PORT ORCHARD — Direct-mail pieces supporting 26th Legislative District state Senate Republican candidate Marty McClendon have hit South Kitsap mailboxes in recent weeks that many — including Democratic candidate Emily Randall — say are examples of below-the-belt campaign literature funded by the political action committee WA Forward.
One of the mail pieces sent to voters blasted Randall for supporting a Kitsap County single mother with a troubled past. Here’s some background information about Tarra Simmons, a Bremerton woman:
Despite being arrested for meth and prescription drug use, and subsequently serving a stint in prison, Simmons made the long climb back to eventually graduate in 2017 with honors from the Seattle University School of Law.
Simmons faced another challenge when the Washington State Bar Association’s Character and Fitness Board voted 6-3 against her admission to the bar due to her past history. Simmons, however, fought the decision and appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Here’s where Randall’s association comes into play — as Simmons prepared to confront the court, Randall posted a Facebook message of support: “Rooting for Tarra Simmons, her legal team and civil rights today!”
The Supreme Court unanimously found that Simmons “has the requisite moral character and fitness to practice law in the State of Washington,” thereby reversing the board’s decision.
The PAC’s political mailer painted a vastly different picture of Simmons — and by association, Randall, due to her support of Simmons. The mailer is headlined “Extremist Emily Randall. Opening the wrong doors for Washington families.”
Labeling her “Too soft on crime,” the political action committee’s mailer stated, “Emily Randall (D) has consistently failed to back our law enforcement, yet Randall has supported Tarra Simmons, a drug addicted ex-con who was denied admission to the Washington State Bar Association due to multiple felony convictions.” No reference was made in the mailer about Simmon’s Supreme Court case vindication.
Randall, a first-time candidate who grew up in Port Orchard, issued a statement July 18 in response to the mailer’s attack against her and Simmons:
“The Republicans’ recent attacks on Tarra Simmons are deeply disappointing — and a new low. I proudly stand with Tarra and the work she does everyday to make a difference in our community and call on my opponent to apologize to Ms. Simmons.
“While my opponent’s funders spend unlimited amounts running negative ads attacking me and hardworking people like Tarra Simmons, I will continue to do what I’ve done my entire career: work hard to make sure everyone, no matter who they are, has the opportunity to live a fulfilling and healthy life.”
Randall later said the campaign mailer effort “was incredibly dirty.” She said: “It’s really low and disappointing, and it reflects the worst of campaigns when you would pull in a private citizen who is, by all accounts, an upstanding individual who has done everything we expect people to do. She served her time and went on to improve her life, and the lives of others.”
The Democrat said her association with Simmons consisted of voicing her support on Facebook, briefly meeting her twice at community events, and receiving a small campaign donation from Simmons.
“To use her and make false claims in order to attack me, seems rather abhorrent.”
Her opponent, McClendon, said his campaign wasn’t responsible for the mailer. He told KUOW reporter Austin Jenkins that he also thought the attack on Simmons, a private citizen, was inappropriate.
“This is not coming from us, we wouldn’t generate an ad like this, me personally or my campaign, but this isn’t something we have control over,” he told the reporter.
KUOW also reported that, according to filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission, WA Forward gets its funding from The Leadership Council, a political action committee associated with the state Senate Republican caucus. Two of its committee officers are Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler and Sen. John Braun. The senators could not be reached for comment.
Simmons did pick up personal support across the aisle from 26th District state Rep. Michelle Caldier, a Republican. KUOW reported that the Republican defended Simmons on her Facebook page: “I am proud to support you. I am appalled that you were personally attacked.”
She told Jenkins that people trying to get their life back on track will always get her support. “As a private citizen, she should have been kept out of any political hit pieces.”
Caldier reiterated that she nonetheless supports fellow Republican McClendon in the state Senate race and said his campaign wasn’t responsible for the mailer.
Simmons’ life, personally and professionally, continues on an upward trajectory. Admitted to the state bar association after passing the bar exam in June 2017, she now works for the Seattle-based Public Defender Association and assists former felons navigate the legal and financial complexities as they reenter society.
Simmons also is a Skadden Fellow at the association, a prestigious award in the legal profession.