State Senate candidate Ken Smith doesn’t fit the GOP’s mold

Ken Smith (Northshore School District)

Ken Smith (Northshore School District)

OLYMPIA — As an elected board member in the Northshore School District, Ken Smith served the public and conducted his politics in relative anonymity to those outside the district’s boundaries for the past 18 months.

That’s about to change.

He quit the school board last month in order to run in this fall’s election for a state Senate seat in King County, a high-stakes contest that could reset the balance of power in the chamber.

So what do we know about Mr. Smith?

He’s an associate professor and chairman of the Central Washington University Department of Accounting;

He doesn’t live in the legislative district but intends to move there before the end of April;

He supports a state income tax;

He kneels during the playing of the National Anthem and reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance;

And he is a Republican, the first in the Grand Old Party to announce his candidacy. He joins two Democrats and an independent who’ve already declared.

This sampling from his resume doesn’t scream Republican. But Smith, 51, a husband and father of two, isn’t worried his ideas and actions “are outside the majority view” of fellow party members. Rather he’s confident there’s room for him inside the party’s Big Tent, enough that he hasn’t sought the blessing of party leaders.

“No one needs the permission of a party to run,” he said Monday.

It’s good he feels that way because it seems unlikely those atop the hierarchy of the state GOP, and the Senate Republican Caucus, will be quick to embrace his endeavor.

His position on the income tax alone seems a deal breaker for many.

Smith is a numbers guy and said a “fair and trusted” economy that serves everyone well requires a stable three-legged stool of tax policy consisting of sales, property and income taxes. He delivered testimony to that effect Monday in a public hearing on the House Democrats’ $3 billion tax bill. He didn’t voice support for the legislation but didn’t denounce it either.

Former three-term Republican Gov. Dan Evans pressed for an income tax for much the same rationale — a half-century ago. Today, nothing is opposed by the Republican Party stronger than an income tax.

And then there’s Smith’s kneeling and holding three fingers over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem.

While a similar demonstration by professional football player Colin Kaepernick ignited a spirited debate nationally, it’s garnered Smith scant attention since he started doing it at the Sept. 27 Northshore School Board meeting.

That day he issued a letter explaining it as an act of solidarity with professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe and others across the country seeking to inspire conversations on issues of racial equity and social justice.

“That was the appropriate response I felt to the events that were going on at that time,” he said of his decision to kneel. “It was a very serious quest that I made.”

Another reason cited by Smith was watching the difficulty Northshore School Board members had in discussing racism following a series of incidents in the community in early 2015, including graffiti on a Hindu temple. He said their struggles motivated him to run, and win, a board seat that fall.

As for blow-back, there’s been none so far, he said. He’s committed to kneeling through this September, which means he could take a knee at Lincoln Day dinners or other Republican Party events in the upcoming campaign.

For those who don’t know Smith, it could be a conversation starter.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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