Michelle Darnelle tossed her hat into the ring late Friday afternoon to replace Rodney Tom. That turned the future of a key Eastside district into a contest that will help determine which political party controls the state Senate.
Tom is one of two Democrats who joined Republicans in late 2012 to create the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, shifting the balance of power to Republicans in the Senate and Olympia. Tom dropped out of the 2014 race due to family and health reasons, catching his Republican allies off-guard without a replacement. Entering Friday afternoon, only one-term Rep. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, had filed for Tom's seat, which covers Medina and parts of Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland.
Then Darnelle, a foreclosure defense paralegal from Kirkland, filed late Friday. "I'm actually a June Cleaver who got kind of fed up," said the mother of four. She had been thinking about running for a long time, but expected to try her hand in 2016. Her friends and 48th District Republicans talked her into trying this year, and she filed late Friday because of how her schedule worked out. Her previous political experience is as a delegate to the state Republican convention.
Besides the 48th District, the 47th District — the Auburn and Kent area — was the other swing district that appeared to have only one candidate entering Friday. Carol Barber, a marriage and family therapist from Kent, filed Thursday to run against 47th District Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn. But she did not show up on the Washington Secretary of State's Web site until Friday afternoon. Her political experience consists of being vice chair of the 47th District Democrats.
Currently, the Senate is split 26-23. Up to 10 Washington Senate districts could be considered swing districts in the upcoming elections. Majority coalition members hold eight and minority Democrats holds two. That means the minority Democrats need to win four out of the 10 races to gain control of the Senate.
The districts generally considered to be capable of going for either party are six in the greater Puget Sound area: the 26th, 28th, 30th, 45th, 47th and 48th. Some believe the 6th in Spokane and Western Washington's 35th, 42nd and 44th districts have potential for upsets. Gerrymandering has made the other districts safe for the Democratic and Republican incumbents.
The stakes in the fight for Senate control are big, starting with whether Gov. Jay Inslee will get any of his climate change agenda through the Legislature. That was his signature issue in his campaign for governor as well as when he was in Congress. But the battle will also determine whether social services will take a major hit so the state government can comply with a Washington Supreme Court order to increase education spending; whether tax breaks will be closed to raise more money for education; and whether taxes will increase overall. And the outcome could influence whether the Senate remains in a long-running deadlock with Inslee and the Democratic House over a $10 billion-plus transportation projects.
The Democrats have a 55-43 advantage in the House, meaning the GOP would have to win almost every swing district to obtain a 49-49 split or to control the lower chamber. This is theoretically possible, but the GOP would need a huge amount of luck, even given gains in recent House elections.
A couple of wrinkles have shown up in this past week's filings.
Several Democratic candidates with Hispanic surnames have filed in GOP-dominated Eastern Washington. For the past 20 years, speculation has come and gone on if and when the region's growing Latino population might emerge as a noticeable voting bloc. That possibility might be tested this year.
Also on Friday, socialist Jessica Spear filed against 20-year veteran Democrat House Speaker Frank Chopp in Seattle's ultra-liberal 43rd District. Two years ago, Socialist Kshama Sawant challenged Chopp and lost badly, getting 30 percent of the vote. But she used that campaign as a springboard for a successful 2013 run at Seattle's City Council, giving the socialists a high profile in the city's politics.
Filings for the 98 House seats, the state Senate seats, all 10 congressional districts, Washington Supreme Court posts and other court elections can be found at the Washington Secretary of State's Web site. Here is a rundown of the more interesting Senate races and all the congressional races.
- 45th District, Redmond and parts of Kirkland, Woodinville and Carnation: Incumbent Sen. Andy Hill, R- Redmond, faces Democrat challenger Matt Isenhower of Redmond. This could be a litmus test for the Majority Coalition Caucus performance in controlling the Senate.
- 44th District, Snohomish County from Lake Stevens to Mill Creek: Incumbent Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, faces Republican Jim Kellett of Snohomish. Republicans believe they can pull an upset in this race, which would badly damage Democratic hopes of regaining control of the Senate.
- 42nd District, more or less Whatcom County: Entrenched incumbent Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, faces Democrat Seth Fleetwood of Bellingham. This is a borderline swing district.
- 37th District, southern Seattle: Five Seattle Democrats Sheley Secrest, Louis Watanabe, John Stafford, Pramila Jayapal and Claude Burfect. Also Republican Rowland Martin of Renton is running. They want to replace Sen. Adam Kline D-Seattle, who is retiring.
