This afternoon, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles made it official: She’s running to succeed Larry Phillips as the councilmember for King County’s 4th District, which encompasses neighborhoods on the Puget Sound side of North Seattle, including Ballard and Greenwood. And she is doing so with Phillips’ support.
“It’s been an incredible privilege, honor and pleasure representing my constituents for the last twenty-three years in Olympia in what has been the most significant work of my career,” Kohl-Welles said in a press release declaring her candidacy.
“Throughout my legislative tenure, I have steadfastly striven to be accessible, responsive and effective,” she added. “I’ve consistently worked collaboratively to achieve common-sense solutions on very challenging issues, while maintaining strong Democratic principles and values.”
“I’ve fought for social justice and economic equity causes and have been a leader in advocating on behalf of the safety and well-being of children and vulnerable adults; victims of human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and domestic violence; medical marijuana reform; and for strategies addressing homelessness, affordable housing, and discrimination.”
“On the King County Council, I’ll bring forth the same values and tackle the same issues, as well as income inequality, racial disproportionality in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, environmental sustainability, and transportation choices.”
In addition to Phillips’ backing, Kohl-Welles has secured the endorsements of her seatmates Reuven Carlyle and Gael Tarleton. (Full disclosure: Gael Tarleton serves on the board of the Northwest Progressive Institute as Vice President-Secretary).
Kohl-Welles had previously discussed running for King County Council with her supporters on Facebook.
“It’s hard for me to think of leaving the Senate, but I believe that at this point in my career I would enjoy a new challenge, as well as being closer to home among my constituents and in the community on a year-round basis,” she wrote.
“And fortunately, I would have the same constituents as I have now in the 36th Legislative District.” (The 36th Legislative District and the 4th County Council District don’t have identical boundaries, but they overlap significantly.)
She went on to note:
I also would have a more immediate and local experience in working on many of the issues that are so important to me, such as affordable housing and eliminating homelessness; economic and pay equity and social justice; anti-poverty and essential services; expanding multi-modal mobility, including transit; human trafficking and commercial child sexual exploitation; juvenile justice and foster care services; and medical and personal use marijuana legalization.
And this is not a complete list.
I’ll be making my decision within the next few days.
She’s now made her decision: She’s running.
Kohl-Welles, seventy-two, is such a formidable candidate that she may not have much competition for Phillips’ seat. She is beloved in the 36th Legislative District, as Reuven Carlyle found out last year when he briefly flirted with running against Kohl-Welles. He ultimately decided to bow out and not challenge her.
In retrospect, that was a very sensible decision. If Kohl-Welles is successful in her campaign for county council, she will almost certainly be resigning from the Legislature, and Carlyle will be the heir apparent to her position in the Senate.
To move over to the Senate, he would have to give up his chairmanship of the House Finance Committee… but on the plus side, he wouldn’t have to run for reelection every two years (state senators serve four-year terms).
A move to the Senate by Carlyle would result in a wide-open vacancy for his House seat, which a lot of progressive and Democratic activists will undoubtedly be interested in. Whenever a Democratic legislative vacancy emerges in a Seattle district, there are almost always a plethora of candidates.
The precinct committee officers of the 36th LD, which include NPI’s President, Robert Cruickshank, may very well find themselves deluged with calls about eight months from now, because they’re the ones who would choose Kohl-Welles’ and Carlyle’s successors, as provided by the Washington State Constitution.
The process is as follows:
- The Chair of the King County Democrats, currently Rich Erwin, calls a meeting of the Democratic precinct committee officers of the 36th LD to draw up a list of three names to fill each vacancy. This meeting is known as a special nominating caucus. Only PCOs elected or appointed to represent precincts within the 36th LD may participate in it as voters.
- The King County Democratic Central Committee (KCDCC), or KCDCC’s executive board, ratifies the choices of the 36th LD’s PCOs and submits them to the King County Council for consideration.
- The King County Council must choose from among the three individuals selected by the Democratic Party to fill each vacancy.
- If they don’t make a selection within sixty days, Governor Jay Inslee makes the appointment, again from the list of three names.
The 36th is wholly within the boundaries of King County, so the state party would not be involved in calling the special nominating caucus or submitting the names, as it was last year when there was a vacancy in the 30th. (The 30th is one of many joint legislative districts split between the counties).
The procedures governing the special nominating caucus are spelled out in the Washington State Democratic Party’s bylaws and standing rules.
Typically, when a nominating caucus is held, PCOs vote on each of the slots in a series of separate elections. To elaborate: PCOs first decide whose name should top the list, and then whose names appear second and third. Following this approach results in three elections, often with multiple rounds of voting each.
Should Kohl-Welles and fellow Democratic candidate Claudia Balducci (who is running in the 6th District) both win in November, the King County Council would have two Democratic women on it beginning next January. (Officially, the Council is nonpartisan, but there’s really no such thing as a nonpartisan office.)