Carrie Barnes, Chair of the King County Democrats

Carrie Barnes, Chair of the King County Democrats

On this Tuesday topical show, Crystal chats with Carrie Barnes, Chair of the King County Democrats, about how the county party engages in local elections and politics. Reflecting on the importance local races have on people’s daily lives, Carrie highlights how the party focuses on - especially in low-turnout odd years like this one - voter education and engagement through their endorsements and Get Out the Vote work. The conversation then dives into what is a Democrat and who the party is for, the relationship between different local party organizations, how electeds are held accountable when they don’t live up to their campaign promises, and the importance of Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) as the backbone of the party.

About the Guest

Carrie Barnes

Carrie Barnes is the current Chair of the King County Democrats. She previously served as Communications Chair for the party. Along with communications, in that role she has been responsible for engagement with the Executive Board, PCOs, Legislative Districts, KCYD, Elected Officials, and financial supporters. Carrie’s primary focus has been to provide timely and valuable information about the work of the party to its stakeholders, while also organizing volunteer engagement, recruiting, and retention for the King County Dems.

Carrie was also previously the Chair of the 37th Legislative District Democrats, one of the most diverse LDs in Washington, serving as the 37th’s 2022 Delegate Chair for the Washington State Caucus Convention. She is a long-distance runner who spent the most recent election night handing out pizza to voters who were still waiting in line after dark. She loves to cook and host fundraisers for Democratic candidates at her home that she shares with her husband, 3 teenagers and their bulldog Lola.

Find Carrie Barnes on Twitter/X at @carriesbarnes, and the King County Democrats at @kcdems.


King County Democrats

2023 Endorsements | King County Democrats


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Well, today, I am thrilled to be welcoming Carrie Barnes, the Chair of the King County Democrats, to the show. Welcome, Carrie.

[00:01:02] Carrie Barnes: Thank you so much for having me. I'm just thrilled to be here today - thank you.

[00:01:07] Crystal Fincher: Well, thrilled to have you. We talked to your predecessor before - Shasti Conrad, who was Chair of the King County Democrats, now is Chair of the Washington State Democrats, the State Party - and you are succeeding Shasti in this role. So I guess just starting out - who are the King County Democrats and how did you get involved in this work which led you to become Chair?

[00:01:34] Carrie Barnes: That is such a perfect question. I'm going to back up and talk a little bit about myself - how I got into this work. I've always considered myself a lifelong Democrat. I was raised by my grandparents - grew up right outside of Butte, Montana, moved to Spokane. And I considered myself a really good Democrat because I wrote the check, I attended events - but then something happened after Trump got elected and I was a little confused. I didn't know, really, where I belonged in the party. I just couldn't see myself participating. It was just really disorienting. And then in 2018, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer and my world stopped. But the only thing that really kept me going - believe it or not - was just finding out about just the travesty of what the Republican Party had been doing to the systems and structures nationally.

And then when Brett Kavanaugh got put on the Supreme Court, a switch just flipped in me and I said - It is enough. I need to get involved. It's not enough to write the check, to talk to my friends about politics. And through that, I became a grassroots volunteer for a presidential campaign where I met a really great guy, Tom Schmidt, who had been - he was a Precinct Committee Officer coordinator. So he said - You should become a PCO where you live. And I said - What's a PCO? And he walked me through the importance of - what a precinct, a legislative district - how we self-govern and extrapolated that to King County. And that is where I really found my purpose. I joined the 37th Legislative District Democrats as a PCO and then a Second Vice-Chair doing events. And then we had COVID, so I then ran as First Vice-Chair of the 37th Legislative District and then Chair while I was working at the county. And the whole purpose and joy - the joy it brought me - is connecting voters and volunteers to the elected that they believe in, that will make the policy change that will improve human beings' lives - in our area, in our county, in our neighborhoods. And since then, I continue the work that Shasti Conrad and her team have really framed out for us to build upon - and that is several different factors across the county I'm happy to go into. But my story is I absolutely love what I do. And it is very fulfilling - and meeting voters, meeting candidates, meeting elected officials - there's work to be done to get the change that we want.

[00:04:16] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. One thing I think that a lot of people struggle with is they hear about national politics - they hear about the national Democratic Party - predominantly the news covers things at the federal level. And sometimes we just don't talk about politics and the party at the local level, and what is happening. So I guess just looking at the difference or the division between the national, the state, the local - what is the sphere and responsibility of the King County Democrats. How do the local parties differ from the national party?

