Big issues are looming for our state in the coming year. Our roads and bridges are still crumbling. We're still staring at major, court-mandated upgrades to our education system. Gov. Jay Inslee's still pushing for action on climate change lest the acidifying Pacific dissolve every last oyster shell in Shelton. And, whatever we do (assuming we do something) means a battle over how to pay for it: raise taxes, close loopholes or cut services.
State legislators pretty much punted on these issues last session, which amps up the urgency for 2015 and makes the results of this fall's legislative elections hair-on-fire critical.
Whether and how state lawmakers tackle the burning issues will hinge on which party controls the state House and Senate. That balance of power will be determined, largely, by the outcomes of legislative races in a handful of six key, and very different districts around the state: the 6th, 15th, 30th, 35th, 42nd and 45th. That means the votes of a very small group of Washingtonians, folks you've probably never met and never will, are going to decide whether we rehab those tattered highways, raise gas prices, cut social services, shrink our carbon footprint and ease the cramming of more kids into your 12-year-old's middle school class.
Who are these people who will determine who rules Olympia in 2015? Who hold the future of our state in their balloted hands? How do they lean politically? What issues and ideologies speak to them? Whom will they choose to represent them and why?
We sent a team of Crosscut's best political reporters and analysts out to explore the horse race (John Stang and Robert Mak), the voting behaviors (Benjamin Andertsone) and the cultural zeitgeist (Knute Berger) in the Swinging Six.
As the fall election approaches, the fights will get more serious, the issues sharper and the stakes for all of us higher. We'll be there as the contests shape up —and heat up — in all the key districts.
First up, the 35th, which encompasses all of Mason County and parts of Thurston and Kitsap. The August 5 primary pits the veteran, and controversial Democratic state Senator Tim Sheldon — the man who thwarted his party's dreams of power when he crossed the aisle to join (gasp) the Senate's Republican-controlled Majority Coalition — against two rookie challengers: Democrat Irene Bowling, a piano teacher, is attacking Sheldon from the left; libertarian youngster Travis Couture from the far right. The outcome of this primary in the 35th is arguably the most anticipated in the state.
To see all of Crosscut's stories on the key districts as they are posted, click here.