Out on a High Note: How Tina Podlodowski Rode a Blue Wave


During six successful years as Democratic State Chair, Tina Podlodowski has watched, pushed, and organized as Washington has completed its transition from borderline “purple” to being a solidly “blue” Democratic state.

She’s had help, primarily from ex-President Donald Trump, who was skillfully demonized and hung around the necks of Republican nominees in a state that used to elect reformist, moderate GOP politicians to state and federal office.  Podlodowski is going out on a high note, with Democrats in control of every statewide elective office and eight out of ten seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Former two-term King County Democratic Chair Shasti Conrad was instantly in the race to succeed Podlodowski. ”No one else is running for state party chair yet,” noted Andrew Villeneuve, executive director of Northwest Progressive Institute and long active in the D’s state central committee.

Conrad is an accomplished young politico, a veteran of the Obama administration and Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns, and one not bashful about her accomplishments. “I am the first woman of color to serve as chair for the King County Democrats and the first chair to be reelected in more than a decade: I took a struggling organization mired in debt and transformed it into a thriving, engaged organization with the funding to produce electoral wins,” she says in a website boosting her candidacy.

Podlodowsi was an executive at Microsoft, served on the Seattle City Council, and later headed the Lifelong AIDS Alliance. She lost a race for Secretary of State in 2016, but then ousted then-chairman Jaxon Ravens after an election in which Democrats won major state offices but suffered numerous defeats down the ballot. She has been the party’s first LGBTQ chair.

Podlodowski is following a model set by the late Democratic chair Karen Marchioro.  Marchioro relinquished reins of the state party in 1993, after Democrats put Patty Murray in the U.S. Senate, captured eight of the state’s nine (at the time) U.S. House seats, flipped two of those House seats, swept the Legislature, and elected liberal Mike Lowry as Governor.

The party went into the tank under successor Charles Rolland.  Republicans took six U.S. House seats from the Democrats in 1994, becoming in Newt Gingrich’s words “ground zero of the Republican revolution.”  The GOP won control of the state House of Representatives, and reelected Sen. Slade Gorton, despite two visits to the state by President Clinton.  Rolland was sent packing by Paul Berendt, who revived the party.

Under Podlodowski, Democrats flipped control of the Washington State Senate in 2017, when Manka Dhingra won a special election after the death of GOP Sen. Andy Hill. They solidified hold on both houses of the Legislature in 2018. That same year Issaquah pediatrician Kim Schrier won a seat in Congress that had been held by Republicans for 36 years, and Sen. Maria Cantwell coasted to reelection.

Last year, in the face of a predicted “red wave,” Washington Democrats expanded their legislative majorities and scored the country’s biggest congressional upset with the victory of Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez in Southwest Washington.  Sen. Patty Murray withstood an onslaught of attack ads to win reelection with 57 percent of the vote. Democrat Steve Hobbs was elected Secretary of State, an office held by Republicans since 1964.

Podlodowski did it with a theme of “Rise & Organize,” staging training for party workers across the state.  She tried to recruit Democrats to run even in the most solidly Republican rural districts of Eastern Washington. The tin can of Trump, along with militia-linked Republican state legislator Matt Shea, was tied to GOP candidates. 

The Democrats also hit hard at the abortion issue, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.  Washington has a long pro-choice record, dating from a statewide 1970 vote to legalize abortion.  The 1970 pro-choice campaign was led by liberal Republicans, a political species now verging on extinction in the Evergreen State.

Podlodowski was a “yellow dog Democrat,” unwilling to have truck or trade with any Republican.  She pilloried Seattle City Attorney candidate Anne Davison as “not fit to hold any office of any kind” in 2021. Davison was running for a nonpartisan office against defund-the-police supporter Nicole Thomas Kennedy.  Former Democratic Govs. Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke had endorsed Davison, who was elected.

King County Democrats, especially in Seattle, have veered left of late.  The party backed Lorena Gonzalez for Seattle Mayor in 2021, running against fellow Democrat Bruce Harrell, who won convincingly.  The local party also endorsed Kennedy, despite her record of often-profane Tweets denouncing the Seattle Police.  Both lost, along with leftist City Council candidate Nikkita Oliver. Conrad has raised money for unsuccessful Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner, a Sanders co-chair who once compared voting for Joe Biden to eating “a bowl of shit.”

Rural, moderately conservative Democrats, once an influential species in state politics, are impossible to find nowadays. The party is now urban, suburban, and exurban.  Suburban King County, once a Republican mainstay, now overwhelmingly sends Democrats to the Legislature and Congress. Dominating margins in three Seattle legislative districts gave Jay Inslee his margin to be narrowly elected Governor in 2012. Seattle bashing has backfired on Republicans who’ve tried it.

Podlodowski’s successor will inherit a Democratic state, in Ben Franklin’s famous phrase, “if you can keep it.”  The long-ago warning of 1994 should remain as a reminder, however, of what happens when a governing party screws up, gets full of itself, or veers into ideological excess.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Interesting summary of T.P.’s (and the Dem. Party’s) many successes at getting their candidates elected over the past six years. Those election successes beg the question: What aspects of society — especially in the Seattle metro — are better than they were six years ago? Racial and economic inequities have increased.
    Regressive taxing has increased. Public school attendance is way down, and students’ academic performance is weaker. Lots of jobs disappeared that lower-wage community members held (Covid can not be blamed for all of that change). On a subjective note, the sidewalks downtown seem bleaker and meaner — not what one would expect from years of strong electoral successes by the party of “Happy Days are Here Again.”

