Acrimonious 5th Legislative District contest could reshape state Senate

October 16, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Mark Mullet

Brad Toft

The candidate no longer in the race looms over the contest for the 5th Legislative District’s state Senate seat.

Cheryl Pflug, a Republican former senator and erstwhile candidate, is a constant presence in the race — in television spots supporting the Democrat in the contest and in diatribes from Republicans.

The acrimonious race to succeed Pflug pits the Democrat, Issaquah City Councilman Mark Mullet, against Republican Brad Toft, a manager for a national financial services firm and a Snoqualmie resident.

In a race focused on the economy and education, distractions abound — including Toft’s past legal troubles and accusations of dirty campaign tactics from both sides.

Toft entered the race late last year, before Mullet announced plans to run and Pflug filed for re-election.

“I felt like it was time for a new generation of leaders to get involved at the state level,” he said. “Specifically with this Senate seat, it was apparent to me that the incumbent at the time, that she had lost interest in the voters and was not visible here, and her record in the Senate was not indicative of the priorities that I thought should be in place in the Senate.”

Key endorsements

Local legislative candidates amassed a list of endorsements in the race for state House of Representatives seats.

5th Legislative District

Mark Mullet

  • Cheryl Pflug, former state senator
  • Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger
  • Issaquah City Council President Tola Marts

Brad Toft

  • U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert
  • State Rep. Jay Rodne
  • David Spring

Pflug represented the district in the Senate from January 2004 until earlier this year, after previously serving in the state House of Representatives.

In May, Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed Pflug to a $92,500-per-year spot on the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. Pflug resigned from the Senate and withdrew from the race, setting up a head-to-head contest between Mullet and Toft.

“I think voters in the 5th District in the past have had to choose between somebody who either had business experience or somebody who had progressive social values, so it was always mutually exclusive based on the candidates who had run in the last 20 years,” Mullet said. “What I’m finding is that people like to have both.”

Mullet joined the Issaquah City Council in 2010 after running unopposed for the seat and, earlier this year, spearheaded a controversial plastic bag ban at Issaquah businesses.

“What I learned on the City Council is that people disagree with you, those are probably the most important meetings to take, because that’s the only way you can learn what the other side is saying, that’s the only way you can figure out what the common themes are,” he said.

Democrats hold a 27-22 majority in the Senate, but conservative Democrats sometimes caucus with Republicans. The close margin means both parties focused outsized attention on the contest between Mullet and Toft.

“You prepare yourself for the issues, and you hear that there’s going to be knives thrown at you,” Toft said. “What I was not prepared for was what this race would mean in this election, and stakes. The little, old 5th District has been pretty quiet, I think, and it’s not going to be quiet this year.”

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