Anyone want their job?
Anyone want their jobs?

One thing that hasn’t received a lot of attention in this election season are the races for King County Council.  That’s mostly because four of the five incumbents up for reelection are running unopposed.  The fifth, Reagan Dunn (Newcastle, Covington, points East) won 73% of the primary vote, so I’m not sure he had serious opposition.

The four others, running unopposed, are Bob Ferguson (Lake City/Shoreline), Kathy Lambert (Redmond/Issaquah/points East), Julia Patterson (Seatac/Kent), and Pete von Reichbauer (Federal Way/Auburn).  I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the performance any of them (Patterson, in particular, has been very good), but doesn’t anybody want this job?

When compared to the overloaded fields for certain City Council seats, I find the difference mystifying.  Consider:

  • The King County government is the closest thing we have to a Metropolitan government, and many of our issues are metropolitan in scope.  It is the most important level of government for transit issues.  It is also responsible for tons of other stuff.
  • Although City Councils can enable the density that reduces demand for sprawl, the other part of that equation is legislation to control sprawl, which generally falls under the responsibility of the County.
  • County districts are actually smaller that the City of Seattle, where all City Council members must run at-large.  As a result, County Council runs are, if anything, cheaper than City Council runs.
  • The County’s fiscal situation is generally understood to be more dire than Seattle’s, providing more rhetorical ammunition to potential challengers.
  • Seattle races tend to take place in a very small ideological continuum, whereas County races have large ideological consequences that mirror the nation at large.

To aspiring politicians out there: rather than jump into a six-way knife fight for city council, save money and improve your chances by running for King County Council.  You can make just as much of a difference if you win, and simply by running you’ll at least provide a useful check on people in power.

13 Replies to “Why no Council challengers?”

  1. It truly is one of the most disheartening feelings to open the voter’s guide and see only one candidate. An acquaintance of mine actually ran against a popular City Council member so that there would be a choice. He actually received 20% of the vote in the general election…

  2. One of the key factors in limiting competition for county council seats is redistricting. Every ten years, the council has appointed a partisan board to draw new boundary lines to equalize population of each district after the census. They always appoint loyal partisans who can be counted on to draw districts that protect incumbents of both parties.

    Party labels have recently been stripped off of the council positions and off of the redistricting board, but I expect that nothing really will change. For incumbents, nothing runs deeper than self-protection.

    It would be far better for voters if redistricting were taken out of the hands of the councilmembers. Perhaps a panel of judges could appoint a redistricting master and charge him/her with drawing boundary lines based on communities of interest and ignoring the residences of any candidate or incumbent. That happened at the state level in 1972 and the result was a large number of contested races for the legislature. The redistricting master, Richard Morrell, tried to create as many swing districts as possible, and the results showed in that fall’s election.

    1. Actually we have a pretty clean process in this state for drawing district boundaries. Far from being the partisan mess say Texas is we have a mostly non-controversial process. Sate law provides clear guidelines for how districts are to be re-drawn, yes that law does say redistricting commissions can’t redistrict incumbents out of their current districts, but that protects against all sorts of partisan shenanigans that happen elsewhere. Just compare our relatively compact and contiguous districts at all levels to the gerrymandered messes in many other states.

      Could the redistricting process be further improved? Certainly, but realize when it comes to redistricting Washington is a model citizens in other states want to emulate not an example of a process run amok.

      BTW I like your idea of placing the judiciary in charge of redistricting. I’m not sure about the rest though.

      1. Having sat through “public” meetings of the King County redistricting panel, interrupted regularly for “caucuses” where panelmembers run upstairs to confer with the incumbents they are protecting, I can assure you it’s strictly a process of political protection. Voters approved a charter amendment to put this in the hands of a council-appointed committee, thereby shielding it from the visibility the process has in Texas and elsewhere. Doesn’t change the substance of what’s going on, only helps to mask it.

  3. My theory is that there are no open seats on the county council this year. Of the 14 nonincumbents running for city council, 11 are running for open seats. Only 3 people challenged incumbents (Marty Kaplan, Jessie Israel, and David Ginsburg). When people are more or less satisfied with someone–whether on the county or city council–it’s fairly common that no serious challenger emerges. For example, in 2007, Tom Rasmussen was unopposed in his city council race.

    I think partisan redistricting is overrated as an explanation for the lack of competition. If you look at who voted for Kerry vs. Bush or Obama vs. McCain, you see that people in the same area tend to vote like each other whether it’s on one side or the other. In most places in the country it would be extremely difficult to draw competitive districts that don’t look like octopi.

  4. The lack of County Council challengers is especially surprising given how much more of a stepping stone to higher office the KC Council has been compared to the City Council. Two of the KCE candidates were from the KC council as was Sims, Nickels, McKenna, and Peltz all served on the KC council as well. Also there is a history of state legislators moving up to the KC council when they want full-time jobs. Peltz, Constantine, Phillips, and Von Reichbauer all served in the Legislature before moving to the council.

    I think one factor that may have reduced the competition some is the recent reduction from 13 seats to 9 though that isn’t the whole explanation.

  5. People from Pierce County should read this as we consider extending our County Council term limits from 2 to 3. Elected Office should be primarily service and secondarily gainful employment, not the other way around.

    1. Many elected offices require a full-time or more commitment. Therefore I don’t think it is unreasonable for the office to pay a full time salary. Otherwise you end up with a situation like the legislature where few have the kind of employment flexibility that allows them to earn a living while holding a seat.

      1. Yes, continue to pay them full-time salaries when the job requires full-time work, but take them out of the state pension system. Too often, incumbents tire of the work and it no longer becomes “public service” in any meaningful sense, but they have built their careers in that one job and can’t leave it until they retire. Sad, really.

        Better to just give them that retirement contribution as salary and let them invest on their own if they wish. Best to have no perks that work to keep incumbents in office even when they would rather leave.

  6. No challengers = nobody wants the job.

    The King Couty Council has become more like the Port Commission, where name recognition means more than anything else.

    Look at Jane Hague. The only thing she has achieved in the last couple years: hitting a Metro bus (she blamed the operator) and driving drunk (she blamed her elderly husband).

  7. I know that I won’t get to many votes on this page, but I am going to challenge Julia Patterson in a write in campaign. My campaign focus mostly on the issue of spliting King County. I will be bring up more issues. My campaign will offically start on the 19th of September. (That is the day I return from Santa Clara California, I will be attending the West Coast Baptist Pastors and Workers Conference at North Valley Baptist Church.)

      1. Just Mathew Renner. RennDawg was a nickname I picked up while serving in the Navy. I used to blog under that name alone. I was convinced that it was a cowderly thing to do. If I am going to put my opinions out there I should do it under my real name. I just threw in the nickname because it seemed fun.

Comments are closed.