Spirited fight for 'top two'

All the talk about Washington’s "top two" primary and how it advances two candidates to the November ballot, regardless of party, can obscure the reality that in most South Sound campaigns for the Legislature, the pair will be one Republican and one Democrat.

That’s why even in the top two era, most of the fights to watch during primary season – some friendly, some bitter – are between members of the same party.

Keep an eye on these pairs of rivals in the Aug. 17 primary: Republicans Paul Wagemann and Brian Wurts in Lakewood, Shawn Bunney and Cathy Dahlquist in eastern King and Pierce counties, and Nancy Wyatt and Mark Hargrove in the south King County suburbs, plus a pair of Democrats, Jake Fey and Laurie Jinkins in Tacoma.

All of them are trying to avoid elimination in the primary.

In districts dominated by one party, there’s a good chance of the intraparty clash continuing to the general election. That could happen in Tacoma’s 27th Legislative District – unless the ample Democratic vote is split by City Councilman Fey, Health Department official Jinkins and two candidates who aren’t raising much money, nonprofit founder Janis Gbalah and Jessica Smeall, who conducts team-building seminars.

Then just one would go into the fall race for an open House seat, becoming an instant frontrunner against conservative independent Ken Nichols.

But most closely-watched races are in suburban districts that tend to be split more evenly between parties, such as the swing 28th District.

The fall contest in that district centered on Lakewood is likely to be between Democratic Rep. Tami Green and one of her challengers, either Wagemann or Wurts.

“They are two of the hardest-working guys in the state,” said Kevin Carns, director of the House Republican Organizational Committee. “I expect that to be a pretty tough race in the primary and the general.”

Republicans can choose between Wagemann, a developer and Clover Park school board member with a wide-ranging background in business, and Wurts, a police officer with experience in Olympia lobbying for changes in police and public safety laws, issues that gained prominence after last year’s slayings of four of his fellow Lakewood officers.

Wagemann criticizes Wurts from the right, including for his job leading the Lakewood Police Independent Guild. He said Wurts “basically stands for everything we Republicans are against. He’s a union guy.”

Wurts says police need representation, but he resists the description of his guild as a union and says he hasn’t pushed for raises during collective bargaining like union officials elsewhere have. He talks much like Wagemann and other Republicans do about the need for cuts in state government, even as he touts his ability to work with both parties.

But Wurts acknowledges he might not “pass the litmus test” for some Republicans, particularly social conservatives upset that he joined the effort that persuaded Lake-wood voters in 2008 to defeat a proposed ban on mini-casinos. “We’ve got to be a bigger tent,” he said of his party.

Green, a nurse whose reelection is a top priority for unions and groups worried about cuts to state government, is waiting for one of them to emerge from the Republican fight.

Meanwhile she’s making sure Democrats turn out for the primary and preparing for Republicans to attack her for supporting tax increases and suspending the initiative that made those hikes harder. “I’m not apologizing for the votes we did or the temporary suspension of I-960. I’m explaining that at the door” to voters, Green said.


One race already becoming nasty is in the 47th District, but less within the Republican Party – where instructor pilot Hargrove vies with Auburn Chamber of Commerce president Wyatt – than over an assault charge filed against Rep. Geoff Simpson. A GOP television commercial says the Covington Democrat needs help for his history of domestic violence, but Simpson says the charge is politically motivated.

The rural 31st District leans to the right but probably not enough for two Republicans to move on to the general election in any of the races there. It’s more likely that Democratic South Prairie Mayor Peggy Levesque will face one of two Republicans – Pierce County Councilman Bunney of Lake Tapps or Enumclaw School Board member Dahlquist – for an open House seat.

The Senate race in the same district is likely to be a referendum on Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn, who was kicked out of Senate Republicans’ private meetings this year over her treatment of staff. Roach says GOP leaders are unfairly targeting her. If she can survive a challenge within her party from Sumner City Councilman Matt Richardson, Roach could end up facing one of two Democrats, Federal Way police officer Raymond Bunk or Ron Weigelt, a human resources manager in the Seattle and King County Public Health Department.

There’s one more campaign in the district: Centrist Rep. Christopher Hurst, running as an independent Democrat, is challenged by Republicans Patrick Reed, a manager in the Secretary of State’s Office, and Daniel Geske, who isn’t raising money.

The Federal Way-area 30th District seat left behind by Republican Rep. Skip Priest’s departure has drawn one Democrat, Carol Gregory, director of an anti-poverty nonprofit group. The GOP side is crowded. Three candidates are raising money – Milton Mayor Katrina Asay, millwright Jerry Gal-land and real estate agent Anthony Kalchik – plus Federal Way school board member Ed Barney. It’s a swing district where either party has a chance.

Longtime Rep. Steve Conway is the only Democrat running for Senate in the heavily Democratic 29th District and the only candidate raising money. He faces independent Ken Paulson, father of slain teacher Jennifer Paulson, and Republican Terry Harder, who helped found a group that sends packages to troops.

Two Democrats are running for Conway’s House seat in the same district: former Tacoma City Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg and Jonathan Johnson, a software specialist at Pacific Lutheran University. Two Republicans are hoping voters buck the district’s usual Democratic bent: mortgage loan officer and minister Steven Cook and Pierce County sheriff’s deputy Bruce Parks.

In the swing 25th District centered on Puyallup, writer Hans Zeiger and consultant and retired Army officer Steve Vermillion are the Republican challengers to Rep. Dawn Morrell, the influential chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus. Horticulturist Larry Johnson and instructor Brian Shaner are running as independents and Bethel School Board member Ron Morehouse as a Democrat. Only Morrell and Zeiger have reported raising significant money.

Democratic Rep. Jeannie Darneille in Tacoma’s 27th District is being challenged by retired teacher and Republican Jon Higley and from within her own party by consultant Jon Cronk, who hasn’t raised money.

Sen. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat in the swing 26th District centered on Gig Harbor, faces Republican real estate agent Marty Mc-Clendon and paralegal Kristine Danielson, who is running as an independent and isn’t raising money.