For me the biggest surprise in yesterday’s primary election was the fact that $2 million was not necessarily enough money to buy a seat on the state Supreme Court. Chief Justice Gerry Alexander — a man whose politics could probably best be described as a Dan Evans Republican — survived a bitter right-wing challenge from property rights attorney John Groen and his powerful backers in the building and insurance industries.
I suppose I should have had more faith in voters, but I just didn’t see how Alexander could overcome the flood of vicious attack ads while being outspent five to one. But the Seattle P-I’s Joel Connelly proved prescient on my show Sunday night when he suggested that Washington voters have a history of rejecting smear campaigns. It looks like they’ve done it again.
Still, Alexander’s victory is no reason for liberals and centrists to relax. The BIAW clearly overreached, with the character of the Groen campaign reflecting the meanness of his backers. But the race was still close, and there’s no reason to believe that $2 million better spent wouldn’t have given the building and insurance industries the handpicked justice they wanted. And don’t forget that it took two tries for the BIAW to get their personal attorney Jim Johnson on the bench. Expect to see Groen back on the ballot in 2008.
Now the attention (and the money) shifts to the general election, where Justice Susan Owens faces a runoff against BIAW-backed Stephen Johnson. It will be interesting to see what if any lessons the BIAW has learned from its failed Groen campaign.