[00:04:52] Carrie Barnes: Thank you - that is a super good question. We've got the national party, we have a state, and then we look at county and local. If you look at the lowest level, that is the local city government. And those are housed in different areas across King County - jurisdiction - they can cover two legislative districts. And a legislative district is an area where you live that will have your State Senator and your two State Reps. So at a local level, you will have your State Senator, your two Representatives. And then at a city level, you could cross two different legislative districts. So a local city government - I'm gonna use Bellevue as an example - there are two legislative districts that are encompassed in Bellevue. The local races - your city council, your planning commissioners - these are the folks that affect so much of what we see and what we want at our local level. At a state level with your State Representatives and your State Senators, that is where we get our bills in our state representation. And then you've got our state executives - so then you've got our governor, our lieutenant governor, our soon-to-be-elected attorney general, and the executives across the state. For King County, we are one of 49 [39] counties. So the state sees all the counties, the counties contain the legislative districts. And below that, you've got your city council - that can cover two - and your commissioners. It is so important that we highlight how important our local races are - they are historically low-turnout races that have enormous effect on daily lives to make those decisions. And again, we're not in a presidential year, we're in an odd year - so turnout is down. And one of the things that the County Democrats - what we look as a charter is that voter engagement - making sure that voters know there is an election. We endorse our Democratic candidates, so they know who we've endorsed. And we really focus on Get Out the Vote. It's a huge focus, and it's a really needed one.

[00:07:08] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, it's a very big focus. And I don't know that the local party has had such a focus, or the level of focus or engagement, in past years that it has had in recent years. There's been a huge effort to increase representation from people in precincts - basically neighborhoods - and getting that representation done. There's been an increasing amount of engagement in those local races. How do you approach recruiting, working with PCOs, the importance of PCOs? How do they participate in the party and what does that enable and achieve?

[00:07:51] Carrie Barnes: Thank you - it's a super good question. The engagement that we, at the county, broadly look at is how we're working with our local party organizations and how we help with data. So what that means is - within so many precincts in a legislative district, having a Precinct Committee Officer walk your neighborhood, be this Democratic - hey, here's what's going on - being that force and function of a local community organizer means reaching out to folks who live in these areas and expanding on the purpose of what we're doing. What that means is we are saying - We're a party that - here's our values - we are looking for progressive solutions. We are working to bring that awareness, that voter contact - and it is knocking on doors, believe it or not, with data in these areas that we historically haven't had a Precinct Committee Officer. We have this really great success story of one of our real super volunteers - and she's amazing - who looked at her legislative district and wanted to grow the outreach of Precinct Committee Officers representing the community. And in two weeks, knocking on doors, she had recruited 51 Precinct Committee Officers engaged in the party. And taking that model throughout the county is exactly our purpose. Sometimes people can't see themselves in local government until you tell your story - that I was nervous when I first started walking my neighborhood - I didn't know what to do, but the support system and the support of folks that I got to know made it so easy. And very like-minded - there you had someone to talk to - and we really want to take that throughout each of the different local LPOs, the local political organizations, and just have it across the county. So we're really looking to build and recruit.

[00:09:49] Crystal Fincher: Which is really important - I've had the conversation - certainly, I'm not the first one to say it, but local politics is organizing. Local politics is community engagement and connection with people. When you have conversations with folks about why it's so important to get involved at the local level, what do you tell them?

[00:10:10] Carrie Barnes: I tell them they have a voice. I tell them - when they come to get involved in the local party, they are part of how we are defining what it means to be a Democrat - that means actually solving problems, supporting solutions that really work, working on provable outcomes - what does that mean. Other cities, other states - what has been leveraged and how do we champion that with your voice for recruiting candidates, for supporting our candidates, for getting out the vote, for the solutions that are leading with data-driven results. We take a compassion in our approach. Change is hard. If you've always lived in the exact same street, in the exact same house, change is hard to realize it will look different. It needs to look different - being compassionate towards our unhoused, leading with the approach of we're gonna work to solve problems - that we all agree to. And when I talk to people about the party, that's what they want. They wanna work for these things. And it's really fun to have a volunteer join and get involved. And for me, it's really fun to see what particular passion brings them joy working in the party.

