Judge tells Washington to redraw Central WA legislative district

A picture of an election worker handling mail ballots.

Ballots at the King County Elections office. (Crosscut Photo)

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the state of Washington to redraw one of its legislative district boundaries after finding that the Central Washington political boundary impairs the ability of Latinos to choose candidates from their own community.

The ruling comes after a coalition of Latino voters early last year sued Washington’s bipartisan Redistricting Commission, contending that the new once-a-decade political maps perpetuate the disenfranchisement of Yakima County’s minority voters.

The legal challenge focused on the commission’s decision to exclude heavily Latino communities in Yakima County that are adjacent to the new 15th District map. Instead, the new district map pulled in more white and rural communities from Grant, Benton and Franklin counties.

In his ruling released Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik found merit in that argument and gave the state until Feb. 7 to adopt new legislative district maps for the region.

“The question in this case is whether the state has engaged in line-drawing which, in combination with the social and historical conditions in the Yakima Valley region, impairs the ability of Latino voters in that area to elect their candidate of choice on an equal basis with other voters,” wrote Lasnik. “The answer is yes.”

As such, “the Court finds that the boundaries of LD 15, in combination with the social, economic, and historical conditions in the Yakima Valley region, results in an inequality in the electoral opportunities enjoyed by white and Latino voters in the area,” he added.

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Share a photo that shows the soul of your Seattle neighborhood

Fremont’s beloved piece of public art, "Waiting for the Interurban"

Fremont’s beloved piece of public art, "Waiting for the Interurban," was dressed up with face masks in April 2020. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Hello creative Seattle. While you’re considering who to vote for in November, take a few minutes to think about how you picture your City Council district. Where is the heart of your district? What image represents your community’s place in Seattle?

Does the Fremont Troll best represent District 6? Or is it Waiting for Interurban? Or something else?

Here’s your chance to participate in the Nov. 7 election and show off your artistic vision. Crosscut is asking the voters of Seattle to submit photos of their City Council districts, and we will choose our favorites to illustrate our district election profiles.

This handy district map on the Seattle page of our voter guide will help you find your district or help you submit a photo of another district. Submit your photos here and please let us know why you think this photo best represents your district.

We’ll give the photographers credit for their winning photos, of course, and send you some Crosscut swag as thanks for contributing.

What questions do you have for 2023 WA local election candidates?

Ballots are sorted at the King County Elections headquarters

Ballots are sorted at the King County Elections headquarters on Aug. 5, 2019 (Photo by Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

Hello Crosscut readers, what’s on your mind? What questions do you want us to ask the candidates for the local elections in your city? What do you need to know before deciding how to mark your ballot for the Nov. 7 election?

Crosscut’s election coverage is inspired by The Citizens Agenda. Instead of just letting candidates set the campaign agenda, we ask the public what issues they want candidates to talk about on the campaign trail.

We will be asking each candidate mentioned in our voter guide two questions. This is where we need your help. Please submit your ideas here for what you think those questions should be. The best questions require candidates to share a specific idea on how to address the challenges unique to your community. Please stay away from questions they can answer with a yes or no.

Instead of attending a public forum where you may hope to get your questions answered, ask them in a much bigger room, where the answers can be seen by everyone who visits the Crosscut voter guide. Become part of Crosscut’s citizens agenda and help yourself as well as your neighbors.

The general election voter guide will be posted in mid-October.

WA’s third carbon auction should push pollution credits over $1B

A Tesoro Corp. refinery, including a gas-flare flame

This April 2, 2010 file photo shows a Tesoro Corp. refinery, including a gas-flare flame that is part of normal plant operations, in Anacortes, Wash. The Washington Department of Ecology is releasing its report on the first-ever state carbon auction. (Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)

Washington will hold its third carbon auction on Wednesday under its new cap-and-invest  program.

The first two auctions sold pollution credits totaling about $800 million. The third is expected to put the total for the year well over $1 billion.

This is the first year of implementing the state’s new Climate Commitment Act, which passed in 2021. Businesses generating more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon emissions must participate in the program or face fines of up to $10,000 per violation per day. 

During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers made decisions about how to spend the money raised through these auctions, focusing on projects to slow or adapt to climate change. Those investments include money to electrify buses and ferries and build a charging infrastructure, restore salmon habitat, accelerate clean-energy projects and help ease the burden of pollution on vulnerable communities.

The May auction sold pollution for more than $500 million. The February auction raised almost $300 million. 

The Washington Department of Ecology announced this week that the May auction sold nearly 8.6 million 2023 allowances and another 2.5 million 2026 allowances. Each unit represents one metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions.

