Former state Auditor Brian Sonntag, a moderate Democrat during his 20 years as a statewide official, got notice several weeks ago that he was persona non grata in the Democratic Party.
Why? He accepted a senior fellow position with a conservative think tank, the Freedom Foundation.
Sonntag, a staunch advocate for open government and accountability, was a popular politician in Washington state. He was the Democrats’ top statewide vote-getter in four straight elections — 1996 to 2008.
Kicking him to the curb was foolish.
Republican leaders responded with a clever effort to make Democrats look petty.
Eric Smith of Washington State Wire — an independent, nonpartisan news gathering organization focusing on state government — has been reporting on what he termed a blistering email exchange between Democratic Party leaders about Sonntag.
“Sonntag ... committed the sin, in political retirement, of accepting a senior fellow position with the Freedom Foundation. Sonntag will use the position to promote government transparency and accountability, pretty much as he did as state auditor,” Smith wrote.
Earlier Sonntag got under party leaders’ skin by chairing Democrats for Rob McKenna, a group that worked to help McKenna in his gubernatorial race against Democrat Jay Inslee.
“In an email addressed to Sonntag, but really to the entire world, (state Democratic Chairman Dwight) Pelz declares that by joining forces with a conservative think tank, Sonntag is demonstrating that he is a Republican,” Smith wrote. “Oh, worse than that. He’s working for Karl Rove! Tim Eyman! ... And every other monster that good Democrats talk about when they want to frighten their children during bedtime stories at night.”
Washington voters remain independent — although with a slight tilt to the left.
GOP Chairwoman Susan Hutchison used the Sonntag attack to make some political hay.
Hutchison, a former TV news anchor in Seattle, sent out a statement praising Sonntag and denouncing Pelz’s rebuff.
“The Washington State Democratic Party is becoming the party of intolerance, with a strict orthodoxy that few can truly embrace. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is the party that welcomes all citizens who want government that serves the people. Our party is a patchwork quilt of opinions on a multitude of issues. We welcome Brian and any other disaffected Democrats to join our efforts to ensure good government,” Hutchison wrote.
About 20 years ago the state Republican Party took a public relations drubbing when it went too far right, essentially giving the raspberry to its more moderate members. Many of the political centrists whom the GOP lost back then still have not come back.
If the Democratic leadership continues to shun differing political views within its tent, the Republican Party will benefit.