A coalition of labor groups—the Washington State Labor Council, the United Food and Commercial Workers 21, the Washington Federation of State Employees, the Service Employees International Union 775, and the Teamsters—have raised $100,000 for independent expenditures against a candidate in the race for the open state house seat in the 36th Legislative District (Ballard, Magnolia, Queen Anne). The candidate? Democratic Seattle Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton.

The union group is mad at Tarleton over her refusal to upgrade port truckers' workplace rights (such as workers' comp and unemployment benefits) and over her watered-down compromise on truck emission standards.

Why are Democrats spending big money to take out one of their own when there are more dire needs for the party right now? However, Tarleton, who's been endorsed by the state rep she's looking to replace, retiring liberal Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, as well as by the 36th District Democrats, the King County Democrats, the Metropolitan Democratic Club, and Planned Parenthood, is certainly a card-carrying Democrat with union support. The Central Puget Sound Carpenters Local 30, the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 19, the Port of Seattle Fire Fighters Local 1257, and the Seattle/King County Building & Construction Trades Council, along with several other unions, have endorsed her.

The People for Progressive Leadership committee is supporting another Democrat, though: Progressive Majority Director (and Washington Bus board member) Noel Frame, who they feel is more liberal. Frame has swept the progressive endorsements, getting the thumbs up from the Sierra Club, Equal Rights Washington, OneAmerica, Fuse, and her own Progressive Majority.

PubliCola agrees; we endorsed Frame last week.

But with the polls tightening in the governor's race, the charter schools initiative leading, and the Republicans spending bank on a batch of contested state senate races that could tip the balance of power in Olympia, you have to wonder why a crew of liberal interest groups would direct so much money at a race in a safe Democratic seat where both candidates share endorsements from a batch of Democratic groups, including the King County Democrats and Planned Parenthood.

Super liberal Seattle state Sen. Adam Kline (D-37, S. Seattle), who has endorsed Tarleton, told PubliCola: "No Democrat wants to see Democratic donor dollars being used against other Democrats at any time. But especially now." He went on to cite everything from the close Presidential race to US house races to the state senate. "Why the hell would you want dollars from our donors to be used that way?"

He said that Gael's opponents on the left were free to go for it if they feel she's not ideologically pure—"there is a choice between ideology and party," he said—but "I think Gael is a true progressive and will be a friend of labor [in the state legislature]."

Here's a Cola "One Question" for  People for Progressive Leadership campaign manager John Wyble: Why are Democratic donors spending big money to take out a Democrat when there are more pressing needs for the party?

"Once she gets in there, and they have concerns about her issues—that could be a 20-year concern."—Progressive Leadership campaign spokesman John Wyble

Wyble told us: "The simple answer is once someone is in from a Seattle district, they're in for a long, long time. And they [the Washington State Labor Council et al] want the most progressive person they can have. Once she gets in there, and they have concerns about her issues—that could be a 20-year concern."

He added: "When tough stuff comes up in Oympia, we can count on Noel, and we're not sure we can count on Gael. And that's worth it."

Asked about specific policy issues where PFPL had concerns, Wyble pointed only to trucker workplace rights.

And while it's not a specific gripe about policy issues, Wyble also criticized Tarleton for the way she's handled the controversy over Port CEO Tay Yoshitani, to whom the Port Commission has given unpopular raises and allowed to sit on the board of private shipping navigation company (raising conflict of interest questions at the Port).

It's a weird complaint against Tarleton, though: Dissident Tarleton voted against Yoshitani's pay raises, voted against the contract that ultimately allowed Yoshitani to take the private gig, and was out in front calling on Yoshitani to choose between the Port and the company.