In most King County election races, the incumbent has all of the advantages, and the races are rarely competitive. But this year could be different.
Incumbents, particularly for King County Council, still have the advantage because they know their districts and spend a lot of time ensuring that King County dollars are spent supporting local non-profits or other programs in their home district. They also attend almost every public event, or did prior to COVID-19, and are always introduced. Raising money is always easy for incumbents, as very few candidates want to run in the large geographic areas that make up each district because of the cost, which is another advantage to the incumbent.
Also, not very many citizens understand what the King County Council does — although that might be different this year because some of the candidates are current county employees. County offices are by law non-partisan, but council members are usually active in one party or the other to build a voter base.
The county council does vote on the county executive’s budget and policy recommendations, but they are not like a city council with authority over an entire jurisdiction. Their land use decisions only affect unincorporated areas and the county assessor, prosecutor and sheriff have independent authority once the budget is completed. The sheriff job will change in the near future after the voters moved the position back under the executive.
However, councilmembers’ informal influence can frequently be seen behind the scenes, or on regional committees and through the budget. And the council gave itself some additional authority to determine what the sheriff’s job will look like. That will be worth watching and asking the candidates about.
Executive Dow Constantine may have a race on his hands as he seeks a fourth term. He is being challenged by state Senator Joe Nguyen from West Seattle, among others. Both are Democrats, and Seattle’s base of Democrats may hold the key as there will be a high profile race for mayor of Seattle that will bring out the voters.
Constantine hasn’t had a close race in several years, winning re-election in 2013 and 2017, each with over 70% of the vote. Republicans are not likely to win a countywide race in blue King County unless the Democrats split the vote and a well known moderate Republican were to jump in the race, but none did.
Taking a page from all the successful legislative races in the suburbs, Nguyen’s strategy appears to be to run to Constantine’s left by focusing on homelessness, criminal justice reform, climate policies and construction of the new youth jail. Constantine has made fighting homelessness a priority of his administration, and a new regional homeless agency is being established to carry out the task — although it hasn’t gone as smoothly as he would have hoped.
Constantine has already raised $1,184,297 when this column was written. Nguyen has raised $58,238. Voters should watch to see where Democrats, unions and county vendors line up with their checkbooks.
Nguyen is the son of Vietnamese refugees and was elected to the state Senate in 2018. He is getting a late start in fundraising, but this is likely to be a close race.
In council district 9, Reagan Dunn is a 15-year incumbent who has raised $215,805. His opponent is Kim-Khanh Van. She fled Vietnam, is an immigration lawyer and a Renton City Council member. She has raised $112,184. Also in the race is Chris Franco who has raised $64,239, and Ubax Gardheere, who has raised $28,733. Watch Van’s fundraising — she is likely to be the most competitive and will likely advance to the general election with Dunn.
In district 7, the incumbent is longtime council member and former state Senator Pete von Reichbauer, who is well known for ensuring that non-profits in Auburn and Federal Way are supported with county funds. He is a visible presence in both communities. He has raised $124,472 so far and can raise more.
He has three opponents. Federal Way City Council member Lydia Assefa-Dawson has raised only $995, but will need to raise a lot more to be competitive. Saudia Abdullah, who moved here from New Jersey in 2013 for a job with a non-profit and now works as a division director for corrections, has raised $16,300. Her areas of interest are youth services (her son was active in the Federal Way Boys and Girls Club), the economy, and infrastructure and public safety. She previously served on the City of Federal Way Ethics Board, and is currently on the Public Defenders Advisory Board. She was a bus rider before COVID-19, which she feels gave her a fresh look at county services. The third challenger is Dominique Torgerson, who owns the Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent that went before the King County Council over a proposed winery ordinance. Von Reichbauer will be hard to beat, but Abdullah seems the most likely to advance to November.
District 5 is another race that could end up being close. The incumbent, Dave Upthegrove, has $175,857 available as of this writing. He is the first openly gay elected official outside of the city of Seattle. He wants to strengthen civilian oversight of the sheriff’s department, and he supports environmental and economic issues. His opponent is Shukri Olow, who is a doctoral student and is a program manager for the family engagement program. She has raised $132,908.
In council district 3 is incumbent Kathy Lambert, who has only raised $34,000, but has $174,693 available. She has two opponents. Sarah Perry has raised $89,754 and has learned a lot about the district by doorbelling for her husband (state Rep. Bill Ramos) and has strong Democratic connections. The other candidate is Joe Cohen, who has raised $30,785. He was on Sen. Maria Cantwell’s staff and also worked at the Justice Department. Some believe that the district’s voters have become more urban, which could make Lambert vulnerable. If true, Perry looks like the candidate to advance to the general election against Lambert.
In position 1, incumbent Rod Dembowski will face a challenge from Sally Caverzan, who is a social worker. Both will advance to the general election. Dembowski has raised $129,040. Caverzan has a lot of ground to make up.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.