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Monday, September 06, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

If there's a ballot, there's "Mover"

By Emily Heffter
Times Snohomish County bureau

Mike The Mover is a perennial candidate.
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In the eyes of his mother, Michael Patrick Shanks became Mike The Mover in the early 1970s when he volunteered to move his large family into its new home in Seattle.

He was a natural.

Twenty years later, he changed his name and became Mike The Mover in the eyes of the law. And that made him Mike The Mover on the ballot. The perennial, self-promoting candidate has run for office 14 times in the past 17 years. This year, he's in the Democratic primary for governor.

The former high-school-football star has never won, never received more than 18 percent of the vote and never raised any campaign money.

So why run?

"Why not?" he said. "I still have something to say."

It's not bad for business, either.

Mike The Mover

Age: 51

Residence: near Lynnwood

Work: Owns a moving company that shares his name.

Education: Attended Shoreline and Everett community colleges, Morningside College (Sioux City, Iowa) and the University of Washington.

He estimates his moving company will do about $150,000 in extra business this year because of name recognition he'll gain from running for office — a pretty good return on a $1,360 filing fee. It wasn't originally a money-making scheme, he said, but it worked out that way.

"I like politics and I might as well market my business cleverly," he said.

Once people have seen his name on the ballot, they call him when they're looking for a mover, he said. And his moving trucks double as campaign placards as they circle the county.

His typical uniform is a tank top and shorts. He trims and dyes his bushy beard to replicate those of the Civil War generals he dresses up as, as a hobby. He's talkative and intense and seems pleased with himself as he sucks back cigarettes and iced tea.

A client suggested he change his name to Mike The Mover in the mid-1980s, when he was operating under the name North End Movers. He didn't like the idea at first, but it grew on him, he said, and he started going by it.

But the state wouldn't let him put it on the ballot. Nicknames that hint at a candidate's profession are forbidden on ballots. On Jan. 10, 1990, he disregarded the pleas of his father and changed his name legally. Now, he said, most people just call him "Mover."

Resisting regulations

Mover ran for lieutenant governor in 1988 to fight state regulations on moving companies. The old regulations policing movers favored existing companies: A board of movers voted whether to issue a permit to a new company and made the applicant prove that demand warranted another moving company.

When Mover started moving professionally in 1977, he couldn't get a state permit and operated illegally, eventually amassing 89 gross misdemeanors (he was convicted of two) and winding up in the King County Jail three times.

In 1997, a King County Superior Court judge granted the state Utilities and Transportation Commission a restraining order against him. According to agency spokesman Tim Sweeney, Mover mailed "some inappropriate items" to commissioners and staff members, including a Frankenstein mask and "nearly nude photos" of himself at the hospital after an accident, with the caption: "the Frankenmover: the monster from Harborview." Mover says he meant it as a joke.

Now he has to give 24 hours' notice before he can visit the commission offices.

Brian McCulloch, a longtime friend of Mover's, said Mover hasn't always handled his frustration with the commission well. But he says Mover is harmless.

"He stood up against the establishment. He took it on and he won," he said.

In 1999, the state relaxed the regulations, and the commission issued Mover a temporary permit.

That permit expired in February. If the Utilities and Transportation Commission finds out his moving company is active, it will issue an order that he stop doing business, Sweeney said.

Mover said he won't abide by the commission's rules.

Dennis White, chief financial officer with Worldwide Movers, said unregulated movers like Mike The Mover can give the industry "a bad name," especially if they fail to follow state rules on safety, payroll, rates and taxes.

"We honestly don't feel that we really compete with Mike The Mover because he does not compete as a regulated mover," White said.

Out of the mainstream

Mike The Mover is taken no more seriously as a candidate.

Local party officials don't endorse him, though he's run as a Democrat since 1998. Before that, he ran twice as a Republican and five times as an independent.

"All I can say is I don't pay any attention to Mike The Mover," said Kent Hanson, chairman of the Snohomish County Democratic Central Committee. "We don't take him very seriously."

Mike The Mover acknowledges he may never win an election but can't fathom why that would keep him from signing up to run.

He has a political platform: Charge state employees for half of their health-care expenses, plant hemp fields in Eastern Washington as a renewable energy source, and have the state Legislature meet every other session at state universities.

Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart ran against him for sheriff in 1999. The challenge was deciding whether to take him seriously, Bart said.

In that year's state voters guide, Mover wrote that he had worked at the "Military Police Academy" and served as director of the FBI and director of the "Washington State Furniture Police."

"He likes tweaking the nose of the establishment," said McCulloch, who works in the insurance industry. "I think it's his sense of humor. I wouldn't do it, but then, I'm more serious in my approach than he is."

Bart doesn't give him that much credit.

"He's a strange man," he said.

Militia members sent out e-mails supporting Mike The Mover during the campaign, Bart said. Mover said he used to host militia meetings in his house, but said he found the group's lack of progress frustrating.

He tells this story: In 1997, peeved with another disorganized gathering, he drove to Tennessee and paid $5,300 for a replica Civil War cannon, which he put in the back of his truck. Then he drove to the White House. The FBI questioned him, he said, but didn't file any charges after he explained he was on his way to Gettysburg, Pa. In truth, he said, he just wanted to see what would happen.

The cannon is still in the bed of his pickup, and a Confederate flag waves from the front corner of his garden. In his back yard he built a maze of planked wooden walkways, at the center of which is a miniature train station that houses his Indian art collection. As he hustles around, he's fond of pointing out his most prized items and reporting how much they cost.

His longtime partner shrugs off his idiosyncrasies. She doesn't even mind his name, she said, and has grown accustomed to being called "Mrs. Mover."

"That's who he is," said Pat Hutton, who casts a vote for him every year. "That's what he's all about. Yeah, people will make fun of it, you bet. But you got to know the man first."

Mover was the third of 12 children and grew up acting as a father figure to his six brothers. His mother, Patricia Shanks, said he's always been responsible and generous, though now she chuckles that he's become "a very controversial character."

Mover's little brother, Tom Shanks, started working for Mover in high school and eventually started his own, competing business in Edmonds. He's not about to change his name, he said, and smiles as he notes his brother has become a "self-appointed" celebrity.

Mover's mother said everyone has to live with the consequences of his or her decisions.

"He kind of built himself up," Patricia Shanks said. "I don't know if he's doing it to get new business or what, but he's very interested in politics."

Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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