Features

The Loser

Three-time loser Dino Rossi is running for office. Again.

May 23, 2018

Dino Rossi is famous for one thing: losing statewide elections.

Let's count 'em. After a remarkably conservative but otherwise unremarkable tenure in the state legislature, Rossi ran for governor against Christine Gregoire in 2004. After a recount, he lost by a little more than a hundred votes. Feeling cheated out of a win, Rossi challenged Gregoire to another round in 2008. He lost again, but this time much more decisively. In 2010, when Republicans were drowning Democrats all over the country in a red wave, Rossi managed to lose to Patty Murray by four points in his bid for a seat in the US Senate.

That's three big losses—all to women—in six years. Though he's recently held a few special appointments in the legislature, Rossi's last electoral victory was in a state senate race in 1996. Which means Rossi's last "win" is old enough to drink.

"Is the argument for Dino Rossi basically that, by the law of averages, he has to win something eventually?" the Washington Post's Dave Weigel quipped on Twitter during Rossi's 2010 Senate run. Dino Rossi apparently thinks so. That's why this anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-immigrant, pro-gun, three-time loser is running again.

This time Rossi is running for a US House seat—for Washington's 8th Congressional District—and this race may be Rossi's best chance for a win since 2004. Winning a congressional district is easier than winning a state seat, Rossi has lived in the district for a long time, and he took the district by roughly 10 points in the Senate race he lost to Murray. All the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination are first-timers, which means Rossi will be running against an amateur politician. Rossi is also a rich motherfucker with good name ID, a "thousand-watt smile," and an established network of donors who feel like they want to give their guy the win he's "deserved" for so long.

So if you're a dedicated member of the local #resistance who knows we can begin to hold President Donald Trump accountable only by electing a Democratic majority to Congress in 2018—or even if you're a busy person who wants to help but doesn't know how—the most important thing you can do between now and November is work to defeat Dino Rossi. Despite Rossi's advantages, nonpartisan political analysts rate Washington's 8th Congressional District a "toss-up," and it's the closest, most flippable district near Seattle.

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Welcome to the 8th Congressional District, just a 30-minute drive from downtown Seattle! The Cascade Mountains cut this region in half, which makes it (sort of) a microcosm of the state. To the west of the mountains we have the suburbs of Auburn, Issaquah, and Sammamish, where Rossi owns a nice house in a country club. Movers and shakers around here include tech workers, Boeing engineers, and veterans spilling over from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. To the east we have Ellensburg, Wenatchee, and Chelan. This is a fruit-growing region with a few universities and large hospitals. These folks care about taxes, health care, and immigration.

Former King County sheriff Dave Reichert has represented this district for the last 14 years. But after Trump's election put pressure on Reichert to actually meet with his own constituents and hold town halls for once in his do-nothing career, Reichert announced he wouldn't seek reelection in 2018. The race to fill Reichert's seat will be the most closely watched contest in Washington during the 2018 election cycle.

Despite the rise of Indivisible and other advocacy groups in the region, despite the fact that Democrats and outside groups are prepared to pour money into advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts, and despite the fact that similar-looking districts in special elections have been favoring Democrats, Republicans are serious about holding on to this seat. And they aren't delusional: The district is way more conservative than Democrats would like to acknowledge.

Though a majority in the 8th District has chosen a Democrat for president since Bill Clinton in 1992 (Hillary Clinton won by three points in 2016), they've sent a Republican to Congress every year since the district's creation in 1980. (Those Republicans were Rod Chandler and Jennifer Dunn.) After redistricting in 2012, the 8th has only gotten redder, especially in east Pierce County, which leaned heavily for Trump. Reichert won his last two races by 20-plus points.

It's difficult to be precise because redistricting and annexation have changed precinct boundaries, but in 2010, Rossi won approximately 30,000 more votes than Murray within the current boundaries of the district.

