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Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - Page updated at 03:30 p.m.
Dear Secretary of State Reed: Kshama Sawant has a party preference
By Bruce Ramsey
Seattle Times staff columnist
Frank Chopp, Speaker of the House in Olympia, is running for re-election against a Socialist. For years, the Republicans fielded no-hope candidates against him. Now they concede the field to the left.
This Socialist is Kshama Sawant, adjunct lecturer in economics at Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College. She is an immigrant from India and was a leader in Occupy Seattle. She is brim-full of strong opinion against big business and for more social programs.
She is also in a fight with Secretary of State Sam Reed about naming her party on the ballot.
In the top-two system, candidates label themselves. Sawant was on the Aug. 7 ballot as "prefers Socialist Altern Party." Socialist Alternative is a real party -- a small Marxist one.
She filed against Rep. Jamie Pedersen, Democrat, in Seattle's left-leaning 43rd District, which includes the University of Washington. The Stranger, which leans the same way, urged their readers to write in her name against Chopp, the other representative in the 43rd. She encouraged the idea. In the Aug. 7 primary she came in second against both Democrats, with 9 percent against Pedersen and 12 percent against Chopp.
By law, she could continue in only one race. She chose to oppose Speaker Chopp, who is said to be the most powerful man in Olympia.
Now the rub: Reed intends to label Sawant on the ballot as "states no party preference" because against Chopp she was an undeclared write-in.
Whether Reed's decision is required by law will be argued Thursday in front of Judge Michael Trickey of King County Superior Court. It makes no sense otherwise. Sawant does have a party preference. The Aug. 7 ballot labeled her a Socialist in the Peder-sen race. Voters saw her name printed under Pedersen's, and wrote it one inch away, under Chopp's, which is the only way 3,605 voters would put down "Kshama Sawant" and get it right.
She was listed as a Socialist. You couldn't miss it.
I am not arguing here for socialism, but for clarity. Let's not put lies on the ballot. She has a party preference.
And let's be clear about the top-two system. It can filter out minor-party candidates. There is a reason for that; by depriving minor-party voters of their first choice in the runoff, it creates a majority for every winner. There is value in that, but don't expect the minor parties to like it.
Says John Mills, attorney for the state Libertarian Party, "You can talk to voters between June and early August, and then you're gone. You're eliminated. You can't talk to anybody in September and October, when people are listening."
Sawant made it through. Her total, 12 percent, is no threat to Chopp; it is about what walking-dead Republicans were doing before they gave up on him. But at least they were on the ballot under their party name. She should be, too.
Chopp deserves an opposition. If the Republicans don't want to do it, let it be done by a Socialist. Let this young woman rip into the speaker taking contributions from Avista Corp., BNSF, Century Link, Delta Dental,et al., and of being responsible for "enormous cuts to education and public health."
Will the fight be fair? Don't ask that. It will be a show. And the outcome will say something about the electorate in Washington's most left-leaning district.
Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org