MILL CREEK — In one of the few patches of the Evergreen state where voters might swing blue or red, a choice looms for a seat in the state House of Representatives.
State Rep. Mark Harmsworth, a Republican, is running for a third term in the 44th Legislative District. His opponent for hearts and minds in suburban Snohomish County is Democrat Jared Mead, who has served almost a year on the Mill Creek City Council, where Harmsworth also served before reaching state office.
Election day is Nov. 6.
On the campaign trail, they’ve tangled over transportation, mass transit and education in their growing, increasingly crowded district — and how to pay for it all.
Harmsworth’s 2018 campaign has focused on the area’s roadways. “Primarily, because that’s the issue I hear the most about on the doorstep,” he said during a recent interview.
The incumbent has put his absolute opposition to highway tolls front and center. Harmsworth has focused on I-405 tolling in the past, but has now turned his attention to U.S. 2. He has distributed #notrestletoll bumper stickers and has accused Mead of being pro-toll.
In fact, there’s no current plan to toll trestle lanes between Everett and Lake Stevens — the idea was one of many in a state study about paying to overhaul the critical stretch of highway. The study from earlier this year mentioned peak-hour tolls of $5 or higher, alongside others, as a possible way to fund a project that could cost more than $1 billion.
Mead said his opponent is distorting his position: The Democrat said he’s never endorsed tolls, and has only suggested weighing the idea against other funding sources such as a higher gas tax or a public-private partnership.
“People in Lake Stevens are so worried about this trestle toll that Mark essentially made up,” an exasperated Mead said.
Of Washington’s 49 House districts, only four are split with one Democrat and one Republican. Among them is the 44th, represented by Harmsworth and Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek. The district covers Lake Stevens, Mill Creek and Snohomish, plus parts of Everett and Marysville.
Democrats now hold a majority of 50 to 48 state House seats. The party sees Mead as a chance to increase its advantage. Of his $168,000 in campaign cash, $65,000 has come from the House Democratic Campaign Committee. He’s received another $7,000 from local party organizations and more than $57,000 in outside advertising by the New Direction Political Action Committee, which works to elect Democrats. New Direction spent more than $7,000 on anti-Harmsworth advertising.
Harmsworth hasn’t enjoyed as much support from GOP headquarters. House Republicans have chipped in $10,000 of his campaign’s more than $95,000.
Mead, 27, ran unopposed last year for his Mill Creek council seat. From 2017 until early this year, he worked as an aide for state Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby. He previously worked in banking.
He grew up in Mill Creek and portrays himself as an independent-minded Democrat willing to resist the progressive pull of Seattle.
“Neither party’s priorities fit with Snohomish County,” Mead said. “… Our district is so purple and our voters will clearly vote for someone who has the best interests of the the district at heart.”
To help pay for local schools, including his overflowing alma mater of Jackson High School and its 17 portable classrooms, Mead is open to changing some of the rules that took hold this year to resolve the McCleary court case over education funding. As part of the fix, the Legislature put a cap on levies imposed by local districts, starting in 2019. That’s intended to lessen the impact of the higher property taxes that homeowners in the district are paying the state for basic education.
Under the education funding formula, districts can collect no more than $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value or $2,500 per student, whichever is less. Mead would entertain allowing districts to collect whichever of those two amounts is higher, to help property-poor districts raise money.
Harmsworth would prefer to let the McCleary changes play out a little longer, without interference. But he said he would like to put more state resources toward special education.
Harmsworth, 49, grew up in England, and works as an information technology manager. For much of the past two decades, he worked at Microsoft. He more recently became a senior partner in a consulting firm.
As a lawmaker, Harmsworth said he has been willing to support constituents over party. He was among the small minority of House members this year who opposed a bill to limit which documents state lawmakers must release under the Public Records Act, a move that Gov. Jay Inslee struck down with a veto. Harmsworth has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to help protect the privacy of biometric data.
Mead nevertheless criticizes his opponent for taking “radically party-line” votes, including the Republican’s vote against a law that restricted conversion therapy, a practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation, on people under the age of 18.
Both candidates favor changes to Sound Transit. They support switching oversight to an independently elected governing board, instead of appointing elected officials from the agency’s three-county service area. Harmsworth has pushed to lower car-tab fees that spiked after voters’ approval of the ST3 ballot measure. Harmsworth said he would like to see the agency brought under the authority of the state Department of Transportation.
Mead worries Harmsworth’s approach would torpedo transit infrastructure that voters want.
“We need to figure out how to give relief to people, but not completely blow up the Sound Transit plan,” Mead said.
The primary went well for Mead, who earned more than 53 percent of the vote. Turnout, however, was less than 39 percent.
What’s at stake?
A two-year term representing the 44th Legislative District in the state House of Representatives, Position 2. The district is home to more than 150,000 people in Lake Stevens, Mill Creek and Snohomish, plus parts of Everett and Marysville.
The job pay $48,731 annually.
Democrats hold a majority with 50 of 98 state House seats.
Meet the candidates
Residence: Mill Creek
Experience: State representative, first elected 2014; Mill Creek City Council, 2007 through 2014; business consultant; past experience as an information technology manager, including at Microsoft.
Residence: Mill Creek
Experience: Mill Creek City Council, first elected in 2017; Mill Creek planning commission 2014 through 2017; former legislative aide to state Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby; past small-business banker.