NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Incumbents winning easily in 7th, 31st, 37th, and 48th special legislative elections

Five appointed legislators running to keep their seats this year in a set of special legislative elections are having an easy go of it thus far, suggesting that they could all be retained by voters in their respective districts as of November.

In the deep red 7th Legislative District, spanning the rural counties in northeastern Washington, Republican Senator Shelly Short has garnered 67% of the vote and holds a two-to-one margin over Democratic challenger Karen Hardy, who’s at 32.74%. Meanwhile, Republican Jacquelin Maycumber, who has taken over Short’s old House seat, enjoys a similarly comfortable lead of more than twenty points over her Democratic opponent Susan Swanson.

In the 31st Legislative District (a wedge of the rural South Sound not far from Mount Rainier), Republican Senator Phil Fortunato has a big lead over Democratic challenger Michelle Rylands, with 58.55% of the vote.

In the contest for the accompanying House seat vacated by Fortunato when he took over the Senate seat from Pam Roach, Republican Morgan Irwin is well ahead with 56.88% of the vote. Democratic challenger Nate Lowry has 43.12%.

Republicans were quick to point out these apparent lopsided victories on social media, anxious for something to crow about given the incredibly lackluster performance of Jinyoung Lee Englund in the 45th LD. But Republicans have been expected to win all four of these races from the get-go.

Democrats expressed satisfaction at having successfully recruited candidates who will advance to the general election in each of the four contests. Democrats have been mostly shut out in the 7th Legislative District in recent cycles, failing to advance any candidates to the general election. That’s not the case this year.

“Democrats are competing in races across the state,” said State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski. “Michelle Rylands, Karen Hardy, Nate Lowry, and Susan Swanson are beating expectations in tough legislative districts for Democrats. We’re building our party across Washington to fight back against the Republicans and the toxic agenda of Donald Trump, and tonight’s results make it clear that the people are fired up to resist as well. There’s still a lot of work to do, but with results like these, I’m very excited for November and the general election.”

Republican operatives made a point of stressing that their incumbents couldn’t raise money due to the session freeze while their Democratic challengers could. But the same is true of Democratic incumbents Patty Kuderer and Vandana Slatter in the 48th LD: they were subject to the freeze, but are also cruising along comfortably.

Kuderer was elected to the state House last year after having been appointed to succeed State Representative Ross Hunter. She moved over to the Senate this year and her House seat was taken by Vandana Slatter, formerly of the Bellevue City Council. Kuderer is mustering 60.36% of the vote against two opponents, including a fake Democrat recruited by the Republicans, Richard Knierim.

Knierim is in third place with 15.98%, well behind Libertarian Michelle Darnell, who has 23.66%, so he will not advance to the November general election.

Slatter, meanwhile, has a whopping 76.6% in the vote in her House race against her sole Libertarian opponent Ciaran Dougherty.

It wasn’t that long ago that the 48th was an Eastside swing district that was fiercely fought over. But Republicans appear to have given up on it completely, not even bothering to recruit candidates to run there as Republicans. Notorious party switcher Rodney Tom is the last Republican to have been elected in the district; it has been enthusiastically embracing progressive Democrats for several years now.

Lastly, we’ll note that Democrats have already locked up the 37th Legislative District, where incumbent Democratic Senator Rebecca Saldaña is unopposed. Saldaña is on the ballot despite not having any opponent, as state law requires that legislative races appear on the ballot regardless of how many candidates have filed.

What all these results portend is a 2018 state Legislature with a fifty member House Democratic caucus, a forty-eight member House Republican caucus, a twenty-five member Senate Democratic caucus (considering the result in the 45th), and a twenty-four member Senate Republican caucus. Democrats could end 2017 in control of both chambers for the first time in five years.

Here’s the projection from Pacific NW Portal’s Balance of Power projector:

BALANCE OF POWER: Who will control the Washington State House and Senate in December?

Who will control the Washington State House and Senate in December? PROJECTION: If current results in legislative races hold in the November general election, both the House and Senate will be controlled by the Democratic Party.

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