The brightest new political star to appear in the local firmament this year is undoubtedly Republican Reagan Dunn, recently appointed to the King County Council. Only 34, Dunn has several years of accomplishments as a government lawyer under his belt and is blessed with savvy, good looks, and the political machine built by his mother, retired Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn. His time-limited council term would serve him well for launching a successful challenge to vulnerable council Democrat Julia Patterson or even 1st District Congressman Jay Inslee. Instead, in what may have been his riskiest freshman mistake, he chose to take on well-liked fellow Republican Councilman Steve Hammond and is now in a tough primary fight.
Dunn was appointed to the council in February to fill the vacancy created when Rob McKenna was elected Attorney General. Dunn's appointment was arranged concurrently with the redistricting to downsize the council. In what some in the party view as gerrymandering, Hammond's rural base was carved up and his new district stretched miles north into suburbia ending just 400 yards past Dunn's condo, ensuring Dunn would get a shot at Hammond. The charismatic Dunn was quickly dubbed the frontrunner over Hammond. Dunn went on to raise $207,000 (largely from outside the district) to Hammond's $33,000.
I spoke with both candidates, Dunn at a Bellevue coffeehouse and Hammond in his pickup truck on a doorbelling trip to unincorporated Renton. Except on the non-county-level issue of abortion, where Dunn is "libertarian" and Hammond "pro-life," they have similar conservative positions. The real differences are in style and experience.
Dunn is polished and speaks in terms of big policy issues, like reducing the methamphetamine epidemic and restructuring county agencies. Hammond is more passionate and peppers his conversation with details from daily life in the district, from the burden of obtaining county land-use permits to the impact of new rail-bed bicycle trails on road traffic.
Hammond is a scrappy underdog with a loyal base and shouldn't be underestimated. In this year's nonbinding GOP nominating convention, Dunn outspent Hammond by $120,000, but Hammond won the floor vote 234–209.
Dunn downplays the party insiders' convention. He believes he has broader appeal and will do better in a district-wide election where soccer moms vote. Hammond, a plainspoken pastor and father of eight, scoffs at that notion, describing himself as a "common-sense, down-home kind of a guy." "I'm a workhorse, not a show horse," he says pointedly.
Dunn has a bright future in politics, which could well lead to statewide office and/or Congress. But win or lose the September primary, his main challenge in the near term might be to mend bridges with the South King County conservatives who are perfectly happy with Councilman Hammond.
Stefan Sharkansky founded the local conservative politics blog www.soundpolitics.com.