State Rep. David Sawyer saw his re-election bid in peril on Tuesday as voters were choosing two other candidates ahead of the embattled Democrat in a top-two primary.
The once-popular Sawyer has been dogged recently by allegations of inappropriate behavior, legislative sanctions and heavy opposition from his own party this year.
Early primary ballot returns Tuesday showed Melanie Morgan, a Democrat and Franklin Pierce School Board member, well ahead of Sawyer and two Republicans. GOP candidate Terry Harder was in second by a nose in the 29th Legislative District race. Sawyer was in third.
Many votes still need to be counted as a result of Washington’s mail-in voting system, but Morgan was ahead by enough in the first tally of ballots that she could declare victory in the primary.
“The voters have spoken that enough is enough,” Morgan said Tuesday night. “Time’s up and we want a new leader.”
The election result also is a win for party leaders, many liberal organizations such as Planned Parenthood Votes NW and women who have accused Sawyer of misconduct.
All had called on Sawyer to drop out and spent nearly $80,000 on a push to unseat him when he didn’t.
“We believed that if we told our stories, if women shared their truth and we talked to the voters that we would see these results and we did,” said Jessica Gavre, who who ran a political action committee aimed at defeating Sawyer and was one of the first women to publicly speak out about Sawyer’s alleged behavior.
The primary margin represents another hit to Sawyer’s political career despite three terms as an influential lawmaker. If he stays in third and does not advance to the general election, it will mark an even greater fall from grace.
The Democrat resigned as chairman of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee in June after a state-ordered investigation found he broke the chamber’s ethics and harassment policy with behavior that included sending inappropriate text messages to staff.
The investigation followed a February story by The News Tribune, The Olympian and public radio’s Northwest News Network in which eight women accused the lawmaker of behavior before and after he joined the Legislature that ranged from inappropriate to harassing.
The House has restricted his access to staff for months.
Sawyer has at times apologized for his conduct and at times defended himself. He has also attacked top Democrats, accusing them of politicizing the investigation and not giving him enough opportunity to respond to allegations.
But the allegations of misbehavior may have sunk his re-election hopes.
“I have always fought for the people of the 29th District and will work hard for their vote in November if votes trend in the coming days,” Sawyer said in a text message to The News Tribune and The Olympian. “There was an orchestrated smear campaign that was dishonest, but it is politics and I respect the will of the voters.”
Elsewhere in Pierce County, voters stuck by two other incumbents facing primary opponents from within their own party.
State Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, advanced to the general election, beating Republican Naomi Evans and finishing second behind Democrat Connie FitzPatrick.
Young has faced criticism for allegations he mistreated his staff and has twice been fined twice since 2016 for breaking state ethics law. The lawmaker denies berating staffers, despite House Counsel barring him from having a legislative assistant due to a “pattern of hostile and intimidating behavior.”
Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, overcame discontent from conservatives over her voting record to knock out her GOP opponent Randy Boss. Democrat Joy Stanford came in first place in the 26th Legislative District contest, so she and Caldier will face off in the general election.
Both Caldier and Young handily won their races in the 2016 general election.