Aerial view of the Washington State Capitol Campus
Bird's eye view of the Washington State Capitol Campus (Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

The 2020 Wash­ing­ton Top Two elec­tion served as a vet­ting exer­cise on Tues­day night, with ini­tial returns iden­ti­fy­ing the most endan­gered incum­bents in the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture of both major polit­i­cal parties.

The Leg­is­la­ture could end up slight­ly more Demo­c­ra­t­ic in Novem­ber after all the votes are even­tu­al­ly count­ed. If the Democ­rats were expect­ing a groundswell, how­ev­er, what they achieved was at best a frost heave.

The Democ­rats will have to fight it out with Repub­li­cans in famil­iar “pur­ple” dis­tricts. A new fea­ture, how­ev­er — Demo­c­ra­t­ic vs. Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­tests in dis­tricts out­side of the Seat­tle city lim­its — will car­ry over to November..

Appoint­ed Repub­li­can State Sen­a­tor Ron Muz­za­ll trails Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Helen Price John­son in the 10th Dis­trict. The Demo­c­rat is a pop­u­lar Island Coun­ty (Whid­bey, Camano) Com­mis­sion­er and League of Women Vot­ers activist.

The D’s stand an excel­lent chance of flip­ping the House seat of retir­ing Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Nor­ma Smith, with for­mer Island Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er Ang­ie Homo­la the appar­ent nom­i­nee. She ran against Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Bar­bara Bai­ley four years ago, and was smeared by direct mail­ings paid for by the state­house­’s busi­ness lob­by­ist. So far, this year, the Democ­rats are hold­ing their own.

In South Puget Sound, Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists have long fore­cast the demise of con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can State Sen­a­tor Steve O’Ban in the 28th Dis­trict. O’Ban active­ly oppos­es repro­duc­tive rights and is a tire­less, tren­chant crit­ic of Sound Transit.

O’Ban was trail­ing his Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger T’wina Nobles, the only black woman cur­rent­ly run­ning for the State Sen­ate, by about five hun­dred votes, an encour­ag­ing result for Democ­rats. Nobles is pres­i­dent of the Taco­ma Urban League and twice a mem­ber of the Uni­ver­si­ty Heights School Board.

O’Ban has recent­ly tak­en heat for a hit mail­ing sent out by a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee sup­port­ing him. The mail­ing dis­tort­ed Nobles’ like­ness, dark­en­ing her face. O’Ban’s response was to claim ignorance.

The coastal 19th Dis­trict in South­west Wash­ing­ton con­tin­ues to vex Democ­rats. State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bri­an Blake, a weapons enthu­si­ast, is present­ly trail­ing Repub­li­can chal­lenger Joel McEn­tire by more than 1,000 votes.

Blus­tery Repub­li­can State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Walsh, a Tim Eyman col­lab­o­ra­tor, was sail­ing through the Top Two with more than fifty-six per­cent of the total vote in ini­tial returns. Walsh has par­layed Seat­tle bash­ing into polit­i­cal success.

The Democ­rats also have incum­bents in dan­ger of los­ing to mem­bers of their own par­ty in races car­ry­ing over to the Novem­ber election.

A backbencher’s back­bencher, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Steve Kir­by, was tak­ing just a third of the vote in Pierce Coun­ty’s 29th Leg­isla­tive District.

Kir­by trails Repub­li­can Ter­ry Hard­er by about nine hun­dred votes, and is only nar­row­ly ahead of pro­gres­sive Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Sharlett Mena.

The 11th Dis­trict, of South Seat­tle and near­by com­mu­ni­ties, appears to have ren­dered a ver­dict: It is time for vet­er­an State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Zack Hud­gins to go. He trains chal­lenger David Hack­ney by 1,000 votes. A Har­vard Law grad, and main­stay of the Alliance for Gun Respon­si­bil­i­ty, Hack­ney rep­re­sents the promise of pump­ing new blood into the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic caucus.

Hack­ney and Hud­gins will be back on the bal­lot in November.

So will two East­side Democ­rats: pro-busi­ness Demo­c­rat Sen­a­tor Mark Mul­let and union-backed chal­lenger Ingrid Ander­son, in the 5th Dis­trict of east­ern King Coun­ty. The dis­trict has total­ly “flipped” from red to blue in recent elections.

Mul­lett has a race on his hands. Ander­son, a nurse, is run­ning three hun­dred votes ahead, with late arriv­ing and pro­gres­sive-lean­ing votes still to be count­ed. More than $1.1 mil­lion has already been spent on the race, with one of the defin­ing issues Mullet’s oppo­si­tion to a cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy.

As the night smiled on insur­gents, one hearty sur­vivor showed his mettle.

Ex-House Speak­er Frank Chopp was tak­ing almost fifty-four per­cent of the vote in the left-lib­er­al bas­tion that is the 43rd District.

But a close, inter­est­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic vs. Demo­c­ra­t­ic bat­tle is shap­ing up for the 36th Dis­trict House seat being vacat­ed by NPI’s Gael Tar­leton, who is run­ning for Sec­re­tary of State. Sarah Reyn­eveld and Liz Berry will face off again in November.

If any­one has a long his­to­ry of polit­i­cal involve­ment in the Ever­green State, the elec­toral map of Wash­ing­ton is revealing.

The East­side dis­tricts which were once the Repub­li­cans’ pow­er base – the 41st, 48th and 45th – have long since flipped, the last being the 45th when Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Man­ka Dhingra’s vic­to­ry in a spe­cial 2017 Sen­ate elec­tion flipped con­trol of the Legislature’s small­er chamber.

The Repub­li­cans’ fall from the exur­ban 5th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict was com­plet­ed in 2018, with state House seats chang­ing hands and Demo­c­rat Dr. Kim Schri­er cap­tur­ing a U.S. House seat held by Repub­li­cans for thir­ty-six years.

At the same time, how­ev­er, the rur­al con­ser­v­a­tive Demo­c­rat has become a species as endan­gered as the spot­ted owl. The 35th Dis­trict (Mason-Thurston) has an all-Repub­li­can del­e­ga­tion. The 19th Dis­trict is swing­ing right.

The Democ­rats have field­ed an out­stand­ing nom­i­nee, ex-State Dep­tart­ment offi­cer Danielle Garbe Reser, in the 16th Dis­trict of South­east Wash­ing­ton, ter­ri­to­ry where they used to win. She was tak­ing a lit­tle more than thir­ty-sev­en per­cent of the vote on Tues­day, while two Repub­li­cans piled up six­ty-two per­cent. They are vying for the seat of retir­ing State Sen­a­tor Mau­reen “Mo” Walsh.

The 42nd Dis­trict, a What­com Coun­ty dis­trict with­out most of lib­er­al Belling­ham in it, has become a major bat­tle­ground. Ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive State Sen­a­tor Doug Erick­sen, who is a lob­by­ist for the south­east­ern Asian nation of Cam­bo­dia, held his seat by forty-five votes in 2016. West­ern Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty econ­o­mist Sharon Shew­make defeat­ed a Repub­li­can for one of the district’s House seats.

Two years lat­er, Shew­make is trail­ing Repub­li­can oppo­nent Jen­nifer Sefzik by near­ly 1,200 votes. Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Luanne Van Wer­ven, who bare­ly sur­vived in 2018, is 2,44 votes ahead of Demo­c­rat Ali­cia Rule.

The bat­tle­grounds of 2018 – the 10th, 19th and 42nd Dis­tricts – will be fought over again. The 5th, 11th and 36th Dis­tricts will fea­ture con­tests between Democ­rats. Frank Chopp will like­ly remain a con­stant in state politics.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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