(The Center Square) – With Democratic Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, unseating Republican Sen. Simon Sefzik, R-Ferndale, in a close race earlier this month, the 42nd Legislative District in the northern part of Washington state has gone from purple to blue.
Two Democrats and a Republican currently represent the district.
The 22-year-old Sefzik was appointed to his current position by the Whatcom County Council after Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, died of COVID-19 in December 2021. Ericksen was first elected to the Senate in 2010. The district’s state representatives in the House are Alicia Rule, D-Blaine, and Shewmake.
Democrats kept control of both House seats in close races. Rule fended off a challenge from Republican Tawsha Thompson, a former Bellingham police officer. Joe Timmons, D-Bellingham, defeated Dan Johnson, R-Laurel, in the race for the seat Shewmake left open with her successful run for the Senate.
The sweep means all of the lawmakers representing the 42nd Legislative District during next year’s session in Olympia will be Democrats.
Not that Sefzik didn’t put up a fight to retain his seat in a contest that ended up being the closest of all the races in the 42nd Legislative District. According to Monday afternoon preliminary results from the Secretary of State’s Office, Shewmake got 50.49% (37,884) of the vote to Sefzik’s 49.41% (37,080).
Sefzik attributed the election results to redistricting and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this year that sent the controversial issue of abortion back to the states, a reflection of demographic changes in the state and the country.
“I think, if you look at the precinct data, the redistricting did not help Republicans,” Sefzik surmised in an email to The Center Square. “Some of the precincts where Shewmake did the best and where I did the worst were recently added to the 42nd District. With such a close margin, those precincts alone likely put Shewmake over the edge.”
The further south one goes in the district, the more blue it becomes. For example, Iowa Street in Bellingham on the east side of Interstate 5 was added to the 42nd Legislative District, which may have aided in Shewmake’s win.
Washington state’s voting districts are redrawn every 10 years based on regional population changes tracked by the census.
“Additionally, as we have seen across the country, I believe the Dobbs decision motivated Democratic turnout at higher levels than many pollsters and analysts suspected – especially amongst young people,” Sefzik pointed out, referencing the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe.
Sefzik added, “It was a very close race and illuminates the changing demographics we are seeing in the 42nd District.”
The Senate race in the 42nd Legislative District drew attention not only for finally going blue – Democrats had picked up a House seat in 2018 and then another in 2020 – but because of the money spent.
More than $1.8 million in outside spending was pumped into the race, on top of about $1.4 million spent by the candidates.
Both Sefzik and Shewmake mentioned money in accusing the other of going negative in terms of campaign advertisements.
“With combined independent expenditures, Democrats outspent Republicans in this race, using those funds for some particularly misleading ads,” Sefzik said.
Shewmake had a different take.
“The Sefzik campaign went very negative and by the end; the claims about me were simply unbelievable,” she emailed The Center Square. “That only gets you so far. Despite raising $100K more than our campaign, they could not buy this seat without a positive message that addresses the real concerns of voters.”
The two clashed on a number of issues during the campaign, perhaps most notably on crime. In a pair of memorable editorials in the Cascadia Daily News, Sefzik and Shewmake sparred over how best to address the issue.
Sefzik took a more conventional law-and-order approach to the issue, while Shewmake said drug treatment and economic opportunity should be part of any plan tackling crime.
With his term in office coming to an end, Sefzik is taking some time to reflect before meditating on his future.
“As I've said before, I am just incredibly honored to have had this opportunity,” he said. “I was never the most likely candidate for this position, and while I'm disappointed in the results of this election, I still believe in this wonderful county and state. I may end up going to law school or getting a higher degree. I have some options. Right now, I'm trying to enjoy the journey, which means the beautiful parts and the parts that I don't understand. I definitely want to find ways to stay engaged in this wonderful community.”
The upcoming 105-day legislative session runs from Jan. 9, 2023 through April 24, 2023.
Lawrence Wilson contributed to this story.