- 35th District, Mason plus parts of Kitsap and Thurston counties: Incumbent Sen. Tim Sheldon, D- Potlatch and the only Democrat remaining in the Majority Coalition Caucus, faces libertarian Republican Travis Couture and Democrat Irene Bowling. The long-shot way that the veteran Sheldon could lose is if Couture and Bowling each capture more than one-third of the votes to the right and left of him in the August primary.
- 32nd District, northern Seattle and Shoreline: Incumbent Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, faces a challenger from the more moderate wing of her own party, Shoreline deputy mayor Chris Eggen, and Republican Robert Reedy of Mountlake Terrace.
- 31st District, northeastern Pierce County, southeastern King County: Longtime incumbent Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, faces a strong challenger in Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, plus Democrats Lane Walthers of Enumclaw and Lynda Messner of Bonney Lake. This is a serious Republican-originated attempt to unseat the sometimes-controversial Roach. This primary could depend on who draws away votes from whom.
- 30th District, northern Pierce and southern King counties: Democrat Shari Song faces Mark Miloscia, a former Democratic state representative who just switched to the Republican party. They compete to replace Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, who is retiring. This is considered a wide-open race.
- 28th District, a major chunk of western and southern Piece County: Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-University Place, and Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, filed Tuesday to compete for O'Ban's seat. This is considered one of the most even races in the Senate sweepstakes.
- 26th District, southern Kitsap County: Incumbent Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, faces Democratic challenger Judy Arbogast of Olalla in a swing district.
- 15th District, much of Yakima County: Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside faces Democrat Gabriel Munoz of Yakima. This is a heavily GOP and heavily Hispanic region.
- 13th District, much of central Washington: Judy Warnick of Moses Lake faces Democrat Mohammed Said of Ephrata to replace Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, who is running for Congress. This is a heavily Republican district.
- 8th District, Richland and Kennewick: Incumbent Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, faces Democrat Doug McKinley of Richland. This is a heavily GOP district. Brown is the senator who introduced a bill in 2013, which went nowhere, to allow people to refuse to serve gays if they are morally opposed homosexuality.
- 6th District, part of Spokane County: Incumbent Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, faces Democrat Rich Cowan of Spokane. This is another seat where Democrats think they could pull a possible upset.
- 1st Congressional District: Party establishment leaders expect incumbent Democrat Suzan DelBene to face Republican opponent Pedro Celis of Redmond in the fall. Other candidates are Republicans Edwin Moats of Arlington, Robert Sutherland of Granite Falls and John Orlinski of Bellevue plus independent Richard Todd of Snoqualmie and perennial candidate Mike the Mover of the National Union Party.
- 2nd Congressional District: Firmly established incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen faces Republican B.J. Guiliot of Marysville and independent Mike LaPointe of Everett.
- 3rd Congressional District: Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler faces Democratic Bob Dingethal of Vancouver and Republican Michael Delavar of Washougal.
- 4th Congressional District: Twelve people want to replace retiring U.S. Rep Doc Hastings, who has served 20 years. There are eight Republicans: Janéa Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake, Dan Newhouse of the Yakima Valley, Clint Didier of Eltopia, George Cicotte of Kennewick, Gordon Pross of Ellensburg, Glen Stockwell of Ritzville, Gavin Seim of Ephrata and Kevin Midbust of Richland. The two Democrats are Tony Sandoval of Yakima and Estakio Beltran of Richland. The two independents are Richard Wright of Kennewick and Josh Ramirez of Pasco.
- 5th Congressional District: Incumbent Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a leader in her party in D.C., faces Democrat Joe Pakoota of Inchellium, Republican Tom Horne of Nine Mile Falls and independent Dave Wilson of Spokane.
- 6th Congressional District: First-term Rep. Democrat Derek Kilmer faces Republican Marty McClendon of Gig Harbor, Democrat Don Rivers of Seattle, Green Party candidate Douglas Milholland of Port Townsend and independent W. "Greybeard" McPherson of Port Angeles.
- 7th Congressional District: Incumbent Democrat Jim McDermott faces Republicans Scott Sutherland of Seattle and Craig Keller of Seattle, independent Doug McQuaid of Seattle, and GoodSpaceGuy of the Work &Wealth Party.
- 8th Congressional District: Incumbent Republican Dave Reichert faces Democrats Jason Ritchie of Issaquah and Keith Arnold of Auburn
- 9th Congressional District: Democratic incumbent Adam Smith faces Republican Doug Basier of Kent, Democrat Don Rivers of Seattle and Citizen Party member Mark Greene of Bellevue.
- 10th Congressional District: Democratic incumbent Denny Heck faces Republican Joyce McDonald of Puyallup, independent Jennifer Gigi Ferguson of Lakewood and Sam Wright of the Human Rights Party.