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Phoned town hall will focus on state Sen. Haugen's ferry role

They’ll be talking about her, so Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen will be listening in on the phone call.

In a take on the old party line concept, up to 1,500 telephone users could be on the phone Wednesday, June 18, as a partisan group hosts a “Ferry Telephone Town Hall” to, in part, take Sen. Haugen to task for the role she has allegedly played in recent ferry troubles.

Brent Ludeman, executive director of The Leadership Council, which is sponsoring the electronic town hall, said in a news release that Haugen, as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, “has failed to solve the ferry problem ... there is still no finished ferry design and no practical schedule to complete the boats.”

Haugen scoffs at that charge, saying bids for two new ferries will be sought in August and the boats should be on the water in 2010.

The ferry system is hurrying to replace the Steel Electric class vessels it beached last winter due to safety concerns. In the interim, a single, small boat is serving the Keystone to Port Townsend route, which has been disrupted since November.

Haugen, a Camano Island Democrat, has taken heat from Republicans for the ferry problems, especially in this election year. She is being challenged by Oak Harbor Republican Linda Haddon.

Haugen was unaware Tuesday morning of The Leadership Council’s Town Hall planned for Wednesday night.

“They’re playing political games with it,” Haugen said, calling The Leadership Council “nothing but one of those cells,” referring to independent groups that support partisan causes.

Leadership Council spokesperson Brent Ludeman said Tuesday that the organization is indeed a Political Action Committee made up of Republicans, but campaign laws say it can’t directly support Republicans. That’s why Haddon wasn’t invited to participate in tonight’s Town Hall.

“We haven’t even asked her,” Ludeman said. “We’re tying to keep it from being a campaign event.” As a PAC, the Leadership Council is limited to what he described as “issue advocacy.”

The Town Hall news release states participants will hear “legislative leaders and transportation experts.” Ludeman said State Rep. Doug Erickson, R-Bellingham, will be the host, along with Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley. He also hopes to have a ship builder involved in the effort to replace the Steel Electrics, and somebody from a “think tank.”

The phone connection will allow up to 1,500 callers to listen in and ask questions if a screener allows those questions through.

Haugen said she, for one, will be listening. “I’ll tune in and hear what they have to say,” she said.

She might even ask a question, but there’s no guarantee callers will hear what she has to say.

“That depends in what Representative Erickson decides to do,” Ludeman said.

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