Claudia Balducci
Claudia Balducci speaking at the King County Democrats in August 2015 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

There once was a time in King Coun­ty pol­i­tics when Lake Wash­ing­ton rep­re­sent­ed some­thing of a demar­ca­tion between two polit­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent geo­gra­phies: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Seat­tle and its inner sub­urbs, and Repub­li­can Belle­vue and its fel­low East­side sub­urbs. How­ev­er, over the course of the last twen­ty years, the East­side has under­gone a mas­sive polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion, shed­ding its rep­u­ta­tion and his­to­ry as a Repub­li­can strong­hold and becom­ing a Demo­c­ra­t­ic bas­tion instead.

Tonight, it appears that trans­for­ma­tion is on the verge of being ful­ly com­plet­ed. Kathy Lam­bert — the only promi­nent Repub­li­can elect­ed offi­cial who still rep­re­sents the East­side in the King Coun­ty Cour­t­house — is being col­lec­tive­ly out­vot­ed by two Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lengers, Sarah Per­ry and Joe Cohen, who think it’s time the East­side had more pro­gres­sive representation.

In King Coun­ty’s first drop, Lam­bert has 41.33% of the vote, Per­ry has 34.03%, and Cohen has 24.05%. Only the top two move on, so the gen­er­al elec­tion will almost cer­tain­ly be a matchup between Sarah Per­ry and Kathy Lambert.

Per­ry and Cohen agreed before the results came in that they would enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly sup­port who­ev­er got the most votes against Kathy Lambert.

Per­ry was able to gar­ner the most votes of the two, so she will car­ry the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s stan­dard in the gen­er­al election.

(All coun­ty posi­tions, includ­ing this one, are offi­cial­ly “non­par­ti­san” thanks to a char­ter amend­ment pushed by Joe Fain and oth­er Repub­li­cans many years ago, but prac­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, there is no such thing as a non­par­ti­san elect­ed office, and the dynam­ics of the race aren’t much dif­fer­ent than they would be if there were par­ty labels on the bal­lot to dis­tin­guish Lam­bert and her challengers.)

The effort to flip the 3rd is rem­i­nis­cent of the push six years ago to oust Repub­li­can Jane Hague in the neigh­bor­ing 6th Coun­ty Coun­cil Dis­trict.

Like Lam­bert, Hague had been on the Coun­cil for an extreme­ly long time, and was hop­ing to earn reelec­tion to anoth­er term. How­ev­er, she was hand­i­ly defeat­ed by Belle­vue City Coun­cilmem­ber Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci, who made sure that vot­ers knew that she was a Demo­c­rat and Hague a Republican.

Only Bal­duc­ci filed to oppose Hague, so the race did not appear on the Top Two bal­lot. In the Novem­ber 2015 gen­er­al elec­tion, Bal­duc­ci dis­patched Hague with ease, win­ning % of the vote. Many observers had expect­ed the race to be clos­er, but Bal­duc­ci proved that East­side vot­ers were ready to turn away from the Repub­li­can Par­ty at every lev­el, not just fed­er­al and state.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s takeover of the East­side has been grad­ual, but effective.

The par­ty first found suc­cess with leg­isla­tive can­di­dates like Lau­ra Rud­er­man, Judy Clib­born, and Ross Hunter in the ear­ly 2000s. In 2004, the par­ty suc­cess­ful­ly held on to Lau­ra Rud­er­man’s seat with Lar­ry Springer and oust­ed road war­rior Joel Horn with Bri­an Wein­stein. In 2006, the East­side elect­ed anoth­er group of Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors to the state­house, most notably Roger Goodman.

Between 2006 and 2008, two Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors aban­doned the Repub­li­can Par­ty and joined the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, strength­en­ing the East­side’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­tin­gent in Olympia: Fred Jar­rett and Rod­ney Tom.

Both suc­cess­ful­ly jumped from the House to the Sen­ate as Democ­rats, though Tom would lat­er defect back to the Repub­li­can Par­ty at the end of 2012 as part of a self-serv­ing pow­er coup. Jar­rett, mean­while, moved to coun­ty pol­i­tics and became Deputy Coun­ty Exec­u­tive fol­low­ing the 2009 local elec­tion cycle.

From 2006–2008, Democ­rats also sought to unseat Dave Reichert in the 8th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, but Reichert suc­cess­ful­ly sur­vived two con­sec­u­tive chal­lenges from Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty nom­i­nee Dar­cy Burner.

