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January 29, 2006

Interviewing the Postcard Seven

"Hideous.  Repulsive.  A pack of lies. I hate to think I have to breathe the same air as the man – Richard DeBolt – who masterminded this.”  And that came from a nice grandmother, Pat Lantz, Democratic Representative from the 26th LD in suburban Gig Harbor. 

On Thursday, Brian Moran of Washblog and I spent the day interviewing six of the seven Washington State legislators whose constituents were slimed with the sex offender postcards.  We were playing hooky from Environmental Lobbying Day, dipping into the proceedings at Lobby Day then heading off to see if we could find another of the seven on our list and talk about what the experience had been for them and their staff and those of their constituents they had talked with.  We wanted to see what they had made of it. 

They clearly wanted to talk with us and get their story out.  We were there on a very busy day and everyone we got to made time for us.  With no notice, we were able to spend a few minutes with six of the seven – Deb Wallace of the 17th, Tami Green of the 28th, Derek Kilmer and Pat Lantz of the 26th, Bill Grant of the 16th and Geoff Simpson of the 47th.  We were never able to make direct contact with Pat Sullivan of the 47th.  All of their aides were helpful and interested themselves in what we were doing.

Some knew all about us bloggers, even know our blogs; for others we were an interesting specimen, something they’d heard about but not seen before, like truffles or flamingos.   But they were all some of the nicest, most thoughtful, most committed people I’ve met anywhere – and they were wildly different, one from another, which means I guess that they were representing different districts with different cultures and attitudes. 

To a person, they were outraged on behalf of their constituents.  They had heard and talked with dozens of their constituents personally and some had had email exchanges with others.  They all had stories to tell about those folks who’d called to complain about receiving these offensive postcards.  Most of the callers seemed to believe what they read in the postcard.  If you haven’t seen these postcards, they look like something sent by the local police and say “This predator lives in your community”.  There is a police-type photo of a man with a bar across his eyes and stats on his age, height, weight, etc.  They say that the local Democratic representative “refused to impose life sentences for violent sex predators” and gave the representative’s phone number.  Of course, it was the same photo in every case.  And it was all a bunch of lies.

Those who have been reading the blogs know that this particular man, the one depicted on the postcards that went to every district, offended in 1982 and now lives in an entirely different legislative district.  The Legislature toughened the laws starting in 1996 but they don’t apply retroactively so they don’t apply to this individual at all!  Washington State now has laws that are as stringent as any in the country and is a leader in crafting laws that actually work.

The interviews are after the fold.

Deb Wallace we already knew and liked from her attendance at a blogger-legislator forum.  She knows all about us and even has her own blog which is called “Wallace & Blogit”.  She is a second-term representative from Clark County, upbeat and fresh.  She’d spent a lot of time calling people back and calming most of them down.  She was particularly unhappy when it was a former victim of a sex offender or a family member of a victim who called, distressed by the possibility of a sex offender moving into their area.  She told people that despite the claim that the Democrats had voted down stronger punishment for offenders, it was just an inappropriately timed procedural vote on a 100 page bill that they were somehow supposed to vote on at the moment.  Most people understood and some were upset at being duped.  She did however have one person, clearly a Republican, who asked her “Why do you Democrats need to read the bill?”   

Tami Green is as straight-forward, hard-working first-term legislator from a Pierce county district.  She has been working hard on sex offender issues because it is a major issue in her district, which houses a disproportionate share of sex offenders.  She has co-sponsored nine bills on this issue and has been working with victims, police, and prosecutors to craft bills that will work.  She told us that the Republicans had asked for a vote on the 100 page bill that no one had yet read on the first day of session, normally a ceremonial day.  To vote on it that day would have meant by-passing the normal 5-day public notice and not holding hearings with people who understand the subject – like the victims, police and prosecutors.  It was dismissed out of hand.  And then a couple days later the robo-calls started and the postcards came out – all pre-planned of course.  Tami was particularly frustrated because this has historically been a bi-partisan issue and it will now be much harder for reasonable Republicans to work with the Democrats to get better laws passed.

Dan at On the Road to 2008 has also put up a great article discussing the Whidby New-Times article by Jessie Stensland that came out soon after the slimy postcards were sent.   At the end, he says:

GOP sycophants are making this into an either-or, you're either tough on crime or not issue. That's simply bullshit. Their slimey campaign has only highlighted a complete and utter loss of good judgement on the part of a party leadership that is adrift. D.C./Rovian tactics have crept further and further into the Washington State Republican party, which is further and further out of touch with the heart and soul of Washington state.

This isn't a Democratic or Republican issue, it is one where we should be listening to the professionals that have to deal with these cases every day. When a county sheriff and county prosecutor say something is a bad idea, I think we should be listening to them. Someone please explain to me why it seems nobody is.

