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Friday, November 6th, 2020

A tale of two contested legislative districts, drawn to lean Republican, in a changing state

The Slade Gor­ton mas­tery of Wash­ing­ton redis­trict­ing, which last­ed part of two cen­turies, was last felt in the post-2010 cen­sus design of leg­isla­tive dis­tricts in which bound­aries were art­ful­ly drawn to make them a lit­tle more Republican.

The art form was on dis­play in the state’s 42nd and 10th Leg­isla­tive Districts.

Neigh­bor­hoods of lib­er­al Belling­ham dis­ap­peared from the 42nd, giv­ing more weight to con­ser­v­a­tive and still large­ly rur­al What­com County.

The 10th was redrawn to put more con­ser­v­a­tive turf in Skag­it and Sno­homish Coun­ties into a dis­trict cen­tered on Whid­bey and Camano Islands.

The 2020 elec­tion has yield­ed a sur­prise – if it holds.

In the 42nd Dis­trict, as of Fri­day, Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Ali­cia Rule was lead­ing Repub­li­can incum­bent Luanne Van Wer­ven by 2,108 votes.

State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sharon Shew­make, a Demo­c­rat who won a razor-thin upset vic­to­ry in 2018, is more than 3,134 votes ahead of the GOP’s Jen­nifer Sefzik.

The Democ­rats’ appar­ent vic­to­ries sets up what should be the Legislature’s mar­quee strug­gle of 2022. State Sen­a­tor Doug Erick­sen of Fer­n­dale won reelec­tion two years ago by just forty-five votes.

Erick­sen is best known as co-chair of the 2016 Trump cam­paign in Wash­ing­ton, as a paid lob­by­ist for Cam­bo­dia, and as the petro­le­um industry’s chief advo­cate in Olympia. He has often been enter­tained more than any oth­er legislator.

The redrawn 10th Dis­trict vot­ed out its Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen­a­tor Mary Mar­garet Hau­gen in 2012, with the reli­gious right send­ing out hit mail­ings decry­ing her coura­geous vote for mar­riage equal­i­ty. The dis­trict did not elect anoth­er Demo­c­rat until State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dave Paul eked out a win in 2018.

Three Democ­rats led in the 10th District’s elec­tion night count. The Wednes­day and Thurs­day bal­lot dumps have swung to the Republicans.

Appoint­ed State Sen­a­tor Ron Muz­za­ll, a Repub­li­can, holds a one hun­dred and forty one vote lead over Demo­c­rat Helen Price John­son. HPJ is one of the Democ­rats’ top recruits in the 2020 elec­tion cycle, a three-term coun­ty com­mis­sion­er who helped Island Coun­ty nav­i­gate through the Great Recession.

One Repub­li­can who earned bipar­ti­san sup­port, State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Nor­ma Smith, decid­ed not to run this year. She backed Gov­er­nor Inslee on net neu­tral­i­ty, and coau­thored (with Demo­c­rat Drew Hansen) leg­is­la­tion slap­ping crim­i­nal penal­ties on own­ers who led decay­ing boats leak oil into our water­ways. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son has brought charges under the “garbage scow” law.

For­mer Island Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er Ang­ie Homo­la leads Repub­li­can Greg Gil­day, a Camano Island attor­ney and Smith’s cho­sen suc­ces­sor, by 582 votes. Paul is 2,036 votes ahead of hard-line Repub­li­can oppo­nent Bill Bruch.

Bruch is the Skag­it Coun­ty Repub­li­can Chair, a COVID-19 skep­tic and foe of the state’s com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion law.

Bruch was hit with scan­dal late in the campaign.

Skag­it Coun­ty Democ­rats found he was twice sued in What­com Coun­ty for alleged­ly mak­ing false rep­re­sen­ta­tions to two clients on invest­ment opportunities.

The sto­ry was picked up by a paper in LaCon­ner and the South Whid­bey Record Default judg­ments total­ing $1.7 mil­lion were entered against Bruch after he did not respond to the legal actions. Bruch has called the 1998 case “ancient his­to­ry” and claims to have been a “naïve vic­tim” of an asso­ciate. “Young and naïve, I was exploit­ed, used and defraud­ed of tens of thou­sands of dol­lars of my own mon­ey by some­one who I believed to be a trust­ed friend,” he said in a statement.

The Democ­rats have as strong a tick­et in the 10th Dis­trict as any­place in the state. Muz­za­ll has served only a few months fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Repub­li­can Bar­bara Bai­ley, who did the bid­ding of big busi­ness in the Legislature.

Slade Gor­ton is no longer with us, so he can­not serve as a post-2020 cen­sus redis­trict­ing com­mis­sion­er. The Repub­li­cans ran the table ten years ago, after Democ­rats telegraphed their demands. They got a U.S. House dis­trict shaped for Den­ny Heck, and a major­i­ty-minor­i­ty Con­gres­sion­al dis­trict. The Democ­rats yield­ed con­ces­sions that elect­ed Repub­li­can legislators.

Democ­rats have paid for one more piece of post-2010 redis­trict­ing handiwork.

The 19th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict is a long­time Demo­c­ra­t­ic baili­wick. But the last redis­trict­ing put a big chunk of con­ser­v­a­tive Lewis Coun­ty into the 19th. Repub­li­can Jim Walsh, a loud Tim Eyman ally, was elect­ed in 2016.

A pair of Democ­rats, State Sen­a­tor Dean Takko and long­time State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bri­an Blake, an oppo­nent of gun respon­si­bil­i­ty, have been sent pack­ing this year.

Polit­i­cal align­ments change. Belling­ham and What­com Coun­ty used to be prime con­test­ed ter­ri­to­ry. In his first race for Attor­ney Gen­er­al in 1968, Gor­ton tar­get­ed the coun­ty with a mail­ing that dis­closed that his oppo­nent had been arrest­ed for dri­ving drunk. It swayed my par­ents’ votes.

The coun­ty is still con­ser­v­a­tive, while Belling­ham is strong­ly progressive.

The bulk of “Bel­ly­wash” was put in the solid­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic 40th District.

By con­trast, South­west Wash­ing­ton has moved to the right. Only two of Washington’s thir­ty-nine coun­ties – Grays Har­bor and Pacif­ic – vot­ed for George McGov­ern back in 1972. Both vot­ed for Trump in 2016.

Grays Har­bor did so again this year.

Cowlitz Coun­ty, anoth­er part of the 19th, vot­ed big for Trump and gave six­ty-two per­cent of its vote to Repub­li­can guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Loren Culp.

Gov­er­nor Inslee, give some time and atten­tion to your state’s rust belt.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for artic­u­lat­ing SW Wash­ing­ton as the state’s rust belt. The right­ward shift there over the last sev­er­al years makes more sense in that context.

    # by Scott :: November 6th, 2020 at 5:48 PM

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