If politics is an art form, then the post-2010 redistricting process was the Washington State Republican Party’s contribution to modern sculpture.
Legislative district boundaries were adjusted to give Republican candidates a slight advantage. The Democrats on the Redistricting Commission — Tim Ceis and Dean Foster — were taken to the cleaners by their Republican counterparts.
Two Western Washington districts stand out as examples of Republican Commissioners Slade Gorton and Tom Hoff’s handiwork. Bellingham precincts were excised from the historically “swing” 42nd District and more rural Republican corners of Skagit and Snohomish Counties were put into the 10th District.
The result in the 10th, a district that includes Whidbey and Camano Islands, was the Republican capture of Mary Margaret Haugen’s State Senate seat in 2012 and an all-Republican legislative delegation in three consecutive elections.
But with a rejuvenated party, and the Trump factor, Democrats began to take down the Republican Party’s modern art in 2018.
Educator Dave Paul unseated Republican Dave Hayes for Position #2 in the State House. Elsewhere, the Democrats flipped two House seats in the suburban-exurban 5th District of King County. Western Washington economics professor Sharon Shewmake narrowly unseated Vincent Buys in the 42nd District.
With Trump at the head of the Republican ticket, and with top notch recruiting, Democrats have the opportunity to complete the job begun two years ago.
For the Senate, Helen Price Johnson is taking on appointed Republican Ron Muzzall, who joined the Senate Republican caucus last autumn when incumbent Barbara Bailey quit late in her second term.
Muzzall seems pleasant and competent, albeit taking the party line on fiscal matters. Price Johnson is, however, a dream candidate for a swing district.
She helped lead a successful League of Women Voters chapter, has served on the South Whidbey School Board, and is the first person “of the female persuasion” (a famous Dwight Eisenhower bloomer) to serve as an Island County Commissioner.
Barbara Bailey did not once mention an environmental cause in the Legislature. Price Johnson, on the other hand, has been a champion on local climate response.
State Representative Norma Smith, a Republican who harvested crossover votes, is retiring. She was a champion of net neutrality legislation in Olympia, and co-authored a bill allowing criminal prosecution of those who allow decaying boats to leak oil into our waters. (AG Bob Ferguson has made use of the legislation.)
The Democrats have four candidates running to replace her and fill the open seat (Angie Homola, Ivan Lewis, Suzanne Woodward, and Scott McMullen) while Greg Gilday, a lawyer, is the Republicans’ only candidate.
Up in the 42nd, the Democrats hope to unseat Republican Luanne Van Werven with small business owner and Blaine City Councilmember Alicia Rule.
I’ve lived in both the 10th and 42nd.
Each part of Northwestern Washington, long competitive legislative turf, has historically been a place where both parties put up quality candidates for voters.
But the Republican Party has taken a sharp right turn. Tim Eyman used a gathering of Island County Republicans in March to invite defiance of Governor Jay Inslee’s first limit on public gatherings. The Democratic Party’s longtime tracker Zach Wurtz was roughed up at a Fourth of July gathering.
Norma Smith’s mailers were interesting; you wanted to read them. But a Washington State Republican mailing for would-be successor Bill Bruch is dreary and negative. No on sex education. Resist a state income tax. Defend the Whidbey Naval Air Station (and its deafening Growler jets).
And, of course: Don’t give “Seattle politicians too much control of our lives.”
Boilerplate stuff. Could it be that the 10th District will flip to an all-Democratic delegation this year? It wasn’t designed to be a blue district. But it could end up swinging left anyway, just before another round of redistricting.
A major factor in the Democratic Party’s success last cycle were suburban female voters, who helped make Nancy Pelosi Speaker again with a big majority.
As the annual Women’s Marches have shown, the Trump years have energized Democratic women. The party recaptured the Washington State Senate with prosecutor Manka Dhingra in 2017, then followed that victory up by electing Issaquah pediatrician Kim Schrier to Congress. Schrier flipped a seat that had been in Republican hands since its creation out of the 1980 Census.
Democrats are hoping to find more success this year using the same recipe that worked so well for them during the midterms. They have capable women candidates running in the 10th and 42nd Districts as well as around the state.
Self-starting candidates are popping in unlikely places. Republican State Senator Maureen Walsh is retiring in the 16th District of Eastern Washington. “Mo” Walsh opposed the death penalty – the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla is part of her district – and was a key voice for for marriage equality.
The Democrats have responded by fielding one of their strongest candidates anywhere in the state: Danielle Garbe Reser, formerly a fourteen-year foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department, veteran of the National Security Council, and someone who came home to be CEO of the Sherwood Trust, a private foundation with $30 million-plus in assets.
She faces an uphill battle: State Representative Bill Jenkin and ex-Walla Walla County Commissioner Perry Dozier are running for the Republicans.
But Garbe Reser has proven to be a fundraising powerhouse.
And, unlike past Democratic candidates who have run in Eastern or Central Washington, she has a very supportive party behind her.
When she took over as Chair of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee in 2017, Tina Podlodowski pledged to expand the map of competitive districts, run candidates everywhere, and ignore no corner of the state.
The results already: Capture of a seat in Congress, recapture of the Washington State Senate, and a much bigger House majority, plus outstanding prospects in districts that were carefully sculpted to give an advantage to the Republicans.