This was supposed to be Washington's juiciest election fight, finally answering the question: What do his Eastside district's voters think of Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom's joining with Republicans to control the state Senate?
But Tom, who was the key to the creation of the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Caucus Coalition, decided against running for re-election, citing personal health problems and the need to look after his ailing father. And the race that has emerged looks like it could be an easy one for a Democrat who had no plans to seek the Senate seat before Tom's decision against a run.
In late 2012, Tom and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch joined 23 Republicans to form the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, which took control of the Senate from the Democrats on a 25-to-24 split. In return, Tom was named the coalition's leader. Then in late 2013, the coalition picked up another Senate seat in election to grow to 24 Republicans and two Democrats.
After Tom decided not to run, the Democrats juggled their 48th District candidate line-up, moving Rep. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland to the Senate race, and realigning former Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride, who had planned to challenge Tom, to run for Habib's seat. For several weeks, no GOP candidates for the Senate spot surfaced until rookie Michelle Darnell filed the day before the May 16 deadline. Darnell had been thinking about running in 2016 until the King County GOP recruited her for an immediate campaign.
"I'm the Republican mom in tennis shoes," said Darnell, 44, of Kirkland, referring to Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray's 1990s campaign slogan. "But I favor flip flops,"
Darnell has an uphill battle. The 48th District — consisting mostly of Kirkland, Medina plus parts of Redmond and Bellevue — appears to be growing more Democratic. Last April, a Crosscut analysis found that the 48th's non-white population had grown from 10 percent in 1990 to 33 percent today. The district favored President Barack Obama and Gov. Jay Inslee in the 2012 elections. The Washington Public Disclosure Commission's records show Habib has raised $161,626 to Darnell's $7,022.
This race is important because if Habib wins, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus would see its 26-23 majority shrink to 25-24. And that means the minority Democrats need to pick up only one more seat of another seven potentially vulnerable coalition Senate seats to regain control of that body -- assuming the minority Democrats hang on to two of their own seats that the GOP might legitimately threaten.
Darnell is a paralegal specializing in foreclosure matters, siding with homeowners against banks. She described her self as fiscally conservative, "socially tolerant," and a "bleeding heart." She added, "The Republican Party needs some rebranding."
She picked up an interest in politics when the 2008 recession hit and when she later attended an Occupy Seattle event about three years later. "It's not a right thing or a left thing. It's a corporation thing."
"I'm against 'Corporations are people,' " Darnell said. Darnell labeled herself for small government, and for a smaller tax burden. She believes that Seattle's $15-an-hour minimum wage will hurt small businesses and their employees, but added that she would be willing to discuss raising the state's minimum wage.
Darnell would like to be on a financial services committee. She wants to install stronger protections for homeowners in the state's foreclosure laws.
Habib, 32, has one term in the Washington House under his belt. He won that seat in 2012 with 61 percent of the vote. He is a civil attorney specializing in start-ups and high tech law. He also teaches intellectual property law and legislation at Seattle University. He previously was a civil rights commissioner for King County and a human services commissioner for the City of Bellevue.
In the House, Habib was vice chairman of the Technology & Economic Development Committee, and belonged to the business & financial services, rules and transportation committees. In 2013 and 2014, Habib introduced 14 bills, of which nine passed the House and five passed the Senate. The bills addressed a variety of issues and one became Washington's first law to address crowd-funding. As a rule of thumb, a majority of all bills never pass the originating chamber for a variety of reasons.
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