Ferrell the Democrat embarks on new political path | Bob Roegner

The dust hasn’t fully settled from Federal Way City Councilman Jim Ferrell’s announcement that he has changed political parties. But the dust will settle soon, and the reality of the decision will start to sink in.

Whether the switch was based on principle or pragmatic political gain, it is now irreversible, and in the cold world of partisan politics, it has consequences. Some are supportive of the move, others may not be.

The question now on many minds: was this a good career decision and how will the change affect any plans Ferrell has to run for higher office?

By previous moves, Ferrell has already placed himself in an awkward position. He is in his third term on the city council. After he and some of his supporters spent several months pushing the city council to discuss term limits for the mayor and city council, Ferrell could have a credibility problem if he runs for a fourth term in two years.

It likely wouldn’t be fatal because Ferrell is a good campaigner. If you are going to stand on the high road of principle in switching parties, it may test the public’s tolerance if you then say term limits are for other people.

An even more casuistry position would be that you achieved your goal just because the council actually did discuss, and reject, implementing term limits. Bifurcating the issue that way might work in a court of law, but not in the one of public accountability. That puts Ferrell in a position of probably having to run for another office within two years if he wants to maintain a political career path.

He could run for mayor next year against Skip Priest, who seems certain to run for re-election. This time Ferrell wouldn’t have to split Republican votes with Priest and he would have support from many Democrats. What if another well known Democrat decides to run? Also, while Priest now has a record as mayor that could be subject to challenge, he still won’t be easy to beat. Ferrell hasn’t separated himself from the mayor on very many issues. Running for mayor is a gamble for Ferrell — possibly winnable, but still a gamble.

Ferrell could hope that President Barack Obama wins a second term and taps Congressman Adam Smith for a cabinet position, thereby vacating his District 9 congressional seat. Ferrell could hope that Smith simply doesn’t run in two years. Smith’s new district is much more Democratic. Either outcome would allow Ferrell to consider running for Congress.

Since much of the new district is farther north, including part of Seattle, it would attract a large field of candidates. Ferrell is not well known outside of Federal Way. This looks like a long shot and would seem the least likely.

However, if Ferrell’s goal is to run for statewide office someday, then a more likely option is to run for the state Legislature. Earlier this year, he passed up a chance to run for Mark Miloscia’s vacant House seat, but he could look at the State Senate.

Democratic incumbent Sen. Tracey Eide is up for election in two years, but there are several impediments that are beyond Ferrell’s control.

First, Eide may run again. She may also be interested in seeing if Brad Owen steps down in four years as Lt. Governor, assuming Owens is re-elected again this year. If a Republican wins, that will also be part of Eide’s considerations. Either way, it requires Eide to run in two years to keep her options in four years open.

Also, with Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s announcement that she won’t run for re-election this year, there is going to be a shakeup at the top of the Democratic leadership. Where Eide emerges in that may also play a role in her decision, but even if Eide doesn’t run again, Ferrell wouldn’t necessarily be the favorite to capture the seat.

If Republican State Rep. Katrina Asay is re-elected this fall, she could be interested in stepping up. Or if either Republicans Tony Moore or Linda Kochmar win Miloscia’s seat, they could be interested.

And a bigger challenge for Ferrell as a new Democrat: what if current Democratic candidates Roger Flygare, Thom MacFarlane or Rick Hoffman win either or both of the House seats this fall? They would have first call on a vacant Senate seat. Even if none of the three win a House seat this year, they could still be interested in a Senate vacancy and have a much longer Democratic pedigree than Ferrell.

There are a lot of “ifs” about this option for Ferrell.

But to add a little twist: if he hasn’t already been asked, Ferrell will soon be asked to endorse all the Democrats running for the Legislature. If Ferrell doesn’t endorse them, he won’t last very long in the Democratic party, and he won’t get much support from Democrats in a future run for office.

If he does endorse them, the next few months working with Kochmar on the city council could be uncomfortable. Also, he could find his relationship with Tony Moore strained, and remember, they have each used the same person as a campaign manager, which might further complicate future scenarios.

At this point, Ferrell’s political path doesn’t necessarily look much smoother on the Democratic side than it did on the Republican side. Could the switch have been a mistake? In politics, things can change pretty rapidly, so only time will tell.


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