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Here’s What Democrats Might Do After Taking Control of the Washington State Government

Nicole Knight

Republican control of the state senate since 2012 has stood in the way of legislation that would expand access to abortion care and promote wage equality, among other progressive priorities.

Progressive activists see opportunity after a hard-fought election in Washington state flipped the state senate to Democrats.

Democrat Manka Dhingra handily beat Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund in the most expensive legislative race in Washington state history. Dhigra prevailed despite being outspent by a Republican candidate who attracted millions in outside money, including from Koch Industries, as the Seattle Times reported.

With the Washington state pick-up, Democrats now dominate legislatures and governorships up and down the west coast.

A King county prosecutor, Dhingra campaigned on women’s rights, education funding, mental health, and violence prevention. Her win puts Democrats in control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.

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“This is a resounding victory, this is a big deal, and this is a big movement,” said Treasure Mackley, political and organizing director with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii. The organization made 16,038 calls and knocked on 17,050 doors for Dhingra in the run up to election day. 

Mackley said state senate Republican leadership had for years stood in the way of key pieces of legislation to advance voting rights and reproductive health access.

“By picking up this seat we’re seeing that we’re going to have the ability to pass many of these critical pieces of legislation,” Mackley told Rewire.

The Reproductive Health Equity Act is chief among the organization’s priorities. The legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and requires insurance companies to cover all pregnancy-related decisions, including abortion care. Other legislative priorities include bills to guard against Congressional GOP-led attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by enshrining its provisions in state law, and legislation to promote wage equality and accurate and inclusive sex ed in schools.

GOP control of the state senate since 2012 has stood in the way of many of these measures, political watchers noted.

“The legislature has basically been paralyzed for years with rare exceptions,” said Aaron Ostrom, executive director of progressive advocacy group FUSE Washington.

Ostrom expects to see a push around voting rights legislation to expand voter registration and increase representation in diverse cities.

“You have cities like Yakima with a 45 percent Latino population, where a Latino had never been an elected,” he told Rewire. “That example was fixed in a long court battle, but it’s places like that the legislation will address. It’s making sure communities of color can get representation.”

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