By a fluke of fate and a consequence of math, the voters in the 45th Legislative District will likely decide the balance of power in the state Legislature.
Wineries, equestrian centers, communities for lucrative tech jobs: Washington’s 45th Legislative District reads like an advertisement for a particular sort of American dream.
The census data tells a story of good fortune: Compared to the average Washingtonian, people living on the Eastside are on average better-educated, better-paid and way less likely to be below the poverty line.
And by a fluke of fate and a consequence of math, the voters here will likely decide the balance of power in the state Legislature.
In the November election, 45th District voters will choose Democrat Manka Dhingra or Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund to fill the seat held by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, until his death last year from lung cancer.
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A Republican coalition currently has a one-vote majority in the Senate, while Democrats hold the state House and governor’s office. Control of the Senate has given Republicans huge leverage to negotiate the state’s operating budget and determine what issues get addressed — or ignored.
Democrats have fumed over that, and are seeking unified control to do more to address climate change, shore up social services and boost education funding through more progressive taxes.
When they mail in their ballots, the hopes and concerns of the voters in this district will ripple far beyond the Eastside.
And yet after a hard day’s work, the residents of the 45th District — which includes Woodinville and Duvall, and parts of Redmond, Kirkland and Sammamish — drop their heads to the pillow concerned about much the same as everyone else.
They worry about the quality of Washington’s school system and the traffic choking the roads and highways as the region struggles with growth, according to local officials. If they work a low-wage job, they probably worry about how to afford a life in the increasingly expensive region. If they clock in every day at Microsoft or Amazon, they might worry how their barista or deli clerk scratches out a living.
As for their politics, 45th District voters appear to be moving leftward.
Hill, a former Microsoft group manager with a reputation as a moderate Republican, barely won election in 2010 and got re-elected by fewer than 5 percentage points in 2014.
Meanwhile, the district’s two Democratic state representatives — Roger Goodman and Larry Springer, both of Kirkland — have won by at least 10-point margins in recent years. Springer last year didn’t even draw a challenger.
“I think that we are a diverse community, that cares a lot about social issues,” said Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen, who hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate. “I would characterize us as pretty progressive.”
District voters turned out strong last November for Democrat Hillary Clinton, who beat Donald Trump there by 37 percentage points.
Still, the 45th District can be pragmatic, said Sen. Dino Rossi, a Republican from Sammamish who has spent the year serving as placeholder in the district’s Senate seat until this fall’s election.
It may lean Democratic, said Rossi, but “they elected Andy Hill a couple times.”
High educations, incomes
Washington’s high-tech industry casts a long shadow over the 45th District.
Redmond — which along with Kirkland straddles both the 45th and 48th legislative districts — is home to the headquarters of Microsoft, Nintendo of America, Physio-Control and an office for Space X.
Kirkland plays host to Bluetooth and has offices for Google and GoDaddy.
Those economic engines require tens of thousands of highly educated and skilled workers — and it shows in the demographic data. According to 2015 census data, the 45th District’s median household income was $110,881. That is nearly double the statewide median household income of $61,062.
“All of those industries have spawned so many jobs that are attracting, from all over the world, these well-educated and socially conscious people,” said Goodman.
Likewise, the percentage of people in the 45th District who have at least a bachelor’s degree is nearly double the share in Washington as a whole.
“We’re very educated,” said Redmond Mayor John Marchione, who has endorsed Dhingra. “That’s the first question, when I’m out there doorbelling: ‘What’s your education?’ ”
Marchione and other local officials say education, traffic, growth and affordability are the biggest issues on voters’ minds.
Anxiety over affordability ranges from soaring home prices to how lower-paid workers will survive in the increasingly pricey Seattle region.
“Where does your barista live?” said Marchione. “She lives with her parents in Redmond, or she lives [outside the district] in Monroe.
“And that’s true for Kirkland, Sammamish, and Woodinville and Duvall.”
Residents are also worried about increasing tax burdens, said Sammamish Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow.
“I think taxes in general are on the mind of voters,” said Malchow, who supports Englund.
The district also struggles in some places to balance growth with the rural character that some areas still retain. Woodinville is known for dozens of wineries, and the 45th District is home to horse farms and equestrian centers.
In Sammamish, “You used to have horse farms out here, and second-growth forests” that are “now getting replaced by more dense housing,” Malchow said.
Traffic, of course — especially the congestion on Interstate 405 — looms in the minds of many.
“It’s terrible,” Walen, the Kirkland mayor, said one day over the phone. “I’m on it now, going to Renton, and I’m going 0 mph.”
Ultimately, voters in the 45th District want a senator who is “able to work with people on the opposite sides of the aisle,” said Walen.
Many born outside U.S.
The district also has a larger foreign-born population on average than the rest of Washington, which officials credit at least in part to the growing tech industry. About one-fifth of the district’s residents were born outside the U.S., according to census data.
While about 74 percent of district residents are white — slightly higher than the number for Washington — the percentage of people who identify as Asian is about double the state’s. The census data put the Asian population at about 15 percent of residents in the district.
This year’s Senate candidates reflect that. Dhingra, the Democrat, was born in India; the parents of Englund, the Republican, came to America from Korea.
There’s a whole range of diversity within the immigrant and Asian-American communities, said Rep. Vandana Slatter, a Bellevue Democrat in the neighboring 48th District, which includes other parts of Redmond and Kirkland.
In the area, there are “over a dozen Indian associations that are different, because they have different languages, their own culture,” said Slatter, a Canadian immigrant whose parents were born in India.
But Slatter and other officials say the immigrant communities have one thing in common: They’re getting more involved in Washington’s political process.
That’s something she tries to encourage, telling immigrants, “One day, when your children are grown up, they’re going to need to have a voice at the table,” said Slatter.