It could be one of the most competitive and expensive races in state legislative history and will determine the balance of power in Olympia.
The candidates are vying to represent Eastern King County’s 45th legislative district, formerly represented by the late State Senator Andy Hill who died last year. The district stretches from Woodinville to Sammamish and includes Duvall and Kirkland.
The candidates are Manka Dhingra, a King County prosecutor who supervises a mental health court, a veterans court and diversion program and Jinyoung Lee Englund, a former congressional staffer and entrepreneur.
Both are first-time candidates battling it out on the airwaves and on the ground in a race that will decide if Democrats get full control over the state government.
Currently, the Majority Coalition Caucus, comprised of 24 Republicans and one Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans, controls the State Senate.
Depending who wins in November, either the Republicans will retain power of the Senate, or Democrats will take full control over the state government, since they already occupy the House and governor's mansion.
Dhingra, the Democratic candidate, and Englund, the Republican candidate, have two different views of what a shift in power would mean for the state and their district.
“One party control of our government is not the most healthy or productive. What happens when there's one-party control is that people lose their voice, and it's really political parties in control,” said Englund.
“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,” countered Dhingra. “Because for voters, they have this really unique opportunity because their one vote can change the way we govern.”
Dhingra points to record special sessions in Olympia and the failure to pass a state capital budget this year. Englund blames both sides for obstruction and argues Democratic control will lead to new taxes, such as a capital gains tax.
“Given that it was Republicans who imposed the largest property tax hike on Eastside families in recent history, I’m not sure what they’re saying is actually true,” said Dhingra.
Dhingra is referencing the state legislature's bipartisan budget this year which included a more than $7 billion funding boost for education, an investment celebrated by both sides, but they disagreed over how to get there.
Democrats 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.
“If I were (Sen. Dino Rossi) and had to vote on the McCleary agreement that was passed, I would have voted no, because I think as a legislature they should have done more to find other exemptions to sunset, in addition to the sale on bottle water and extraction of fuels in order to make up that difference,” said Englund about the 2017 deal.
Meanwhile, Dhingra says 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,” said Dhingra. “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.”
While both candidates said they’re opposed to a state income tax, capital gains is where they differ.
“I think that's definitely an option that we should consider,” said Dhingra. “I would like to consider it after we've looked at closing our corporate tax loopholes. But, yes, I think that's that a better way to go than the property tax increase that hits every single person on the Eastside.”
“I think we need to acknowledge that there is new revenue coming into our state because the economy is booming and population is growing,” said Englund. “Are we being thoughtful about how we're appropriating those brand-new funds coming in. And are those appropriations enough to fully fund our priorities?”
Ultimately, it will be up to the State Supreme Court to determine whether more is needed to fully fund education in the state, as required by the McCleary court decision. Education funding is just one of several key issues lawmakers must continue to grapple with and pay for in the years ahead.
Reducing congestion and transit is another priority for residents 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.”
“A lot of people ask why infrastructure not keeping up with growth,” said Englund. “One of the goals I have if elected this fall is to bring more transparency and accountability to Sound Transit and the transportation coalition.”
Both candidates are making their pitches to voters on daily door belling trips through neighborhoods in the 45th district.
The race could set new records in terms of resources spent and money raised. Each candidate has raised more than one million dollars in total contributions, with weeks left to go before ballots are due.
So what inspired the first time candidates to jump into such a fiercely competitive, at times negative race?
“I have been working on policy issues for last 20 years, but last presidential election in November had a lot to do with it, "said Dhingra.
"The most prevailing one is paying forward the gift of being an American," said Englund.