Pat Lantz, who is in her fifth term, represents a suburban swing district in the Gig Harbor area.  She was outraged on behalf of her constituents.  She and her aide had talked with many crying constituents who were convinced that the postcard was an official notice.  She said the argument is more subtle than anything like this can depict.  The greatest difficulty that law enforcement officials have is getting convictions against family members.  “When victims think that ‘Uncle Joe’ will be sent away for life for what he did, there is a lot of pressure to back away from testifying against him.”   Lantz is an active grandmother who says it is hard enough raising children without this fear-mongering.  She is furious that this pack of lies went into her district and thinks that Representative Richard DeBolt, new House Minority Leader, whom she says masterminded this repulsive act, should apologize and that Kevin Carnes, who works both for the House Republican Organization Committee (HROC) and the Speaker’s Roundtable, the Republican PAC that paid for it, should be fired.  She says that DeBolt will say that playing tough will get a tough bill.  “That isn’t true.  Any piece of complex legislation like this takes time and requires input from people who deal with these issues all the time.  Legislation is about putting people together and doing no harm in the process.”

Pat also tipped us to the fact that many Republicans had apologized on behalf of their brethren and were also angry at DeBolt. 

Derek Kilmer is the newer representative from the 26th, in his first term.  Others had told us, and Derek confirmed, that his home number had been released and his wife, who is pregnant with their first child, was receiving abusive phone calls day and night.  He said that the Democratic-controlled legislature was already planning to introduce bills that would solve the issues raised by the Republicans and had previously assumed that it was a bi-partisan issue and would fly through with ease.  Derek thinks that DeBolt needs to apologize to the constituents of all the districts that received postcards.  He says we have to hold their feet to the fire on this or they will do it again and again.  To DeBolt he says, “If you didn’t do it, repudiate it.”

We were charmed by Bill Grant, a feisty old farmer from the Walla Walla area who is in his tenth term.  We were waiting out in the hall until he could see us and he threw open the door and said, “I just want to see what bloggers look like!”  We came into his office and talked about many things, this included.  He told us stories about constituent calls and said it saddened him.  Most people understood after he or his aide explained that it was all a political ploy and they even sent some of the then angry voters over to leave messages at Richard DeBolt’s phone.  Grant also said that he understood that the Republicans had had quite a fracas in their caucus over it.

We caught up with Geoff Simpson, third termer from South King County at the reception for Environmental Lobbying Day.  He was quite familiar with blogging and what we do and said he knows that we have to push the traditional media to report the news about these things.  He said he would stack his record on being tough on sex offenders against anyone’s.  In fact, he used to be really harsh until he became educated to the facts and realized that there were better ways to accomplish the real goal – safety for children.  He said that the one-ups-manship on display with these tactics prevents good policy being developed.  As far as he could see, these tactics are purely political and not meant to move the actual policy-making forward at all.  He is introducing a bill to make it a Class C felony to send out phony notifications.  It is currently not a crime and based on the experiences of these representatives with their constituents, it probably should be.  He says we need to protect the public from those who would seek to terrorize the public.  “The world is a scary enough place.  No point in making it worse.” 

If you want to read more about this nasty postcard incident, the best traditional media article so far is in the Tri-City Herald.  UPDATE: The PI also has a great article on this today.

Goldy has done some masterful coverage as usual - here and here

Jon DeVore, blogging again at VanBlog, also had some excellent posts, one of which includes the letter that the "Postcard Seven" sent to DeBolt demanding an apology and the other with photos of the actual postcard that went out.

And if you too would like to call Richard DeBolt and complain, do so.  His phone number is (360) 786-7896.   Or email him.

Posted by Lynn Allen on January 29, 2006 at 11:48 AM in Interviews | Permalink

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Comments

Great story!

Just a few corrections:
-Carns doesn't work for the House Republican Caucus (legislative staff) but for the House Republican Organizational Committee (campaign staff)...it's an important/big difference
-Lantz is serving her 5th term
-Kilmer is from the 26th
-Simpson is from King County (Covington area)
-Grant is serving his 10th term

Posted by: cuyahoga | Jan 29, 2006 9:39:08 PM

Thank you on both counts. Corrections made. And I wondered why Representative Grant's office was so large. Twenty years - wow!

Posted by: Lynn | Jan 29, 2006 10:46:31 PM

I think he's the second longest currently serving legislator (behind Rep. Sommers of course).

Posted by: cuyahoga | Jan 29, 2006 11:37:06 PM

Wow -- good for you, visiting the people who were targeted by this dirty trick. These people speak of the harm done to their constituents -- which is true -- but they've been harmed as individuals, as well. I just called DeBolt's office and the aid told me it wasn't DeBolt's fault. I said -- ha, you Republicans are always talking about personal responsibility to the point where you completely deny the impact of public policy and the fact that people live in an interdependent world -- but when it comes to actually accepting personal responsibility for a misdeed or a crime you refuse.

He said, no I can give you the contact info for the organization that's behind this. And I said, oh, yeah, that guy, Carnes -- who's been posting as a troll on Horsesass for the last year -- under pseudonyms -- using obscenities and veiled threats? (http://www.horsesass.org/index.php?p=1336) I'm going to contact that organization and get some answer better than yours?

The only bright spot I see in this is that it may help the public finally begin to see what the Republican Party is doing here in Washington State with a bit more clarity.

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Jan 30, 2006 10:10:55 AM

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