Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Democrat Takes Early Lead In Race For Control Of Washington State Senate

Campaign photos
Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund, left, and Democrat Manka Dhingra, right, are vying for the 45th legislative district Senate seat. Dhingra leads in early results.

Democrats had the early advantage in the race for control of the Washington state Senate as Democrat Manka Dhingra led Republican Jinyoung Englund by 10 points in a special election on the eastside of Lake Washington.

In early returns, Dhingra had 55.4 percent of the vote to Englund’s 44.6 percent in the contest to complete the term of Republican state Sen. Andy Hill, who died one year ago of lung cancer.

If Dhingra prevails, Democrats will once again have one-party control of Olympia, something they haven’t enjoyed since 2013 when two Democrats joined with Republicans to form a majority coalition caucus in the state Senate.

Her victory would also give Democrats a symbolic Washington, Oregon, California bulwark against President Donald Trump and his policies on issues like climate change and immigration. Currently, the Washington Senate is the only Republican-led legislative chamber on the West Coast.

Senate Democratic leader Sharon Nelson said election results across the country amounted to a repudiation of Trump’s policies.

“I think our nation is being very clear that they do not support Trump’s agenda,” Nelson said. “We are better than that and I think this nation is making that statement tonight.”

The race in the 45th legislative district—which includes parts of Redmond, Woodinville, Duvall and Sammamish—has broken spending records for a state legislative race. As of election night, the state’s Public Disclosure Commission website showed nearly $9 million in combined spending by the candidates and independent groups.

Despite the high-stakes nature of the race, it drew two first-time candidates, both with Asian backgrounds. Dhingra is an Indian-American Sikh who works as a deputy King County prosecutor. Englund is Korean-American and works as a business consultant. Previously she worked for Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Republicans have held the 45th district state Senate seat since 2010, but the two House members from the 45th are Democrats. Hillary Clinton performed well in the district last year.

Last August, former Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said the race was the Democrats’ to lose.

“Mathematically, looking at the numbers, this isn’t even a swing district, it’s a Democratic district,” Vance said.

A victory by Dhingra could be a game-changer for Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee who has been stymied by the Republican-led state Senate in his efforts to pass a state capital gains tax and a tax on carbon emissions. Other Democratic priorities include passing a state Voting Rights Act and a measure to require health insurance companies to provide contraception to women as part of their coverage plan.

In a statement, Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoelser said that over the past four years his Majority Coalition Caucus has “led on fiscal restraint, education reform and nationally innovative ideas like reducing college tuition.”

In an interview, Schoesler predicted that the Democratic majority could be short lived since next year is an election year.

“There’s ample opportunities to make this a one year experiment,” he said.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."