Local and state politics: What to look for in 2009

As we say goodbye or in some cases good riddance to 2008, we wonder what 2009 will bring.

In the nation’s capital, the Democrats have the presidency and both Houses. This is a huge opportunity to change the course of the nation, which is just what the public elected them to do. However, they also have debt, debt and more debt with even more debt to come. And they have international firestorms in almost every part of the globe and an economy in shambles.

Here in Washington state, the Democrats have the governor’s office and both Houses. They also have a huge budget deficit and are getting sued over wages and union contracts by their traditional supporters.

Surprisingly, it may be a good year for Republicans. Even with all the power, Democrats in both locations are going to be hard pressed to come out of this year looking very good. They need money to solve problems and maintain their base, and there isn’t any. In both cases, Republicans as the “loyal opposition” will actually have the tactical advantage to second-guess and start creating momentum for the 2010 elections.

King County faces the same budget challenges, but the bigger question is “who” will be driving the car. If incumbent Executive Ron Sims runs for re-election, he will likely get a challenge from his own party by county council member Larry Phillips in addition to a wealthy Republican business executive the Republicans are trying to recruit for what will be a “non-partisan” position.

But Sims could end up in the Obama administration, forcing the King County Council to choose a replacement — which may or may not be Phillips. Either way, watch the dynamics in county government as some council members are also up for re-election.

In Pierce County, watch for a difficult settling in process as the Republican council will want to flex its muscles and a new Democratic executive, Pat McCarthy, will try to establish herself. How they learn to work together will determine whether county government moves forward or gets caught in a stalemate. In the short term, if McCarthy adds several executive director positions on top of the current department directors, watch for a fiscal argument.

In Seattle, Greg Nickels will run for re-election as mayor but may have stiff opposition.

In Federal Way, city council members Jeanne Burbidge, Linda Kochmar and Eric Faison are all likely to run for re-election, and so far no opposition has surfaced. But it’s early.

Elected municipal court judge Mike Morgan, and appointed municipal court judge David Larson, are both up for re-election. Larson will undoubtedly run and most interested observers believe Morgan will as well. There is no known opposition, but plenty of speculation that candidates will surface.

In Auburn, incumbent Mayor Pete Lewis is expected to run for a third term. And while there is no known candidate, there is significant unrest in some parts of town about a perceived mayoral focus on downtown. His most likely opponent, council member Virginia Haugen, is probably sidelined until February awaiting a court date on her participation in a political prank.

In Kent, Mayor Suzette Cooke will run for re-election and again there is more speculation than substance at this point.

The early race to watch is the new non-partisan position of Director of Elections for King County. It will be decided in February. Appointed incumbent Sherrill Huff should be the front runner.

2009 shapes up to be a lot more fun than the economy, so watch the politics, not the stock market.