The upcoming general election in November will decide whether Democrats keep their Washington legislative majorities in the House and Senate, allowing them to advance progressive causes beyond what they accomplished earlier this year.
The party currently holds slim, one vote majorities in both chambers, but has an opportunity to change that in just a few weeks.
For the first time in many election cycles, the party is almost exclusively focused on picking up seats thanks to a favorable electoral landscape. No Democratic incumbents are considered to be in danger this year, while many Republican-held seats are up for grabs, including some due to retirements.
The 6th Legislative District is an example of a district with two open seats this year (one in the House, one in the Senate).
The 6th is located in Eastern Washington; it encompasses a large slice of western Spokane County, including neighborhoods in the City of Spokane as well as the communities of Airway Heights, Medical Lake, and Cheney.
The 6th is currently represented by Republicans Michael Baumgartner, Mike Volz, and Jeff Holy. In February this year, Baumgartner announced he would not seek reelection to the Senate. Holy is vacating his House seat in the hopes of moving up.
Democratic activist Jessa Lewis is Holy’s opponent. The two finished less than a thousand votes apart in the Top Two election; Holy ended up with 52.22%, while Lewis captured 47.78%. A former evangelical Republican herself, Lewis explained she hopes this common ground and her ability to converse with those right-leaning voters, many of whom have never voted Democratic in their life, will be the determining factor in which candidate comes out on top in November.
“My background isn’t traditional,” said Lewis. “But because of it, I understand a broader range of the human experience and I’m able to talk to people.”
Lewis described her frustration as a constituent when she says she could not get a meeting with eiither Senator Baumgartner and Representative Holy to discuss the district’s lack of affordable healthcare and her work to pass healthcare reform as Eastern Washington Director of Healthcare for All Washington.
“As a constituent, I couldn’t get a meeting,” Lewis recounted.
“We need to get away from this partisanship and actually represent the people [we] are supposed to represent, and that means meeting with everyone. That’s not only the people who can cut you big checks.”
Should she win in November, Lewis said she’ll seek to improve healthcare in Washington State by advancing legislation to create a universal, single-payer healthcare system and enact countermeasures to shore up the Patient Protection Act, which Republicans have been trying to sabotage at the federal level.
Meanwhile, on the House side, Democrat Kay Murano is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Volz. The candidate said one of the primary issues that inspired her to run was the housing crisis facing the 6th District, spurred on by the decision by Amazon to open a fulfillment center near Spokane International Airport.
Spokane-area housing prices have been on a steady increase and the rental vacancy rate is around 1%. Amazon plans to employ local residents to work at the new fulfillment center, but it will still be mostly minimum-wage jobs. Murano explained that it’s still causing property managers to drastically raise rents. The district also does not have Just Cause Eviction protections for renters, so property owners can evict tenants with a twenty-day notice at any time for any reason.
“Obviously we need to build more low-income housing, so we need to increase the amount of money that would go into the housing trust fund,” said Murano,
“But we also need to have some tenant protections, because you shouldn’t be allowed to raise rent three times in six months.”
Murano noted that the district is diverse, encompassing affluent neighborhoods in Spokane, as well as rural, sparsely populated areas.
From having been out talking with voters, she said affordability (or the lack thereof) is an issue everyone is grappling with. “When we start talking about the cost of things like housing and how it’s increased, the cost of healthcare and how it’s increased, the cost of education with higher education and preschool and everything in-between. Everyone says: ‘Yeah, I can’t afford it,’” said Murano.
Murano and Volz had the closest results of the district’s three races; Volz managed only 50.26% of the vote, with Murano netting 49.74%.
In the other House race, for the position Holy is giving up, Democrat Dave Wilson secured the top spot in the Top Two election, with 40.05% of the vote. Republican Jenny Graham came in second with 33.35%.
Both Murano and Lewis described their determination to make sure Eastern Washington does not get forgotten should Democrats increase their legislative majorities, as they are widely expected to do.
“I think the main thing is we’re putting people first,” said Lewis, “[People in the 6th] are tired of the fighting, and they’re tired of being forgotten. And they’re tired of it being so hard to get by. That’s the thing, they’re not afraid of work. I’m not afraid of the work either. We just want a chance to be heard.”