King County suburban politics got a lot less boring today with Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci’s announcement that she is giving up her seat on the Bellevue City Council to challenge Republican Jane Hague for King County Council’s 6th District.
The 6th District encompasses Kirkland, most of Bellevue, Mercer Island, part of Redmond, the Points communities, and Medina. Data shows it votes heavily for Democrats in federal level elections, as well as state level elections. But it has been represented by Hague, a Republican, for decades.
The Democratic Party has long been interested in capturing the 6th, but has not been able to field a formidable candidate.
Two cycles ago, in 2007, the party didn’t have anyone lined up to run, and so, when perennial candidate Richard Pope put his name forward for the Democratic nomination at the last minute, he ended up as the only candidate with a D next to his name on the ballot. The King County Democrats subsequently found a candidate they liked to run as a write-in, Brad Larssen, but Pope defeated Larssen in the primary. He went on to lose the general election to Jane Hague, 57% to 39%.
(2007 was the last year that Washington held an actual primary for state or local office, as opposed to the Top Two system we have now).
In the weeks leading up to the general election, Hague suffered a round of bad publicity when it was reported that she had been arrested for driving under the influence. But as the Democratic Party didn’t have a respected candidate running against her, it didn’t end up weighing her down much.
In 2011, the party did field a challenger… lawyer Richard Mitchell, formerly counsel to Governor Chris Gregoire. Mitchell ran a credible campaign and even picked up the early endorsement of The Seattle Times, only to lose the paper’s support for the general election following his decision to send out misleading attack mailers against Hague. He finished with 45.62% of the vote, to Hague’s 54%.
Balducci is unquestionably a formidable candidate. She has been elected to the Bellevue City Council several times — and Bellevue makes up a significant portion of the 6th District. She has experience serving on the Sound Transit Board of Directors. She is well versed in regional politics. She has already has raised $15,000 to start her campaign, and secured the early endorsements of Congressman Adam Smith, State Senator Cyrus Habib, and State Representative Ross Hunter.
“We live in a dynamic, diverse, and growing region,” Balducci said in a press release. “It’s time for new leaders who reflect the priorities and potential of the Eastside. In my experience as a local official, transit leader and mom, I’ll bring new ideas and energy to the Council, helping to make sure our voices and values are reflected in critical areas of policy and planning.”
Hague has indicated to Kirkland Views that she plans to run again, and told the Seattle Times today she is “excited” about the prospect of facing Balducci.
We’re excited, too, because this means that Seattle won’t be the only jurisdiction with competitive races in 2015. The special election in the 30th District for state representative and the race for King County Council’s 6th District look like they will be the marquee races outside of Seattle this year.
Balducci’s decision to run for King County Council will actually result in two competitive Eastside races, not just one.
That’s because she has to give up her position on the Bellevue City Council to run. Open seats tend to attract candidates, as we are already seeing in Seattle this year.
Three other King County Councilmembers are also up for election this year. All of them are Democrats: Larry Gossett, Larry Phillips, and Joe McDermott. They represent districts that are considered safely Democratic, so even if any were to retire, the political makeup of the Council would not change.
Officially, the King County Council is nonpartisan, but unofficially, it’s still as partisan as it always has been. There is no taking partisanship out of politics — anyone who has an opinion they want to defend can be considered a partisan.