The free-for-all of Washington's "top-two" primary holds a place for politicians of every stripe, including the Lower Taxes Party and the Problemfixer Party.
Neither, strictly speaking, exists. But both will be on the ballot alongside Republicans, Democrats, Greens and independents who are filing for office this week.
“In this state, you can be a party of one,” said Terry Hunt of the Washington State Grange.
You can also tweak an existing party name. So state Rep. Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw stands for re-election this year as an “Independent Dem.” while others run under the banner of the GOP, the Republican nickname.
State Democrats may sue, as they did in 2008 in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the ballot from listing then-gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi as “Prefers GOP Party.”
They’re less worried about made-up names like the Salmon Yoga Party – a name that appeared on the 2008 ballot – than names like GOP and Independent Democrat, which they say confuse voters. Rossi is running again, this time for U.S. Senate, but hasn’t declared a party preference.
Congress is controlled by Democrats or Republicans, said state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz, so voters need to know which side a candidate would support. He’s deciding whether to go back to court.
The top-two primary advances the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party. Hunt helped persuade voters to create the system in 2004 while serving as state master of the Grange.
He said it should remain unchanged, calling it a matter of free speech.
Washingtonians will use the system for the second time Aug. 17 as they winnow the field of candidates for Congress, the Legislature, the courts and local government.
The ballot doesn’t list party endorsements, only the candidate’s preference. Usually, that means an entry of either “Prefers Democratic Party” or “Prefers Republican Party.”
But candidates can fill in that blank with anything, as long as it’s short and free of obscene language. Tim Sutinen, a challenger to state Rep. Brian Blake, chose “Lower Taxes.”
“Unfortunately there was only 16 characters to write,” the Longview businessman said. “I would have loved to write ‘less spending, less taxes.’ ”
The recent tea party rallies show there’s a movement afoot for lower taxes, Sutinen said – essentially a new party. That means he doesn’t have to run as a Republican, as he did in 2006 under the old primary system.
A state Senate candidate, Leslie Klein, will be on the ballot as “Prefers (R) Problemfixer Party.” Another candidate “Prefers Neither Party.”
Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office has been exhorting candidates not to use names or party descriptions “making light of the process,” spokesman David Ammons said.
Pelz blames Reed for allowing candidates to use labels such as GOP. Polls in 2008 showed some voters didn’t know the Grand Old Party referred to Republicans. But Reed’s office says it’s just interpreting the law. Reed, a Republican, in 2009 pushed unsuccessfully for a bill to limit party names.
Parties aren’t the only things candidates can make up. They can use a nickname as long as they include their real surname. This year, a tea party candidate from Belfair will challenge state Sen. Tim Sheldon under the name “Nancy (grandma) Williams.”
Some go further and change their full names. Perennial candidates Mike the Mover and Goodspaceguy, who wants to colonize space, are running for U.S. Senate this year.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826