The I-502 campaign picked up a somewhat unexpected endorsement today. Republican Senate candidate Michael Baumgartner:
Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner on Wednesday endorsed Initiative 502 to legalize retail sales of pot, calling the war on the illicit drug a matter of national security.
The freshman state senator, who is challenging Democrat Maria Cantwell, worked several years ago for a State Department program in Afghanistan to help farmers grow wheat instead of opium poppies.
He said his experience in Helmand province — and watching the U.S.-funded efforts to eradicate Mexican drug cartels — convinced him criminalizing marijuana for adults only enriches traffickers and takes law-enforcement efforts from pursuing organized crime.
As soon as I saw someone with Baumgartner’s resume getting into this race as a Republican I was curious where he’d fall on this issue. Now we know. He appears to have a better grasp than his challenger, Maria Cantwell, who put out a statement against I-502:
Asked for Cantwell’s position, spokesman Kelly Steele emailed this: “While I remain a strong supporter of our state’s medicinal marijuana laws, I don’t believe it should be legalized for recreational purposes based on concerns expressed by law enforcement and the current drafting of the initiative. Whatever the result, I will honor the will of the voters’ decision in November.”
This issue should be a no-brainer for Democrats to support. Nearly 60% of Washington voters support some form of legalization, and even higher numbers of liberals and Democrats do. The severe racial, civic, economic, and environmental impacts of marijuana prohibition are well understood by large numbers of left-leaning voters. Yet both Cantwell and Inslee continue to alienate a big part of their base by remaining on the far right fringe on this issue. For Cantwell, her lead is probably insurmountable anyway, but Baumgartner is showing how a smart Republican might be able to win a closer race in this very blue state.