But that was eight years ago—and during a Republican wave election. And while most of the district has been getting redder, the chunk in east King County has been growing in population and getting bluer. Plus, Trump's election has activated voters in the region in ways we're only beginning to understand. State Democrats say they're seeing people showing up to their canvasing training events in the hundreds in places where that level of participation is unheard of. And though Rossi is well-known to those who've lived in the district for a while, newer residents and people who weren't paying attention before Trump are not familiar with Rossi.

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Let's get familiar with Dino Rossi, shall we?

Over the course of the next several months, Rossi will try to make voters believe four things: (1) He's a "fiscal conservative with a social conscience." (2) He has a "proven track record of accomplishing bipartisan solutions and solving problems." (3) He's a real human being and not a power-hungry Trumpian shitlord in a Brooks Brothers suit desperately trying to win something, anything, just this once, pretty please. (4) He isn't a loser.

Rossi has been using the "fiscal conservative with a social conscience" line since at least 2004. It wasn't true then and it's not true now. In reality, Rossi is a social conservative with no conscience.

Rossi has opposed gay rights and a woman's right to choose for his entire career. When he first ran for the state senate in the 5th District all the way back in 1991, he opposed an initiative reaffirming Roe v. Wade at the state level. In the legislature, he cosponsored a bill that would have added "unborn children to the definition of a person in the state constitution," writes Laura Onstot in the Seattle Weekly, a move that ultimately would have banned abortion in the state. He's also championed abstinence-only education and letting school districts decide "whether or not to teach creationism along with evolution," according to the Seattle Times.

Rossi added an anti-gay-marriage plank to his platform when facing off against Democrat Kathleen Drew in 1996, sending out flyers bashing Drew for sponsoring "a gay and lesbian art exhibit in the state capitol," according to the Seattle Times. He opposed gay marriage in all of his statewide races.

In fact, Rossi played so dirty and ran so far to the right during his campaigns for state legislature in 1991 and 1996 that his Republican opponents in the primary refused to endorse him in the general. His Republican opponent in 1996 called him "borderline extreme right," according to the Seattle Times. The Washington Conservative Union would go on to rank Rossi among the top five most conservative voters in the legislature.

During his runs for governor, Rossi constantly faced questions from reporters about his bigoted and anti-choice views, and he constantly dismissed them by claiming he wouldn't have a say in those issues as governor. When he challenged Patty Murray for her US Senate seat, he would only say he wasn't "running on" abortion or gay rights.

What he means by "not running on" is "I'd rather not answer questions about" those things. And he'd rather not answer questions about gay marriage and choice because he knows it will cost him the votes he needs if he hopes to finally win something, anything, just this once, pretty please.

Here's the thing: Rossi doesn't get to call himself a "fiscal conservative with a social conscience" when he spent his entire political career stomping all over the rights of gay people and women. And the only thing that matters when he's a congressman is how he'll vote on those issues. Rossi's legislative and campaign history shows he'll gladly—but quietly and sneakily—cosign the Trump administration's daily attacks on women and LGBTQ communities.

Just to put a point on it: As a delegate, Rossi voted for Trump at the Republican National Convention. And though he says Trump wasn't his first choice for president, he also says his first choice was Ted Cruz. Ted. Cruz. Not John Kasich, a so-called "compassionate conservative." But Ted Cruz, the guy who wants to roll back gay marriage, ban abortion in all cases, repeal Obamacare, and shutter the IRS and the Department of Education. That's Rossi's dude.

Rossi also doesn't get to credibly call himself a "fiscal conservative with a social conscience" who has a "track record of bipartisan solutions" when his major achievement as the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee was to try to kick 46,000 children off Medicaid while cutting prenatal care for undocumented immigrants and increasing college tuition by 9 percent in the 2003 budget. And though he says he "wrote" the bill, as former Stranger writer Goldy pointed out back in 2010: "It was Democratic governor Gary Locke who first proposed an all-cuts budget, and Rossi who merely followed up a couple months later with a few modifications to make it even more draconian."

