SPOKANE — The race between two Republicans for a state Senate seat in the rural 7th District has turned bitter, with the candidates feuding over one's slow payment of state taxes and the other's support from labor unions.
The contest features state Sen. John Smith and Brian Dansel in the district that hasn't sent a Democrat to Olympia in 24 years. Supporters of each candidate told The Spokesman-Review in a story Sunday that they can't remember a more negative campaign.
Smith was appointed in January to the seat that opened when longtime Sen. Bob Morton retired in the middle of his four-year term. He is among the most conservative members of the Republican caucus and has criticized Dansel for his support from labor unions.
Dansel is a Ferry County commissioner who has criticized Smith for being slow to pay business taxes in recent years.
Bob Moran of Usk, a former Pend Oreille County GOP chairman who's backing Smith, accused Dansel and his supporters of "finding some new depths to dive into."
But Jeannie Thompson, a Stevens County precinct officer who supported Smith for the appointment, said she switched to Dansel in part because she learned Smith had faltered in paying business taxes several times in recent years.
Smith is a business consultant who used to operate a cafe in Colville until it went under about three years ago.
Between 2007 and 2009, the state Revenue Department filed a series of warrants for unpaid taxes against Smith and his company, Capstone Food Services. In most cases, Smith paid the full amount he owed for business taxes or workers' compensation fees in a matter of months, the newspaper reported.
When the restaurant went under, however, some warrants went unpaid for several years, including an October 2009 bill for $15,278, which court records show wasn't satisfied until last April.
Last week Dansel sent out a campaign mailer listing some of the warrants filed against Smith's company, asking why he didn't pay his taxes on time like other people.
Smith called the warrants "old news." Dansel countered that tax bills are something voters have a right to know about a candidate, particularly one who touts his business experience.
A recent mailer from Smith painted Dansel as a tool of unions, saying he received endorsements from 35 labor organizations.
Dansel said he picked up support from the state teachers union because he'll listen to anyone, whether they agree with him or not. He said he never met with the Spokane Labor Council, a coalition of nearly three dozen unions, although his campaign received a $500 contribution from the council's PAC.
Thompson bought an ad in the Colville newspaper last week that noted that Smith's $111,000 campaign fund included plenty of money from political action groups.
Smith said those groups support him because he did a good job in the Legislature.
As of mid-October, Smith had spent about $83,000 and was planning more ads to counter Dansel, who reported raising $21,000 as of Oct. 10.