King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn (Photo: King County)

Rea­gan Dunn is a mama’s boy and a child of the Repub­li­can right.

He was named after then-Cal­i­for­nia Gov­er­nor Ronald Rea­gan. He first came into the pub­lic eye at age nine, pic­tured canoe­ing with his moth­er, Repub­li­can State Chair­man Jen­nifer Dunn (Repub­li­cans use the title “Chair­man” even when the posi­tion is held by some­one with a dif­fer­ent gen­der iden­ti­ty), on the eve of the 1980 Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion that nom­i­nat­ed The Gip­per for President.

Four decades lat­er, a mid­dle-aged Dunn is run­ning for the 8th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict seat that was held by Jen­nifer Dunn from 1993 to 2005.

“We’re going to take mom’s seat back,” he said in announc­ing on Monday.

He is chal­leng­ing two-term Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kim Schri­er, an Issaquah pedi­a­tri­cian who in 2018 broke a thir­ty-six year Repub­li­can hold on the dis­trict. She took the seat of sev­en-term Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dave Reichert, who retired after see­ing more than sev­en hun­dred anti-Trump demon­stra­tors march on his Issaquah office.

Reichert is chair­ing the Dunn campaign.

Under cur­rent con­fig­u­ra­tion, the 8th is the first U.S. House dis­trict in Wash­ing­ton to cross the “Cas­cade Cur­tain.” It cur­rent­ly con­tains Chelan, Kit­ti­tas and a sliv­er of Dou­glas Coun­ty, along with exur­ban King Coun­ty and south­east Pierce County.

Schri­er has cap­tured and held the seat by pil­ing up a sub­stan­tial mar­gin in King Coun­ty while stay­ing rea­son­ably close in Chelan and Kittitas.

The 8th is any­thing but a safe seat. Schri­er held it by a mar­gin of just under 15,000 votes in 2020 against an under­fi­nanced Repub­li­can challenger.

The con­gres­sion­al map pro­posed by the state’s Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion would add east­ern Sno­homish Coun­ty to the dis­trict, but the Supreme Court could go in anoth­er direc­tion. (The Supreme Court was hand­ed the respon­si­bil­i­ty of draw­ing the state’s next maps when the Com­mis­sion failed to get its work done on time.)

Schri­er works hard at the job. She has held mul­ti­ple town meet­ings. She brings assets as one of Con­gress’ few physi­cians, and as a per­son deal­ing with diabetes.

She has cham­pi­oned the Yaki­ma Basin Inte­grat­ed Plan, a fed­er­al-state-trib­al effort designed to address cli­mate change and pro­vide water man­age­ment that would both enhance irri­ga­tion and restore once-abun­dant Yaki­ma Riv­er salmon runs.

Dunn is enter­ing the con­test as a kind of cook­ie cut­ter con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can. He blames the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion for infla­tion. He preach­es lim­it­ed gov­ern­ment. He does a bit of bash­ing of the state’s largest city, pledg­ing to fight “failed poli­cies spread­ing from Seat­tle to our sub­ur­ban neighborhoods.”

There’s the claim that he is “lead­ing the fight to refund the police.”

He is tout­ing a sur­vey by Port­land-based Moore Infor­ma­tion – which has polled for Repub­li­can can­di­dates since the 1980s – show­ing him ahead of oth­er Repub­li­cans and Schri­er, although not in the dis­trict he will be actu­al­ly be run­ning in, since nobody knows where the new 8th will be yet.

A Repub­li­can-allied front group has already aired anti-Schri­er TV spots on Seat­tle sta­tions, a clear sig­nal that a very expen­sive cam­paign is in the works.

Dunn was elect­ed to the King Coun­ty Coun­cil in 2005, and just won anoth­er term with 63.6% of the vote. He rep­re­sents a coun­ty dis­trict that over­laps the 8th in south­east King Coun­ty. He is not quit­ting the Coun­cil to cam­paign for Congress.

Dunn has faced per­son­al issues. He is a recov­er­ing alco­holic, telling the Seat­tle Times that he sought help for an alco­hol prob­lem as ear­ly as 2011.

He plead­ed guilty to a DUI in Kit­ti­tas Coun­ty in 2014.

Dunn ran statewide for Attor­ney Gen­er­al in 2012, cap­tur­ing the endorse­ment of almost every dai­ly news­pa­per in the state.

A nation­al cam­paign orga­ni­za­tion of Repub­li­can attor­neys gen­er­al spent lav­ish­ly on tele­vi­sion spots decry­ing his Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent, fel­low King Coun­ty Coun­cil mem­ber Bob Fer­gu­son. But the TV ads were clum­sy. Fer­gu­son kept his pow­der dry, coun­ter­at­tacked effec­tive­ly over the air­waves and out­worked Dunn.

(Nobody out­works Bob Ferguson.)

Fer­gu­son defeat­ed statewide Dunn by a mar­gin of 203,000 votes, beat­ing him in King Coun­ty by 272,000 votes. No Repub­li­can chal­lenged Fer­gu­son in 2016.

The Dunns have done just a bit to put dis­tance between them­selves and knuck­le drag­gers in the Repub­li­can Party.

Jen­nifer Dunn was pro-choice, won her first pri­ma­ry by beat­ing far-right State Sen­a­tor Pam Roach. She held a junior post in the House Repub­li­can lead­er­ship. She once even cast a vote against oil drilling in the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge.

Rea­gan Dunn has attempt­ed sim­i­lar foot­work, telling The Seat­tle Times that he accepts that Joe Biden was the legit­i­mate­ly elect­ed Pres­i­dent, but say­ing he would have vot­ed against impeach­ing Don­ald Trump last Jan­u­ary. (Two of the state’s three Repub­li­can U.S. House mem­bers, Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler and Dan New­house, were among the ten Repub­li­cans vot­ing to impeach.)

Rea­gan Dunn sup­port­ed adding land in east­ern King Coun­ty to the Alpine Lakes Wilder­ness Area, giv­ing des­ig­na­tion to the Mid­dle Fork-Sno­qualmie Riv­er under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and deliv­er­ing a Nation­al Her­itage Des­ig­na­tion to the Moun­tains-to-Sound Green­way. The Alpine Lakes addi­tion was pro­posed by Reichert and car­ried across the fin­ish line by Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Murray.

The Nation­al Repub­li­can Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee has Schri­er in its sights. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee was quick to deliv­er a boil­er­plate press release denounc­ing “Dunn’s doomed bid for WA-08.” These are clear signs that a mul­ti-mil­lion-dol­lar slugfest for the seat is in the offing.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty in Seat­tle and King Coun­ty have late­ly been focused on local races, with leg­isla­tive dis­trict par­ty orga­ni­za­tions at times endors­ing Democ­rats over oth­er Democ­rats in local races that don’t have par­ty labels list­ed on the bal­lot. The 8th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict offers the par­ty a major chal­lenge. Dunn’s can­di­da­cy is far from “doomed.” He is a famil­iar name on the ballot.

It is worth remem­ber­ing that Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Rod Chan­dler, Jen­nifer Dunn and Dave Reichert won eigh­teen straight elec­tions before Reichert packed it in and Kim Schri­er cap­tured the seat. The 8th CD race in 2022 will be, to bor­row Joe Biden’s most famous line, a big (exple­tive) deal.

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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