When posters went up on Capitol Hill last week urging voters to choose Republican Rob McKenna in the governor's race, it didn't take long for the signs to raise eyebrows—and it took even less time to figure out who was behind the campaign. On the posters themselves, credit went to the Progressive Conservative Coalition PAC, and publicly available campaign finance reports show that group is being organized by Marcus Charles, owner of the Crocodile, Local 360, and the bar Juju.
With about $3,500 in donations, most of them from the conservative-leaning Washington Restaurant Association, Charles's PAC is hitting the liberal neighborhood with posters that seem designed to confuse as much as cajole. They appeal in all capital letters to the "INDEPENDENT VOTER" and show Democrat Barack Obama's name shaded by Republican red, Republican Rob McKenna's name shaded by Democrat blue, and "Approve R-74" (the gay-marriage-legalizing way to vote on that measure) shaded in swing- voter purple. His PAC also paid for ads with an identical design in The Stranger.
By associating McKenna with a popular Democrat and gay marriage, the entire effort appears intended to make the Republican seem innocuous to progressives (even though McKenna opposes gay marriage and Obama's health care reform act). "It sounds as if his real motivation might be to trick civil rights voters," says Josh Friedes, spokesman for Equal Rights Washington.
What does Charles, whose venues take in a fair amount of money from the liberal voters of this city, say about his campaign?
In a series of e-mails to The Stranger, Charles argued that "ideological purity is not possible no matter what party you are associated with" and that such purity "could destroy the Republic." He feels McKenna would be a better administrator of state government and would do better than Jay Inslee on education reform. He added, "I hope you don't miss the fact that I also support Obama and R-74."
Charles also emphasized his support for marijuana legalization and universal health care—neither of which McKenna supports—and therein lies another example of the ideological problem. What Charles calls rejecting "ideological purity" ends up seeming, on closer examination, like an exercise in politically reckless inconsistency.
President Obama has, in the past, spoken favorably of universal health care—which Charles wants—but since it's not politically achievable in the near term, Obama went for the possible with his landmark health-care-reform bill. McKenna, by contrast, tried to take that health-care-reform bill apart with a lawsuit that went all the way to the US Supreme Court (and failed).
Gay marriage—which Charles supports—is on the ballot this fall in large part because our Democratic governor, Chris Gregoire, came out swinging for equal marriage rights this year and used her political muscle to help push an historic same-sex-marriage bill through the state legislature. McKenna opposes same-sex marriage, and if R-74 isn't approved at the polls this fall—which is a distinct possibility—a Governor McKenna would never do as much to keep up the fight for equality as a pro-gay-marriage Governor Inslee.
Charles counters: "In our state, with our initiative process, no matter who is governor, this issue is going to be decided at the ballot box by a majority of the state electorate. I don't see a legislative solution to gay marriage." He adds that he's been "heavily supportive" of R-74 and that it gets just as much of his time as Obama and McKenna. However, records maintained by the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission and the Federal Election Commission show no contributions from Charles to either R-74 or Obama. Charles's holding company, on the other hand, has donated $500 to McKenna.
Even Charles's business partner, Dave Meinert, who owns a minority stake in the Crocodile, says he can't defend his friend's positions. "I disagree with Marcus," Meinert says. "I can't carry the water for him because I don't agree with him." (Meinert also pointed out that he's personally raised more than $20,000 for Inslee, which "definitely cancels out what Marcus has raised for McKenna.")
Jody Hall, who has placed a number of Inslee placards in the windows of her Capitol Hill Cupcake Royale store, called Charles's poster campaign "disappointing" and "tricky." Like Meinert, she said she has dropped her membership in the Washington Restaurant Association—the group that is Charles's biggest donor—because of its conservative leanings and endorsements.
Behind the scenes, and in comments on Slog, The Stranger's blog, people have wondered if some particular restaurant-industry gripe is motivating Charles's campaign. He says that's not it. It's just that he's met both McKenna and Inslee, and "at the end of the day I decided that Rob has the better skill set to be governor and has the best chance to work [with] both parties to get real reform for Washington State."
He didn't seem worried that his political campaigning would hurt his business, even though some people have made noises about a boycott. ("Well, I guess I've seen my last show at the Crocodile," said one Slog commenter.) And Meinert, his business partner, claims "there's no way in our society to be completely, philosophically consistent."