One of the hottest primary races this fall features two Republicans who see eye to eye on almost every issue. But politics is more than...

Share story


One of the hottest primary races this fall features two Republicans who see eye to eye on almost every issue.


But politics is more than issues.

Metropolitan King County Councilmen Reagan Dunn and Steve Hammond, rivals for the council seat in the sprawling new 9th District, have dramatically different backgrounds, backers and resources. One Hammond supporter jokingly characterized the race as the Clampetts versus the Drysdales, a reference to the 1960s sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies” and its two leading families — one piney woods and moonshine, the other country club and caviar.



Dunn, 34, a former federal prosecutor, lives in a Bellevue townhouse. He was raised on politics: His mother is Jennifer Dunn, a former U.S. representative and GOP power. He enjoys the backing of many top party leaders and has raised $240,000 — more than any other council candidate. His donor list includes names such as Nordstrom and McCaw.


Hammond, 52, didn’t get into politics until his 40s. A former evangelical minister, he lives at the other end of the district, out in the country on five acres between Black Diamond and Enumclaw. He has collected one-sixth as much money as Dunn but hopes to turn that to his advantage by portraying himself as a political outsider and champion of neglected rural interests.


The Sept. 20 face-off between two incumbents is one consequence of last fall’s voter-approved initiative to reduce the County Council from 13 members to nine.


After a bipartisan commission finished drawing new boundaries in January, Hammond and Dunn found themselves in the same vast district that stretches from Factoria Mall to the foothills of Mount Rainier. It includes about one-quarter of Bellevue, more than half of Renton and 10 percent of Kent, as well as Newcastle, Maple Valley, Covington, Black Diamond and Enumclaw. About 40 percent of the district’s residents live in unincorporated areas.


The GOP nominee will face Democrat Shirley Gaunt-Smith in November. She entered the race at the last minute and has raised little money. The winner of the Republican race will be a heavy favorite.



Reagan Dunn, 34


Party: Republican

Residence: Bellevue


Occupation: King County Council member


Personal: Single


Background: Son of former U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn. Former Bellevue attorney, federal prosecutor, Bush Justice Department official, and chairman of Eastside Business Alliance. Appointed to County Council in February to replace Rob McKenna.


Top three endorsements: Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, state Sen. Cheryl Pflug, Renton Firefighters Local 864


Campaign Web site: www.reagandunn.com





Steve Hammond, 52

Party: Republican


Residence: Enumclaw


Occupation: King County Council member


Personal: Married, eight children


Background: Former evangelical minister. Unsuccessful candidate for state House of Representatives, 2000. Co-founder, Citizens Alliance for Property Rights. Appointed to County Council in mid-2003 to replace Kent Pullen; elected in November 2003.


Top three endorsements: 5th Legislative District Republicans, 47th Legislative District Republicans, Citizens Alliance for Property Rights


Campaign Web site: www.stevehammond.us






Shirley Gaunt-Smith, 67


Party: Democrat


Residence: Renton


Occupation: Retired Boeing computer engineer


Personal: Two children, four grandchildren, one great-grandchild


Background: Democratic precinct-committee officer; former president and board member, Recovery Centers of King County; former volunteer, Municipal League candidate-evaluation committee; former 4-H leader


Top three endorsements: 11th Legislative District Democrats, 41st Legislative District Democrats, 47th Legislative District Democrats


Campaign Web site: Under development


Turnout crucial


The primary’s outcome could hinge on voter turnout. Hammond has the backing of several key, hard-core Republican constituencies — property-rights, anti-abortion and gun-rights activists who almost always vote.


That could negate at least part of Dunn’s huge lead in dollars, says veteran GOP strategist Randy Pepple: the bigger the turnout, the better Dunn’s chances.


Hammond already has demonstrated his appeal to the GOP’s foot soldiers. In June he narrowly defeated Dunn at a party convention for what Republicans maintained at the time was the official GOP “nomination” for the seat.


That contest created bad blood between the candidates. Dunn accused Hammond of violating an unofficial party rule against speaking ill of another Republican. He says the convention result means little now.


“Hammond has a base,” Dunn says, “but it’s a narrow base.”


Hammond considers himself the true incumbent, Dunn an interloper. Hammond has been on the council since mid-2003, Dunn only since February, when he was appointed to fill the seat of Rob McKenna, who resigned to become state attorney general.


Hammond says he was working on property rights and other issues vital to the district long before he joined the council, and long before Dunn came along. To call both candidates incumbents, he says, “is like saying a college president and a college sophomore both started out as college freshmen.”


But Dunn says voters should choose him because he actually has more experience in government than Hammond. Before coming to the courthouse, he spent five years practicing municipal and land-use law with a Bellevue firm, then four years with the Bush Justice Department in Seattle and Washington, D.C.


Similar records


For all their differences, the records Hammond and Dunn have compiled on the council are almost indistinguishable.


Both have called for an elected county elections supervisor and the resignation of appointed elections boss Dean Logan.


Both support lawsuits to overturn the county’s new Critical Areas Ordinance, which limits development in rural areas, saying it tramples constitutionally guaranteed property rights.


Both back Initiative 912 on the Nov. 8 ballot, which would repeal the gas-tax increase the Legislature approved last spring. They contend it costs too much and doesn’t provide enough benefit for Southeast King County.


Both support more emphasis on roads and less focus on mass transit to address the region’s traffic troubles. Both say they favor tolls in some cases to help pay for more lanes. Both lean toward “bus rapid transit” over light rail for the I-90 corridor between Seattle and Bellevue.


They do differ on abortion. Hammond calls himself pro-life. Dunn, like his mother, says while government shouldn’t subsidize abortions, it also shouldn’t interfere with women’s decisions.


But both candidates agree the issue isn’t particularly relevant for members of a legislative body that deals mostly with such matters as rezoning, bus fares and sewer rates.


So, instead of policy, the two talk of such concerns as independence and electability when asked how they differ.


Dunn argues his presence in the race dissuaded Democrats from fielding a high-profile candidate in the 9th — Hammond barely won his first election two years ago. Dunn also points to their respective Municipal League ratings: Dunn “good,” Hammond “adequate,” the only council incumbent to rate so low.


“He’s not a great candidate,” Dunn says of his opponent. “The district leans Republican. It’s not safe Republican.”


Hammond calls himself a populist, an outsider. The new district’s lines were gerrymandered to force him out, he contends.


“I made a choice to stay close to the people rather than close to the insider politics of the council,” he says. “I am the incumbent, and yet I’m not the anointed insider.”


If he loses, Hammond notes, the new council will have no member who lives in a rural area.


“It isn’t suburban versus rural,” Dunn responds. “We [suburban and rural residents] have a lot more in common with each other than we do with the downtown Seattle mentality.”


Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com