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caption: State Senator Joe Nguyen is running to unseat King County Executive Dow Constantine.
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State Senator Joe Nguyen is running to unseat King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Credit: Nguyen campaign

Millennials challenge veteran candidates in 2021 King County and Seattle elections

Could 2021 be the year for millennial candidates in King County?

Several Seattle millennials are challenging political veterans with deep pockets, and contests like the Seattle mayoral and King County executive races are shaping up to be generational battles.

The Seattle Times reports the leading candidates in the mayor's race are worth anywhere from $0 (Andrew Grant Houston) to $15 million (former Seattle City Council Member Bruce Harrell). According to the Times, which analyzed candidate disclosures with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission in April, most of the remaining top contenders are worth less than $500,000.

In contrast, Seattle Times notes that both finalists in the city's last mayoral election were multimillionaires; candidate disclosures do include spouses' assets as well.

Those candidates in 2017 included the incumbent Mayor Jenny Durkan — who is not seeking reelection this time around — and Cary Moon, an urban planner and activist.

Joni Balter, Seattle CityClub’s Civic Cocktail, says their personal assets effectively canceled each other out on the topic of finances. But this time, it could be an issue for some candidates.

For example, "wealth-bashing" may not work with Harrell, Balter says. His parents didn't go to college and raised him in the Central District — he did not inherit his money.

But it's not all about him, says KUOW's David Hyde.

Hyde says Houston stands out from the rest of the pack, despite his net worth of zero. Houston is a millennial and a renter, setting up a renter versus home-owners contest in a city where that is a dividing line for many voters.

"Voters should dig a little deeper in thinking about the correlations between wealth and politics, because they're not always that clear," Hyde cautions. "[Seattle] City Council, for example — one of the furthest-left members is Tammy Morales. She's worth several million dollars."

Houston isn't the only 2021 candidate challenging seasoned officials.

Millennial state Sen. Joe Nguyen is challenging King County Executive Dow Constantine for his seat, which he first won in 2009.

Balter says Constantine has proven to be flexible over the years, moving further to the left — a move some interpreted as preparation for a run for Seattle mayor or Washington governor. Still, she says, this challenge is healthy.

"Every incumbent needs a challenger from my way of thinking," Balter says. "That’s why we have these elections. They sharpen incumbents."

Meanwhile, Democrats at the state Legislature may have celebrated a big win a bit too early.

They saw it coming, of course: a lawsuit filed against the state's new capital gains tax.

For many progressives, it was the highlight of the recently concluded legislative session. But the lawsuit, filed by the conservative Freedom Foundation, contends it’s a tax on income and violates the state constitution — the Washington state Constitution requires that taxes must be applied uniformly across the same class of property.

Estimates suggest the tax would yield less than half a percent of the total state budget. So, Hyde says, you could argue it's not all about the money.

"Look, Democratic lawmakers have been trying for a long time to do something about Washington’s clearly regressive tax system," Balter explains.

Balter and Hyde joined KUOW's Paige Browning to talk about politics this week. Listen to the conversation by clicking the audio above.