A special legislative race in suburban King County has all the markings of a campaign that will set spending records and attract national attention.
It’s an off-year election to take the place of popular and well-respected Sen. Andy Hill, a Republican who for much of his six years was the budget brains of the Senate. Hill, who was chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, died last fall of cancer.
It features Democrat Manka Dhingra and Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund, two first-time candidates with strong political and government resumes.
It’s in the 45th District, which includes part of high-tech haven Redmond and winery-rich Woodinville, along with Duvall and Sammamish and other suburban outposts of eastern King County. Having sent two Democrats to the House and a Republican to the Senate over the past six years, the 45th is one of the state’s true swing districts.
The handful of other off-year elections are taking place in districts that history shows are either safely Republican or safely Democratic, which leads to the most important reason more than $650,000 has already been raised for this race.
With control of the Senate down to one seat, a win by Englund keeps Republicans in the majority, a win by Dhingra shifts it to Democrats. In that respect, it’s for all the marbles.
The Senate currently has a coalition of 24 Republicans and one conservative Democrat in its majority caucus and 24 Democrats in its minority caucus. Hill’s Senate seat is temporarily being filled by Dino Rossi, who was previously in the state Senate and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2004 and 2008 and U.S. Senate in 2010. Rossi isn’t running.
Englund, a daughter of Korean immigrants, is a former member of the leadership staff for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, supported Rossi’s run for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and served on the Republican National Committee’s Asian Pacific Americans advisory committee. She also served as vice president of strategy for the Digital Currency Council. She lives in Woodinville with her husband, a Marine Corps officer.
In her campaign announcement, she’s campaigning against a state income tax and the jump in car license tab fees to pay for Sound Transit expansion, reduced traffic congestion and a well-funded education system.
Dhingra, an Indian American, is a senior deputy prosecutor in King County who supervises the Regional Mental Health Court and oversees the Veterans Court. She also works with law enforcement agencies to develop better ways to respond to incidents that involve mental health problems. She works with the Seattle Police Department’s Muslim, Arab and Sikh Advisory Council to address hate crimes. She and her husband, an engineer for SpaceX, live in Redmond.
She’s calling for a tax system that’s less regressive and closes loopholes, improved public safety and government transparency. She also wants to fix traffic problems and support schools, and would expand early learning programs.
Also running is Robert Parker Harris, a former engineer who now teaches math and science at an alternative school in Woodinville. He filed as an independent, and told the Redmond Reader he wants to represent dissatisfied moderates who are being left out in the partisanship of the Legislature.
While that may appeal to middle-of-the road Democrats, Republicans and independents tired of the divided Legislature’s protracted fights over budgets and failures to finish work on time, independent candidates have fared poorly in Washington’s Top Two primary system and have not advanced to the general when the major parties have fielded candidates.
Although Dhingra announced her campaign first, which meant she was able to accept campaign money first, Englund quickly started closing the gap after entering the race in April, helped in part by an $80,000 contribution from the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. In their most recent campaign finance reports, Dhingra listed about $262,000 in direct contributions, Englund about $225,000.
Englund also has received support so far from nearly $150,000 being spent on an independent campaign being mounted by the Working Families Political Action Committee. The Sammamish-based PAC gets its money from the Leadership Council, which is run by Senate GOP leadership and gets its money primarily from businesses.
Democrats seem to be gearing up for an independent campaign of their own. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a national group bent on turning more legislatures blue, pumped $200,000 into New Directions PAC. Committees set up by Democrats in the state Legislature put in another $65,000. Last year, New Directions spent nearly $4 million in independent state campaigns, supporting Democrats or opposing Republicans.
None of the New Directions money has gone for independent expenditures for Dhingra or against Englund yet. So far it primarily has been spent on data collection, research and consultants. But there’s plenty of time for that to change before the Aug. 1 primary and the Nov. 7 general election.
Harris has raised $725 so far, according to Public Disclosure Commission reports.