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Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Offended by ads, Reichert walks out on forum
By Warren Cornwall
Reichert in the past week has been the target of ads from Diane Tebelius and state Sen. Luke Esser that, among other things, questioned Reichert's Republican credentials, criticized his position on gun control and challenged his handling of the Sheriff's Office's finances.
Reichert's walkout happened near the beginning of a lunchtime forum with the Mercer Island Rotary Club. Esser led off, answering a question about how he would address traffic congestion. Reichert came next. But rather than talk about roads, he denounced dirty politics and said he was disappointed that two fellow Republicans had targeted him with their ads.
"I want to run a clean campaign, I want to talk about the issues," he said. "Today I'm making a statement. And I think that the only way for this to stop is someone has to stand up and say it's wrong, it's absolutely wrong."
He vowed not to appear in public forums with the two other candidates. Then he walked down the side of the room and out the door to the sound of applause.
Neither Esser nor Tebelius showed any sign of backing down.
Tebelius was the next to speak after Reichert.
"Campaigns are tough, and often people disagree on the issues, and that's the reality," she told the audience, which one person estimated at 100 to 150 people. "If you're going to run a campaign you need to have a backbone to stand up to people who might disagree with you."
Reichert, in a later interview, said he was showing backbone with what he did.
"It took more courage to say what I think and to stand up for what I think is right than to sit there with those two individuals who sent this negative information out and act like there's nothing wrong," he said.
All three are running in the Sept. 14 Republican primary in the 8th Congressional District, along with a candidate absent from the gathering, Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee. Three Democrats Alex Alben, Heidi Behrens-Benedict and Dave Ross also are running for the seat, from which Republican Jennifer Dunn is retiring.
The Tebelius campaign has mailed two ads to voters criticizing Reichert. One challenged his past work with Democrats, including his 2001 endorsement of Democrat Ron Sims, who was running for re-election as King County executive. Another focused on a $7 million legal settlement the county paid to Sheriff's Office employees whose overtime pay was delayed.
Reichert yesterday said his 2001 endorsement was a matter of practical politics, because Sims was overwhelmingly favored to win the election.
"It's what you call a smart business move," he said.
Esser said Reichert's decision not to show up at further debates would simply punish voters who come to forums to learn more about the candidates.
He made no apologies for his ad, a mailing that noted Reichert had supported Sims. It also stated that Reichert favors "further restrictions on gun ownership" and an extension of the federal ban on sale of assault weapons. The ad contrasts that position with Esser's opposition to additional gun-control laws.
Reichert said he supports requiring people buying guns at gun shows to have a concealed-weapons permit. In Washington state, that would require a background check, he said. People currently don't need to undergo background checks to buy guns at some gun shows.
Reichert said he didn't support the ban on assault weapons. But he does have concerns about large ammunition clips that allow firing of dozens of bullets before reloading, which is limited by the assault-weapons ban.
Esser said such a restriction amounted to a major extension of the current ban.
One of the Democratic candidates, Ross, also joined in. After Reichert left, he told the Rotary gathering, "My position is when the going gets tough the tough hang in there. The tough don't pick up their ball and go home."
Reichert, however, said perhaps it took a dramatic gesture like this to make his clean-campaign message known.
What if people at other forums can't hear from him, and so don't know why he is absent? Reichert suggested a possible thawing in his vow against further public debates.
"I might come and express my opinion all over again," he said.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or email@example.com
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