Seattle Port Commission President Bill Bryant is reportedly in the final stages of making a decision on running against U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), but his interest in the race has already ignited a small controversy among Eastern Washington Republicans after an email taking aim at Bryant was sent this weekend by a state legislator with ties to current U.S. Senate candidate and State Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane).
On Saturday, State Sen. Janéa Holmquist-Newbry (R-Moses Lake) spoke at the Grant County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner as a proxy for Baumgartner, the leading declared Republican in the race to unseat Cantwell.
Before the dinner had adjourned, Holmquist sent an intrapartisan communiqué (scroll to the botttom of this article for the complete text) to an undisclosed list of Republicans, implicitly arguing Bryant’s record as nonpartisan port commissioner and a handful of political contributions to Democratic candidates and groups are serious reasons to question whether he should be running as a Republican in the U.S. Senate race.
By phone, Baumgartner told us that the email was not sanctioned by him, but that he holds Holmquist—a fellow Republican state Senator—in the highest regard. Baumgartner also told us he will reserve making any comments about Bryant until such time as he officially enters the race. An email sent to Holmquist did not receive a reply.
“Bill Bryant is campaigning under false pretenses, acting like he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Republican when his record shows otherwise,” one King County Republican strategist said. According to the same source, Bryant’s early efforts to organize support for the possible Senate bid have included squeezing off Baumgartner’s access to key donors.
With the election environment thus primed for internecine friction, it is therefore understandable that some Republicans are interpreting Holmquist’s email as a blunt strike at Bryant to assist Baumgartner—an opportunity to paint the Seattle-based politician as out of step with the conservative Republican base that the charismatic state senator from Spokane has had moderate success in developing a relationship with since jumping into the race late last year.
In contrast to the negative email, however, Democratic strategists appear ready to take Bryant seriously as a potential Republican threat to one of their incumbents. Sources close to Bryant tell us that Democrats have already assigned a tracker to shadow his public activity, an early indication that Cantwell’s friends see Bryant as an authentic Republican, despite the points in Holmquist’s appeal to others in her party.
NW Daily Marker investigated the claims made in the email and finds that while the points made are based on verifiable facts, there are details omitted that may (but may not) affect voters’ perceptions of Bryant.
Claim #1: “…[Bryant] has consistently contributed large sums to Democrat candidates including Patty Murray and Jay Inslee. He also contributed to Greg Nichols and other Seattle area Democrats, Washington Conservation Voters, and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark. His company contributed to Chris Gregoire.”
Fact: The “large sums” Bryant gave to Murray and Inslee amount to $500 contributed to each candidate. The contribution to Inslee, specifically, occurred back in 1994. According to a source close to Bryant, the Murray check was written to gain entrance to an event Bryant needed to attend for matters relating to his personal business interests and preceded the entry of Dino Rossi into the race. FEC records corroborate that the donation was given in October 2009, well before Rossi announced he would challenge Murray.
An analysis of Bryant’s political giving overall shows that he given the majority of funds Republicans, not Democrats. By a ratio of 2-to-1, Bryant gave to Republicans in state and local races since 2000—in federal elections the balance is even more skewed to the GOP. FEC records back to 1999 show that Bryant gave $24,450 to Republicans running in federal races, compared with $1,500 to Democrats, including the Murray donation.
Claim #2: “[Bryant’s] record at the port also should give Republicans reason for concern. A Port investigator cited him for misuse of Port funds and he was forced to repay the money,” wrote Holmquist.
Fact: As reported by The Seattle Times late last year, the issue raised pertains to a $115 meal charge from Port funds while Bryant was on an official trip to Eastern Washington. Bryant had been given the green light by the Port’s legal counsel prior to making the trip to make such expenses, but a subsequent audit flagged the charges at which time Bryant promptly repaid the Port in full.
Claim #3: According to Holmquist, “In November 2009, he cast the deciding vote for the higher of two proposed Port budgets and higher taxes. In 2011, he cast the deciding vote to increase the Port CEO pay by 9 percent to $400,000.”
Fact: Holmquist’s claims are a true statement of the record. The votes were taken, and Bryant’s positions are not misrepresented. This will likely be an item for further clarification should he step into the U.S. Senate race.
The entire text of Holmquist’s email was as follows:
As you may have heard, Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant is considering entering the race for U.S. Senate against Maria Cantwell.
The surprising news is that he is apparently planning on running as a Republican. It’s odd because he has consistently contributed large sums to Democrat candidates including Patty Murray and Jay Inslee.
He also contributed to Greg Nichols and other Seattle area Democrats, Washington Conservation Voters, and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark. His company contributed to Chris Gregoire.
His record at the port also should give Republicans reason for concern. A Port investigator cited him for misuse of Port funds and he was forced to repay the money.
In November 2009, he cast the deciding vote for the higher of two proposed Port budgets and higher taxes. In 2011, he cast the deciding vote to increase the Port CEO pay by 9 percent to $400,000.
So, he’s contributed to Democrats – including U.S. Senator Patty Murray in her last election – and he sides with Democrats on the Port Commission.
It will be interesting to hear why he is thinking of running as a Republican?