If you live in Seattle, and if you're following the race for King County Executive, you probably know a bit about executive candidates Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine, two liberal Democrats who represent the city on the King County Council. What you may not know is that two equally formidable Democrats are running from the Eastside—and that they have quite a different vision for how the county should be run.
State representative Ross Hunter (D-48), a former Microsoft manager from Medina, is fond of describing himself as "impatient." This past legislative session, he sponsored bills that would have given King County new tools to pay for health and human services, would have compelled cities to annex unincorporated parts of the county that use more than their share of county services, and gave King County Metro the ability to raise taxes to help fill its $100 million funding gap. However, he says King County has a "spending problem" as well as a revenue problem—a view not shared by Phillips and Constantine.
"There's no way [the legislature] can be giving salary increases this year, but that's exactly what the county is doing," Hunter says. "Until they change the perception that they have a spending problem, they're going to have a revenue problem."
In addition to convincing residents they aren't wasting tax dollars, Hunter says the county needs to rebuild relationships with its cities, which have resisted annexing unincorporated areas. "Right now, the cities think the county wants to rip them off, and the county thinks the cities don't pay their way."
He adds: "A lot of people feel that many of the county's policies have been very Seattle-centric... How do you deal with transportation when you have a bunch of people in Kent who need to get to work in Redmond? The growth is outside Seattle"—which is where Hunter believes most transit service should be allocated, too.
Fred Jarrett (D-41), a state senator from Mercer Island who switched parties in 2007, says the differences between him and Hunter are mostly stylistic. "I've heard him talk about how he's impatient, and I think that's an admirable quality when you're a project manager [which Hunter was at Microsoft], but it's not what you need when you're trying to change a large, existing organization" like King County, Jarrett says. He thinks the county should control spending by getting out of certain lines of business—like providing ferry service, something the state already does. "I think there is a problem with trying to do more things than you have the resources to do and not doing any of them as well as you should be doing," he says.
As for the county's revenue problem, Jarrett says, the solution is already there: Convince residents to raise their taxes. Thanks to the state legislature—which reinstated Tim Eyman's overturned Initiative 747 in 2007— increasing property taxes more than 1 percent a year requires a public vote, which the council has been loath to approve. "They haven't asked the voters because they know they'll lose—they haven't made the case that those services are important," he says.
Both Jarrett and Hunter refer to each other as "best friends," so it's somewhat odd that they've ended up in the same race. "It's really hard," Hunter says, a sentiment Jarrett echoes: "It's kind of like when you and your best friend fall in love with the same woman. I was disappointed that he decided to run, but... he's going to bring another voice to the idea that we need to change the way King County is managed. The more we can get those ideas out there, the more that will change the way the next executive approaches the job, whoever ultimately gets elected."