King County government will be worth watching this year. Not only does the county continue to have budget challenges and potentially interesting races, but some leaders will be in the news as they test the waters for higher office.
By most accounts, Dow Constantine had a good year as the new county executive. He campaigned on reforming the way the county does business. While it is still too early to fully measure his accomplishments, he has made progress on several fronts.
The Municipal League of King County just completed a review and noted that he has hired a good management team, made progress with labor on budget issues, improved the Department of Development Services (long an area of controversy) and developed strategies for improving bus service. He also worked with cities on both jail space and maintaining a regional animal control system.
Constantine’s name keeps showing up on the speculative lists of possible candidates for governor should Gov. Christine Gregoire decide not to run again. In the background are others who might be interested in the executive’s office should it become vacant. Watch Constantine this year — he could be a newsmaker either way.
The King County Council race to watch is Jane Hague from Bellevue. Hague won big four years ago against a political gadfly. But several revelations came out after filing that could have made her vulnerable had they been disclosed earlier. Two candidates have already emerged in Port Commissioner John Creighton and Richard Mitchell, who was general counsel for Gregoire. But former state senator and former state Republican party chairman Luke Esser is also rumored to be considering a run. The district is decidedly Republican, but since county government is officially non-partisan, the top two vote getters would face off in November.
The other council members to watch are Democrat Bob Ferguson and Republican Reagan Dunn. Both want to be attorney general if, as expected, Republican incumbent Rob McKenna runs for governor. Insiders say watching the two establish their images on public safety and social service issues during last year’s budget process was an interesting chess match of future opponents.
Dunn is likely to have a clear shot on the Republican side at the attorney general race, but Ferguson could face a challenge from former Pierce County Prosecutor and Executive John Ladenburg. Ladenburg lost to McKenna four years ago. The twist in this potential race is turnout because the top two vote getters advance regardless of party affiliation.
Keep an eye on King County — it will be entertaining no matter what. But you also may be watching a future governor and attorney general develop.