Reichert pre­vailed again over Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Suzan Del­Bene in 2010.

2010 was also the year the King Coun­ty and Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty enjoyed a tem­po­rary resur­gence in East­side leg­isla­tive races.

Repub­li­cans were able to defeat incum­bent Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Eric Oemig and Randy Gor­don with Steve Lit­zow and Andy Hill, briefly leav­ing Rod­ney Tom as the only Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tor from the four main East­side leg­isla­tive dis­tricts (the 41st, the 48th, the 45th, and the 5th). Tom, as men­tioned, defect­ed back to the Repub­li­cans in 2012 in a pow­er-shar­ing deal with Mark Schoesler.

In the years since, Democ­rats have not only recap­tured those lost leg­isla­tive seats, but have gone fur­ther and flipped seats that have been in Repub­li­can hands for eons, includ­ing in South King Coun­ty as well as the Eastside.

Here’s a time­line of major gains, begin­ning in 2012:

  • 2012: Demo­c­ra­t­ic small busi­ness own­er Mark Mul­let is elect­ed in the 5th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict fol­low­ing Cheryl Pflug’s appoint­ment to the Growth Man­age­ment Hear­ings board by Gov­er­nor Chris Gregoire.
  • 2014: “Born-again” Repub­li­can Rod­ney Tom is replaced by Cyrus Habib as State Sen­a­tor in the 48th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, with Kirk­land City Coun­cilmem­ber Joan McBride tak­ing Habib’s place in the House; the 48th reverts to hav­ing all-Demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion again.
  • 2015: Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci defeats Jane Hague and becomes the new King Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber in the 6th Dis­trict, rep­re­sent­ing the Belle­vue — Kirk­land — Red­mond area in the coun­ty’s leg­isla­tive body.
  • 2016: Lisa Well­man defeats Steve Lit­zow in the 41st Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, flip­ping a key Sen­ate seat back to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, while the State Sen­ate remains in Repub­li­can hands by a mar­gin of one vote.
  • 2017: In a water­shed spe­cial elec­tion to deter­mine con­trol of the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate, Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date Man­ka Dhin­gra tri­umphs over Repub­li­can Jiny­oung Lee Englund in the 45th Dis­trict, result­ing in Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol of the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate for the first time since Rod­ney Tom’s coup in 2012. Vot­ers in the neigh­bor­ing 48th Dis­trict, mean­while, retain Pat­ty Kud­er­er as Habib’s successor.
  • 2018: The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty sweeps away most of the Repub­li­cans still hold­ing office in King Coun­ty, includ­ing in all of the par­ti­san races. The 8th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict turns blue for the first time in its his­to­ry as Kim Schri­er pre­vails over Dino Rossi. The 5th Dis­trict elects Lisa Callan and Bill Ramos to the Wash­ing­ton State House to serve with Mark Mul­let. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty also flips Sen­ate seats in South King Coun­ty with Mona Das and Claire Wil­son, in the 47th and 30th Dis­tricts, respec­tive­ly, while Pat­ty Kud­er­er trounces Rod­ney Tom’s come­back bid.

The rea­son I men­tion all of this his­to­ry is because it shows the tra­jec­to­ry the East­side is on. Kathy Lam­bert has cer­tain­ly had a good run on the Coun­cil going back decades, but it looks like 2021 could well be the end of the road.

The 3rd Coun­ty Coun­cil Dis­trict is a Demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­trict now, and a major­i­ty of its vot­ers under­stand­ably want it to be rep­re­sent­ed by a Demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­cilmem­ber, just as in the 6th Dis­trict to the west six years ago.

Sarah Per­ry isn’t a shoo-in, of course. Demo­c­ra­t­ic cam­paigns are used to hav­ing to work hard and orga­nize to win on the Eastside.

If any­one can defeat Lam­bert, though, it’s Perry.

She is a superb orga­niz­er and was a dri­ving force behind the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s vic­to­ries in the 5th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict three years ago, which saw her spouse Bill Ramos and Lisa Callan elect­ed to the Wash­ing­ton State House. (Ramos, Callan, and Mul­let were all reelect­ed last year, with Muilet’s oppo­si­tion com­ing not from Repub­li­cans, but from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s pro­gres­sive contingent.)

The Novem­ber 2021 gen­er­al elec­tion will take place in only three months. The race in the 3rd will def­i­nite­ly be one to watch.

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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