A tale of two legislative districts
A tale of two legislative districts

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.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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One reply on “A tale of two contested legislative districts, drawn to lean Republican, in a changing state”

  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.

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