Ron Sims' decision to go to Obama's Washington is huge, politically. The Seattle area being a one-party zone, politicians who get elected stay a very long time, so when a chance comes for significant change, a lot of ice chunks break apart at once. So 2009 will prove to be, maybe even including the office of Seattle Mayor. Obama's politics of change might come to this Washington, repaying the favor.
Not much change would happen if a royal Democratic succession takes place at King County. Such would be the case if Councilmember Larry Phillips, said to be salivating to be the new County Executive and popular with party regulars, steps into the post and runs in November as an incumbent. But that seems unlikely, which in turn opens the door for some real change in the courthouse. Two reasons why I think Phillips won't get the pick: he's unpopular with his fellow Democrats and other Councilmembers because of his reputation for not keeping his word on political promises; and with so many other Democrats wanting the post, the normal course is to appoint a caretaker so all of them have a fair shot at running in the election.
Here's a little early handicapping. Phillips might get the post if he can combine his vote with a bloc of four Republicans (there are nine members of the County Council). You can imagine how well that would go down with the Democrats and how effective Council-Executive relations would be. Dow Constantine, probably the best liked of the members by his colleagues, would likely run if there's an open race. One advantage he has, compared to Phillips and Bob Ferguson, the other possible Democratic candidate, is that his district is partly outside Seattle, so he "travels" well to the suburbs. Ferguson is perceived as not much of a team player on the Council, and his year-old twins argue against Daddy running at this time; but he would out-campaign them all.
One trap for the Democrats is to run as the party of the courthouse, at a time when voters are looking to change such encrusted, obsolete institutions. That's why I think the strongest candidate would be a Democrat with few ties to the county but enough political heft to be a real force for change (particularly at Metro Transit). Some names, you say? Doug MacDonald, former head of the state Department of Transportation. Mark Sidran, former Seattle City Attorney. Gene Duvernoy, head of the Cascade Land Conservancy. Neil Peterson, former head of Metro.
As for the Republicans — sorry to be using these outdated terms for races supposedly nonpartisan! — there is a way they might be competitive, even in Obama County. Suppose they find an Eastside Republicrat, such as a legislator with an environmental and new economy tinge. Suppose further that there are three or four strong Democrats in the primary, dividing up the votes. That way the Republicrat could survive the primary and make it into the top-two final. (Conversely, with only two strong Democrats and a weak Republican, the two Democrats make it into the final.) Say it's a bitter Democratic primary, leading some supporters of a loser to wander across the partisan divide. And say that the Republican is not tainted by years in the courthouse (that mysterious place where 13,000 employees do — what exactly?).
A long shot, to be sure. But this is a good year to put a little money on some 9-1 ponies.