COVID-19 Orders, Protests and More: The Top Stories in Washington State Politics From 2020


We suspected the 2020 election year was going to be wild.

We had no idea.

In Washington, as across the country, a decade's worth of news got jammed into 12 seemingly endless months. Here's a look at the top stories in state politics for the year.


Gov. Inslee's COVID-19 orders

On March 23, Gov. Jay Inslee went on TV and announced sweeping restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic.

His "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" proclamation was initially set to last two weeks.

"It's time to hunker down in order to win this fight," Inslee said at the time.

More than 270 days later, we're still hunkered down.

Since then, Washington has lived — in one form or another — under Inslee's evolving public-health directives, which have closed workplaces, restricted gatherings and required wearing of masks.

The pandemic shutdown has come with a sobering economic toll, closing thousands of businesses, many permanently. Republicans and business groups have filed multiple lawsuits alleging the governor's orders have overstepped his powers. But courts have so far upheld Inslee's authority.

There is evidence the approach has worked.

The pandemic struck Washington early, raging through nursing homes and other vulnerable communities. More than 3,000 people here have died due to the virus. But over recent months, the state has ranked among the lowest in the nation in the rate of new infections and deaths.

Voters rewarded Inslee with reelection to a third term.


BLM Protests and CHOP

The killing of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis sparked waves of national protests and ignited long-simmering demands for police reforms.

Tens of thousands took to the streets of Seattle for peaceful demonstrations demanding changes to policing and a serious effort to fight systemic racism throughout society.

But some protests also turned violent, with acts of arson, assault and vandalism. In June, protesters occupied several city blocks, dubbing the area the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,  then the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, after days of clashes with police whose widespread use of tear gas and flash-bang weapons only fueled further demonstrations.

The occupation became a national flashpoint as Seattle police abandoned the nearby East Precinct and stood aside until fatal shootings and other violence led the city to clear out the area.

The pressure to protect Black lives stayed on Seattle City Hall all year, with ongoing demands to defund the police and reimagine public safety — a debate that will continue in the new year.


Mayor Durkan Bows Out

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan struggled to navigate the city's divisive politics.

At odds with the City Council and progressive activists, and facing criticism from some businesses and residents over public safety and homelessness, Durkan announced Dec. 7 she would not seek a second term. In making her decision, Durkan said her time in 2021 would be better served working on solutions for the city regarding its budget woes and COVID, than running for reelection.

That makes Durkan the fourth of the last five mayors to serve one term or less. She's one of three high-profile Seattle leaders to step aside lately.

Police Chief Carmen Best announced her retirement in August amid council efforts to cut her pay and the police budget. And Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau recently said she'll step down next June after losing support of the School Board.


$600 Million Unemployment Fraud

Like the rest of us, Washington's Employment Security Department couldn't have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the agency has faced withering criticism for failing to stop fraudsters from stealing $600 million in unemployment benefits amid the sudden crisis this spring.

While ESD says it has recovered $357 million, a state audit dinged the department for software flaws and other vulnerabilities that contributed to the massive theft.

Efforts to stop the fraud caused suffering for many unemployed Washingtonians, who have struggled with delays in getting legitimate benefit payments.

Inslee has rebuffed calls to fire ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine, a prominent national Democratic Party fundraiser and former ambassador.


GOP Searches for Answers

In many ways, 2020 was a low point for Washington Republicans. The party's gubernatorial candidate, Loren Culp, lost by 545,000 votes, and set a record with his poor showing in King County. And yet, like President Donald Trump, he has refused to concede.

Culp instead has lashed out at fellow Republicans, including Secretary of State Kim Wyman, making false and unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. Prominent Republicans have had enough, and some are questioning unexplained spending by the Culp campaign.

Wyman's own reelection win was a bright spot for the GOP, showing the party can remain competitive if it runs moderate candidates appealing to Puget Sound area voters. She is the sole Republican remaining in statewide office.


Strickland Makes History

Democrat Marilyn Strickland made history by winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in the Olympia-area 10th Congressional District.

Strickland, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, will be the first Black member of Congress from Washington.  And she'll be among the first Korean Americans elected to Congress anywhere in the country, sharing that distinction with two newly elected Republicans in California.

The former Tacoma mayor, who served as CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, campaigned as a business-friendly centrist.

She defeated Beth Doglio, a state legislator and longtime environmental activist, who championed sweeping policies such as a Green New Deal and "Medicare for All."


Near-record voter turnout

More than 4.1 million people voted in the Nov. 3 election in Washington. That's more than ever before, but the turnout rate still fell just shy of a record.

In 2008, 84.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots — the highest percentage ever recorded.

This year, 84.1 percent of registered voters turned out.

While that didn't quite set a record, Mark Neary, the assistant secretary of state, said recently: "In terms of numbers of people participating we blew it out of the water."


Tim Eyman Probe

Could Tim Eyman's run in state politics be nearing an end?

In a case that went to trial in November, Eyman faces a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office that seeks to permanently bar Eyman from accepting money on behalf of any political committee or handling their finances.

It accuses the longtime initiative promoter of taking kickbacks, laundering political donations and violating campaign finance laws for years. Eyman has personally received and concealed more than $1 million, Ferguson's lawsuit says.

Eyman says his conduct has been legal and that he's been targeted for taking on the state's Democratic political establishment with his anti-tax lawsuits.

A decision in the case is expected in the coming weeks.