This Washington

What to Watch in Local Politics This Year

Here's what will be big news in politics in 2018.

By Hayat Norimine January 3, 2018

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The midterm election: We all have our eyes on the 8th Congressional District, which won't have the option to re-elect veteran Republican U.S. representative Dave Reichert. He announced in September that he won't run in the 2018 midterm after seven terms as a congressman. 

What does that mean for the race? The 8th Congressional District—which includes Issaquah and other eastern parts of King and Pierce counties—has been a longtime GOP stronghold. And losing an incumbent makes the seat vulnerable.

Shortly after Reichert announced he's retiring, Republican Dino Rossi announced his campaign for the seat. Rossi, who holds name recognition as a former state legislator, is a contender for the Republican party to keep its stronghold. But Kyle Kondick—managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan politics newsletter published by the University of Virginia—says the seat is still a toss-up, even with Rossi in the race. 

The Democratic party will be pouring their money into trying to take any House or Senate seat available in attempts to seek control in the legislative branches. Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a list of 59 Republican incumbents as "round one" targets, which included Reichert. Several Democrats declared their runs early in the game. 

"This next midterm election is going to be an absolute up or down vote on President Trump," Seattle University politics professor Marco Lowe told PubliCola in September.

McCleary: The Washington Supreme Court in November told the state Legislature it's still in contempt of its 2012 ruling known as the McCleary decision—to fully fund basic education in the state, and stop making local governments heavily rely on local levies. 

After months of negotiations and pouring $7 billion into education, lawmakers still won't meet its September 1, 2018 deadline for the solution to completely go into effect. This 2018 special session— which starts in January and only runs 60 days—state legislators are tasked with finding another estimated $1 billion.

That Democratic trifecta: Newly elected state senator Manka Dhingra, a King County prosecutor, gives Democrats a majority in both the state House and Senate, as well as the executive office. 

It's hard to say how much the party can accomplish in the 2018 short session, especially since lawmakers will be busy with McCleary and the capital budget they have yet to approve. But it could mean big things for both environmental activists and women's rights. Progressive taxes, however, could still be a battle.

Seattle's gender pay gap: With labor leader Teresa Mosqueda now on the Seattle City Council, we'll be watching to see whether she keeps her campaign promise: to close the city's gender (and racial) pay gap. 

What would that look like? On the campaign trail, Mosqueda said supports a ban on employers asking about salary history and legislation that would protect workers from retaliation if they ask about their pay or career trajectories.

Mosqueda in November said Seattle officials will begin to have serious discussions in January about both addressing gender pay discrepancies and child care costs. (On the campaign trial, she promised that no family in the city would have to pay more than 10 percent of its income toward child care.)

Here's how bad it is: In progressive Seattle, white women make 75 cents on the white male dollar, according to data from the Economic Opportunity Institute; Latina women make 51 percent, while black women make 45 percent. 

Police reform: The campaign for Initiative 940, known as De-Escalate Washington, delivered signatures to the state last week—they had more than enough support to qualify as an initiative that would essentially allow officers to get prosecuted for unjustified deadly force.

Now, the Democratic-majority Legislature could choose to make I-940 law in its 2018 special session. If they don't, voters will face the decision in a statewide ballot measure in November 2018.

Seattle will also make its own crucial decision on police reform: hiring a new police chief. With nationally recognized Kathleen O'Toole out of the picture, city officials will start a national search  for the public safety role that's also a key player in maintaining trust among communities of color.

The city has had to address a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice settlement over excessive force and police bias, with police reform legislation. The death of more people of color in the hands of police reignited the conversation this year.

Interim police chief Carmen Best said she'll apply for the position—and she could be a natural selection for the city, given her good relationship with communities of color and as a veteran in the Seattle Police Department.

Free college tuition: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's promises, both on the campaign trail and in the first couple months of office, could be their own category. She hit the ground running when she took office on November 28, and has made a lot of promises both on the campaign trail and in the first couple months in office.

But let's start with free college tuition, which is something progressives have been wanting to accomplish for years and an idea that gained ground with publicity when U.S. senator Bernie Sanders ran for president.

Durkan said she'd offer two years of free community college tuition for every Seattle public high school student. It would cost an estimated $5 million the first year, $7 million a year after that without inflation—assuming it covers one out of every four Seattle high school graduates who don't pursue higher education. Durkan's executive order in November promised that the city would identify funding sources by March 8.

Employee hours tax: Seattle City Council members all promised to approve an employee hours tax, also known as a head tax, by March. It would mean about another $25 million a year in revenue dedicated to housing and homelessness. Supporters say the city needs a dedicated revenue stream to face the homelessness crisis and housing shortage. 

Durkan has said she didn't support the tax and has brought up other proposals—from rental vouchers, to streamlining permitting promises, to $100 million in affordable housing investments.

Seattle's income tax: The King County Superior Court in November confirmed what we all were expecting, that the city would eventually face the Supreme Court to validate its city income tax.

The tax would be enacted in 2019, and the question is whether it would pass legal muster through the Supreme Court before then. Council members approved the income tax in July as a way to improve a regressive tax system that disproportionately affects low-income households.

Activists are hoping that if the Supreme Court approves the city's tax, that means a statewide tax could come next.

Affordable housing rezones: In November, Seattle released its controversial plan to implement its Mandatory Housing Affordability program—requiring that new developments either create a percentage of affordable housing or pay a fee per square footage—in 27 urban villages throughout the city. 

Officials say the plan is expected to generate 6,000 affordable housing units (based on the area median income of households) in the next 10 years. Others argue that the developers' payments would reduce growth in housing. The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommended that by 2025, the city create 30,000 market-rate units and 20,000 affordable units over the next 10 years.

The Seattle City Council will consider the proposal that came from the mayor's office over the course of the year, with the goal of passing legislation by September. 

Announcements for 2019? All of Seattle's districted city council members will be up for re-election in November 2019, and some King County Council members. And with the direction Seattle politics is heading, voters could be looking for significant changes. 

Candidates who declare early could be coming out of the woodwork late this year. Kirsten Harris-Talley's appointment to the temporary city council seat in October goes to show the Seattle Peoples Party could be picking up steam as a driving force this year—Harris-Talley was a favorite of the Peoples Party, and earned more votes with council members over veteran council member Nick Licata.

Many don't expect Nikkita Oliver's mayoral run to be her last. She finished third in the primary attracting voters who historically don't vote, and she's only improved her notoriety and credibility since. 

Alongside council member Mike O'Brien, Harris-Talley released the controversial employee hours tax on big businesses, which ultimately failed to make it in the 2018 city budget. But her votes in her short term and social justice speeches on the dais are a pretty good indication the South Seattle resident is at least considering an elected role—and she's in council president Bruce Harrell's district. 

Updated 11:23am to include the MHA legislation and the Democratic trifecta. Updated 11:31am on January 4 to correct that all districted council members will be up for re-election (not the two at-large seats).

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