Jim Mayhew and Heather Koellen
Jim Mayhew (left) and Heather Koellen (right) are Democratic candidates running for different positions in the recently reconfigured 12th Legislative District. Mayhew is a candidate for State Senate; Koellen is a candidate for State House. (Campaign publicity photos)

Two leg­isla­tive can­di­dates run­ning in the geo­graph­ic heart of Wash­ing­ton see an oppor­tu­ni­ty this year to bring pro­gres­sive change to an area of the state that has devel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a bas­tion of right wing pol­i­tics. Jim May­hew and Heather Koellen are hop­ing to break a decades-long Repub­li­can win­ning streak in leg­isla­tive races in the recent­ly recon­fig­ured 12th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, which data sug­gests could offer some of the cycle’s best pick­up oppor­tu­ni­ties for Democrats. 

A few months ago, U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Robert Las­nik ordered the adop­tion of Reme­di­al Map 3B to bring Wash­ing­ton State’s leg­isla­tive map bound­aries into com­pli­ance with the Vot­ing Rights Act. Las­nik ruled that the pre­vi­ous map — which was devel­oped by the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion in a flawed process that fla­grant­ly vio­lat­ed the state’s open meet­ings law — lim­it­ed the pow­er of Lati­no vot­ers in what used to be known as the 15th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict. The new court-ordered map shift­ed the bound­aries of a total of thir­teen leg­isla­tive dis­tricts, most east of the Cas­cade Range. 

Notably, what used to be known as the 15th is now the 14th. 

Two of the oth­er affect­ed dis­tricts are the 5th and the 12th, which have been most­ly exur­ban and rur­al dis­tricts. The 5th has had only Demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion since the 2018 midterms; the 12th, as men­tioned, has long had only Repub­li­can representation. 

The new map moved neigh­bor­hoods that were for­mer­ly in the 5th into the 12th, includ­ing in the Sno­qualmie area, mak­ing it more Democratic. 

Mean­while, rur­al areas to the east that are Repub­li­can-friend­ly have been removed from the 12th and added to Washington’s 7th and 13th districts. 

An analy­sis by NPI guest con­trib­u­tor Andrew Hong found that Pres­i­dent Biden and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kim Schri­er both won what is now the 12th Dis­trict in 2020, albeit by nar­row mar­gins. In 2022, Pat­ty Mur­ray lost the area, but not by much. 

The new 12th Dis­trict is split even­ly between King Coun­ty and Chelan Coun­ty, home to Wenatchee. It is also split on both sides of the Cas­cade Moun­tain Range, with 51% of the pop­u­la­tion to the west and 49% to the east. These demo­graph­ic and geo­graph­i­cal divi­sions present a chal­lenge to can­di­dates try­ing to cam­paign across the whole district.

Cru­cial­ly, the east­ern areas cut out of the 12th LD includ­ed the home of incum­bent Repub­li­can State Sen­a­tor Brad Hawkins. After con­tem­plat­ing his options, Hawkins opt­ed not to seek reelec­tion. He is run­ning instead for Chelan Coun­ty Commission. 

Repub­li­can State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kei­th Goehn­er hopes to be his successor. 

Goehn­er served six­teen years as Chelan Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er before his elec­tion to the State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 2018. He serves on the Local Gov­ern­ment, Trans­porta­tion, and Envi­ron­ment & Ener­gy Com­mit­tees. Goehn­er is endorsed by Hawkins and his House seat­mate, Repub­li­can State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mike Steele.

Goehn­er will like­ly face Demo­c­rat Jim May­hew, a for­mer Sno­qualmie City Coun­cilmem­ber who believes the redrawn map gives Democ­rats an even bet­ter chance of win­ning the 12th this year. “Six weeks ago, I lived in the 5th LD. So, what moti­vat­ed me to run was I was now in the 12th… and there was no Demo­c­rat run­ning for Sen­ate,” May­hew said in an inter­view with NPI. “The oppor­tu­ni­ty kind of chased me down.”

In addi­tion to his pub­lic ser­vice, May­hew has a back­ground in cor­po­rate account­ing. He con­sid­ers his tran­si­tion into the polit­i­cal sphere less as a career change and more as a con­tin­u­a­tion of a longer ded­i­ca­tion to pub­lic ser­vice: “Through­out my life, I con­sid­ered ser­vice to the com­mu­ni­ty to be an oblig­a­tion that comes with the great oppor­tu­ni­ty for indi­vid­ual advance­ment… I’ve always vol­un­teered with and con­tributed to local orga­ni­za­tions, sup­port­ing kids, fam­i­lies, those fac­ing obsta­cles to suc­cess, the envi­ron­ment, so I’ve done that through­out my life. But in 2015, I was able to retire young and so that com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice kind of focus led me to serve on our city council.”

May­hew is very ser­vice-ori­ent­ed and dis­likes some of the con­no­ta­tions of terms now used to describe peo­ple seek­ing office. He explained: “I don’t real­ly view it as pol­i­tics. The term pol­i­tics these days seems to mean peo­ple with an agen­da to either ben­e­fit them­selves or some spe­cif­ic group to the detri­ment of oth­ers. That’s sort of how that term comes across to me. So, I think of it as just like how our com­mu­ni­ty is all of our respon­si­bil­i­ty… I par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic ser­vice to make things bet­ter for all of us.”

The House seat vacat­ed by Mayhew’s oppo­nent has drawn three candidates. 

Two of them are Repub­li­cans: Daniel C Scott and Bri­an Burnett. 

The third can­di­date is a Demo­c­rat: Heather Koellen.

