Washington Democrats have won a key state Senate race that puts them back in charge of both legislative chambers for the first time in five years.
After the latest returns were tallied Wednesday, Manka Dhingra, a 43-year-old prosecutor for King County, held a commanding lead over Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund with 55 percent of the vote in the race for the 45th District in Seattle's eastern suburbs.
The political implications in the state and beyond helped the race break legislative spending records in Washington.
With Dhingra's victory, Washington joins Oregon and California with Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers and the governor's office.
Republicans in the state, with the help of a Democrat who caucuses with them, currently control the Senate by a single seat. Democrats hold a slim 50-48 majority in the House.
Manka Dhingra is a King County prosecutor who supervises a mental health court, a veterans court and diversion program. Jinyoung Lee Englund is a former congressional staffer and entrepreneur.
"It was so impressive and amazing to see the results the way they came in and I think more impressive to see the crowd out there," Dhingra said. "It’s very cool to see the diversity in the crowd."
The candidates competed to fill the seat held by the late State Senator Andy Hill who died last October. The 45th legislative district stretches from Woodinville to Sammamish and includes Duvall and Kirkland.
The Eastside race has drawn an intense amount of national attention and millions of dollars in outside money, setting a new record for spending in a state senate race at nearly 9 million dollars, across both sides.
Previously, the Majority Coalition Caucus, comprised of 24 Republicans and one Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans, controlled the State Senate.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the Democratic National Committee sent out emails Tuesday night, already declaring victory in a race seen as a bellwether for 2018.
"We've had good bipartisan successes in Olympia over the past few years and that will continue. I also look forward to action on some issues that have stalled for too long," said Governor Inslee in a statement.
Dhingra and Englund campaigned on two different views of what a shift in power would mean for the state and their district.
“There are so many political games being played, where people are really not interested in representing the people, and I think that's why I have the level of energy in this campaign,” said Dhingra earlier in the campaign season. “Because for voters, they have this really unique opportunity because their one vote can change the way we govern.”
Dhingra pointed to record special sessions in Olympia and the failure to pass a state capital budget this year.
Englund blamed both sides for obstruction and argues Democratic control will lead to new taxes, such as a capital gains tax.
Dhingra, during campaign season, said capital gains should be considered, instead of further increasing property taxes.
Lawmakers passed an increase in statewide property taxes this past session, as part of a bipartisan budget deal, to help boost education funding as required by the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.
During negotiations in Olympia, Democrats had wanted a new capital gains tax; Republicans instead pushed for and passed an increase in statewide property tax. Homeowners expected to see the biggest hikes include those on the Eastside.
During an earlier interview with KING 5, Dhingra said she would like to roll back the property tax increase, instead focusing on tax loopholes.
“It comes down to closing some of the many 900 tax loopholes that exist in our tax code. We’ve had exemptions in there, many for decades that no one has really looked at,” Dhingra said in October. “We need to really make sure when there are tax incentives given that there is a sunset clause or there is a time period when you’re reviewing it.”
Reducing congestion and transit remains another priority for voters in the region. When asked what can be done to speed the delivery of public transit to the district, Dhingra says her goal is to ensure it comes in on time and on budget.
“That is something I will make sure I'm holding people's feet to the fire to make sure we get that. And really looking to the future,” said Dhingra.
“Right now we’re in this situation because we had elected officials who weren’t thinking or looking ahead.”
The winner of the special election will have to run again in 2018, since this was a special election to fill the vacancy left by the late Senator Andy Hill.
“The incumbent protection plan for Dhingra started about half an hour ago, and it’s going to be a very moderate direction for her,” said political analyst Marco Lowe.
When asked about priorities ahead of a session next year, Dhingra mentioned passing a capital budget, sensible gun legislation, as well as a focus on environmental issues--an issue that's united West Coast state governments.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are already warning of a fight over potential new taxes.
"The people have repeatedly voted against an income tax, and they will react strongly to any move to enact one," said current Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, in a statement Tuesday night.