Republicans sweep Washington’s 16th Legislative District

Sean Gannon, News Editor

Three Republicans — Perry Dozier, Mark Klicker and Skyler Rude — will represent Washington’s 16th Legislative District in the state Legislature in Olympia. 

The district covers all of Walla Walla County and Columbia County, and portions of Benton and Franklin, including Pasco City. 

Perry Dozier, 61, graduated with a degree in economics from Whitman and has worked on his local irrigated and dryland farms since his Commissioner term ended in 2016. Photo contributed by Perry Dozier.

The district’s high-profile senate race featured two Whitman alumni: Republican Perry Dozier, a wheat farmer and former Walla Walla Commissioner, and Democrat Danielle Garbe Reser, a former CEO of the philanthropic Sherwood Trust and diplomat under the Bush and Obama administrations. 

It was the district’s most expensive race on record, by far. Garbe Reser raised a whopping $460,000 overall, with more than half from individual donors, including Whitman President Kathy Murray. By comparison, Dozier raised $140,000 overall, but enjoyed the backing of the Washington Realtors Association, which poured $40,000 into negative media ads against his challenger. (If you live in Walla Walla, you may have received the mailers.)

But despite Garbe Reser’s resume and prolific fundraising, the former diplomat couldn’t overcome the district’s conservative bent; it’s been more than 20 years since a Democrat won this seat, and Garbe Reser didn’t prove to be the unicorn that the state Party was hoping for in order to build an impenetrable senate majority. 

Danielle Garbe Reser, 45, was stationed as a U.S. diplomat in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Beirut,  Lebanon over her 13 years with the state department. She graduated with a degree in Politics from Whitman in 1997. Photo contributed by Danielle Garbe Reser.

As of Friday night, Dozier leads with 59 percent of the 52,000 votes overall (31,000 to 21,000). 

Throughout the election, Dozier emphasized his experience reconciling and managing a budget amid the 2008 financial crisis as County Commissioner. 

“I’m the only candidate that has experience balancing a budget in a recessionary period without raising taxes,” he said at the Oct. 6 candidate forum

Campaigning as a moderate Democrat, Garbe Reser tried to turn her party affiliation into an edge in the reliably red district; she frequently said that there isn’t a single Democrat from rural Eastern Washington in the Senate Majority Room where the decisions are made.

“I really think that we need to make sure that the needs that are different in our communities here in Eastern Washington have a clear, loud voice in Olympia,” she said at the forum. 

Dozier will take over from retiring Sen. Maureen Walsh, a three-term Republican from College Place. 

Mark Klicker, 57, is the owner of the consulting agency “Urban, Farm and Forest Group.” Photo contributed by Mark Klicker.

For State Representative Position 1, businessman and Republican Mark Klicker beat Democrat Frances Chvatal, a health care professional and registered nurse, by a 64-36 margin (33,000 to 19,00), as of Friday evening. Both are political newcomers and Walla Walla natives.

Chvatal ran on universal healthcare and said her skills as a nurse — such as executing a plan and consensus building on a team — would position her to be an effective legislator in Olympia.

Klicker, who owned the Klicker Cherries company and whose family owns Klicker Strawberries, campaigned on promoting the area’s agriculture industry and protecting property and water rights. 

Klicker is the most conservative of the three Republicans who will represent this district: he said in an iVoterGuide questionnaire that he is against same-sex marriage, believes abortion should not be legal under any circumstances, and supports a border wall with Mexico. 

Frances Chvatal, 59, was born in Walla Walla and was raised on a farm in Touchet and graduated from Washington State Univeristy. Photo contributed by Frances Chvatal.

In the end, Klicker raised $65,000 total, compared to Chvatal’s $41,000.

For State Representative Position 2, Republican first-term incumbent Skyler Rude beat Carly Coburn, a progressive Democratic activist from Pasco, by a 68–32 margin (36,000 to 17,000).

Coburn built her first campaign for elected office on healthcare and housing affordability, and tenant, disability and LGBTQ rights.

Rude, a social moderate and fiscal conservative from Walla Walla, has made bipartisanship central to his political profile, and garnered an unusual number of labor union endorsements for a pro-business Republican. 

Carly Coburn, 32, was born in Bremerton and moved around Washington before landing in Pasco. Photo contributed by Carly Coburn.

This race is also, by all accounts, the first in Eastern Washington to showcase two openly LGBTQ candidates: Coburn is bisexual and Rude is the only openly gay Republican in the Washington statehouse. 

Rude said during the August primary that people erroneously assume it’s difficult to be a gay Republican. He stressed that he has not experienced any discrimination due to his sexuality, which he said poses no contradiction to his Republican beliefs. 

Rude hauled in $85,000, including $500 from the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). Coburn raised $16,000 overall.

Election results won’t be official until certified by each county on Nov. 24, and ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 will continue to be counted in the following days. 

Skyler Rude, 34, graduated from Walla Walla Community College and worked as a legislative aide to retiring Sen. Maureen Walsh. Photo contributed by Skyler Rude.

As of Friday night, 23,6000 votes have been counted in Walla Walla County. With another 8,000 ballots on hand, turnout among registered voters is expected to hit  85 percent — 5 points higher than 2008, 2012 and 2016 levels.

46 percent of Walla Walla County voters went with Joe Biden, while 52 percent broke with President Donald Trump.

Washington state as a whole has similar turnout projections: nearly 4 million ballots have been counted so far with 137,000 ballots remaining, and an estimated turnout topping 83 percent. As usual, Washington has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country.