Sarah Perry vs. Kathy Lambert
Sarah Perry vs. Kathy Lambert (campaign photos)

A cou­ple weeks ago, King Coun­ty cer­ti­fied the results of the August 2021 Top Two elec­tion, for­mal­ly set­ting the stage for the gen­er­al autumn this elec­tion, in which vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton State’s most pop­u­lous juris­dic­tion will be choos­ing lead­ers for hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of local offices… from King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive to Seat­tle Port Com­mis­sion­er to city coun­cil, school board, and hos­pi­tal board positions.

Among the con­tests that is wide­ly expect­ed to be fierce­ly con­test­ed is the race for King Coun­ty Coun­cil, 3rd Dis­trict.… a suburban/exurban/rural slice of King Coun­ty that has been rep­re­sent­ed by Repub­li­can Kathy Lam­bert for decades.

In its cur­rent incar­na­tion, the 3rd stretch­es from Red­mond and Sam­mamish at its west­ern edges to the coun­ty’s east­ern bor­der, encom­pass­ing small towns like Skykomish, Duvall, and Car­na­tion in addi­tion to larg­er (but still some­what small!) cities like Sno­qualmie and North Bend. Much of Issaquah is also in the dis­trict, which over­laps with parts of the 45th, 41st, 5th, and 48th leg­isla­tive dis­tricts, along with the 1st and 8th con­gres­sion­al districts.

The 3rd has his­tor­i­cal­ly been Repub­li­can turf, but in recent years, its pop­u­lous west­ern side has been enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly vot­ing for Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates up and down the bal­lot, mak­ing it a prime Demo­c­ra­t­ic pick­up opportunity.

In a pre­vi­ous post here on The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, I explained how King Coun­ty’s East­side sub­urbs have been under­go­ing a slow motion polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion from Repub­li­can bas­tion to swing ter­ri­to­ry to pro­gres­sive Demo­c­ra­t­ic strong­hold. As a con­se­quence of steady Demo­c­ra­t­ic gains at the local, state, and fed­er­al lev­els, there are almost no Repub­li­cans left in elect­ed office in King County.

Lam­bert is one of the very few who remain, along with her Coun­cil col­leagues Pete von Reich­bauer and Rea­gan Dunn. (King Coun­ty offices are offi­cial­ly “non­par­ti­san,” but there’s no tak­ing par­ti­san­ship out of pol­i­tics — the par­ti­san dynam­ics remain despite the absence of par­ty labels on the ballot.)

In past cycles, Lam­bert has either drawn only token chal­lengers or no chal­lenger at all, allow­ing her to eas­i­ly romp to reelec­tion. But this year, she’s opposed by one of the hard­est work­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists on the East­side: Sarah Per­ry, a dis­ci­plined orga­niz­er with a back­ground in non­prof­it devel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ty build­ing. Per­ry cruised past fel­low Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Joe Cohen in the Top Two elec­tion to secure a spot oppo­site Lam­bert on the gen­er­al elec­tion ballot.

Col­lec­tive­ly, Per­ry and Cohen received 59.40% of the vote, while Lam­bert received just 40.09% — a poor show­ing for a long­time, well known incumbent.

Per­ry (who I have donat­ed to, and strong­ly sup­port, in my capac­i­ty as an indi­vid­ual activist) also improved her posi­tion in the late bal­lots, climb­ing from 34.03% on Elec­tion Night to 36.01% by cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. She fin­ished just two thou­sand and six­ty-eight votes behind Lam­bert in the elim­i­na­tion round.

And, notably, in a sign that Lam­bert could indeed be head­ed for defeat this autumn, Per­ry also beat Lam­bert in her home precinct in Redmond.

Despite split­ting the Demo­c­ra­t­ic vote with Cohen, Per­ry still emerged as the plu­ral­i­ty win­ner in RED 45–2382, accord­ing to the cer­ti­fied results.

She received one hun­dred and thir­ty-five votes over­all in the precinct, while Lam­bert received one hun­dred and five. Cohen received six­ty-five votes.

