Haugen’s Oak Harbor office called political

Gina Bull, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s new legislative assistant, staffs the senator’s new office in Oak Harbor. - Jim Larsen / Whidbey News-Times
Gina Bull, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s new legislative assistant, staffs the senator’s new office in Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Jim Larsen / Whidbey News-Times

A taxpayer-funded office in the heart of her election opponent’s territory has put State Sen. Marry Margaret Haugen under political fire.

Haugen, D-Camano Island, is set to formally launch her Oak Harbor office Wednesday afternoon, May 21, with on open house at 1901 SE Dock St., Suite 4.

Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser sent out a news release Thursday calling Haugen’s new office “one of the most blatant uses of taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes” he has ever seen.

Esser estimates Haugen’s office in Oak Harbor will cost taxpayers $58,000 a year, and claimed Senate Democrats gave Haugen “a publicly-funded campaign operative.”

That person is Haugen’s new “managing legislative assistant,” Oak Harbor resident Gina Bull, who will staff the senator’s office in town. Bull formerly ran unsuccessfully for the State House as a Democrat. She later went to work for former Republican Rep. Chris Strow, who was trying to show his bipartisanship by hiring a Democrat.

Bull reacted sharply to Esser’s charge that her new job is political.

“I take it very personally,” she said Friday. “This is not the first time dirty politics has been played. It’s a lack of character if you have to do that — it’s a party thing.”

Citing her experience running her own campaign and working for Strow, Bull said she fully understands the difference between campaigning and serving constituents. She said her Oak Harbor office has nothing to do with campaigning and will take no correspondence or phone calls on anything to do with the campaign.

“It’s a real slam on me personally, the assumption that I wouldn’t know the difference,” Bull said.

“It’s a legislative office,” Haugen told the News-Times on Thursday, fuming at the Republican’s charges. “It has nothing to do with this campaign. I’ve not kicked off my campaign.”

Haugen’s Republican opponent, Oak Harbor businesswoman Linda Haddon, announced her candidacy months ago. She was reluctant to get into the fray over Haugen’s office Friday, but did say that “I have questions about how it’s paid for, too.” Beyond that, Haddon said, “I’m going to worry about the ferries, senior citizens and about taxes.”

Haugen said she won’t officially be a candidate until next month when her campaign office opens in Stanwood. Her campaign manager will be Coupeville resident Courtney Jones.

Haugen said she has been trying to open a legislative office in the 10th District for years. Ten years ago she had one in Mount Vernon, but that’s on the outskirts of her district.

“I chose Oak Harbor because it’s the center of the district,” she said. “I’ve struggled with Oak Harbor for a long time.”

Haugen said it will be Bull’s job to help her “work more closely with the people I represent.” She will run the office and stand in for Haugen at various meetings the senator can’t attend personally.

Generally, the state pays for one full-time aide for each senator, but a few have two. Haugen now joins the ranks of those with two. She chairs the powerful Senate Transportation Committee.

Esser claimed only the leaders of each party caucus in the Senate have two aides. The new position for Haugen, he charged, “was done behind closed doors and kept secret from other senators, as well as the public.”

“That’s simply not true,” Haugen said of the allegation. She said the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee also has two aides.

Bull looked up the numbers and found that 15 senators have district offices, and that six have two legislative aides. Many House members also have district offices, staffed by aides when the Legislature is not in session. Tenth District Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, recently opened an office in Coupeville, for example.

Opening the Oak Harbor office will cost more than Bull’s salary and the $325 monthly rent, Haugen said. For other office expenses she will use the $1,900 a quarter each senator receives for miscellaneous expenses. That previously helped pay for her gas mileage expenses, she said. “Some senators jut pocket it,” she said.

Haugen said Republican criticism won’t change her plan to open her Oak Harbor office next week. “I’m not going to close that office, it’s there to serve the people,” she said.

The state Republican Party sees Haugen as vulnerable this year. Esser said in 2005 she received only 50.1 percent of the vote, which is why he thinks she opened an office in Oak Harbor.

“Senator Haugen should just come clean and pay her campaign staff from her campaign funds, rather than expecting taxpayers to foot the bill,” he said.

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