Hutchison Avoids Questions at Rare Seattle Appearance

By Erica C. Barnett June 30, 2009

Last night, in front of a mostly elderly audience at the League of Women voters-sponsored forum at Horizon House, a senior housing facility, King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison made a rare Seattle appearance. (She's skipping tonight's big environmental forum at Town Hall, which her four Democratic opponents are all attending.) However, the odd format of the forum allowed her to remain almost as invisible as if she hadn't showed at all.

Here's how it played out: Audience members addressed their questions to seven county executive candidates  (in addition to Hutchison: state representative Ross Hunter (D-48), state senator Fred Jarrett (D-41), King County Council members Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips, public works engineer Alan Lobdell, and a perennial candidate named Goodspaceguy). Whichever candidate answered first got to take the question; one candidate (again, whoever responded first) was allowed to make a brief response.

The result was that the loudest candidates (Phillips, followed by Hunter in a distant second) got the most time behind the mike, and the quietest ones (Hutchison and Constantine) hardly said anything at all. (Lobdell and Goodspaceguy, meanwhile, got far more time than their status as long-shot candidates probably justified).

For Hutchison, the format was right in line with her strategy of banking on name recognition and avoiding media exposure of her conservative political views. For the congenitally taciturn Constantine, it was a liability: Because he rarely jumped in, his opponent Phillips was able to dominate the discussion, except for a handful of instances when audience members directed questions at him, saying things like "I'll give this one to Dow because he hasn't had much chance to talk."

In a way, the forum provided a perfect metaphor for the campaign: Through sheer force of will, the overeager Phillips dominated the discussion, silencing quieter candidates like Constantine and Jarrett, while Hutchison lurked silently in the background, knowing that the less she said, the better.

As for the substance of their remarks, the candidates mostly stuck to their well-rehearsed speaking points. Phillips boasted about cutting costs as head of the county council's budget committee ; Constantine talked about his work fighting Glacier Northwest's gravel mine on Maury Island and his history of "standing up to well-heeled interests";  Hunter complained about Metro's cost structure; and Jarrett talked about getting rid of middle-management positions that "don't add value" to the county.

In the two questions that were directed specifically at her, Hutchison flogged her proposal to cut the state B&O tax and said she has "never been associated with party politics"—a bold claim for a woman who almost ran for US Senate as a Republican just three years ago, and who has contributed thousands of dollars exclusively to Republican candidates.
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