Last week’s election was about change. It started in the school district as voters passed a badly needed bond to upgrade our local schools.
Considering the district needed 40 percent of last year’s voter turnout for validation and 60 percent of those voting affirmatively, it was a difficult proposition against a historically fiscally shy electorate. But with each day’s count showing a steady march toward validation before eventually reaching the super-majority threshold, Federal Way voters sent a clear message that a new level of progress has arrived, while also showing their confidence in Superintendent Tammy Campbell and the School Board. The page seems to have finally been turned from the days of junkets and voter mistrust that followed popular former Superintendent Tom Murphy’s retirement.
In both the school district bond issue and city elections, conservative voters sent their ballots in early and were included in election night tallies, while younger, more progressive, voters’ ballots arrived later and provided a clear margin of intent.
The message of change was also clear at Federal Way City Hall.
While both Mayor Jim Ferrell and Councilman Martin Moore were re-elected, as expected, both had significant advantages over their opponents.
But the City Council that meets in January will be decidedly different as two new council members of color will provide a different reflection of the community it represents. Hoang Tran and Jesse Johnson campaigned on bringing a more inclusive style to City Hall and a philosophy of confronting, rather than ignoring, the social problems facing the city.
We also found out that Ferrell’s coattails are not very long as his hand-picked candidate to fill the open seat left vacant by Jeanne Burbidge’s retirement, Sharry Edwards, lost in the primary, and the seat will be filled by first-time candidate Tran, who defeated former council member Diana Noble-Gulliford.
Though Noble-Gulliford was not an incumbent, she said she had heard the message of change when talking with voters. Tran raised more money, however, and put out several mailings to connect with voters. Tran’s margin started at 51-49 percent, and daily totals continued in his favor to finish at 53-47 percent at press cut off.
Johnson had a steeper hill to climb as he defeated incumbent council member Bob Celski, who was not only endorsed by Ferrell, but was Ferrell’s campaign co-chair.
Ferrell says he is a Democrat, but his selection of Republican Celski, and his support for Celski’s re-election to the council over Democrat Johnson, provided an undercurrent of controversy among local Democrats. Some said they supported Ferrell for mayor because they couldn’t vote for challenger Susan Honda but worked harder for Johnson to send Ferrell a message. Unfortunately for Celski, his job took him out of the area during key times in the campaign, providing Johnson, who worked hard, an opening.
Johnson was the election night leader in first returns at 50.79 percent to Celski’s 49.24 percent, and over the next several days, his margin continued to grow with each daily count. Johnson’s margin climbed to over 53 percent, and Celski’s fell to less than 47 percent. This race received the most attention by voters because each candidate brought a strength to the race.
There was a drop off in votes cast in Position 6 race between incumbent Moore and Roger Flygare, however.
With the additions of Tran and Johnson, the council will have three members of color in January. Though their views on issues are somewhat different, the election results would suggest the public wants a more moderate tone than the conservative one set by the current mayor and council.
The other area to watch is whether the new council might provide a level of checks and balances on Ferrell, which has not been evident previously.
Changes are also affected the county, as incumbent Sheriff John Urquhart lost to Mitzi Johanknecht, who is a major in the department.
But the real issue that dominated this race was an allegation of sexual misbehavior by Urquhart. Accurate or not, it provided a local contrast as two well-known women ran for mayor of Seattle amid national headlines regarding several powerful men being accused of sexually harassing women.
And the call for change continued at the state level as Democrat Manka Dhingra defeated Jinyoung Lee Englund to capture the Senate seat in the 45th legislative district formerly held by Republican Andy Hill. Hill passed away, and the special election will give the Democrats control of the Senate, House of Representatives and governor’s office by a very slim margin as soon as the election is certified.
The Democrats will certainly take advantage of their new power, but since 2018 is an election year for legislative seats, they are likely to be cautious about over-reaching, which could backfire among voters.
It will be a short session, and they will want to take care of some priorities and then get out of Olympia to get home and start campaigning. Both sides will be proposing some legislation for the sole purpose of its re-election value.
The school district bond and the council races helped local turnout, and the Seattle mayor race also contributed to a county wide turnout near 40 percent. But the turnout also said voters were paying attention, and their election day messages this year were change and progress.
What will their message be next year?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired public official. He can be reached at email@example.com.