Daniel C. Scott is a for­mer Coun­cil Mem­ber of Cash­mere, Wash­ing­ton, a city of just over 3,000 res­i­dents in Chelan Coun­ty. He works as an elec­tri­cal engi­neer in the Chelan Coun­ty Pub­lic Util­i­ty Department.

Bri­an Bur­nett also has expe­ri­ence in gov­ern­ment in Chelan Coun­ty, hav­ing served twelve years as Chelan Coun­ty Sher­iff before los­ing a 2022 bid for his fourth term to Mike Mor­ri­son. Mor­ri­son gal­va­nized Demo­c­ra­t­ic sup­port with his crit­i­cism of Burnett’s oppo­si­tion to COVID-19 restric­tions and law enforce­ment cul­ture under Bur­nett fol­low­ing three retal­i­a­tion law­suits filed by for­mer deputies that cost the depart­ment sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars lead­ing up to the 2022 election. 

Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­ers hope to moti­vate many of the same vot­ers that oust­ed Bur­nett in 2022 to pre­vent him from win­ning the State House race this year.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date in the race, Heather Koellen, is a cur­rent City Coun­cilmem­ber in North Bend. Koellen is a for­mer Har­borview Nurse with a B.A. in nurs­ing sci­ence from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton. In her capac­i­ty as a city coun­cilmem­ber, she serves as the Chair of the Trans­porta­tion and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, on the region­al Board of Health, and on the Finance and Admin­is­tra­tion Committee.

Koellen was moti­vat­ed to enter pol­i­tics to make the North Bend City Coun­cil more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the com­mu­ni­ty. “The peo­ple inter­view­ing us were the city coun­cil, so sev­en mem­bers,” Koellen said in an inter­view with NPI. “And as I’m answer­ing the ques­tions, I’m look­ing at these peo­ple, and sev­en six­ty-year-old white men are ask­ing me ques­tions, and I real­ized that there is no female representation.”

Like May­hew, the new maps opened up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of run­ning in the 12th LD. Koellen did­n’t want to run against Lisa Callan, Bill Ramos, or any of the Democ­rats vying to take Ramos’ place in the House, “but then this oppor­tu­ni­ty came up and there was an open spot in this brand-new dis­trict, which is super exciting.”

Both Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates say they are work­ing hard to bridge the phys­i­cal and demo­graph­ic bar­ri­ers of the Cas­cade Moun­tains that split the 12th LD in half. 

May­hew thinks of the 12th as hav­ing three dis­tinct groups: “There’s the Chelan Coun­ty, North Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton per­spec­tive, there’s the Skykomish Riv­er Val­ley down to Mon­roe, and then there’s the Sno­qualmie Riv­er Val­ley which is East King County.”

When asked about his strat­e­gy for work­ing with a diverse elec­torate, May­hew explained, “Cul­tur­al­ly, I think it means under­stand­ing each area’s dif­fer­ent view­points. But then it’s about find­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties. And I believe that these com­mu­ni­ties have much more in com­mon with each oth­er than they realize.”

Koellen sees sim­i­lar­i­ties between all areas of the 12th LD as well.

“Real­ly, I think there are more com­mon­al­i­ties than dif­fer­ences,” Koellen said. 

“I think most peo­ple real­ly care about their fam­i­lies first, and hav­ing enough mon­ey, health care, and being safe in your com­mu­ni­ty with law enforcement.”

May­hew and Koellen under­stand that they can’t win with­out votes from the east­ern part of the dis­trict, and both have tak­en trips over the pass to fundraise and campaign. 

Jim May­hew has par­tic­i­pat­ed in meet­ings and pri­vate cam­paign events on the east­ern side of the Cas­cade Range and plans to embark on a “lis­ten­ing tour” as part of his effort to con­nect with vot­ers on both halves of the 12th. 

Pro­vid­ing access to afford­able hous­ing is an exam­ple of how the 12th requires poli­cies tai­lored to exur­ban and rur­al communities. 

“If we’re in Seat­tle, Red­mond or Belle­vue, we can talk a lot about tran­sit-ori­ent­ed devel­op­ment,” May­hew said. “If you live where I live, you don’t talk about tran­sit-ori­ent­ed devel­op­ment because there’s one bus line and it only comes nine times a day.” 

Both can­di­dates also plan to make repro­duc­tive rights a focus of their campaigns. 

“State-lev­el threats to abor­tion rights and repro­duc­tive health are con­tin­u­ing to esca­late in the wake of the Dobbs deci­sion,” May­hew said.

“And these are by no means safe or assured in the state of Wash­ing­ton. So, ensur­ing that women main­tain the free­dom to con­trol their per­son­al med­ical deci­sions is a high pri­or­i­ty for — I believe — the vast major­i­ty of res­i­dents of the 12th.” 

Koellen put it plain­ly: “I don’t think the gov­ern­ment should be involved in women and their doc­tors’ deci­sions on any­thing that is private.”

May­hew sees this per­spec­tive as reflec­tive of major­i­ty opin­ion in the dis­trict: “That’s some­thing that tran­scends par­ty,” he said. Peo­ple “feel pret­ty strong­ly on this in a pret­ty sig­nif­i­cant way. I mean, a 70%-30% split is about as lop­sided as you can get on any top­ic there is,” he con­tin­ued, ref­er­enc­ing statewide polling on repro­duc­tive rights. 

With the 12th Dis­trict now more of a bat­tle­ground than it has been in any recent cycle, these con­tests will be among the most-watched leg­isla­tive races in the state this year. 

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