After comfortably cruising to a Metropolitan King County Council position victory on Election Night, longtime state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles will set off a domino effect with her departure from the Legislature.
Kohl-Welles, who was originally elected to the state Senate in 1994, will resign from her current role at the start of 2016. The process to fill that opening is already well underway.
But the competition among Democrats in the 36th District isn’t for that position but yet another looming opening.
Next month, the elected and appointed precinct committee officers (PCOs) of the 36th District Democrats will vote on a slate of five candidates who have submitted their name for consideration for a vacancy in the House of Representatives.
That secondary vacancy will be created as current Rep. Reuven Carlyle prepares to assume Kohl-Welles’ Senate seat, as the lone candidate formally running for that role.
Carlyle said many of the issues that he was motivated to run on in the past — like K-12 and higher education, the environment and health care — are all being specifically worked on at the Senate level.
As someone who has served as a budget writer and lead on tax policy in the House, Carlyle also said he has a distinct viewpoint to bring to the Senate.
“It’s nice to have the opportunity to bring that perspective,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people with financial and technical background in the Senate, so I think I bring something unique to the table.”
He called it an “incredible honor” to serve in the Legislature.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to have served for seven years in the House,” Carlyle said, “and I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve in the Senate.”
Vying for the seat
Among the five trying to replace Carlyle are a pair of past candidates for a 36th District legislative seat and three members of the 36th District Democrats executive board.
In 2012, Gael Tarleton defeated Noel Frame in her first attempt to win a House seat, while Carlyle knocked off John Burbank in the 2008 election. Now, both are taking another shot at representing the district.
Frame said that first race, in which she advanced from a seven-way primary, made her “extra resilient.”
“That process really forces you to truly articulate your vision and be able to explain to folks what your core values are and how that motivates you,” Frame said. “I think that collective experience is quite a good preparation and training ground for being a successful legislator in Olympia.”
If she’s the top pick, Frame said she’d be motivated to tackle tax reform and address a structure she calls “regressive and inequitable.”
“Nobody else in this race has really articulated a vision for it in that way, nor do they really have the experience and the relationships and the strategic insight to be able to actually move a strategy like that forward,” said Frame, who wrote a guest editorial for The Stranger on tax reform earlier this year.
In hand with that concern is a focus on fulfilling the state’s paramount duty to fully fund public education.
Meanwhile, Burbank feels that his experience with pushing for a progressive income tax — as a co-author on Initiative 1098 in 2010 — is what sets him apart from the other candidates.
“I’ve already developed the language for sponsoring an income tax in the Legislature, and I’ve committed myself to doing that,” Burbank said.
He said the Legislature needs people who are forthright about the necessity of progressive taxation, and that will address the concerns of working people (including the establishment of paid sick days and an increase in the minimum wage) and funding both K-12 and higher education.
Along with Frame and Burbank, Jeff Manson, Sarah Reyneveld and Rene Murry round out the slate of candidates. Manson currently serves as chair of the 36th District Democrats, while Reyneveld is the group’s political director and Murry is a neighborhood community officer.
Reyneveld said her time in Olympia, having served during five legislative sessions in various roles, has given her the necessary experience in building coalitions and working to pass progressive legislation.
“I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the lack of full funding for basic education,” Reyneveld said.
While funding basic education is her main concern, she also counts protecting the environment and fixing the state’s revenue system through tax reform among her main goals.
“I think there needs to be more environmental champions in Olympia,” she said.
Murry emphasized her experience as a direct service provider, with 25 years of work in children and family advocacy, as a unique perspective she brings among the candidates. She said in those years of work in the field, the need for responsive federal and state policy became pronounced.
“It’s like you put a finger in a dike, and you feel somewhat helpless,” she said.
Murry said championing children’s and family issues also manifests itself into other concerns like tax reform and fairness for transportation.
“Running for children and families is not a one-issue concern,” Murry said.
As a whole, Frame said that any of the candidates are going to have similar voting records and that other traits are what set them each apart.
“It’s what our priorities are, how we’re going to lead, what experience do we have and who is going to be the most effective in advancing a progressive agenda,” Frame said.
A sixth candidate, former state Sen. Randy Gordon — who previously represented the 41st District during the 2010 legislative session — has since withdrawn from the race and endorsed Manson.
Gordon said he initially entered the race with the idea that he could step in if no other applicant was qualified but soon found there were capable, younger candidates.
“Sure, I can go and do the job, but I also have the responsibility of letting the next generation of Democrats advance and build their careers,” he said.
Ultimately, Gordon said that Manson is used to listening to people with different viewpoints and is the right kind of person to speak with Republicans and Democrats alike to get things done.
“You don’t need ideologues; you don’t need orators,” Gordon said. You need people that can build “bridges.”
On Dec. 2, precinct committee officers will vote for their top-three choices in anticipation of both vacancies, with those ranked choices then forwarded to the County Council.
In early January, the County Council will consider those recommendations, and make their pick.
While the council often follows those recommendations, there is precedent for diverging from the vote of district PCOs. In 2013, PCOs in the 33rd District recommended Kent City Councilmember Elizabeth Albertson for an opening in the Legislature, but the council instead appointed then-SeaTac City Councilmember Mia Gregerson.
The Dec. 2 meeting — which is open to all, while voting is limited to PCOs only — will take place at the Swedish Club (1920 Dexter Ave. N.), with registration and credentialing starting at 6 p.m. and a call to order at 6:45 p.m.
For more information on the candidates and their platforms, visit 36th.org/potential-legislative-vacancy-in-the-36th.
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