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.)
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.