Rossi often touts his ability to reach across the aisle. He's a dealmaker, a guy with a "track record of bipartisan solutions." In reality, Rossi is a divisive and callus politician. In 2017, while filling in as state senator for the 45th District, instead of negotiating in good faith with Democrats to pass a budget, Rossi signed on as the prime sponsor of a spending bill that he knew wouldn't pass purely to troll Democrats.

Rossi couldn't even reach a bipartisan agreement with a teen who visited his office to lobby on behalf of the environment, an issue that occasionally brings Republicans and Democrats together in the 8th District. When 15-year-old Jamie Margolin, a member of the Junior Statesmen of America, met with Rossi in Olympia to discuss environmental issues, he filled their 10 minutes together "with pointless small talk so he wouldn't have to hear [her] talk," she wrote in a blog postfor HuffPost.

She says Rossi interrupted her "constantly," accused her of wanting money even though she was "just asking him to acknowledge science," and tried to guilt-trip her for talking about climate change by directing her attention to a pamphlet about teen homelessness. "I walked out of Dino Rossi's office feeling defeated," writes Margolin, a kid who hadn't spoken to an elected representative before in her life. Rossi also pointed in the direction of PTA members rallying outside the Capitol building and told Margolin, "You know, they want money too." Her response serves as the clearest-eyed summation of Rossi's politics and personality: "'What about all the money going into the military, and fossil fuels, and making the rich richer!' I wanted to yell, but I couldn't bring myself to. 'Why aren't you complaining about that money?'" Margolin wrote on HuffPost. "His claim was so absurd, I just stared at him in disbelief thinking, 'What an asshole.'"

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But nowhere is the disconnect between Rossi's claims and Rossi's actions more apparent than in his own "rags to riches" story, which he will repeat ad nauseam over the course of the next several months.

Lately, he's been filling up his social- media feed with the tale of his grandfather emigrating from Italy "around the turn of the 20th century," when all you had to do to legally immigrate to the United States—so long as you weren't Chinese—was sign your name on a piece of paper and prove you didn't have a "loathsome disease." Based on Rossi's own telling, Silvino Rossi could do just that. After finding New York City too crowded, Silvino chain-migrated to Washington State, where his sister had already set up shop. Despite speaking almost no English, Silvino found gainful employment in the Black Diamond coal mines. With that money, he was able to make a little life for himself. "Only in America could the grandson of an immigrant coal miner have the opportunity to represent his community in Congress," Dino Rossi says now, and will say 15,000 times before November.

Like the rest of Rossi's tired-ass catchphrases, this one doesn't apply anymore. According to the latest from US News & World Report, you'll have better luck achieving the American dream in Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, and Norway before you get to the fifth-ranked United States.

There are some good reasons why America is not number one in this category. As income inequality has grown, economic and social mobility has drastically declined. Immigrant or not, you're now far more likely to make less money than your parents did. And this didn't make it into the report, but expanding the power of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, tripling its forces, and conducting random raids throughout the country isn't the way to attract immigrants who enrich this country and boost its economy.

And while Rossi praises America for welcoming his grandfather and for giving him the opportunity to succeed in the 20th century, Rossi is committed to denying that same opportunity to immigrants in the 21st century.

According to an interview in 2010, Rossi wants "a physical barrier" in place "before we start doing other things." He wants "a tall fence with a high gate." He rejects "amnesty" completely, demonizes immigrants, and refers to the United States as a leaking boat.

In a more recent interview with the Seattle Times, Rossi said that deporting "690,000 or 1.8 million people" isn't "logical," but he refused to endorse DACA. So what would he do instead? What's his grand idea? How does he want to address the realities of the thousands of skilled workers who pick the apples, cherries, and pears in the eastern part of the district he wants to represent? Or the realities of the immigrants who create software on the west side of the district? "There needs to be an orderly way for people to come here, where we know who they are and we know there aren't issues where they come from," he told the Seattle Times, sidestepping the issue of the people who are already here.

