The campaign for the King County executive, which is beginning to turn increasingly negative, is less about policy differences and more about competence, experience, and urgency.
Three-term county executive Dow Constantine and his rival, State Sen. Joe Nguyen, both want to increase temporary housing options to help get people off the streets. They both want higher taxes, but through progressive sources. They both want to increase transit service. They both want to eventually close the county’s new youth detention center.
Nguyen says Constantine, who has been county executive for 12 years and has been in elected office for a quarter century, has got his chance. He says homelessness is as bad as ever, the region’s public transportation system is inadequate and the county spends billions on the criminal legal system without adequately addressing the root causes of violence.
“After 12 years, a plan that isn’t executed becomes a broken promise,” Nguyen’s campaign says on ominous music in a new digital ad attacking Constantine’s record.
Nguyen points to the county’s struggle to quickly distribute federal rent relief. Its failed plan to end youth homelessness. Its move – only since the pandemic began – to convert hotels into accommodation for the homeless.
“It’s not that there aren’t plans or resources, it’s that being able to actually implement them,” Nguyen said. “It’s not enough just to have someone who talks about these things we shouldn’t, you need someone who is really going to make a difference.”
The Constantine counter is accompanied by a list of achievements that include a mass transit system that added three new light rail stations last weekend and is set to add two dozen more over the next three years. The county’s COVID-19 response, he says, was “the best in any major jurisdiction in the country”, and the county is beginning to make meaningful progress on homelessness after securing new funding from the Legislature a few years ago.
“He has a lot of challenges with the facts,” Constantine said of Nguyen. “He clearly has no idea what it takes to do really big things.”
Constantine maintains that many specific areas of Nguyen’s criticism are, in fact, outside the county’s control and require treatment from the state legislature — remedies, he says, Nguyen could have helped provide.
The county’s new Children’s and Families Justice Center, which includes the new youth prison? The county is required, by state law, to have a youth detention facility. Constantine maintains that the old one was dilapidated and almost dormant, adding that the legislature had not taken any steps to change the law that required the facility.
It’s been six years since Constantine declared a state of emergency over homelessness. There has been a lot of action since then but little concrete progress on the underlying problem.
“The purpose of declaring this an emergency is to raise a red flag asking for help from your federal and state governments,” Constantine said. “It’s a matter of declaring an emergency.”
He says the county has begun to make progress, with more help from the Biden administration and new funding from the 0.1% sales tax, which the Legislature approved in 2020.
A countywide tax on large businesses or wealth or high income earners? This requires legislative approval.
“This is a perfect example of how this legislator has not really met the challenges he is now criticizing,” Constantine said.
Constantine, along with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, lobbied the Legislature last year to approve a tax on large businesses with high-paid employees. It didn’t pass.
Nguyen says this is typical of Constantine’s tenure.
“It was one of the most eye-opening things for me in the legislature,” Nguyen said. “You can’t do it top to bottom. You can’t just say ‘I have this idea, I’ll just go ahead and propose it,’ and then don’t talk to anyone and then wonder why it failed .
Constantine won the primary by about 20 percentage points and raised more than $1.7 million, more than eight times Nguyen’s total of $203,000. Ballots for the November 2 general election will be mailed on Wednesday.
But Nguyen is also the first serious candidate Constantine has faced since being first elected in 2009. Since then Seattle has had six different mayors.
It is a nonpartisan race, but both candidates are Democrats. Both live in West Seattle. (Nguyen is voting for M. Lorena Gonzalez for mayor and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy for city counsel; Constantine is undecided in both races, saying he prefers both mayoral candidates and that of city counsel. for “deeply disappointed by our choice”.)
Nguyen, 38, Microsoft’s program manager, was elected to the State Senate in 2018. The son of Vietnamese refugees, he has been part of the most racially diverse legislature in Washington’s history that he is particularly proud of.
The legislature, this year, passed long-held Democratic goals including a capital gains tax, a clean-fuel standard, a slate of police reforms and a low-income tax credit. Nguyen sponsored successful legislation that made it easier for homeless families with children to continue receiving cash assistance.
Nguyen said, “As a person who relied on social services, as a person in South King County, as someone who has experienced the negative effects of the policy, I really like some of these Willingness to fix things.” “This moment requires someone who is impatient, but also has a working history.”
State Sen. Emily Randall, the Democratic majority whip, calls Nguyen strategic and data-driven, but says he also brings “a lot of heart” to legislation.
She added that Nguyen is the only male member of the Legislature to have been invited to feminist caucus meetings, as “he is always there to stand up for female allies.”
“Which brings his whole self as a father to work,” said Randall, D-Bremerton. “He will bust out photos of his three children and advocate for working parents and bring his personal experience as a parent and as a child with a difficult upbringing.”
Constantine, 59, a lawyer, served in the state legislature and the Metropolitan King County Council before becoming an executive. He flirted with running for governor in 2020 – before Governor Jay Inslee announced he would run for a third term – and says he won’t rule out running for a higher office if it becomes a possibility will do.
As well as helping to make possible the continued expansion of Sound Transit, Constantine cited his best debut for children, “the country’s most comprehensive early childhood program” as his major achievements.
He says his experience has enabled him to “take high-minded policy, progressive ideas and make them real to the people”.
“Running such a big government and being able to use it to accomplish big things is a very difficult and challenging feat, and we’ve really succeeded,” he said. “It’s not something that can be accomplished with an ideological posture and a tweet storm.”
State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said Constantine has been “a champion” in pushing the Legislature to try to make the state’s tax code less regressive.
“When I think of the Dow, I think of quiet potential,” Pedersen said. “He’s super effective, smart, works really hard, and I think, maybe all politicians have some degree of arrogance, but some people have less ego than you, you know what I mean?”