Per­ry was also the plu­ral­i­ty win­ner in most of the oth­er Red­mond precincts in the dis­trict. She won in down­town and across much of Edu­ca­tion Hill, although Lam­bert man­aged to obtain a plu­ral­i­ty in a few precincts.

Why was Per­ry was able to do so well on Lam­bert’s home turf? Pri­mar­i­ly because Red­mond is one of the most pro­gres­sive cities in the state, and its res­i­dents under­stand­ably want pro­gres­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion, which Lam­bert is not providing.

Peo­ple vote for who they iden­ti­fy with and who they trust, and Per­ry is run­ning a dynam­ic, peo­ple-pow­ered cam­paign focused on can­vass­ing, empow­er­ing small busi­ness­es, and uni­fy­ing com­mu­ni­ties behind Wash­ing­ton’s pro­gres­sive values.

She’s also talk­ing about get­ting results for the dis­trict, some­thing Democ­rats con­tend Lam­bert is falling short on. For exam­ple, many of the roads in the 3rd are in extreme­ly poor shape. Lam­bert has — to her cred­it — been sound­ing the alarm about this sor­ry state of affairs for years. How­ev­er, she has­n’t been able to secure the fund­ing need­ed to allow the King Coun­ty Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion to prop­er­ly main­tain and resur­face the coun­ty’s rur­al road network.

Per­ry believes that if the 3rd is rep­re­sent­ed by a hard­work­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic leader like her, the dis­trict will stand a much bet­ter chance of get­ting the resource infu­sion that it needs. The neigh­bor­ing 6th Dis­trict has cer­tain­ly ben­e­fit­ed from the clout of its Demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­cilmem­ber Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci, who cur­rent­ly chairs the King Coun­ty Coun­cil and serves on the Sound Tran­sit Board of Directors.

Vot­ers picked Bal­duc­ci to replace long­time Repub­li­can Jane Hague six years ago in a race with dynam­ics sim­i­lar to this one. Bal­duc­ci was eas­i­ly reelect­ed in 2019 to a sec­ond four-year term on the Coun­cil. Inter­est­ing­ly, Bal­duc­ci’s share of the vote against Hague was about 59% — the same mar­gin col­lec­tive­ly achieved by Cohen and Per­ry against Lam­bert in the Top Two. While not all of Cohen’s vot­ers may back Per­ry in the gen­er­al, Per­ry is still well posi­tioned to win if most of them do.

And there may be more Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers turn­ing out to vote this autumn than there were this month and last month in the elim­i­na­tion round.

While most of the 3rd’s precincts went to Lam­bert or Per­ry (with Lam­bert doing the best in the east­ern reach­es of the dis­trict and Per­ry per­form­ing best in the west), Cohen was able to swing a few precincts into his col­umn. He was the plu­ral­i­ty win­ner in a few places in Red­mond, Issaquah, and Sammamish.

The image below visu­al­ly doc­u­ments Per­ry and Cohen’s strength in the 3rd’s west­ern­most precincts, which are the most pop­u­lous areas of the dis­trict in addi­tion to being the most Demo­c­ra­t­ic. The image is a still from this won­der­ful­ly inter­ac­tive, zoomable map cre­at­ed by Jason Weill of Tableau that shows the results of the Lam­bert-Per­ry-Cohen con­test by precinct.

Note that this map does not adhere to the usu­al blue vs. red dichoto­my, where blue sig­ni­fies the Demo­c­ra­t­ic tick­et and red sig­ni­fies the Repub­li­can tick­et. Instead, in this map, precincts with a red/rose col­ored tinge are precincts where Per­ry fin­ished ahead and precincts with a blue tinge are precincts where Lam­bert fin­ished ahead. Orange-tinged precincts are those where Cohen led.

