Disappointing election results could lead Washington state Democrats to oust state party chairman Jaxon Ravens in favor of challenger Tina Podlodowski.
Stung by the election of President Trump and disappointing losses in some down-ballot races, Washington Democrats could shake up party leadership this weekend.
State Democratic Party Chair Jaxon Ravens, seeking re-election, faces a strong challenge from Tina Podlodowski, the former Seattle City Council member who ran unsuccessfully last year for secretary of state.
The contest — which has brought mudslinging from some former state party chairs — has emerged, in part, as a show of strength by supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who dominated Washington’s Democratic presidential caucuses last spring.
But it’s not as simple as a Sanders takeover, cautioned some Democratic activists. Many Hillary Clinton backers also have been dissatisfied with the state party’s track record in recent years.
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“You’ve seen Hillary folks and Sanders folks come together. People are fired up,” said Bailey Stober, elected last month as chair of the King County Democrats.
The result has been a big turnover in the party’s central committee, which has seen roughly two-thirds of its members replaced in county and legislative-district elections over the past several weeks.
The 176-member committee will meet Saturday in Olympia to vote on the next state-party chair.
The trend toward new blood bodes well for Podlodowski, who has been endorsed by many Sanders supporters even though she backed Clinton last year.
As party chair, Ravens last year sought to manage tensions between Clinton and Sanders factions, remaining officially neutral until the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, at which Clinton officially was nominated.
Ravens, 48, said he welcomes people who have gotten involved in the party because of Sanders. “They are bringing in new energy and excitement, which is fantastic,” he said.
But as party chair since 2014 — and executive director for nine years before that — Ravens may, nevertheless, be ousted by activists seeking change.
“There is a lot of anger because people are hurt. They really are scared at what Trump is going to do, and they’re looking at someone to blame,” said Mario Brown, an early Sanders organizer in Washington state who was elected last month as chair of the Snohomish County Democrats.
Brown added that it was nothing personal against Ravens, “but you can’t underestimate the impact of losing races.”
While Democrats have continued to hold most statewide elected offices, including governor and both U.S. Senate seats, the party has failed in some down-ballot contests.
What was a commanding Democratic majority in the Legislature 10 years ago has shrunk to a single-vote lead in the state House, while a Republican-led coalition has narrowly controlled the state Senate since 2013.
In November, Democrats also lost two county-commission seats in Thurston County and the county-executive position and three council races in Pierce County.
Podlodowski, 56, argues Democrats have ceded too much territory to Republicans by failing to adequately recruit and back candidates in areas without a view of the Space Needle.
She’s pledging a 39-county strategy to compete throughout the state and says she would open offices in Eastern Washington, among other changes.
Podlodowski and her supporters also point to the diversity factor: She’s a lesbian and daughter of Polish immigrants, and is running as a ticket with vice-chair candidate Joe Pakootas, CEO of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.
Ravens agreed the state party needs to broaden its reach and improve contact with supporters beyond presidential-election years. He pointed to the marches this past week by millions of women in response to Trump’s agenda, saying Democrats need to harness that energy.
Podlodowski’s challenge of Ravens drew a scathing attack from Dwight Pelz, who chaired the state Democrats from 2006 to 2014. He labeled her “not a serious political professional” in a message sent to party activists and posted on Facebook.
Pelz called Podlodowski, a former Microsoft manager, “a rich person who moves from position to position … often resigning abruptly,” pointing to her brief stint as a public-safety adviser to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and her single term on the Seattle City Council.
That prompted a response by Paul Berendt, who led state Democrats from 1995 to 2006. He called Pelz’s attack “offensive in tone and untrue in content” and defended Podlodowski as a “tremendous” choice to lead the party.
Podlodowski, who has three children, said Pelz had no right to criticize the life choices of a working mother.
While Democrats gather in Olympia, the state Republican Party also will meet this weekend in Ellensburg, and is expected to re-elect state GOP Chairman Susan Hutchison for another two-year term.
Hutchison, a former KIRO-TV anchor who has led the state GOP since 2013, has spent much of the past couple weeks in Washington, D.C., and is rumored to be a contender for an ambassadorship or other post in the Trump administration.
But she plans to be in Ellensburg on Saturday for the vote, said Caleb Heimlich, executive director of the state party. As of this week, she had not drawn a challenger.