I saw mustachioed-Eastern-Washington rancher Peter Goldmark, the Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Public Lands, speak at a Sierra Club event in downtown Seattle on Wednesday night. The Sierra Club has endorsed Goldmark.
It was the same day word got out that $16.8-billion-timber-giant Weyerhaeuser had dropped $100,000 into the Committee for Balanced Stewardship, the forest products industry PAC that’s supporting Goldmark’s opponent, Republican incumbent Doug Sutherland. And man, was Goldmark fired up about that.
“We will not allow the industry to buy another election,” he boomed, “I pledge not to take any money from the industry I regulate.”
He made the case, citing a report by the Seattle Times , that Sutherland’s lackadaisical oversight of Weyerhaeuser land had led to the devastating landslides in Lewis County in December 2007. “There is an obvious connection between campaign donations and lax regulations,” he told the crowd of environmental activists who were packed into the 1st Avenue loft.
Sutherland disputes the claim that he’s at fault for the devastation in Lewis County, recently telling the Seattle Times: “It’s hard to say I could have stopped that storm, through regulation, at the Washington border.”
Goldmark’s campaign manager, Heather Melton, scoffs at that, saying: “The storm made a bad situation worse. Rather than relying on Weyerhaeuser, the Department of Natural Resources should have had a state geologist come out and review that site before allowing a clear cut on a steep slope to identify if there was unstable soil.”
Goldmark’s strong showing in the August primary has turned this low-profile race into one of the sharpest showdowns this season: Doing better than any other challenger on this year’s ballot, Goldmark got 49 to Sutherland’s 51. On Wednesday night, he told his Sierra Club supporters that his campaign to unseat Sutherland was about “the public interest vs. the special interests” and that it was time to stop “doing political favors in exchange for campaign donations.”
His argument about political quid pro quos rang true. When I covered the legislature in 2007 and 2008, I watched a series of bills to prevent Glacier Northwest from expanding its strip mining work on Maury Island get gutted by Sutherland. Glacier Northwest, which gave $50,000 to the timber industry PAC the same day as Weyerhaeuser (September 8), also made a couple of handsome donations to Sutherland last year, totaling $2,800, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.
According to the latest numbers from the PDC, Goldmark has raised $629,000 (mostly from environmental groups, the Democratic Party, and unions). Not including the timber PAC, Sutherland has raised $502,000 (mostly from timber according to a recent Seattle Times article.)