Nov 17, 2022 - Politics

Scoop: State Democratic Party chair under fire for alleged threats

A woman in a blue suit jacket speaks at a podium into a microphone, with an indistinct image projected in the background.

Tina Podlodowski in 2016. Photo: Genna Martin/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The chair of Washington's Democratic Party threatened to cut campaign aid to other Democrats if they supported — or even held a meeting with — this year's nonpartisan candidate for secretary of state, two local Democratic officials told Axios.

What’s happening: State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle) recently told Axios that the state party chair, Tina Podlodowski, threatened to withhold resources from Washington House candidates because Democratic House speaker Laurie Jinkins supported the nonpartisan candidate — not the Democrat.

  • Fitzgibbon, who chairs the state House Democrats' campaign committee, said Podlodowski made those threats several times in the lead-up to the midterm election. He called the behavior "really inappropriate."

Plus: Aaron Schuler, who sits on the executive board of a local party organization, said Podlodowski wrote an April email saying she might cut off his group's "access to resources and support" if the nonpartisan secretary of state candidate spoke at a meeting.

Why it matters: While the job of the state Democratic Party chair is to help get Democrats elected, Fitzgibbon said he felt Podlodowski was "prioritizing that [secretary of state] race over maintaining a majority in the House."

  • "I think the job of the state party chair should be to support Democrats up and down the ticket," he said.
  • He said the state party provides candidates with access to its database — a crucial campaigning tool — as well as financial support and help with mailing services.

Podlodowski denied making such threats in an October interview with Axios.

  • But after Axios reviewed screenshots of text messages in which she suggested she might withdraw support, she provided more detail, saying party officials eventually clarified to Fitzgibbon that no financial support for candidates was in danger.

Catch up quick: Democrats were fractured over this year's secretary of state's race, in which Julie Anderson, the nonpartisan Pierce County auditor, challenged Democrat Steve Hobbs, who was appointed to fill a vacancy last year.

Details: Fitzgibbon shared a Sept. 16 text message he received, in which Podlodowski reacted to Jinkins, state House speaker, planning to co-host a fundraiser for Anderson.

  • "This is bulls**t — apparently the House thinks so little of the Democratic Party … we can spend our resources elsewhere," Podlodowski wrote via text, per a screenshot.
  • Two other lawmakers shared screenshots of another message they said Podlodowski sent to multiple House members. "I see no reasons to support House races if that's how your caucus rolls," it read. Those lawmakers requested not to be named in this story, citing a need to maintain working relationships.
  • Fitzgibbon said Jinkins "de-escalated" the situation partly by toning down her public support for Anderson — and ultimately, not endorsing either Anderson or Hobbs.
  • Jinkins declined to speak to Axios about the issue. The event she planned to co-host for Anderson was rescheduled because it overlapped with a holiday, and Jinkins was not listed as a co-host of the rescheduled event.

What they're saying: Fitzgibbon noted that Podlodowski ran for secretary of state in 2016 and lost, and Anderson endorsed Podlodowski's Republican opponent that year. He said it felt like Podlodowski was now "trying to exact revenge."

  • After Anderson was invited to speak at a meeting that Podlodowski planned to attend, Schuler noted his local party organization received a veiled threat via email from Podlodowski. The email was shared with him in confidence because he was asked for advice on how to respond, he said.

Yes, but: Schuler said Podlodowski's email didn't bother him because he considered it the state party chair's job to go after Anderson.

  • Ultimately, Podlodowski's objection led the organization to disinvite Anderson to come speak to its members, he said.

The other side: In a written statement to Axios, Podlodowski said the Democratic National Committee has rules against local party groups supporting candidates who — like Anderson — are running against Democrats.

  • Podlodowski said allowing such a candidate to speak at a local party meeting is a "gray area," even if the candidate isn't seeking an endorsement. (Schuler said Anderson wasn't).
  • She added that after her text to Fitzgibbon on Sept. 16, party officials made it clear to him "that no resources would be withheld from House candidates."
  • Fitzgibbon said he wasn't fully reassured at the time.

What we're watching: At least one Democrat, Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young, has said a change in party leadership is needed after Podlodowski's handling of the secretary of state's race.

  • Fitzgibbon said he's not necessarily advocating that — but, "we are going to look for ways to make sure that this never happens again."

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