    • Maybe Democrats — establishment Democrats that is — argue that it would’ve been a whole lot worse had not the Democrats been in charge? No way to determine that of course, but in last years I would definitely be skeptical of such an approach. But the alternative of Republicans in charge would clearly have been far worse (except for some social issues.)

  2. I would hope that Joel and other reporters will dig much deeper into what Shasti Conrad actually did to King County Democrats, including issuing passing a new set of Bylaws that gave the Chair unprecedented power. With that power, she successfully sought to ban several longtime activists for things that occurred far outside King County Democrats, including a lifetime ban for a neurodivergent disability activist who is on President Biden’s Disability Advisory Council.

    • Shasti also used her platform to spread lies and disinformation about Ann Davison, as well as attacking two former Governors (both Democrats!) for endorsing Davison. Shasti also supported Sawant (like Davison, not a Democrat) in her recall election that same year. This after saying Locke and Gregorie can’t call themselves Democrats for supporting Davison. Can’t make this stuff up!

  3. Tina Podlowski “pilloried Seattle City Attorney candidate Anne Davison as ‘not fit to hold any office of any kind’ in 2021. ” Which we all know, resulted in Anne Davison, a far more deserving candidate, winning. That hardline, no Republican no-matter-what stance that Podlowski exemplified, where a preposterous candidate like Nicole Thomas Kennedy is actually endorsed, can’t end too soon for me, a lifelong Democrat.

      • I just don’t understand state party machinations, I never have. I try. But they don’t make sense. Shouldn’t the party chair try to put forward a candidate who is ELECTABLE?

        • Your point is well taken. The thing about it is, and anyone who has been a chair can correct me if I’m wrong, walk a tightrope between pleasing the rank and file who elect you and fundraising from people whose agenda usually differs or even runs directly opposite of those who choose you for the position.
          It’s not my cup of tea.

      • Podlowski’s “unfit” rhetoric just invited comparisons to Nicole Thomas Kennedy and “are you kidding us?” was the response from voters. Come to think of it: I’m grateful that she pilloried Ann Davison, and kept a truly unfit City Attorney candidate from gaining office. I shudder to think what Kennedy would have been like — would we even have a PD left?

  4. The view from high above may be ‘blue,’ but east of the Cascade Mountains, where I have family members and friends living, there’s plenty of ‘red’ to be found. A close look at any map of votes cast in the 2022 election shows that clearly. With the population concentration in western Washington, I think any generalization about politics in this state is skewed. I think the so-called ‘east-west divide’ will continue and, perhaps, worsen, not because it necessarily has to, but because of lack of attention to the circumstances of the lives of people and their attitudes based on those circumstances. Telling people what ‘we’ve done for you’ will not replace listening to them and asking them about their circumstances and their lives. Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez understands that. I hope she does well in Congress and survives the inevitable attacks in the 2024 election.

  5. While the view may be ‘blue’ from on high, a look at the map of 2022 election results from down low shows a lot of ‘red,’ especially in counties east of the Cascade Mountains. The concentration of the population west of the Cascades and its voting preferences skew any generalizations about political preferences in this state. The east-west divide remains. I think it doesn’t necessarily have to remain, although I think it will so long as people west of the Cascades, and I mean liberals and the Democratic ‘establishment’ focus more on what they think they know about people and circumstances in central and eastern Washington and less on actually learning about those people and circumstances. Telling people ‘what we’ve done for you’ will never replace asking people about their lives. My family and friends who live east of the Cascades have opinions different from mine, but they have experiences and opinions worth asking about. Resentment runs deep, though, so discussion is difficult.

    • I would echo Carolyn Wallace on her point. Instead of looking down on one brand of people, we should listen and offer at least an ear.
      Shutting out a side just because it is small in number, may work politically, but it is a poor way to extend policy.

  6. Perhaps it’s the candidates, their slash and burn rhetoric and overall “hate government” stances that prevent Easten Washing from sending folks to congress or the state house.
    The 2022 election was about common-sense candidates on both sides of the isle. Those who passed the test won, with a few exceptions, won on both sides of the political divide.
    I believe you can’t win if you attempt to lead folks of the right side of cliff or you are so open minded your brains fall out.
    I would caution my Democratic friends to legislative as if their jobs depended on it because it does.

  7. The only thing that can save the current Democratic Party is the current Republican Party.

    They are current perfect dance partners.

  8. This piece only scratches the surface of Podlowdowski’s years of inflammatory and vile rhetoric that was more than unbecoming of her position. I believe Democrats were successful in spite of her ‘leadership’ because Tina certainly didn’t do them any favors, especially the past few years, by:

    – Denying Dem challengers Hackney, Murray, and Mena access to Votebuilder during the 2020 primary, despite then all running as Democrats
    – Spending fall 2021 tweeting various mischaracterizations and flat out lies about now City Attorney Davison
    – Denying Prosecutor candidate Jim Ferrell Votebuilder access in 2022 despite his election to the Federal Way mayor’s office as a Democrat and his volunteering as a Democratic PCO
    – Threatening to withhold funding from House Democrats who supported Julie Anderson for SoS
    – Going on conservative talk shows and encouraging listeners not to write in Brad Klippert, a transparent ploy to get them to do so

    In other words, Tina likely resigned rather than face public calls to step down which had largely been shared in private. As a Democrat, I can say I was personally embarrassed by Podlodowski’s shameful slander and belittlement of candidates she personally didn’t like (even when they were literally, or generally supported, Democrats!). Despite the electoral successes, she has lost all credibility in my eyes and our state is a worse place for her having had a megaphone for so long.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.