The price on carbon was higher at the May auction, where bids were received almost entirely from energy companies and utilities. 


Group asks U.S. Supreme Court to strike down WA capital gains tax

The U.S. Supreme Court building

The U.S. Supreme Court building (Associated Press photo)

A conservative advocacy group has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge Washington’s capital gains tax.

Passed by the Legislature in 2021 and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, the tax on some capital gains was upheld this spring by the state Supreme Court in a case known as Chris Quinn v. State of Washington.

In a 7-2 decision, the court upheld the 7% tax on profits from the sale of stocks and bonds over $250,000, ruling that it is not a tax on income, which could have led to it being struck down. The court instead ruled that it is an excise tax.

Now the Freedom Foundation is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a statement by the advocacy group. The appeal contends the tax “violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which reserves to Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce, thus depriving states of the ability to do so.”

“If the Supreme Court decides to accept the case and concludes that the tax violates the Commerce Clause, it could strike down the entirety of the tax and potentially open the door for the refund of taxes previously paid,” according to the statement.

In response, the executive director for Invest in WA Now claimed that those challenging the tax “are desperately trying to grab $800 million a year from Washington’s child care and education to give it to ultra-millionaires and billionaires.”

“Polls show Washingtonians strongly support making the wealthiest pay what they truly owe in taxes for services all of us depend on,” Treasure Mackley, whose advocacy organization has supported the capital gains tax, said in a statement. “Only when we have a fair tax code can we undo decades of racism and disinvestment that hurts families, communities, and small businesses.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal now has two challengers for the 2024 race to run Washington’s education department.

Reid Saaris, who started national education nonprofit Equal Opportunity Schools, announced his run on Wednesday, joining former state Rep. Brad Klippert, a Republican from Kennewick, who registered with the PDC and launched a campaign website earlier this year.  They both challenge Reykdal, who announced a bid for a third term earlier this year.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction oversees state school budgets and statewide education policies. It is a nonpartisan position.

Reykdal, Klipper and Saaris are so far the only people who have registered with the state Public Disclosure Commission, which enforces state campaign finance laws, including reporting contributions and expenditures. The official candidate declaration period for the 2024 election starts next April.

Saaris, who grew up in Bellevue, was a teacher in South Carolina before spending 10 years heading the nonprofit that helped students of color and low-income students enroll in advanced high school courses. On his website, Saaris said his priorities include focusing on tutoring opportunities, student mental health, post-high school education and career development.

Reykdal, who had served on the Tumwater School Board and in the state Legislature before being elected state superintendent in 2016, said his priorities in his third term include increasing support for student mental health, expanding technical education, providing universal access to school meals and fully funding education.

Klippert, who left the state Legislature in 2022 for an unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, said he would focus on providing more school choices, including some charter schools and online schools; re-examining the state school funding formula; and increasing transparency in school curricula and budgets.

King County voters pass levy for veterans and senior services

A King County ballot drop box in the foreground, with an adult and child passing behind.

A ballot drop box at the Beacon Hill Library in an October 2020 file photo. (Jovelle Tamayo for Crosscut)

King County voters are heavily supporting the renewal of a levy for veterans, seniors and human services, which was on Tuesday’s primary ballot. So far, more than 71% of voters have voted yes on the levy.

The levy revenue, which has been collected since 2006, has been directed at assistance for military veterans including housing-stability services and mental health counseling; senior centers and programming and assistance for older people; hotlines and advocacy services for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence; and affordable housing and shelter beds, according to the county. 

This week’s ballot measure authorized a six-year property tax levy starting next year: 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation – or $80 for an $800,000 home – with 3.5% increases between 2025 and 2029. Eligible seniors, veterans and people with disabilities would be exempt from the property tax. According to the county, the levy will bring in $564 million over six years.

Earlier this year, the King County Council rejected a levy rate increase to 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, despite housing advocates pushing for the tax increase to address rising construction costs.

County voters first approved a veterans and human services levy in 2005 and renewed it in 2011. In 2017, the county voters approved the levy after the county added assistance for seniors to the measure.


Primary results for King County Council races

Two King County ballots on a table in their envelopes.

Two King County ballots on a table. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Voters have narrowed the field in King County Council elections, as results come in following Tuesday’s primary.

Jorge L. Barón and Sarah Reyneveld have significant leads in the race for County Council District 4, which covers the northwest parts of Seattle from Belltown to the city limits. 

Barón, the former executive director of the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, received about 50% of the vote. Reyneveld, an assistant attorney general for the state, received about 28%. They both lead Becka Johnson Poppe, a King County budget and policy manager, who received 19%. Incumbent Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who first took the seat in 2016 after more than 20 years in the state legislature, announced her retirement earlier this year.

