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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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December 13, 2007 12:01 PM

Jarrett quits GOP, will run for Senate as a Democrat

Posted by David Postman

State Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, is quitting the Republican Party and will run next year for the state Senate as a Democrat. His move, a year before the election, means the former Republican legislative stronghold through east King County is now pure Democratic territory.

It also means that House Democrats increase their already strong majority by one vote in the upcoming legislative session and it gives the party's Senate majority an advantage next fall, too.

Jarrett told me he was recruited by Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. He will run for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Brian Weinstein, a one-term Democrat who told Jarrett he will not run for re-election.

Jarrett has been a moderate Republican who came of age as a campaign worker for the icon of that stripe of the GOP, Gov. Dan Evans. Jarrett told me today:

"I felt there was a strong tradition in the Republican Party that really couldn't be lost. So what I've been doing as long as I've been in the Legislature is trying to articulate that moderate Republican, progressive Republican, viewpoint, and what I found is I may have a lot of ego, but I don't think I have enough ego to think anymore that I can do it."

He is in his third term in the House. He has served on the Mercer Island School Board, city council and as the island's mayor. He's an Air Force veteran and works at Boeing as a project manager in the commercial airplane division.

Jarrett represents the 41st District. His House seatmate is a Democrat, Rep. Judy Clibborn. Weinstein has held the Senate seat since defeating longtime Republican lawmaker Jim Horn, R-Mercer Island, in 2004. I asked him about Weinstein's plans and he said, "My expectation is that you will hear that Brian won't run." He said he talked to Weinstein and heard that from him directly.


(Look at this 2006 story by Andrew Garber and the accompanying charts to get a good sense of political changes on the eastside and through the Seattle suburbs.)

There were a few recent events that helped push Jarrett out of the Republican Party. In the recent special session, Jarrett said he found himself agreeing with Democrats and voting for a bill that created a new property tax deferral program for middle-income homeowners. Republicans opposed it, saying it would put those homeowners further into debt by requiring that the property tax be paid, with interest, when the home was sold or the owner died. Jarrett said he was bothered "to hear the vehemence of the opposition in our caucus without even thinking through anything other than who proposed it."



GREG GILBERT/SEATTLE TIMES


Jarrett, left, talks with Sen. Ed Murray in 2005.


Jarrett also disagreed with the Republican argument during the session that the 1 percent property tax cap proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire wasn't enough, even though it was identical to what voters had passed in a Tim Eyman initiative. Republicans could have declared a rare victory when Democrats agreed to back the 1 percent cap. But, Jarrett said, "instead we raised the bar so we could lose again."

Jarrett has talked with both Democratic and Republican leaders about a possible run for the Senate. He said the tipping point to the Democrats may have come when a Republican senator told him that if he was endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice Washington "it'd be a problem in the caucus."

"My district is 70 percent pro-choice. How could I represent my district and tone down a record that I've had that has always been pro-choice?"

Then last week a recent Republican-turned-Democrat made a pitch for Jarrett to follow him. Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, had been trying to recruit Jarrett since Tom made his party switch in 2006.

"Rodney has been one of the people who have been trying to make this move since about two days after he made the move, and he has talked to me several times and I've said no. I guess the process started late last week when he said, 'What would it take to get you to think about running as a Democrat?' And until then I was pretty sure I'd run as a Republican."

But assured of backing from Democratic leaders in next year's election, Jarrett decided to defect. A draft of the press release Jarrett planned on releasing tomorrow echoes what Tom said when he switched parties: He hasn't changed, the party changed. Jarrett's release says:

I have, I think, remained true to Republican values of investment in education and transportation, civil rights, environmental protection, and well managed and effective government. And, I've felt an obligation to work within the party to maintain or restore those traditions.

Yet over the years, while those values have remained important to the 41st District and to me, the Republican Party has evolved in different directions.


Jarrett told me he would be telephoning Republican leaders today with the news. One of those was Alex Hays, executive director of Mainstream Republicans of Washington. Jarrett is on the board of the group and his party-switch will be felt hard there, Hays said.

"We're going to organize some conversations with him and hope we can change his mind."

But, he said, "I'm not optimistic."

"He's a friend. Of all the House Republicans, he's my closest friend and he was the only guy we had who was my ally to think big things about advancing the cause of moderate Republicanism. It's really personal. It's sad for me."

