Challenger hits Hargrove over child-rape bill

State Sen. Jim Hargrove says he’s never too surprised when contentious issues crop up in the geographically diverse 24th District, but the four-term Hoquiam Democrat takes personal issue with challenger Larry Carter injecting accusations over child rape law into the campaign.

“It seems to me with my background, the things I’ve worked on and the awards I’ve gotten, this is pretty thin as far as attacking me on this,” Hargrove said.

Independent candidate Larry Carter of Sequim has been airing cable TV commercials that criticize Hargrove as chairman of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee for a 2011 decision on child rape prosecutions. A bill that had passed the House 98-0 to expand the statute of limitation on child rape (House Bill 1657) was referred by Hargrove in the Senate to the Sex Offender Policy Board and the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs for further study.

Carter has purchased ads about the decision running on cable channels throughout the district, which includes Grays Harbor, Jefferson and Clallam counties. One of the ads features a Spokane woman, Jenny Graham, a child rape survivor who expresses frustration at the delay in getting the bill passed by the Legislature and who has been campaigning on behalf of Carter.

“Senator Hargrove is steadfast in his belief that punishing victims too traumatized to report rape in the manner he feels they should is reasonable,” Graham says in the conclusion of 14-page report she prepared on the bill.

The bill would allow the rape of a victim younger than 18 to be prosecuted at any time after the crime is committed. Graham, 47, was abused by her father but the complete police file was not made available to her until four years ago.

Carter blames Hargrove for stalling the legislation that would have allowed for prosecution of anyone who rapes a victim 18 years or younger at any time after the crime is committed.

“To me, that shows a lot of inconsideration for the House,” Carter said of Hargrove’s decision to refer the bill. “To use an old political term, he threw the House of Representatives under the bus by refusing to submit that bill.”

Carter said Hargrove “refused to make any amendments to the bill” and then prevented it from coming to a Senate vote. “I respect our senator in every measure but this one,” Carter added.

Hargove responds by saying: “There isn’t anybody in Olympia, or anybody I know of any place, that is trying to protect sex offenders.”

“This is politics. They can say anything they want and I just hope the public will take a look at what we did,” Hargrove said.

Hargrove, named Legislator of the Year by the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said he referred the bill because of concerns raised by the coalition, other victims advocates and by the Washington Prosecutors Association. He said they were concerned about the impact the change would have on the ability to convict offenders.

“We want to be sure we convict sex offenders, not let trials be delayed so long the evidence gets stale and we might not get a conviction,” Hargrove said.

He noted that the Senate committee he chairs had a full agenda and that the decision to refer it was not an attempt to make a judgment about the bill “one way or the other as far as the ultimate decision whether to pass it or not.”

The Sex Offender Policy Board, Hargrove added, is a panel of law enforcement, prosecutors, victims advocates and other experts “charged with protecting the public against sex offenders.”

Hargrove also said he discussed the move with his Senate minority colleagues and other committee members.

“Any senator could have disagreed and moved to have pulled that bill to the floor, and no one brought it up,” Hargrove said. “Our decision was that it was prudent to get recommendations from the experts first.”

He noted the policy board is expected to make its recommendations before the next session.

“I’ll draft legislation that accommodates their recommendations,” Hargrove said.

Carter, however, believes the policy board is not going to recommended abolishing the statute of limitations.

“I’ll give him that one in that he is sticking by what he says,” Carter said of Hargrove’s response.

If elected, Carter said the first act he would take would be to resubmit the House Bill in the Senate.

“This is the biggest single issue,” he said of the election contest. “The other big issue is that Sen. Hargrove believes that government is the solution to our problems, and I believe that growing our economy and getting new jobs are the solutions to our economic problems.”

Carter said he doesn’t believe he has been given a fair shot at beating Hargrove.

“The senator is a very smooth and polished gentleman. He’s been in Olympia for 28 years,” Carter said. “… Myself, I’ve never been in public office, but I feel like I have the drive and the energy to make a difference down there.”

Carter said he won’t be afraid to “stick my head up” on an issue because he plans to be a one-term lawmaker, if elected.

“I would like to see us return this seat to the district and let the people have a voice,” Carter said.

Hargrove received 65 percent of the vote in the Aug. 7 primary election to 35 percent for Carter.

On his website, Hargrove lists all the sex offender policies he has helped pass over the past 20 years, including a provision that makes it possible for sex offenses to result in a life sentence for repeat offenders. In 2007, the Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs named Hargrove “Legislative Champion” and he also received the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence award that same year among numerous similar honors.

“That’s been the center of my policy work over the last 20 years is to try to protect the public from crime. Crime rates are down in the state and it’s saving the public money because we have less crime. We have been able to close an adult prison and a juvenile prison. Less crime is good, and that has been my whole career’s worth of work,” Hargrove said.

As state Senator since 1993 and a Representative from 1985-1992, Hargrove understands that different issues sometimes mark the district, noting it takes about five hours to drive the district boundaries from Oakville to Neah Bay.

“I think it’s probably the most spread-out district population-wise in the state,” Hargrove said. He has raised $91,457 for his re-election, spending $61,656 so far, while Carter has raised $12,835 and spent $12,539, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

Hargrove doesn’t plan a TV ad campaign, preferring to spend his funds in more traditional ways.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to are turned off by the attack ad stuff,” he said. “None of my mailings or newspaper ads or radio ads refer to or attack (Carter) at all. I’m just talking about what I’ve done, what my record is, the awards I’ve gotten and some of the things other people have said about me.

“I’m either doing a good job and people are satisfied or they’re not. We do the best we can,” Hargrove added.

Angelo Bruscas, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3916 or by email: