OLYMPIA — As she campaigns in Washington’s left-leaning 40th Legislative District, newly-appointed state Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, is facing a potentially strong challenge in the Aug. 6 primary.
The election is being held in this off-year to fill the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker, who stepped down in mid-January amid allegations that he harassed a female legislative employee who had worked in his office. It’s one of only two state Legislature races on the ballot this year.
A chunk of northwestern Washington, the 40th district is made up of San Juan County and pieces of western Skagit and Whatcom counties, including part of Bellingham.
Lovelett, 39, won appointment to the seat in February after spending years as an Anacortes City Council member. Shortly after her appointment to the Legislature, she stepped down from the council.
For her campaign, Lovelett touts her commitment to crafting environmental policy that also benefits blue-collar workers.
She said she supports a clean-fuels standard, a proposal that passed the House this year but stalled in the Senate. And Lovelett this legislative session co-sponsored a bill that would implement a carbon cap-and-trade system in the state. That bill, SB 5981, was introduced late in the session and never gained traction as Democratic lawmakers focused on other clean-energy bills.
She also says her experience working on a City Council sets her apart.
“I think voters should choose me because I’m the only candidate in this race that has elected experience,” said Lovelett.
After a year in which large Democratic majorities in Olympia pushed through key environmental and labor proposals, Lovelett has snagged coveted endorsements from the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Education Association’s political action committee and Washington Conservation Voters.
Yet she faces a strong challenge from a fellow Democrat: Carrie Blackwood.
An attorney focusing on labor and employment law, Blackwood, 47, is also an adjunct professor at Western Washington University.
Blackwood, a first-time candidate who lives in Bellingham, has made a strong showing against Lovelett in fundraising. As of Wednesday, Blackwood had raised $41,554, according to campaign-finance records. Lovelett had raised $60,716.
The political party they share has noticed. A Democratic-aligned political action committee has spent more than $75,000 in independent spending to support Lovelett, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records.
“One of the most challenging things I’ve talked about is we have incumbent status for an unelected candidate,” said Blackwood, referring to the independent spending.
Blackwood describes her platform as rooted in addressing climate change, overhauling Washington’s tax system and improving economic equity. She supports new taxes on personal income, capital-gains and carbon, Blackwood said.
If a carbon tax were used to fund a clean-energy transition, “I want to make sure the people who are building the transition are tradespeople, environmentalist and scientists,” she said.
Blackwood has been endorsed by a handful of unions, the Young Democrats of Washington and a regional progressive advocacy group known as the Riveters Collective.
Democrat Greta Aitken and Republican Daniel Miller, a perennial candidate in the district, are also running.
Depending on voter turnout and results, one Democrat could advance along with Miller and likely prevail in the general election. Or, because of Washington’s top-two, regardless-of-party primary system, voters could send two Democrats to the fall election ballot — forcing an extended battle within the party.
Miller, a frequent Republican candidate — ran unsuccessfully for legislative seats in 2014, 2016 and 2018, among other years. He said he wants to focus on cutting waste from state government. And he opposes new taxes on both carbon and income.
People are working hard to make ends meet, Miller said, and “can’t really absorb more taxes.”
Miller, 49, who works as a landscaper and in the antiques market, has chosen to register as a candidate who doesn’t have to provide campaign reports as long as he doesn’t raise and spend more than $5,000.
The other Democrat in the race, Aitken, said she is a Peruvian-born interpreter and small-business owner who first came to America when she was 11. If elected, Aitken said she wants to focus on housing, homelessness and substance-abuse issues.
If elected, Aitken has vowed to donate her annual legislator salary — currently $52,766 — to community projects.
“I will give every single penny back into the community, into housing, into homelessness or substance abuse,” she said.
In the state’s other legislative election this year, Republican Rep. Alex Ybarra of Quincy faces Democratic candidate Steve Verhey.
Ybarra was appointed to a seat in the heavily Republican 13th District seat after Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg resigned following investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.