Reagan Dunn wins fifth term on King County Council

Dunn has defeated challenger Kim-Khanh Van, a Renton city council member and fellow attorney.

Southeast King County voters have, for the fifth time, chosen Reagan Dunn to represent them as the District 9 seat on the county council.

That’s based on the updated Friday ballot counts in this year’s general election, which saw Dunn hold on to the wide margin he established election night against challenger Kim-Khanh Van.

Dunn had 63.6 percent to Van’s 36.1 percent of the vote in the initial election night ballot drop Tuesday. By Friday, about 95 percent of the ballots had been counted, according to King County Elections, and Dunn had taken 34,19 votes to Van’s 20,505.

Van’s margin had slightly improved since Tuesday but not nearly enough to build a pathway to victory.

Reached by phone the day after the election, Dunn said he was thankful the campaigns stayed relatively congenial.

“I want to throw out a shoutout to Kim-Khanh for running a good campaign,” he said. “She kept it clean, and we were able to discuss the issues, sometimes passionately, and have a good robust discussion. … Voters had an opportunity to get a say over a couple of qualified people.”

He said he’d keep his promises to voters to improve the homelessness, drug abuse, and housing crises in the region, along with improving infrastructure and job training.

In an email sent Friday, Van conceded the race and thanked her volunteers, campaign members and the community for their support.

“We always knew that taking on a 16-year incumbent with a war chest of partisan, special interest funds was never going to be easy, but I am so proud of the campaign we ran,” she said.

She said that her team work will continue working to stop the Cedar River Asphalt Plant, denounce racist hate and violence, and to augment public safety, environmental health, workforce programs and services for veterans and seniors.

“To my opponent, Councilmember Dunn, your success in governance these next four years is our collective success,” Van said. “I will do whatever I can to support you, but I will also hold you accountable to our District 9 Community.”

The 9th district is a cross-section of urban, suburban and rural voters, spanning from Enumclaw in the southwest all the way to the southern tip of Bellevue. While council seats are non-partisan, Dunn is a Republican, and Van is a Democrat.

Dunn’s consistent drumbeat messaging on police funding (increase it) and safe drug injection sites (“absolutely opposed” to them) might have contributed to his success with District 9 voters, who generally lean conservative compared to the rest of King County.

“I just think that I was talking about issues that the voters care about, and I think my opponent was not focused on issues that moved voters in District 9,” Dunn said.

Van voted to hire police as a Renton city council member, but said some communities also need alternatives to just adding more cops. She said it should be up to individual communities to decide on the presence of injection sites.

“Over the last year we built a broad coalition of working families, veterans, small business owners, community leaders, labor groups, and advocacy organizations committed to the future of our district,” she said.

Dunn has been open about his struggles with alcoholism, an addiction he channeled into productive efforts like this year’s King County Conference on Addiction Disorders.

So on election night — associated in politics with brewery parties, celebratory drinks and late-night kibitzing with the press and political power players — how does a sober candidate celebrate the evening?

For Dunn, that answer was visiting other candidates like Seattle City Attorney-elect Ann Davison and fellow King County council member Pete von Reichbauer at their election events, and having dinner in Bellevue with his own political team, who he thanked “for putting up with (his) idiosyncrasies.”

“Back in the days when I was drinking, it was a lot less stressful, because in the evenings at the end of these long campaign days you get to throw a few back,” Dunn said. “(Without drinking), it’s very raw, so you just learn to deal with it, you learn to use your well developed coping skills and move on.”

But “there’s a lot of fun and joy with the job as well,” he added. “It brings out the competitive spirit.”

Dunn took first out of four candidates with 55.9 percent of the vote in the August primary. Van took 21.8 percent at that time.

The other two challengers then were Chris Franco, a program manager at the King County Office of Equity and Social Justice, and Ubax Gardheere, the Equitable Development Division Director in the City of Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development.

Both, running on policy platforms to the political left of Dunn and Van, were eliminated from the race in the primary.

A former refugee, immigration attorney and small business owner, Van ran on ensuring equitable recovery from COVID-19, investing in financial literacy and job training programs, expanding healthcare access and knuckling down on youth gun violence and hate crimes. Several local city council members and state congress members, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Attorney General Bob Ferguson and a number of labor groups were among those who endorsed her.

Van critiqued Dunn’s handling of the proposed Cedar River Asphalt Plant, his votes against hazard pay for essential workers and against declaring racism a public health crisis, and his disapproval of the current King County vaccine mandate, which Van supports.

Late in the race, Van also took Dunn to task over a photo prop he used during a Courier-Herald candidate forum.

During a Courier-Herald candidate forum, Van denied supporting the ‘defund the police’ movement, to which Dunn responded: “Yeah, you have supported defunding the police. I mean I have a picture of you marching to defund the police, with a sign to defund the police.” The event was a 2020 vigil and rally, and the person holding that sign wasn’t Van, she pointed out.

Dunn is a former federal prosecutor who campaigned on boosting funding for law enforcement and providing a counterweight against “failed policies in Seattle” making their way into the rest of King County. Dunn says he’ll fight to limit regulations on home construction in order to keep housing affordable.

Dunn picked up a vast swath of local endorsements, including the entire Enumclaw City Council and numerous members of other local city councils. The mayors of Enumclaw, Black Diamond, Maple Valley, Covington, Renton, Kent, Bellevue and Newcastle also gave him their support, as did the Seattle Times’ editorial board.

This year’s general election results are right around the average for Dunn’s previous showings.

In 2005, he was elected with 62 percent of the vote against Shirley A. Gaunt-Smith.

In 2009, he sailed to re-election with 77 percent of the vote against challenger Beverly Harison Tonda.

In 2013, a tighter race still broke for Dunn, who took 58 percent of the vote against Shari Song.

And in 2017, Dunn took 66 percent of the vote against Denice Carnahan.