In Washington’s 31st District Senate race, a Democratic challenger is outraising Sen. Phil Fortunato. But can Democrats really beat the outspoken Republican from Auburn?
As he seeks election this year for the 31st District Senate seat, Sen. Phil Fortunato, the Republican from Auburn, can’t help but think about his 2000 race.
A House member that year running for re-election, Fortunato bested his Democratic opponent by 8 points in the primary election. But that November, after what he described as a flood of campaign spending against him, he lost by about 130 votes.
“Everybody’s telling me I’m safe,” said Fortunato, elected again to the House in 2016 and then appointed this year to fill the Senate seat of Republican Pam Roach. “I’m saying, hey, ignore that.”
Could electoral history repeat?
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Fortunato, a 64-year-old environmental consultant, beat Michelle Rylands by about 17 points in the August primary. But he’s being outraised by his Democratic challenger.
As of Thursday, Rylands had raised about $145,000, compared to Fortunato’s $127,000, according to state records.
Meanwhile, a Democratic-backed independent political group called Mainstream Voters of WA has spent about $30,000 this month on election mailers to attack Fortunato.
At least some of the attacks against him reference the $22,000 in legislative expenses Fortunato claimed this year, he said. “They’re trying to hit me on this per diem thing,” Fortunato said.
The spending in the 31st District is a flash of intrigue in a state election cycle otherwise dominated by the Eastside’s high-stakes 45th District Senate contest.
That race between Democrat Manka Dhingra and Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund is expected to determine the balance of power in the Senate.
The 31st District comprises the southern part of King County and part of Pierce County. It includes the cities of Auburn, Edgewood, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Enumclaw and Carbonado.
Rylands, 49, is a U.S. Army veteran and former King County Sheriff’s Office employee, who has been involved for years in the Auburn School District’s PTA.
She resigned from the Sheriff’s Office last week, Rylands said, adding that doing both that job and this campaign was too much.
Rylands worked at the office’s Communications Center, according to a spokeswoman for the King County Sheriff’s Office.
King County Sheriff John Urquhart, who has endorsed Rylands, recently encouraged her to apply for another position at the office sometime, added the spokeswoman, Sgt. Cindi West.
If elected, Rylands said, she wants to help lawmakers keep focused on bolstering Washington’s K-12 education system.
She criticized the Legislature’s property-tax shift — which raises taxes in some school districts while lowering them in others — to address a court order requiring more state money for education. That, she said, was “funded on the backs of property owners.”
Rylands added that she is open to a new tax on capital gains.
She also wants lawmakers to do better planning to relieve homelessness and help people with mental illness, Rylands said.
Fortunato summed up his campaign platform in the words used by the News Tribune’s editorial board when it declined to endorse him.
That publication’s October editorial, which didn’t endorse anyone for the 31st District Senate race, described Fortunato as having “anti-tax, anti-Sound Transit, pro-Ayn Rand rhetoric.”
Fortunato voted for this year’s new two-year state operating budget, as well as the school-funding plan and its accompanying state property-tax shift.
He voted against the budget-related revenue package that passed this year, which expanded online sales tax collections and closed some tax exemptions.
Fortunato also voted — reluctantly, he said — for this year’s paid-family-leave legislation.
If sent back to Olympia, Fortunato said, he wants lawmakers to do more on transportation to ease the region’s traffic congestion — without raising taxes.
“We’re done paying taxes,” he said. “I mean, cut me a break.”
In the 31st District House race, Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, appointed to fill Fortunato’s seat, faces Democrat Nate Lowry.
Other legislative races
Elsewhere around the state, 7th District Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, faces Democrat Karen Hardy. Short was appointed this year to fill the Eastern Washington seat of Sen. Brian Dansel, who resigned to take a job in the Trump administration.
Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, who was appointed to replace Short, faces Democrat Susan Swanson.
In the 37th District, state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, who was appointed to replace Pramila Jayapal after her election to U.S. Congress, is running unopposed.
In the Eastside’s 48th District, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, appointed to replace Cyrus Habib, who was elected lieutenant governor, faces Libertarian Michelle Darnell.
Also in that district, Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue, appointed to replace Kuderer, faces Libertarian Ciaran Dougherty.