In 20 years on the Metropolitan King County Council, Kathy Lambert says she is most proud of her work as a nonpartisan legislator. She cites nuts-and-bolts issues — helping establish community courts, working on the county’s clean water plan and garbage disposal — and says she’s been able to bring “diverse groups of people together to find solutions.”
Her challenger, Sarah Perry, says that’s not the case, and she doesn’t have to rewind very far to cite evidence.
Perry points to the recent outrage over Lambert’s campaign mailer, which was produced by a national Republican consulting firm and was widely condemned by Lambert’s colleagues as racist.
“It’s a national, Trump kind of thing,” Perry said. “That hyperpartisan tone is not in keeping with our Eastside values.”
The mailer and ensuing controversy — Lambert first defended it, then apologized, then was stripped of her committee chairmanships — have dominated the final stretches of a campaign that had been focused on local issues, transportation and the environment.
Perry, a former executive at Seattle University and other local nonprofits, is hoping to unseat Lambert in the district representing northeast King County, including Sammamish, Issaquah and parts of Redmond. It’s a district that has often gone for Republicans but has been drifting Democratic in recent years, with an increasingly diverse population, and gave Joe Biden about 70% of the vote.
All County Council races are technically nonpartisan, but Lambert has previously run for office as a Republican and Perry is a Democrat, even going so far as to put “Dem” on some of her lawn signs.
“A pothole in one community is not saying a party, it’s a pothole and we need to fix it,” Lambert said.
Lambert, 68, has rarely drawn serious challengers in the past two decades. She was first elected in 2001 with 64% of the vote and then ran unopposed for the next three elections, before winning with 57% of the vote in 2017. But the primary results foreshadow a tenuous general election: Lambert won, but with just 40% of the vote. Perry and another candidate who identified as a Democrat combined for 60% of the vote.
Perry, 57, has focused a large chunk of her campaign on issues of transportation and the environment. She wants more bus routes and service connecting cities in the district — Issaquah, Sammamish, Woodinville, Duvall — to each other and the rest of the county. And she wants to make sure the region is prepared when light rail arrives in Redmond in 2023 and 2024.
That means denser housing at transit hubs “where that’s appropriate” and more bike paths and small shuttles to get people to and from bus and rail lines.
“I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to get people out of their cars and into public transit options,” Perry said.
She faulted Lambert for voting against legislation that established a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure (like pipelines and storage facilities) in the county. And she faulted Lambert for voting against making Juneteenth a paid holiday for county employees.
Lambert said her priority next year will be helping to choose the next sheriff. She wants someone with a law enforcement background and with mediation training.
The next sheriff, Lambert said, must “meet the needs all across the county, that it isn’t just somebody that will appeal to one part of the county and not the unincorporated areas.”
She takes pride in the county’s creation, about two years ago, of a Local Services Department, to help coordinate and deliver services in unincorporated areas that don’t have local governments. Lambert was a co-sponsor of the measure, which passed unanimously.
Lambert stresses her experience and her work ethic. “I’ve worked 12 to 18 hours, six days a week during COVID,” she says.
She says she wants to finish work on long-term projects, including the county’s comprehensive Clean Water Plan, which she’s worked on as chair of the Regional Water Committee (a position she lost in the mailer fallout), and her longtime push to replace the county’s landfill with a waste-to-energy plant.
Lambert has been pushing, unsuccessfully, to build such a plant (which would likely burn trash and use the heat to create energy) for more than a decade. She brags about having visited 14 such plants around the world (her favorite is in Hamburg, Germany), and cites it as an example of the experience she brings to esoteric issues after two decades in office.
Perry has raised more than $307,000 for her campaign, to about $182,000 for Lambert. Perry is endorsed by the six current members of the County Council who identify as Democrats and by Gov. Jay Inslee and County Executive Dow Constantine. Lambert pulled her listed endorsements off her webpage after several endorsers dropped her due to the campaign mailer.