Washington State Legislature Swings to the Left, Setting the Stage for Progressive Reforms

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Ingrid Anderson and T'wina Nobles will add two progressive voices to the Washington State Senate. (Photos courtesy of campaigns)

The election result was a mixed bag nationally, but Washington state saw a progressive wave adding to its Democrat majorities in the state house and senate. Governor Jay Inslee easily won re-election to a third term. Due to incredibly high and early turnout, it appears the early returns on election night will hold, though there are more ballots to count.

The senate appears set to go from a 28-21 split to 29-20. Democrats won two seats with T’wina Nobles defeating Steve O’Ban in the 28th District and Helen Price Johnson edging out Ron Muzzall in the 10th District by a razor-thin 279-vote marginupdate: she’s trailing by 1,210 votes after Saturday’s drop. Nobles earned our endorsement and truly represents a 180 from conservative firebrand O’Ban. Democrats also lost one seat as Senator Dean Takko succumb to a Republican challenger in the 19th District–a largely rural area that has been trending toward conservatives.

The state house was already 57-41 before three big pickup opportunities where they led on election night.

  • Angie Homola, 10th Legislative District (Update: Trailing by 414 vote after Saturday drop)
  • Tanisha Harris, 17th Legislative District (Update: Trailing by 1,783 votes after Saturday drop)
  • Alicia Rule, 42nd Legislative District (Update: Still leading)

Hopes of challengers surfing a blue wave in conservative-learning (although increasingly purple) districts like the 6th, 25th, and 26th didn’t materialize, although some candidates–like Carrie Hesch and Zack Zappone–came tantalizingly close. The conservative shift in the 19th also cost Democrat’s Brian Blake’s house seat. Thus, it appears the next session’s partisan split will be 59-39 still be 57-41 the house.

The shift in the state legislature wasn’t just expressed in flipping seats, but also in electing more progressive members in seats already held by the Democrats. The marquee race on this front is the 5th where Ingrid Anderson is clinging to a 415-vote lead over Senator Mark Mullet. (Update: she’s trailing by 88 votes after Saturday’s drop). Anderson is a progressive union-backed nurse, while Mullet is a moderate businessman backed by corporations and notorious for blocking progressive tax reform and climate action.

The house had a few bold challenges of incumbent moderate Democrats, as well. Not all succeeded, but David Hackney (whom The Urbanist endorsed) unseated Zach Hudgins in the 11th District in a landslide.

The other big progressive gains were in open seats and several were Black women.

Among them, Kirsten Harris-Talley is taking over for moderate Eric Pettigrew, who retired, in the 37th. She earned The Urbanist’s endorsement and is likely to be one of the most progressive members of the caucus. Likewise, Jamila Taylor won Mike Pellicciotti’s seat in the 30th and is likely to be more progressive than him, particularly on transportation where Mike was a bit of car activist. Pellicciotti left the seat to run for state treasurer, where he prevailed over Republican Duane Davidson. In the 44th, April Berg won a seat vacated when Democrat Jared Mead was appointed to the Snohomish County Council. The seat had been in Republican hands (specifically Mark Harmsworth’s) as recently as 2018, but Berg’s solid 4-point lead suggests it’s leaning firmly blue now.

The 44th’s shift suggests moderate Democrat state senator Steve Hobbs may get a strong progressive challenge in 2022 when his seat is up.

In the 36th, Liz Berry is taking over for Gael Tarleton, easily besting her more moderate opponent in Sarah Reyneveld. Berry earned our endorsement and will likely legislate well to the left of Tarleton, particularly on transportation and land use issues.

So while at first glance 2020 wasn’t a banner year for state legislature gains like 2018 was, beneath the surface this is the most progressive legislature in modern state history as progressive challengers muscled out moderates. The Republican party made zero gains in urban areas. The 19th District was the only bright spot for them and they may well hold it, but shifting terrain in the 10th and 42nd offset this loss and prospects of regaining former conservative bastions like the 5th, 28th, and 44th appear dim.

And of course we’re due for a redistricting following the results of the 2020 census, which is likely to shift seats and tilt the scales only farther toward urban and suburban districts where Republicans have been getting their clocks cleaned. The state legislature is likely entering an unprecedented era of progressive control. Let’s act on it.

This article has been updated to reflect Thursday’s ballot drop and then Saturday’s drop.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.