Olympia Report: Statewide Races and a Shortfall in Housing Revenue


The income side of the most recent campaign disclosures in the governor’s race for September was more of the same: Attorney General Bob Ferguson lapped the field with more than $425,000 raised and maintains a commanding lead over the rest of the field.

But the spending side of those disclosures was substantially more interesting. Our regular cruise through the filings with the Public Disclosure Commission turned up a whole pile of public opinion research by Ferguson’s opponents.

State Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, who’s coming after Ferguson from the political center, spent some $54K with GQR. That’s ace pollster Anna Greenberg, who’s done a ton of work in Washington, most prominently for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which has been racking up wins on gun control in recent years.

That spending was about half of what Mullet pulled in last month, which gives you a sense of the importance of research. Mullet’s team is looking for issues and messages that will carry him through next year’s primary. As we’ve noted before, his most plausible path to victory is a Democrat-on-Democrat showdown with Ferguson in November.

That means finishing ahead of former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in the primary. Reichert’s team spent $30K on focus groups with Echelon Insights. The former King County sheriff looks like the class of the Republican end of the field. His task is to fend off the MAGA right ahead of the primary and then avoid a Loren Culp-level humiliation in the fall. Echelon, led by pollster Kristin Soltis Anderson, did some work here in 2018 for Concerned Taxpayers of Washington State, the conservative PAC led by Steve Gordon.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz also ordered up some research in September. Her disclosures list a debt for $56K with Normington Petts, along with $103K in other spending against $130K raised last month. Pollster Jill Normington has worked for a variety of Democrats in Congress. In Washington, they worked for Democrat Tina Podlodowski’s failed bit to oust then-Secretary of State Kim Wyman in 2016. Like Mullet, Franz’s team is searching for messages and tactics that can help overcome Ferguson’s presumptive lead.

Ferguson’s campaign spending, meanwhile, was mostly for his fundraising juggernaut and that faux launch we wrote about a while back. He spent $126K in September, which gives him by far the best “burn rate” or spending-to-contributions ratio, of anyone in the field. Interestingly, we don’t see any significant spending on public opinion research, either by his gubernatorial campaign or his nominal campaign for reelection as attorney general. Ferguson’s name has been tested in various public polls in recent years, so perhaps they don’t see the need.

Campaigns typically hold their internal research close to the vest, especially when it’s bad news. But some select folks looking at making substantial investments in these candidates will be getting a peek. We know y’all read. Don’t hesitate to drop a dime.

Interest rates take a bite out of housing fee revenue

​​We might have a clearer picture of how big a dent interest rate hikes are putting in Washington’s housing market. 

Based on the numbers the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released last month, home building eased up on the gas over the last four years, but mostly thanks to a 7,000-unit nosedive between April and June earlier this year. Apartment building permits fell to 20,700 from 27,700 in the first quarter of 2023. Single-family permits shot up by 4,600 to 18,800 in the second quarter.

Overall home sales, on the other hand, are pumping the brakes in our fair state. Per Redfin, the total number of homes sold statewide was down 19.5 percent, year over year. There were 8,452 homes sold in August of this year, 10,494 homes fewer than August 2022.

Here’s the conundrum. On Tuesday, Corina Grigoras with the Department of Commerce told the Senate Ways & Means Committee that the wealth of recording fees associated with a home sale fell a whopping 50 percent over the last year or so. Grigoras, like many industry observers, blamed sky-high interest rates. (Interest rates for a 30-year fixed mortgage in Washington are averaging around 7.54 percent per Zillow.)

Those fees pay for a myriad of housing endeavors, which include homeless services. Come Jan. 1, 2024, most recording fees will soar by $100, bringing a basic fee to $303.50. The drastic downturn has local governments looking at pulling the plug on an indeterminate number of homeless shelters. (Per the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s 2022 point-in-time count, Washington was home to 25,211 homeless people, or 10 percent more than in 2020, about half of whom, 13,368 people, live in Seattle.)

It’s getting pricier to build those roofs for the homeless, too. Each of the 9,146 homes the state’s budget for this year in its affordable housing endeavors—shelter beds, group homes, motel rooms, etc.—are going to cost $263,040 a pop, according to Commerce. You no doubt remember from our housing coverage this year that Washington needs 1.1 million more homes by 2044 to meet demand, but Commerce reminded lawmakers about half of those homes will have to be for folks making 80 percent of the median income or less. 

Shoring up the housing supply — especially the affordable kind — will likely hinge on aggressive zoning reform and new tax revenue. Lawmakers opted out of the latter this past legislative session in the face of fierce opposition from the Realtors, the builders, and like-minded lawmakers. (By Tim Gruver)

Jaime Herrera Beutler gets in race for Lands Commissioner

In a move that further complicates the already convoluted dynamics of the race, former U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler formally got into the jam-packed race for Commissioner of Public Lands this week. 

The Battle Ground Republican is most famous for voting to impeach President Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection and subsequently losing her primary for reelection last year, which ultimately led to Democrat Marie Glusenkamp Perez winning her seat over MAGA candidate Joe Kent. 

So what does her entry do to the lands commissioner race, which already had at least five Democrats and one Republican in the field? 

In theory, it gives the GOP a much more potent player in a race where some of the issues that drag on Republican candidates might not apply. She’s been on the ballot in Southwest Washington’s Third Congressional District many times and will be broadly embraced by what’s left of the GOP establishment, which has largely been shut out of the statewide offices in recent decades. Many of the interested parties in timber, aquaculture, and other areas that care about who runs the Department of Natural Resources would ordinarily gravitate to her. 

On paper, that’s bad news for state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, who had been running in that pro-industry lane as a moderate Democrat. And it would set up a fall throwdown between JHB and a candidate of the environmental left, most likely Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, or King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove. That’s a really interesting matchup.

If you were expecting a “but” the size of an Olympic Peninsula log truck, you’re not wrong. Here’s the flip side of that argument. Herrera Beutler got about 22 percent of the primary vote last year as an incumbent. To the Donald Trump/Loren Culp/Joe Kent wing of the GOP, she’s a traitor. And the trolls who hang out under those particular bridges are unlikely to lay off just because she’s running for an office primarily involved in leasing state forests and aquatic lands and coordinating wildfire response. And, for example, is the candidate’s position on abortion rights relevant?

So does her presence in the race actually precipitate a schism on the right, in which the MAGA vote cleaves to somebody else, advancing two Democrats to the general election?

This article first appeared in the author’s political website, The Washington Observer.

Paul Queary
Paul Queary
Paul Queary, a veteran AP reporter and editor, is founder of The Washington Observer, an independent newsletter on politics, government and the influence thereof in Washington State.


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