OLYMPIA — A fierce fight is under way for the top leadership post of the Washington State Democratic Party.
Jaxon Ravens’ bid for re-election as chairman is in jeopardy as supporters of Bernie Sanders carry out a coordinated insurgency to defeat him and elect Tina Podlodowski when the party’s central committee votes next month in Olympia.
One by one, Sanders loyalists are winning seats on the powerful 176-person panel that is made up of one man and one woman from party organizations in each county and legislative district. They’ve secured committee seats in several counties, including King, Pierce and Jefferson, with the process continuing at party meetings around the state through mid-January.
Their latest display of force came with a bit of drama Saturday at a meeting of the Snohomish County Democratic Party.
Mario Brown, of Edmonds, a Sanders supporter, won the chairmanship by beating incumbent Richard Wright, of Lynnwood, in a contest that required two rounds of voting to decide.
Brown and Wright, who is the husband of Snohomish County Councilwoman Stephanie Wright, each received 71 votes on the first ballot with a third candidate, Dick McManus, getting one vote. In the run-off, Brown won by a 73-69 margin.
A short time later, Jason Call captured one of the critical state committee seats by beating Todd Nichols. Call had gone on Facebook days before the vote to declare he’d back Podlodowski if he won.
“I do believe there is a movement to make change in the statewide party,” said Brown, who had urged Call to seek the seat.
Call’s win is significant because Nichols is the definition of party stalwart and viewed as a likely backer of Ravens. Nichols had represented Snohomish County on the state committee since 1997 and served as chairman of its Rules Committee for the past dozen years.
Sanders’ supporters “want to have a chance to do it their way and they deserve a chance to do so,” Nichols said Tuesday. “There comes a time for change and this is as good a time as any.”
Call’s win will be seen by some as a bellwether of Ravens’ waning chances amid a surging voice of a progressive flank.
The beef with Ravens stems from the uneven performance of Democratic candidates in November.
The top of the ticket — Hillary Clinton, Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray — won statewide by comfortable margins. And Democratic challengers did unseat three incumbent state lawmakers, one in the Senate and two in the House.
Ravens’ critics cite the loss of a state House seat in Grays Harbor County for the first time in decades as an example of inadequate leadership. They also contend the state and county party leaders must shoulder some responsibility for Democrat Hans Dunshee losing his seat on the Snohomish County Council to a relatively unknown Republican.
Podlodowski, who lost her bid for secretary of state in November, attributed part of the reason to a lack of support from the party.
“This last election cycle in Washington state was not kind to Democrats,” she said in a statement announcing her candidacy for the party post.
On Wednesday, Ravens said only about a third of the state committee seats have been voted on, making it too soon for predictions.
“I’m in it. I’m in strong. There’s still a lot of conversations to take place,” he said. “I understand where their frustration is coming from. We’ve got work to do and it is important that we do it together. I am ready and willing to make the changes we need to make.”