Primary results for the race to be the next state legislator for the 45th District came as a surprise even to Manka Dhingra.
The Democratic candidate and King County deputy prosecuting attorney received 51.5 percent of votes—10 percentage points ahead of Jinyoung Lee Englund, the Republican candidate—in a race that will determine control over the state Senate. And it’s looking a lot like the state may have a Democratic “trifecta” come November.
“I definitely expected it to be a very close race,” Dhingra told PubliCola after the primary. “Having these long relationships with the community definitely helps. … I was most proud, once I decided I was going to run, to see the number of people in the community that stepped up to help."
The state Senate is currently at a narrow 25-24 Republican majority. And the 45th District—representing Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish in the south—could elect another Democrat to hold its seat to replace long-time budget writer and Republican Andy Hill, who died in October. With governor Jay Inslee, and Democrats holding a narrow majority over the House, Washington could join a small group of states that are completely in the hands of Democratic leadership.
“We knew going into it that it was going to be an uphill battle,” Englund told PubliCola after the primary, and said she came in second because the Democratic party “went negative first.” "The solution is to not become a one-party country. That’s not the solution. In each party we need to elect new people to change the direction and the leadership and future of that party.”
It’s an unusual race in more ways than one—both candidates are women of color who said they were inspired to run after the November election. Dhingra, a Sikh American who immigrated from India at age 13, said she felt she needed to “step up” and get more involved in state politics. She ultimately decided on the state Senate race after consulting with friends and other members of the party.
"Our democracy needs to represent each and every one of us,” said Dhingra, who lives in Redmond. "Our state is going to be successful when everyone in the state is successful."
Englund, a Korean American who said she wrote in a candidate for the presidential election, at the age of 31 wants to “change the party from within.” She said she returned from her experience working in Africa more conservative than when she left because of a need for compassion "in a fiscally responsible way."
"This is the most important legislative race in the country. I think that's just incredible," Englund said, commenting on both candidates being diverse women. "That’s a sign of the changing of the times."
Englund, who previously worked for Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Bitcoin, is also running as the spouse of an active duty Marine who moved to Woodinville recently from Japan. She registered to vote in the 45th District in March and said they chose Woodinville to be close to her husband’s family. Englund said she didn’t decide to run until after they chose to settle there.
Both parties have poured their money into the high-profile, high-stakes race; so far Englund has raised $953,000, and Dhingra has raised $776,000.
The two parties have also made hefty investments in independent expenditures, especially the Republican party: $643,000 opposing Dhingra and $433,000 supporting Englund; compared to $543,000 opposing Englund and $55,000 in expenditures supporting Dhingra.
“I think it makes me sad that the Democratic party assumes that all Republicans are the same,” Englund said. She said she’s socially liberal and criticized the party's use of her tweets as out of context. “I am a true King County Republican, but I’m also a Republican in the millennial generation. I believe in a woman’s right to choose.” Dhingra said she kept her campaign clean and criticized the Republican party for going after nonprofits she’s worked with.
Dhingra won the primary with 51.5 percent of the votes, compared to Englund's 41.5 percent. Independent candidate Parker Harris received 7 percent.
So if Dhingra has the same success in November, would the Democratic trifecta drastically change state politics?
University of Washington politics professor Mark Smith said the budget would likely see the biggest changes. But for major Seattle movements to spread statewide, like the income tax—which is still largely controversial outside of the Seattle area—he doesn’t expect there to be much change.
“I don’t think in the short term it’s going to be really much of an impact,” said state senator Dean Takko, a moderate Democrat representing Southwest Washington. “I don’t think you’re going to see us get in there and totally move the pendulum all the way back to the left."
And, he points out, not all Democrats will vote all the time. But with the Democratic trifecta, Takko said, they would’ve passed a capital budget. He was the second sponsor of the Hirst water bill and said the Republican senators unfairly tied the legislation with not passing a capital budget.
“That (the capital budget) didn’t pass is just a tragedy as far as I’m concerned,” Takko said. “As big as water is in my district, t’s gone from negotiating to hostage taking and that was not the right thing to do.”
Updated August 22, 2017, at 11:06am: This post corrects the spelling of Englund's name. I apologize for the error.