Jim Mayhew is doing something no Democrat has done in recent memory: run to represent the 12th Legislative District in the Washington State Senate. Though Republicans have held the seat since 1969, analysts say 2024’s court redistricting process painted the district purple, placing it within reach of a Democratic candidate. If the voters of the newly drawn district see Mayhew as that candidate, his election could help bring more social and transit services to the area while also helping Dems clinch a supermajority that would empower the party to propose changes to the state constitution that could last generations. No big deal!

For his part, Mayhew, who served on the Snoqualmie City Council for six years, feels optimistic. “I think this is very doable. I’m extremely excited about it,” he said in a phone interview with The Stranger.

As I wrote earlier this month, a recent court decision redrew the political boundaries of several districts across the state, and those changes were very kind to Democrats. All told, the districts that got redder didn’t really change predicted electoral outcomes too much, but the districts that got bluer very much did, giving the Dems footholds in places where they’ve consistently come up short.

In the case of the 12th, the court looped in North Bend and Snoqualmie Ridge while cutting out rural swatches in the east. Before this year, the district sat firmly in central Washington. Now, 51% of the population lives west of the Cascade crest, and almost the entire population lives within the 8th Congressional District.

Here's the portion of the 12th Legislative District that lives in King County. King County

According to an analysis from the Northwest Progressive Institute, President Joe Biden won the new 12th "by a slim 50–47 margin; [US Senator Patty] Murray only lost 48%-52% in 2022.” Though Murray lost by a narrow margin last cycle, Democratic Congresswoman Rep. Schrier won the new area 53 to 47% that year, giving Democrats hope for victory.

The redistricting also kicked out longtime incumbent Republican state Senator Brad Hawkins, who declined to move back into the district to run for reelection. Republican State Representative Keith Goehner plans to try to keep the 12th in the GOP’s hands, bit with 51% of the population west of the mountains, that might be tough. 

State Senate and House Dems need to pick up four and eight seats, respectively, in tricky territory to earn the constitutional majority. The 12th LD adds a fifth district to help make it all happen, giving both chambers a little room for error.

In many ways, Mayhew walks and talks like the left-of-center Democrats with corporate backgrounds that tend to fill suburban and exurban seats in Washington, but he’s not all corporate Dem. As he put it, “I’m interesting for people to digest.”

Mayhew spent most of his career as an accountant at one of the Big Four firms, and then he worked for another five years at a staffing company called Volt. After he helped that company emerge from some legal issues, he retired in 2015.

Before excelling in the corporate world, he took some lumps when he was younger. He grew up in the Seattle area as one of three children raised by a single mother. At 16 he ended up on the street “for a couple nights,” he said, and then wound up in the foster care system. He found a great home with parents who helped him get through high school, after which he worked for three years to pay for college. “And thank God for Pell Grants,” he added.

His political activism kicked off after retirement and alongside the rise of Donald Trump. Around 2016, he started working with the 5th Legislative District Democrats, where he served as one of the organization’s vice chairs and worked on the endorsement committee. In that capacity, he helped flip that Legislative District blue and helped Rep. Schrier beat Republican Dino Rossi in 2018. The Snoqualmie City Council appointed him to office in 2017, and he won a four-year term a couple years after that. He decided not to run for reelection last year “to make room for the next person,” he said.

While working on the council (a part-time job), he started consulting for companies looking to go public, and he's also worked as the CFO for a translation company. But now he’s “footloose and fancy-free,” apart from taking on “the biggest challenge of my life," he said. 

Mayhew recognizes the political “distrust on both sides of the mountains,” but as a state Senator he’d plan to focus on “a bunch” of issues he thinks both sets of constituencies can work together on. He cites his time on a council as a good indicator of his ability to do that.

On council he expressed pride in helping to streamline some of Snoqualmie's social services contracts, convince the rest of the council to invest more in social services, shaping fairer and more forward-looking utility rates, and working with other local elected officials to rebuild the interchange between Interstate 90 and Highway 18, reducing traffic for cars and trucks.

His business and accounting background made him the finance director’s “worst nightmare,” he said, because he’d ask so many questions during presentations about how certain policy proposals would impact funding. “He was a great guy, but he had to be on his toes, which was great for the city,” Mayhew said.

As far as statewide policy is concerned, Mayhew knows he needs to learn more than he knows, so he’s currently focused on studying up. The things he does know from personal elected experience involve the affordability crisis hitting everyone from city families to small farmers, and the need to “get better outcomes for the dollars we are spending.”

He wants to laser-focus on ending child hunger in Washington and on adequately funding schools while we’re at it. He’s not quite sure yet where to find the money for that, but on the issue of taxes he said, “You can’t be for education and be for yanking all the funding or a huge portion of the funding,” referencing the effort to repeal the state’s capital gains tax, which takes a small cut of the profits from sales of stocks and bonds over $250,000 and invests that money in education. “My general approach is: we need a more fair tax system, and we need to fund priorities, and that’s my focus,” he said. 

He also recognizes that “teachers, fire fighters, and police” cannot afford to live in Snoqualmie, and so he’d like to find ways to build more “workforce” and low-income housing. But services to help people with low incomes are far away and in short supply, and so he wants to bring more transit to the region. And like a good Dem, he also stands to protect reproductive and LGBTQ rights against the onslaught from Republicans.

Nevertheless, he knows he has more to learn about the farther-flung parts of the district. “I have some idea of what these ideas mean in the upper Snoqualmie Valley, but I want to know what they mean in Wenatchee, Monroe, and Chelan. Where do we have commonalities here, and how do we go after this at a state level to make a difference?” he said. 

He'll have at least until the August 6 primaries to make those inquiries.