Democrats have control in Washington, and they don’t want to lose it

At their state convention on Saturday, party leaders warned delegates not to be complacent this election cycle


BELLEVUE – Democrats know they’ve been winning in Washington.

They hold all statewide elected offices. They have a near supermajority in the Legislature. And there’s been a Democratic governor since the 1980s.

But to the hundreds of delegates who gathered at their party convention on Saturday, there is more work to do in the Evergreen State and across the country. 

“We are not letting Republicans get an inch,” Democratic State Party Chair Shasti Conrad told members of the Jewish caucus. “And we do not let Donald Trump get close to the Oval Office again.”

Opening day was spent strategizing how best to keep their grip on power and prevent conservative forces loyal to Trump from getting a toehold in the state. 

They learned ways to talk to voters about crime, abortion and President Joe Biden’s age. They heard ways to attract new Democratic voters – and keep them. And, most importantly, they were urged not to take anything for granted. 

“I think in 100 years, people will look back at this moment and ask a question: Did we, the American people, fight with everything we have against this fascist totalitarianism that is sweeping the world?” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who is running for reelection this year.

Saturday’s events were calm, but tension loomed ahead of Sunday’s general session where delegates will finalize candidate nominations and approve the party’s platform. Debates over nuclear power, legalizing sex work and calling for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza are expected. 

‘We cannot be complacent’

This November, Democrats are preparing to defend their lock on statewide elected offices, gain new seats in the Legislature and defeat three Republican-backed initiatives that could reverse recent progressive policy gains on climate change, child care and long-term care insurance.

On Saturday night, the message from Democratic candidates and officeholders was to keep fighting.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson – the party’s choice for governor – warned the crowd of dark days ahead if his expected Republican opponent Dave Reichert and Trump are elected. 

“We cannot be complacent,” Ferguson said. “I’m begging you, from the bottom of my heart. This election will be close.” 

In his last address to the party as governor, Jay Inslee told attendees to push against the most “retrograde, backward, aggressively injurious initiatives on our ballot in the history of the state.”

The three initiatives on the ballot in November will repeal the state’s capital gains tax, the Climate Commitment Act and its cap-and-trade program, and severely jeopardize the finances of Washington’s new long-term care insurance program.

“We are not going backwards,” Inslee said. “This is a forward state.” 

In the state Legislature, Democrats are close to a supermajority – two-thirds of seats in both the House and the Senate. Party leaders are quietly confident they can pick up the needed seats this election cycle.

Doing so would allow Democrats to send proposed amendments to the state Constitution to voters – potentially on issues like adding abortion protections or dropping a requirement that school bond ballot measures require 60% approval to pass.

“It’s my job to try,” said House Majority Leader Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, who leads the campaign operation for her caucus. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”

Notably not on the weekend’s speaking agenda: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Mullet, the two Democratic candidates for attorney general and the five Democratic candidates for public lands commissioner. 

Conrad said the attorney general and lands commissioner candidates didn’t get to speak because all Democratic candidates in those races have some support among county parties, and there was not enough time.

Mullet, however, has not received any local party support while Ferguson has, Conrad said. Ferguson, she added, is the party’s “best chance to win governor.” 

In response to not getting an invitation to speak, Mullet released a pre-recorded speech on Friday to address voters and Democratic delegates. In it, he makes his case that he’s a Democratic candidate with a proven track record of bipartisanship.

More to come

On Sunday, delegates will gather in person or virtually to vote on the party’s platform and approve candidate nominations. 

Nominations are pretty much set as any candidate who gets the support of at least five legislative district committees automatically gets the support of the state party. So in some races with multiple Democrats, like attorney general or public lands commissioner, the party is backing multiple candidates.  

Debate could get heated over some resolutions that have yet to be agreed upon. 

Three of them center on the war in Gaza, and a host of delegates concerned with Biden’s handling of it.

Faheem Khan, a delegate from Redmond and general secretary of the American Muslim Advancement Council, said he wants to see a ceasefire resolution passed on Sunday, but more than that, he wants the state party on record opposing Biden’s path on the war so far. 

“Our president is not aligned with a whole bunch of people who have been completely supportive of him,” Khan said. “We feel like our voices have not been heard. This is our attempt to send a message through a means that actually matters.”

Conrad said she is prepared for Sunday’s debate and said the main goal is to leave with a platform that includes issues that really matter to the party.

“We are the party of nuance and discussion and debate, and we want to welcome people to be able to talk about things that they care about,” Conrad said.

Meanwhile, the activist group Seattle IfNotNow is organizing a daylong vigil Sunday outside the Meydenbauer Center where delegates are gathering. Howard Gale, a member, helped craft a resolution calling for the U.S. to stop sending offensive weapons to Israel until the end of fighting.