The cognitive dissonance continues throughout the rest of Rossi's life story. After escaping a bad marriage, his mother, Eve, raised her five children from her first marriage in public housing in Seattle. Once she married Rossi's biological father, John Rossi, the family moved to Mountlake Terrace. Rossi's father went to college on the GI Bill and supported the family of nine on a public school teacher's salary. They struggled to get by. After graduating from Woodway High School in Edmonds, Rossi worked his way through Seattle University by cleaning the floors of the Space Needle. Eventually, Rossi landed a job selling commercial real estate, hence the Ivy League cut and the shark smile—and his personal wealth.

But there's just a little hitch in that last detail. Rossi learned the commercial real estate business under the guidance of a felonious fraudster named Melvin Heide, who was sentenced to three years in prison and forced to repay $1.7 million to a few of the many families he conned. The Seattle Times story on Rossi's close relationship with Heide quotes one of Rossi's former coworkers at Heide's firm saying, "The people who got hurt were little old ladies... schoolteachers who put in their life savings." Despite this, Rossi carried on a relationship with his mentor during the prosecution and for a few years after Heide got out of prison. Later on, when Rossi was just starting out in the state senate, he received an off-the-books loan of $50,000 from Michael Mastro, a developer who was investigated for running a $100 million Ponzi scheme, and who was eventually charged with fraud. Mastro generously contributed to Rossi's first losing gubernatorial campaign.

So instead of recognizing the role government services played in preventing Rossi's enormous family from spiraling into poverty, instead of decrying the insufficient salary of public school teachers, instead of wishing for affordable college education, instead of acknowledging the fact that he owes some of his initial success in commercial real estate to con artists who wanted to buy influence, Dino Rossi swallowed the Ronald Reagan red pill decades ago and has been preaching the mantra of self-sufficiency ever since.

All of this should be disqualifying on its face. But, as Rossi said to a group of Republicans in 2007: "It's amazing what you can get away with if you do it with a smile."

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But he doesn't have to get away with it. You can do something about it. Yes, you, person from Seattle who probably can't even vote in this race. You can help secure Rossi's fourth agonizing, humiliating, totally fucking glorious defeat, a loss that will—fingers crossed—likely banish him from the world of politics forever.

The only way to do that—the only way to banish Rossi forever—is to send a Democrat to Washington, DC, from Washington's 8th Congressional District. There are five Democrats running for the nomination, but the leading Democratic candidates are pediatrician Kim Schrier, former King County prosecutor Jason Rittereiser, and former public health official Shannon Hader. Schrier is currently leading the field in terms of fundraising and major endorsements, but Rittereiser and Hader are making impressive cases for themselves. There's still plenty of debate left between these three, and the primary isn't until August 7. The Stranger will endorse a candidate in July, and that's when you can start telling people exactly who to vote for. Until then, I've written extensively about all the candidates, so search for the candidates' names if you want to study up.

But what can you do to help right now? Chris Petzold of Indivisible WA-8 wants you to participate in the group's voter registration, canvasing, and get-out-the-vote efforts. Follow them on Twitter @Indivisible_WA8 and retweet messages about Rossi and WA-08 politics to raise the visibility of the issues. She also suggests you give money to the Democratic candidates. The Stranger hasn't made its endorsement yet, but Indivisible has endorsed Rittereiser and Schrier.

A spokesperson for the Washington State Democratic Party told me you can "join local volunteer leaders and knock on doors or make phone calls to voters... These types of personal contacts really matter, especially in close races."

If door-knocking and phone-banking aren't your thing, open up your wallet and make a small monthly donation to the party. "We aren't going to be able to compete with Dino Rossi's money machine, but small recurring donations help us have the resources to make early and ongoing investments in on-the-ground organizing," the spokesperson said.

If you want to block Trump's agenda and hold him accountable, if you want to swell the wave of Democrats riding into office this November, if you're overwhelmed by everything right now and you just want to focus on one important political thing you can do, focus on the race in Washington's 8th District. Follow the candidates, make calls, make donations—participate however you can.

Rossi is a loser. He lost in 2004. He lost in 2008. He lost in 2010. Help make sure Rossi is still a loser in 2018.