Washington Democrats veto governor’s state party chair pick

February 4, 2014

State Democrats rejected Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s choice for party chairman (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Washington State Democrats picked a longtime party insider to serve as their new chairman on Saturday, issuing a rare public rebuke of their own governor, who backed a rival candidate.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D) last week offered his public support to Dana Laurent, a former political director at Planned Parenthood. But members of the state Democratic Central Committee chose Jaxon Ravens, the party’s veteran executive director.

Observers said Ravens’s position atop the state party for so many years gave him the advantage over Laurent, seen as a Seattle-focused insider. Ravens had long-term relationships with members of the central committee which paid off when balloting began.

“The governor backed a strong, energetic candidate for the job, but it was hardly meant as a rejection of Ravens, who was a respected front-runner all along,” said Christian Sinderman, a Seattle-based consultant.

Several operatives said Inslee weighed in too late when he backed Laurent just days before the convention. Ravens spent his campaign traveling the state soliciting support from committee members, while Laurent collected endorsements from labor unions and interest groups that make up the Democratic coalition.

Most downplayed the political impact on Inslee, whose first year as governor has been a rollercoaster ride. Inslee shepherded a massive tax break for Boeing and quietly pushed union organizers to back a new contract that ultimately led to the aerospace giant’s decision to locate a new production line for the 777X widebody aircraft in Washington, instead of in another state, a major win. But Inslee’s support for the contract, which passed by only a narrow margin, rubbed some union officials the wrong way; many skipped a Christmas party at the governor’s mansion in a very public snub.

Inslee has also had to deal with a recalcitrant state Senate, controlled by Republicans and two centrist Democrats under a power-sharing agreement. Though Democrats control the state House by wide margins, several of Inslee’s top priorities have died in the Senate. Last week, though, the state Senate unexpectedly passed a version of the DREAM Act, a big Inslee priority, handing the governor another win.

Ravens takes over one of the stronger state party operations in the country. Democrats control six of the state’s 10 Congressional seats, and all but one of the state constitutional offices. The lone Republican bastion is the Secretary of State’s office; Republicans have held that post continuously since Lud Kramer won it in 1964.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.
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