Federal Way key to Senate control

Voter turnout will be the key as insiders say the race polls within the margin for error.

For the past two weeks the center of our state’s political universe has been here in Federal Way with debates hosted by the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and the Federal Way Mirror. Control of the state Senate could ride on who wins the battle between incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia and his Democratic challenger, school board chair Claire Wilson.

And it may come down to every campaign’s life blood — money. And lots of it!

But the big unknown is how will President Donald Trump, and women voters, affect turnout? Will the fight over the United States Supreme Court and how women are treated galvanize more Republicans or Democrats?

During the primary, Miloscia won 48 percent and Wilson won 38 percent, with third-place finisher Democrat Tarzah Idahosa getting 13 percent. Will Idahosa’s votes go to fellow Democrat Wilson is the big question. If they do, this will be a very close race. Other clues also suggest it will be tight. The first one is money. Miloscia has raised $417,280 and spent $285,036 while Wilson has raised $357,922 and spent $207,186.

The importance of the race is demonstrated by the political participation of party interests. Republican Party interests have given Miloscia $122,700, and Democratic Party interests have given Wilson $171,602 to date.

However, the real show is the “dark money” from outside special interests who favor or oppose a candidate based on what they want the candidate to vote for. The money is usually funneled through lobbyists and is not easy to track as it frequently goes through different hands before it is spent on mailings, or media ads to help or hurt candidates. While it cannot be coordinated with the candidates it is helping, it is also difficult to hold anyone accountable for the message that is conveyed. Many legislators including Wilson and Miloscia dislike this approach as it allows special interests to hide their support. Wilson also says she won’t take any corporate donations.

Despite Miloscia’s opposition, he is the biggest beneficiary of third-party money in this race as over $484,000 has been spent by special interests groups who oppose Wilson. Groups that oppose Miloscia have spent over $200,000 in trying to defeat him.

The other major clue that suggests this race is close is that Miloscia, the incumbent, has attacked the Federal Way school district’s success with students and graduation. Usually, it is the candidate raising questions about the incumbent’s record. Though Wilson has countered that she is proud that the district graduates 86 percent of its students, she has been reluctant to respond as forcefully as some of her supporters want. Miloscia also blamed Seattle for the woes in the Legislature, which is code for Seattle Democrats he believes would influence Wilson if she were elected. The tactic is being used in other races to scare suburban voters who might view Seattle’s politics as far left.

But there is also plenty of policy disagreement between the two. Wilson is an advocate of women’s equal rights, equal pay, equity in employment, favors choice for women and supports gay rights. Miloscia is opposed to abortion and raised the ire of women’s groups when he criticized them for their opposition to Trump and their march on the Capital last year. Women saw it as questioning their right to free speech. He also opposes gay rights. Miloscia is a “no” on taxes, while Wilson might support a capital gains tax to finish funding education. Competitive salaries and special education are areas that need attention.

Miloscia has more campaign experience at this level, having previously held a legislative position in the House, and has always been able to merge his union support with his values position successfully.

Milosia also supported media outlets in their quest to get public records from the state Legislature and has been endorsed by the Seattle Times and Tacoma News Tribune. The Federal Way Mirror gave a co-endorsement to the candidates. Voter turnout will be the key as insiders say the race polls within the margin for error. It’s a toss-up!

Next week: the two House races.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.