Ask Reagan Dunn and Kim-Khanh Van what the most important difference between them is and you’ll get similar answers.
In a race for the Metropolitan King County Council that is ostensibly nonpartisan, it all comes down to party.
“Besides our political affiliation?” Van asks. “That is number one. I am a proud Democrat.”
“I think my opponent is going to follow the Democratic Party line,” said Dunn, who ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general in 2012 as a Republican. “I think this is an important nonpartisan position for a reason and I will bring a suburban and rural perspective that is really needed in downtown Seattle.”
Dunn has been on the County Council since 2005 and is seeking his fifth term in a district that sprawls from south Bellevue and Newcastle through Maple Valley and Enumclaw to the Mount Rainier foothills.
All County Council races are officially nonpartisan, but, as the candidates themselves make clear, calling it nonpartisan doesn’t necessarily make it so.
Traditionally Republican, District 9 has drifted Democratically in recent years, especially in statewide and national races. President Joe Biden won nearly 60% of the vote in the district in 2020.
Both candidates are lawyers who claim unique qualifications — Dunn, the only County Council member with “real crime-fighting experience,” and Van, the only candidate in the race who’s both an elected official and a small-business owner.
Dunn, 50, of Bellevue, a former federal prosecutor and aide in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, has made combating rising crime and homelessness the centerpiece of his campaign.
He wants to increase funding to the King County Sheriff’s Office by around 30% and has proposed adding a dedicated hate crimes unit to the Sheriff’s Office.
“I see my position on the council as trying to be a thoughtful proponent of ideas that may not be traditional ideas of the downtown Seattle sort of groupthink,” Dunn said. “When, for example, people are going in the defund-the-police direction, I’m advocating for more resources for community policing.”
In a recent debate, in Enumclaw, Dunn brought a picture of Van, printed from her Facebook page, where she’s posing at a rally with a “defund police” sign in the background.
The photo was taken in June 2020 at Renton City Hall, amid widespread protests over the killing of George Floyd.
“It’s kind of a new low,” Van said. “Our community was coming to heal and he would use that as kind of a political thing.”
Van, 36, emigrated from Vietnam at age 6, first to refugee camps in the Philippines and then to the United States. She operates a solo law practice, focusing on immigration law, among other fields, and was elected to the Renton City Council in 2019.
She points out that around the same time she took that selfie in June 2020, King County was declaring racism a public health crisis, with Dunn the only no vote.
Dunn often votes with the progressive council majority but has, at times, been alone on a number of issues. He was the sole no vote on legislation to require $4 per hour hazard pay raises for grocery workers during the pandemic. Recently he was the only council member to request that the vaccine mandate for county employees be eased to allow weekly COVID-19 testing for the unvaccinated.
“There’s plenty of progressive views and ideas in King County, there are very few who are in the more moderate conservative side of the aisle and that’s the perspective I try and bring in a thoughtful and respected way,” he said.
Van says the Sheriff’s Office current funding level is appropriate, but that she would like to boost funding for courts and the prosecutor’s office.
“There’s bottleneck in cases,” Van said. “So providing money for the court and prosecution, that would be more of the route.”
Both say they want to see someone with a law enforcement background chosen as the next sheriff, when the executive selects, and the council approves, a new sheriff next year.
Van lists promoting an equitable recovery from COVID-19 as her top priority, should she be elected. She wants to build an “incubator” program for small businesses owned by people of color.
“I’m not talking about just getting grants and money,” Van said. “I’m talking about how do we work to look at the needs of the businesses and the different industries and the farmlands?”
Dunn won the four-way August primary with more than 55% of the vote. If he carried that percentage through to the general election, it would be enough to win but also the lowest vote total of any of his four prior Council elections. Van came in second, leading a field of three progressives, with about 22% of the vote.
Dunn has raised more than $320,000, more than twice as much as Van.
Dunn touts the endorsements of the mayors of eight cities in the district, including Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone and Kent Mayor Dana Ralph.
Van has the endorsement of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, County Executive Dow Constantine and the MLK Labor Council.
Ballots were sent to voters last week and must be postmarked or returned to county drop boxes by Nov. 2.