Two incumbent Washington State Democratic State Representatives serving in Seattle area legislative districts have attracted declared Democratic challengers for the 2020 cycle, The Stranger’s Rich Smith reported today.
Seattle LGBTQ Commissioner Jessi Murray has decided to take on former Speaker Frank Chopp in the 43rd Legislative District for Position #2, while Washington State Human Rights Commissioner David Hackney has decided to challenge Zack Hudgins in the 11th Legislative District for that district’s Position #2.
Chopp and Hudgins have each served in the House for decades.
Chopp was first elected to the chamber in 1994 (the year of the so-called “Republican Revolution”), while Hudgins was first elected in 2002.
Chopp held the chamber’s top post of Speaker for two decades before stepping down last year; he has since been succeeded by Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma.
Since leaving caucus leadership, Chopp has adeptly made the transition to rank and file legislator, surprising some political observers. Chopp was assigned to serve on the influential House Appropriations Committee ahead of the current legislative session. He has declared that he will run for another term in 2020.
Hudgins, also a veteran member of the caucus, does not currently serve in caucus leadership, but is a longtime committee chair. He chaired House State Government after Sam Hunt moved over to the Washington State Senate, but turned the leadership of that committee over to colleague Mia Gregerson in order to helm Innovation, Technology, and Economic Development.
Hudgins was a candidate for King County Elections Director in 2015, but was trounced in the November 2015 general election by current Director Julie Wise, who was backed by outgoing Director Sherril Huff.
Murray and Hackney both feel their districts deserve fresh leadership.
“I wouldn’t come to Olympia with a lot of political capital, but I would come in with a lot of political freedom,” Murray told The Stranger’s Rich Smith. “People should take a chance on me as someone who could listen, and step back, and think big, and maneuver in a way that’s novel and agile… I represent the young, queer, car-free, renter portions of the 43rd that still need to be amplified in the Legislature.”
Murray has a website up where you can learn more about her campaign. (You can also check out incumbent Frank Chopp’s website for comparative purposes.)
Renter advocacy will also be a theme of Hackney’s campaign. Hackney said he plans to make an issue of Hudgins’ record on tenant protection legislation.
“I find it unconscionable that we don’t have anyone fighting for renters in the 11th District,” Hackney told The Stranger’s Rich Smith.
“Renters deserve certainty. If you own a home, you get a thirty-year mortgage — that’s montage control. People who rent deserve the same stability.”
Hackney has a website up where you can learn more about his campaign. (You can also check out incumbent Zack Hudgins’ website for comparative purposes.)
Neither Chopp nor Hudgins have faced a credible challenge from the left in years, and voters tend to punish complacency when least expected, so Chopp and Hudgins will need to act quickly to build strong campaigns if they want to survive in 2020. They will need to convince voters intrigued by the prospect of fresher, more progressive, and more diverse representation to return them to Olympia.
Murray and Hackney will need to persuade voters in their neighborhoods that they could be effective advocates in the statehouse for the issues they care so passionately about, including climate justice and housing affordability. The politics under the rotunda in Olympia are quite different than the politics of Seattle.
Last year’s King County Council elections demonstrated how a challenge from the left can go either way. Renter and former I‑1631 campaign manager Abigail Doerr took on incumbent Jeanne Kohl-Welles and lost badly, while the brilliant young attorney Girmay Zilhay ended the political career of the legendary Larry Gossett, who had repeatedly sailed to reelection unopposed for several cycles in a row.
Murray and Hackney will be looking to replicate Zilhay’s success with insurgent campaigns. Chopp and Hudgins will, if they’re smart, seek to defend their seats with the same ferocity that Kohl-Welles showed in her reelection campaign.
Neither Chopp nor Hudgins can actively campaign until after the session ends due to their legislative obligations and the session fundraising freeze.
All four candidates may find last year’s aforementioned King County Council elections to be a useful case study for their campaign planning. It’s hard to think of a better example of a tale of two incumbents with starkly different fates.
Kohl-Welles smartly recognized that she could not afford to be complacent, and ran an extremely vigorous campaign that constantly held events and provided voters with opportunities to interact with her. She was rewarded with 73.91% of the vote.
Gossett recognized too late that many voters in his community did not have a bond with him and thus no reason to mark the oval next to his name at election time. He received 39.27% of the vote in the November 2019 general election, and was succeeded by Zilhay as Councilmember for the 2nd District at year’s end.
Because Washington utilizies a “Top Two” system for winnowing candidate fields and does not hold a real primary, it is impossible for either Murray or Hackney to “primary” Chopp and Hudgins. They can challenge, but they cannot “primary”, because voters here are not allowed to choose nominees for partisan offices like in other states. Murray and Hackney could well end up as Chopp’s and Hudgins’ general election opponents, giving voters two Democrats to choose from.
The 43rd and 11th are staunchly liberal legislative districts where Republicans do not bother to seriously compete, so there is no opening for J.T. Wilcox’s caucus to capitalize on these intramural contests. Thanks to the Two Two system, however, the Democratic Party in the 43rd and 11th Districts will probably be divided on the question of its representation in the State House all the way through November.