that one particularly acute reply — devoid of any nuance that might have distracted from its message — came from candidate for state representative in the 49th district Bill Cismar who wrote, “My oath to defend the constitution and this country has not expired and is not so cheaply held that this charlatan should offer me a trifle so that I sit quietly while she destroys my beloved nation.”

An early takeaway for Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi might be in recognizing that 75 percent disapproval – even from a focus group of four – is a poor indicator that Murray’s battle to win the hearts of minds of servicemen and women is a winning one.