While Jarrett was conflicted about his party ID, those closest to him have not been surprised when he confided he was going to become a Democrat. He says his family's response was something along the lines of, "Well, duh." And when he told his campaign treasurer, the treasurer's wife said, "It's about time." Jarrett said he does not expect to lose support of anyone who worked on his campaign.

This is the latest in a series of hits to the House Republican Caucus. Former Rep. Richard Curtis quit suddenly after a sex scandal. Rep. Jim Dunn was reprimanded and kicked off all his committees after making an inappropriate sexual remark to a female staffer. Rep. Shirley Hankins agreed to pay a record settlement with the Legislative Ethics Board for violations related to her work promoting her daughter's business. And Rising star Rep. Chris Strow quit last week for a new job with the Puget Sound Regional Council.

MORE: Weinstein just issued a press release announcing his retirement. In it he said he planned to go back to practicing law full time. He said:

My election in 2004 tipped the balance in the Senate in favor of Democrats and because of that, I believe we were able to improve education funding and transportation funding. I sponsored the "Washington Learns" bill which hopefully will lay the groundwork for Washington to once again become a national leader in educating its children. We also championed civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians and important environmental protection legislation.

Courtesy Washington Legislature

Weinstein

I tried to carve out a niche for myself in the area of consumer protection, and am particularly proud of sponsoring the Insurance Fair Conduct Act which the public overwhelmingly ratified at the polls last month after the insurance forced it to the ballot in the form of R67.

I am disappointed that although the Senate overwhelmingly approved my Homebuyer Bill of Rights, I was unable to persuade Speaker Chopp to bring it up for a vote in the House.

To read Weinstein's press release Click here.

The homeowner bill was a major issue for Weinstein and he got in a well-publicized squabble with Chopp about it.

While Hays was personally upset about Jarrett's move, the group's chairman, former Republican Congressman Sid Morrisson, was more upbeat in a prepared statement:

"Today we lost one moderate Republican, which is a disappointment, but we retain strong centrist leaders in the House and Senate ... and we remain committed to recruiting and supporting the moderate candidates who will return Republicans to the majority party in Olympia."

Andrew Garber just talked with Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, who said he heard the news this morning:

Hewittt said he was "very disappointed" by Jarrett's decision. Hewitt had expected him to run for the Senate as a Republican. "We thought we had a closed deal out here. We've been talking with him for months and he assured us he was going to run as a Republican. so I'm obviously back to the drawing board," Hewitt said.

A NARAL endorsement would not have precluded him as a GOP candidate, Hewitt said. "Fred has been a moderate for a long time and I think people understand his politics. Fred would be welcome in our caucus."

He speculated the reason Jarrett changed his mind is because Weinstein doesn't plan to run again. "They cleared the primary for him and he thinks he has an easier time getting through as a Democrat than he does as a Republican," Hewitt said.

MORE: Lisa Brown said she has been talking with Jarrett for a little while about the switch. She said she told him last week that he could win the Senate seat either as a Democrat or a Republican, and should consider which caucus he could accomplish more in.

Brown also told Jarrett that Weinstein was not going to run and if he was a Democrat her caucus would back him in the 41st District Senate race.

"I feel pretty confident that he can win in that district as a Democrat. He has served there for a long time. I think he definitely gets that district and he fits the district and represents the district well, too."

She said Weinstein has been leaning toward not running for re-election. He told her recently he had definitely decided to retire and Brown asked him to hold off making the announcement public so she could continue talks with Jarrett.

MORE: We haven't been able to reach House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt yet. But his deputy, Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, was surprised by the news when Garber called him.

"He's going to run for the Senate as a Democrat? Well that's funny," said Ericksen, who thought Jarrett was going for the Senate as a Republican. He said he was sorry Jarrett's leaving the party, but confident Republicans can regain the seat next year.

Ericksen said he's not bothered that Jarrett switched parties just before the start of the 2008 legislative session, given the large majority Democrats already hold. "In the upcoming session Fred's vote would not have mattered anyway. You need 50 votes to pass a bill. Fred being the 64th vote will not make a difference in what we do."

MORE: Chopp says, in case there was any question, that Jarrett will be welcomed with open arms into the House Democratic Caucus. Chopp said he had no role in trying to convince Jarrett to run for the Senate as a Democrat. But Chopp noted, "A lot of people have been talking to Fred over the years. When you look at Fred's positions on the issues, a lot people thought he was more of a Democrat anyway than a Republican."

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