Former state House Rep., KC Councilor Vance challenges Fortunato for Senate

Vance will run as an independent with conservative bona fides in a district that leans politically right.

Former state representative and King County Councilmember Chris Vance announced Tuesday that he’ll challenge incumbent Sen. Phil Fortunato for the 31st State Legislative District seat, running as an independent.

Too many politicians on both sides “waste time with extreme policies and partisan political games,” Vance, 59, said in a press release, adding that Fortunato “is one of the worst examples.”

In his campaign announcement, Vance cast himself as a moderate independent focused on rewiring the state’s “unstable and unfair” school funding program to provide more resources for education in areas like Enumclaw, Bonney Lake, Auburn and the White River School District area, the latter of which his own daughter owns a home within.

“Underfunding” of police, prosecutors, jails and court systems amid crime problems and “major gaps” in the state’s transportation system were two other priorities he cited in his campaign announcement.

Given a choice in November between “a right wing extremist or a Democrat with no chance (of winning), I think voters deserve another option,” Vance said in an phone interview.

“Instead of being a serious lawmaker who wants to go to Olympia and work with both sides … (Fortunato is) a performance artist,” Vance said. “He records a goofy music video about the pandemic. He gets thrown off the senate floor because he won’t comply with the rules. He produces legislation with no chance of passing.”

Fortunato, in an interview, retorted that Vance’s political positions are misplaced in District 31 and that he might have more success “running in downtown Seattle.”

“He’s more of a Republican antagonist than an independent voice,” Fortunato said.

Fortunato added that he’s worked on real solutions for schools and transportation for years, and that he’s more interested in proposing ambitious solutions to the state’s needs rather than the sort of “menial” or minor language-fixing bills that more easily pass the legislature.

“It is important you put legislation out there that you can say, this is my proposed solution to this problem,” Fortunato said. “(If) you want to get serious legislation passed on homelessness, transportation and education, we gotta get the Democrats out, and getting Chris Vance in is not a solution to the problem.”

Vance was previously elected in 1990 and 1992 to the state House of Representatives and to the King County Council in 1993 and 1997. After being elected in 2001, 2003 and 2005 as chairman of the state Republicans, Vance has spent the last 16 years out of elected office.

In that time, he’s worked as a public affairs consultant and advisor to Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, and is currently the communications director for the King County Assessor.

In 2017, Vance publicly left the Republican party, finding himself “completely out of step” with Republican leadership.

“I, like, most prominent republicans in Washington State, said I could not support Donald Trump,” Vance said. “At the same time, I’m not a Democrat. … When I was in the legislature, I was a moderate, pro-education, pro-transportation Republican, opposed to growing the size of government, but in favor of funding schools, roads, and cops.”

The 31st District, which encompasses a large chunk of Southeast King County including Enumclaw, Buckley, Bonney Lake, Auburn and Sumner, “is not a district the Democrats can win in,” Vance said, but one in which an independent can be “very competitive.”

Fortunato won a special election for the seat in 2017 after then-senator Pam Roach vacated the position to serve on the Pierce County Council. In that election, Fortunato won 57-43 against Democrat Michelle Rylands. Voters again broke for Fortunato, 60-40, in 2018 when he was challenged by Democrat Immaculate Ferreria.

On COVID-19 and the state’s response to it, Vance said he stands by the measures taken to slow the pandemic but feels the governor’s process has been flawed.

“As a citizen, I had no objection to the things that were done to fight the pandemic,” Vance said. “The death rate in Washington State is dramatically better than (most other states), and that’s because we were stricter than some of states down south. But the system was wrong. … Bottom line, we need to change the emergency power statute to make it clear the legislature has the authority to end an emergency.”

On police reform: “The bills (the legislature) passed in 2021 went way too far,” Vance said. “Even the Democrats admitted that, which is why you saw them passing bills this year rolling a lot of them back. … I have no tolerance for bad cops, but you can’t suddenly change (these procedures) when these police officers have gone to the criminal justice academy and been told what the laws are, and suddenly politicians in Olympia change that. This is one where Senator Fortunato and I probably agree.”

Vance graduated Sumner High School and said he has lived in the area his entire life. He currently lives in Sumner with his wife Annmarie; they have two children.