Kathy Lambert vs. Sarah Perry vs. Joe Cohen
Data visu­al­iza­tion of the results in the west­ern por­tion of the 3rd Coun­ty Coun­cil Dis­trict in the August Top Two election

In a piece pub­lished last month for The Wash­ing­ton State Wire, reporter Aaron Kun­kler took a look at the race for the 3rd, which quotes from both me and for­mer Tim Eyman attor­ney Mark Lamb of Bothell.

We had very dif­fer­ent takes on the elec­tion results:

The most dynam­ic of the coun­ty coun­cil races is in the Dist. 3 race, where long-time coun­cil mem­ber Kathy Lam­bert is bring­ing in just under 41% of the vote. It’s not an ide­al num­ber for an incum­bent, said Andrew Vil­leneuve, direc­tor of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, who nor­mal­ly hope to see upwards of 50% support.

Lam­bert is run­ning against Sarah Per­ry and Joe Cohen, both chal­lengers from the left who gar­nered 31% and 24%, respec­tive­ly. The posi­tion is non-par­ti­san, but Vil­leneuve said the dis­trict — which has switched from red, to pur­ple, to blue over the past two decades that Lam­bert has rep­re­sent­ed it — may be primed for a more lib­er­al candidate.

“Why should any­one be ter­ri­bly sur­prised that she’s not doing that well,” he said. “To me, all it was going to take is one cred­i­ble candidate.”

But Mark Lamb, for­mer Both­ell city coun­cil mem­ber and founder of the North Creek Law Firm, said he thought Lam­bert was in a strong position.

“With a dif­fer­ent politi­cian, I would be more con­cerned with those results,” Lamb said. “With Kathy Lam­bert, she’s very smart, she’s very hard work­ing, and I think she will be able to move in the gen­er­al elec­tion and prevail.”

So you’re not wor­ried at all, eh Mark?

It’s not unheard of for an incum­bent who does real­ly poor­ly in the Top Two to bounce back in the gen­er­al elec­tion and win. It has hap­pened before.

But this is King Coun­ty’s 3rd Coun­ty Coun­cil Dis­trict we’re talk­ing about… not, say, Wash­ing­ton’s 3rd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, where Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler recov­ered from a weak show­ing in the 2018 Top Two to win reelec­tion. King Coun­ty’s 3rd is a Demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­trict, where­as Wash­ing­ton’s 3rd leans Republican.

Her­rera Beut­ler was able to recov­er three years ago pri­mar­i­ly by lock­ing down Repub­li­can vot­ers who’d backed a dif­fer­ent Repub­li­can candidate.

My guess is that Lam­bert already has the Repub­li­can vote… all of it.

Lam­bert needs Demo­c­ra­t­ic votes to win in Novem­ber. She needs peo­ple who don’t share her val­ues to back her for anoth­er term.

If she is so smart and hard­work­ing, then why did­n’t she do bet­ter in the elim­i­na­tion round? Why did­n’t she get more Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers to back her?

She has name recog­ni­tion that Per­ry and Cohen — who have not run for office before — don’t have. She also has a large cam­paign war chest. And she has long been good at show­ing up at com­mu­ni­ty events and non­prof­it functions.

Yet she only got 40%. Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers clear­ly shunned her. Includ­ing, as men­tioned, a major­i­ty of vot­ers in her own Red­mond neighborhood.

In all, near­ly three-fifths of her vot­ing con­stituents either backed Per­ry or Cohen when they filled out their bal­lots this sum­mer. And in the late bal­lots, as not­ed above, Per­ry saw gains, where­as Lam­bert didn’t.

All the evi­dence we have sug­gests that Lam­bert is head­ed for defeat this autumn. It’s not a giv­en because any­thing can hap­pen in an election.

But it’s the most like­ly sce­nario con­sid­er­ing the dynam­ics: an entrenched Repub­li­can incum­bent, an increas­ing­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­trict, and a strong Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger in Sarah Per­ry, who her­self is the epit­o­me of “smart” and “hard work­ing.” We saw this kind of cam­paign play out six years ago in the 6th with Jane Hague and Clau­dia Bald­duci. Now it’s the 3rd’s turn.

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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