One race in the suburbs northeast of Seattle is becoming the most expensive legislative race in Washington history.
The winner will determine whether the Republicans or Democrats will control the state Senate — and the candidates reflect the shifting demographics and politics of the Eastside.
Both likely candidates are Asian-American women who are first-timer politicians.
Donald Trump’s election spooked Manka Dhingra. Previously politically inactive, the 43-year-old Redmond woman and King County senior deputy processor began to attend political meetings last December. About 75 percent of the participants were women, many political novices, many people color. Deportation rumors kept popping up.
“It was so eye-opening to hear how scared people were,” Dhingra said.
Many encouraged her to run for the 45th District’s state senator seat that was held by the late Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond.
Meanwhile, Jinyoung Englund, 33, a Bitcoin expert from Woodinville has also been knocking on suburban doors in the 45th District.
Some people look at the second-generation American of Korean descent and automatically assume she is a Democrat. But Englund joined the GOP because it is more fiscally conservative. She noted her time at a nonprofit in Mozambique — where she was the only worker capable of doing a financial spreadsheet to satisfy donors that their money was being spent properly.
Dhingra and Englund are expected to be their party’s candidates following the Aug. 1 primary.
If Englund wins in November, she will be the only non-white Republican in either the House or Senate.
So far, Dhingra has raised $602,221 and Englund has collected $602,221 — and the hardcore campaigning has not yet begun. The other primary candidate — Parker Harris from neither party — has raised just over $3,000 and doesn’t have the money nor the profiles to likely survive the primary.
Since 2013, Republicans have dominated the Senate, while Democrats have controlled the House and governor’s office. As a result, there has been a deadlock for years on several major issues in Olympia, including how to abide by a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling to increase education spending.
Right now, the GOP has a 25-24 edge in the Senate. In October, 2016, Hill, R-Redmond died of cancer, leading to a special election in November to fill his seat now being temporarily held by Republican Dino Rossi.
The white-collar 45th is maybe the most purple swing district in the state. It includes parts of Redmond, Kirkland, Duvall, Sammamish, Woodinville and a huge chunk of rural upscale commuter neighborhoods.
“We are one of the most affluent districts in the state. Education is extremely important in this district,” Dhingra said.
Englund said: “If there ever was a Libertarian district, it would be this one.”
Local Republicans have noticeably distanced themselves from Trump, said Seattle-based political analyst Ben Anderstone.
“It has tons of ticket splitters,” Anderstone said.
Another example of a purple district is the Mercer Island-centered 41st, which Hillary Clinton carried by 40 percentage points last year. But incumbent Republican State Sen. Steve Litzow lost by only 4 percent to challenger Lisa Wellman — indicating that quite a few voters in the district abandoned party loyalty and split the ticket.
In the district where Dhingra and Englund are challenging each other, Hill won with 54 percent of the vote in 2014. However the 45th’s two representatives in the state house— Larry Springer and Roger Goodman — are Democrats. The district has leaned Democratic on national races with Clinton winning by 35 percentage points last year which was a larger margin than Barack Obama’s 17 percent win in 2012.
Meanwhile, people of color are moving to the 45h, expanding that percentage of the district’s population, which is at least two-thirds white.
While people of color tend to lean Democratic, they are also less likely to vote than older whites, Anderstone said. Since the 45th’s boundaries changed in 2012, Census statistics on the growth of the area’s communities of color are not precise.
Anderstone said the fact that two Asian-American women are running for the seat makes considerations on their ethnicities practically a wash. Dhingra and Englund agreed.
“The difference is going to be boots on the ground in this community,” Dhingra said.
Born in India, Dhingra’s family moved to the United States when she was 13, and she moved to King County when she was 22. She is chairwoman of the county’s Therapeutic Alternative Unit. She also supervises the Regional Mental Health Court and the county’s Veterans Court that serves veterans with PTSD, and works with the Community Assessment and Referral for Diversion program. Dhingra worked extensively on domestic violence programs serving the area’s South Asian community and with the eastern suburbs’ mentally ill. Her husband works at a private spaceship company.
Englund has worked extensively in the Bitcoin industry in the Pacific Northwest and in Washington D.C.. She has also held jobs in Okinawa when her U.S. Marine husband was stationed there. She worked for two years in Mozambique on a clean water project. And she was was on the staffs of Rossi’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign and for Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers in Spokane.
A major factor in the race will be forces outside of the 45th. The tilt of the state Legislature — and the outcome of several major statewide issues — is at stake and money from both parties is pouring into this race.
Englund raises the specter of Seattle’s City Council installing an income tax on its richer citizens and says that residents in the 45th worry about that idea creeping out to the rest of the state.
A state income tax has been universally considered political Kryptonite by both Democrats and Republicans. No one has seriously pushed for a state income tax for many years in Olympia. However, Democrats annually propose a state capital gains tax on an annual capital gains income of more than $25,000 for an individual and of more than $50,000 for a couple to fund school improvement.
So far, the GOP-controlled Senate has killed at least five Democratic capital gains tax proposals. Dhingra supports the idea of a capital gains tax, while Englund opposes the concept.
However, the GOP-controlled Senate forced the House Democrats this year to agree to a major overhaul in how property taxes are levied for education. That overhaul increased state property tax bills of basic education in the 45th District. Both Englund and Dhingra opposed that property tax measure from Olympia.
Englund said she would have voted against that overhaul, which was supported by all 25 GOP senators last month.
Transportation is a major issue in the commuter-heavy 45th, especially the daily traffic jams on Interstate 405.
“People feel deceived in my district,” Englund said. Englund wants to remove the toll lanes and eliminate the requirement for three or more occupants on some commuter lanes. She also wants more parking lots for the commuter crowd who use park-and-ride lots.
Dhingra said she wants more studies of the traffic flow information on I-405 before picking her preferred courses of action.
Outside organizations are less interested in 45th issues and will likely paint both candidates in broad nonspecific state and national colors, Anderstone said.
Outside Democrats will likely lump Englund in advertisement in with Trump. Outside Republican groups will likely unveil ads linking Dhingra with every tax that the GOP can think of, he said.