In 2016, state Sen. Mark Mullet ran against a Republican in the race for the 5th Legislative District seat that was closely watched as both political parties sought to gain control of the Senate.
This year, there will be no party defense or flip — incumbent Mullet and challenger Ingrid Anderson are Democrats. But that doesn’t mean the race for the seat in a district that’s only recently revealed darker shades of blue has been any less expensive or impassioned.
Mullet, an Issaquah resident who has represented eastern King County’s 5th Legislative District since 2012, describes himself as a moderate Democrat who supports public schools, environmental causes and health care, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He stresses that he’s hesitant about certain tax increases and doesn’t support every tax proposal that comes across his desk.
Anderson, a nurse in Overlake Hospital’s psychiatric department, too supports public schools, environmental causes and health care, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But Anderson, who lives outside Snoqualmie, also has said she supports taxes on capital gains and has cited Mullet’s voting record on legislation related to teacher pay.
The race between the middle-of-the-road Democrat and the further-left Democrat signals a political shift in the district, which Mullet won by single-digit percentage points against Republicans in 2012 and 2016. In this year’s primary, where Anderson received 48.5% of the vote and Mullet had 47.6%, no Republican was even on the ballot.
“It used to be this area was quite red,” said Chris Petzold, an Indivisible Washington local chapter founder. “I think that people are just tired of what Trump is doing and they are not wanting any part of that.”
When it came time for endorsements, 5th Legislative District Democrats declined to endorse either candidate — neither could garner the majority required for the group’s backing.
“As the district becomes more Democratic, it’s not surprising that there would be Democrats with differing points of view who want to be representing the district in Olympia,” said Lesley Austin, a former Issaquah School Board director who worked on Mullet’s previous campaigns.
Business and labor groups have poured nearly $3 million into the contest, dwarfing independent spending in other legislative races across the state. Groups backing Mullet, 48, have spent $1.2 million, with the majority coming from the Committee for Proven Leadership, whose top donors are business associations like Washington Association of Realtors. Those backing Anderson, 41, have spent $1.7 million, led by Washington Cares, funded by labor organizations including Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Washington Education Associations’ political action committee.
The anti-Mullet groups have spent far more on negative ads — about $487,000 — than opponents of Anderson, who have spent about $69,000, as of Monday afternoon.
Mullet, who owns a Zeek’s Pizza and three Ben and Jerry’s ice cream stores, touts his work on the state capital budget, investments in K-12 and higher education and legislation on gender pay equity. As a small-business owner, he said, he’s seen firsthand the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and, if reelected, will work for legislation aimed at helping businesses survive.
He’s unapologetic about where he stands on the political spectrum, even as it’s put him at odds with Gov. Jay Inslee, who endorsed Anderson.
In his endorsement, Inslee cited Anderson’s commitment to addressing climate change. Mullet said he and the governor have disagreed on taxes and Mullet’s call to hold a special legislative session to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m super honest and transparent that I am in the middle of the political spectrum, and I have always been transparent on where I sit for the last eight years and where I will sit going forward,” Mullet said. “I am in the middle and I am consistent.”
As a vice chair of the Washington State Nurses Association, Anderson spent time in Olympia advocating for bills related to health care, such as hospital staffing and mandatory rest and breaks for nurses. She said she saw Mullet as a roadblock to some of the legislation her organization wanted to see passed.
“I think he has a very different vantage point on how legislation needs to be passed,” Anderson said. “We need someone who is going to be an advocate, and someone who is going to fight for us. And I think that is something that I and others have struggled with.”
The Washington state teachers union felt Mullet’s voting record wasn’t “100% where we want it,” said Andy McDonald, who teaches in the Issaquah School District, citing Mullet’s vote in 2019 against a bill to raise the local cap on how much school districts can generate through property-tax levies. He said union members also appreciated that Anderson has been active in their union.
Mullet supporters say they prioritize his experience and relationships he’s developed in Olympia, even if they don’t agree with every vote he has made in the chamber.
“When someone has done a great job representing his district and has some seniority in Olympia, I don’t understand throwing that away,” Austin said.
Mullet’s endorsements include a dozen current and former East King County mayors, former Gov. Dan Evans and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, along with an array of other state senators. Along with Inslee and the Washington teachers union, Anderson’s endorsers include the Washington Labor Council and the Sierra Club.