For District 8, which covers Capitol Hill, West Seattle, Vashon and Maury islands and parts of Burien and Tukwila, Teresa Mosqueda and Sofia Aragon have significant leads over GoodSpaceGuy. Mosqueda, who is on the Seattle City Council, had about 57% of the vote, and Aragon, the mayor of Burien and executive director of the Washington Center for Nursing, had 37%. GoodSpaceGuy, a frequent candidate for elected office, received 4%. Incumbent Councilmember Joe McDermott, a former state legislator, decided not to run for re-election after 13 years on the County Council.

The top two leaders in each race will face off in the general election in November. County Council members are elected by the voters in their geographic district. The positions are nonpartisan. Also on the general election ballot will be King County Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay in District 2 and Claudia Balducci in District 6. Zahilay, whose district includes Skyway, southeast Seattle, Central District, the University District, Laurelhurst and Ravenna, and Balducci, whose district includes Redmond, parts of Kirkland, north Bellevue and Mercer Island, drew no challengers.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. Aug. 3, 2023 to reflect the latest vote count from King County.

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year that King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles took her council seat.

The Washington Legislative Ethics Board has fined state Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, $250 for using public resources at a speaking event where she urged people to register to vote and support pro-abortion candidates.

Dhingra, who is running for state attorney general, must also pay back $92.43 in mileage expenses for the June 2022 news conference in Olympia with Gov. Jay Inslee and others to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade the day prior, according to the board’s ruling.

The ruling by the board – which helps enforce the state Ethics in Public Service Act – came after complaints against several state lawmakers and Inslee for speaking at two events related to reproductive healthcare after the court’s ruling last year in Dobbs.

The public resources used in the June event included a loudspeaker system and podium from the state Department of Enterprises Services, which among other things oversees the Capitol campus. For various reasons, the other legislators cleared elements of a seven-factor test used to decide whether an elected official is heeding the law.

In a statement, Dhingra pointed out that the Ethics Board has never previously made a ruling on the use of resources by a lawmaker of another state agency, such as Enterprise Services.

“The governor invited me and several other key legislators to this press conference in my capacity as a state senator, to comment on the state response to the Dobbs decision,” she said in prepared remarks. “At that time, ethics rules allowed for mileage reimbursement for official events such as this one. With the rules now changed retroactively, I will be reimbursing the Senate for mileage expenses incurred for this event.”

More than 120 organizations will split $25 million in grants from King County for programs that address disparities in health care, mental health and other issues as part of the county’s efforts to tackle racism as a public health crisis. 

The 123 awardees are community organizations, nonprofits and small businesses, including Black Coffee Northwest, Chief Seattle Club, Wa Na Wari, the Tenants Union of Washington State, Young Women Empowered and dozens more.

According to a press release last week from King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office, the grantees will work to address disparities in health care, mental health supports, maternal health, and healthy aging, as well as food access, youth mentoring, housing, art, nature and outdoors groups, and capacity-building for small organizations that provide services and more. The 123 awardees were chosen from 800 organizations that applied.

In 2020 the King County Board of Health declared racism a public health crisis in the wake of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color and the national racial-justice protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by police officers. In the early months of the pandemic, health care workers in King County gathered by the thousands to demand that public officials declare racism and police violence as crises that public health policies should address.

The awards were determined by the Gathering Collaborative, a King County group that formed in 2022 to work toward reversing the continued impact of systemic racist practices and policies that harm Black and Indigenous people. The group was formed as part of the efforts stemming from the county’s 2020 public health declaration that pledged to support “King County and Public Health - Seattle & King County immediately in the work to advance a public health approach in addressing institutional and systemic racism.”

Two projects in Central Washington received federal grants aimed at increasing water storage and supply in Western states.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation granted $1 million to the Cle Elum Pool Raise project, which will increase the reservoir’s capacity by 3 feet, adding 14,600 acre-feet of water to help manage habitat and migration for salmon and steelhead. The allocation is in addition to a $5 million federal grant announced last fall. The reservoir level will be raised by 2028, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Another $1 million will go to the Upper Yakima System Storage Feasibility Study to help the Kittitas Irrigation District find water-storage alternatives for the region. Both projects are part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

While these projects have been in the works for decades, Washington state has faced increasing drought conditions in recent years, with a drought emergency declared for 12 counties earlier this week. The state attributed the drought conditions to higher-than-normal temperatures in May and lower-than-normal rain in the late spring and early summer months.

The money for the water projects comes from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides billions of dollars to projects across the U.S. including transportation, roads, ports and broadband.