More than $2.2 million is sloshing around in the race for state Senate in Washington’s 45th Legislative District — and more is expected to pour in. The election will determine the balance of power in Olympia.
Good people of Redmond, Kirkland, Woodinville and thereabouts: Brace yourselves for an all-out political assault on the senses.
In Washington’s 45th Legislative District, more than $2.2 million has been raised or spent so far by candidates and outside political groups for a special Senate election.
That’s more than some of Washington state’s members of Congress have raised in recent campaigns — and for good reason.
The contest for the open seat — created by the death last year of Republican Andy Hill — pits Democrat Manka Dhingra against Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund and will determine the balance of power in Olympia.
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In recent years, a Republican coalition has held the Senate by a single vote — and sometimes used that leverage to outmaneuver the Democratic-controlled House and Gov. Jay Inslee.
In 2015, Republicans successfully pushed for a cut in college tuition and forced Inslee to abandon hopes for low-carbon fuel standards.
This year, Republicans succeeded in getting their preferred funding source — a statewide property-tax shift — to finance a court-ordered K-12 school funding plan.
Democratic lawmakers and Inslee, meanwhile, have watched the GOP block other big-ticket priorities, like making Washington’s tax system more progressive.
Last week, the GOP underscored its power in Olympia, by refusing to approve a $4 billion capital construction budget without a deal on a rural water issue.
Lawmakers left Olympia on Thursday evening without a deal on either bill.
“The Republicans holding the Senate is the only thing giving them power in the state,” said Chris Vance, a former chairman of the Washington State Republican Party.
That dynamic gives each party maximum motivation to capture the seat formerly held by Hill, a Redmond lawmaker who was widely seen as principled, skilled and a big part of the state GOP’s future.
Voters are already being bombarded as Dhingra and Englund seek votes before the Aug. 1 primary and the Nov. 7 general election.
Independent candidate Parker Harris is also on the primary ballot that will determine which two candidates advance to November. Harris, 31, a math teacher who has raised about $3,000, is pledging to work with lawmakers of all ideologies. Atop his campaign website: “our non-partisan voice.”
Born in California, Dhingra, 43, has been a longtime deputy prosecuting attorney for King County. She supervises regional mental-health and veterans courts, as well as a diversion program.
Englund, 33, who grew up in Washington state, left to work for a nonprofit in Africa, and lived on the East Coast as a political staffer and as a spokeswoman for the Bitcoin Foundation.
More recently, Englund said she lived in Japan with her husband, a Marine on deployment, where she was a product developer for a team developing a phone app.
Englund said she moved to the 45th district in March, shortly before deciding to announce her candidacy.
Already, the candidates have raised a combined $1.2 million, according to a review of campaign records by The Seattle Times. Both candidates say they are knocking on doors every day.
But that’s only half the story. Independent groups, as always with innocuous-sounding names like “Eastside Leadership Council” and “Working Families,” are also raising and spending huge sums. Groups like these, backed by GOP and Democratic funding sources, have spent roughly another $1 million.
And it’s only July.
Adam Bartz, executive director of the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, said that earlier this year he expected the race to draw between $6 million and $8 million. Now, he said that could go as high as $10 million.
“It keeps going up and up,” he said.
Money and message
As of last week, Dhingra and Englund had each raised a similar amount of money in King and Snohomish counties.
Dhingra had raised $363,420 from 1,933 donations in those two counties. Englund raised $332,539 from 1,213 King and Snohomish donations.
In the rest of Washington state, Englund has outraised Dhingra — though $90,000 has come in hefty lump sums from GOP organizations.
For the state excluding King and Snohomish counties, Englund raised $207,757 from 441 contributions, while Dhingra raised $40,158, from 394 donations.
But Dhingra has outraised Englund outside Washington state, pulling in $126,816 from around the nation.
About half that comes from California — contributions from her immediate and extended family, she said.
“When I started, my [fundraising] email was to everyone in my family,” Dhingra said.
Outside of Washington, Englund has collected $41,624 from 75 contributions.
All that money goes toward building name recognition and trying to define voters’ perceptions of Dhingra and Englund, who are both first-time candidates.
It funds digital ads and TV spots. It pays for political fliers, stuffed between bills and junk mail, and yard signs on the street corner. It allows for paid staff working in the campaign office and knocking on doors.
Independent committees are trying to link Dhingra to the specter of a state income tax, which Washington voters have in the past opposed.
The Seattle City Council’s recent approval of a city income tax on high earners — expected to be decided in the courts — has amplified it as a timely issue for Englund to run on, Vance said.
Dhingra has said she supports a tax on capital gains to fund K-12 education, but doesn’t support an income tax going through the Legislature.
“If the people are interested in it, it has to be a voter initiative,” she said.
Democrats, meanwhile, have sought to link Englund to President Donald Trump — who lost dramatically in the 45th — and questioned her short time as a resident of the district.
The property-tax plan Republicans put forth in the Legislature this year — which Democrats reluctantly agreed to as part of a budget deal — also could figure prominently in the race.
Englund said she would have voted against that plan, which is expected to raise property taxes in parts of her district, while lowering taxes elsewhere.
But “If she was there, guess what, it still would have passed,” Bartz said. “If Manka Dhingra was there and we were in charge, that would not have happened.”
“No one needs this much”
In other special elections around the region, state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, appointed to replace Pramila Jayapal, who was elected to U.S. Congress, is running unopposed.
In the 48th District, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, appointed to replace Cyrus Habib after his election as lieutenant governor, has drawn two challengers: independent Democrat Richard Knierim and libertarian Michelle Darnell.
Kuderer has been barred from fundraising during the long legislative session, which began in January and ended Thursday. As of Friday, her campaign had $13,775 on hand. Knierim had raised $23,170 and Darnell had collected $2,449.
But the 45th District will dominate the political landscape this year.
And its large sums of money will remain a subject of discussion, ambivalence and maybe even outright frustration.
“People are fatigued by the constant mailings and the ads,” Englund said.
“My husband and I have always been uncomfortable with money in politics,” said Dhingra.
The deluge of contributions “brings out every single national consultant” looking for work, said Bartz. “Everyone has a sales pitch for the caucuses and candidates.”
A candidate could in reality “run a maxed-out, do-everything campaign for the legislature for like $200,000,” Vance said.
Added Vance: “No one needs this much.”