[00:11:23] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. When you talk about those issues - and here in King County, we have a bit of a different composition than a lot of areas in the country in that we are bluer than a lot of areas - not that there are no Republicans or that there's no red, there certainly is. But a larger percentage of Democrats, which creates interesting situations - especially locally - in that Democrats and Republicans aren't the only parties. Locally, we have the Democratic Socialists, we have People's Party, we have people who identify as various things on the left. As you're moving through this and looking at who defines a Democrat - what is a Democrat and who is the party for?

[00:12:06] Carrie Barnes: Really good question. We're engaging in what it really means to be a Democrat by putting our efforts and focus on solving problems, leveraging data - not short-term comfort, tough love, that by contrast we know empirically doesn't work, has never worked. We are - it's not just saying things without doing the things. And we're working in local communities to address systemic inequities around affordable housing - looking at our lack of quality affordable housing, which can exacerbate social issues - we know homelessness, poor educational attainment, and mental and health conditions. The Democrats, we - as definition, defining it - are working for solutions. And sometimes those solutions will take longer than a tough love approach, but staying in it and telling the story to voters about why it will take longer - because it is a true solution, not a quick solve - is where we are defining who we are. It's a nuance when you have a Democrat-on-Democrat race, but our values of equity - our values that we agree there is a social agreement we have when we have this experience of local government is to provide services, education, safety, and opportunity. And getting to those core principles that every constituent and every resident has a voice and needs to be heard and seen is one of the - how we are defining what it means to be a Democrat.

[00:13:40] Crystal Fincher: And in those races where there are, certainly, Democrats running against each other - when there are people who seem to be aligned on values, but aren't officially Democrats, how do you approach that? And are they welcome? Are they endorsed? How does that work?

[00:13:58] Carrie Barnes: That is a individual and nuanced question with and I'm - with the county, our endorsements, we endorse one candidate per race. And at the county level - King County has 17 different legislative districts - and those are 17 legislative districts that we ask, for our endorsement, to send two representatives and two backup. So our endorsement is a true compilation of what our county looks like. And they get together, and this committee just does the yeoman's work - how it ties back to a Democrat, are they, are they not - is we do have bylaws and rules that say you have to attest to be a Democrat. It's tricky because there are folks, and it's their right to do so, who attest to be a Democrat but maybe have in the past maxed out their contributions to very controversial Republicans. On the other end, we have a candidate who represents our values, who has done the work, who is - what I mean by done the work, they have doorknocked for Democratic candidates, they are involved in their local legislative district, they have worked for equity, they have seen marginalized communities - bringing them to the table - but they're not a stated Democrat. What do we do? We look at each individual candidate and say - Does the city benefit if we endorse this person? Whose lives will get better if we hold to our values and endorse this candidate? It's super important to take it as a case-by-case, not a blanket statement - the county's not a monolith, saying you're attesting to being a Democrat is not a monolith. So we take a really hard look and we will, at times in certain situations, really back what the city needs based on our Democratic values.

[00:15:54] Crystal Fincher: That's a really good point. And you mentioned that there are - you said, 17 legislative district organizations within King County. I think one thing that may not be that well understood is that the Democratic Party is not really a top-down organization. It is not like a headquarters with multiple branches. Even on the local level, sometimes people think - Oh, well, the legislative districts answer to and they do whatever the King County Democrats say and they do whatever the state party and the national party says - but these are all independent organizations. Can you detail how that works?

[00:16:32] Carrie Barnes: Yes, of course. So King County encompasses 17 different legislative districts - local party organizations. And each of these legislative districts have an executive board - their hyperlocal organization. Within your hyperlocal organization - and I'm just gonna show off on the 37th legislative district, which was my, I'm still in the 37th, but the organization I used to chair - are the PCOs. So all of those Precinct Community Officers I mentioned in the beginning are housed within a legislative district, and that is who - as a PCO - those are the officers. And from a local party structure, these PCOs - and I highly recommend to become a PCO and if you have any questions, please reach out because I would really love to have Democratic PCOs - who are field organizers per se. They walk their neighborhood, they talk about what the Democrats are doing - they're the ones who vote for leadership. So it is from the bottom up. You can become a member or a PCO, but the PCOs vote for leadership in your local party organization. And leadership then - they set the agenda. They put on the barbecues, the festivals, the Get Out the Vote. At the county, we work with all 17. And our - what we do is we support from an educational standpoint. So I look at - our charter's to educate, to advocate, and to activate at a broad scale. So we're sister organizations, but we also have this ability that - because we're an all-volunteer organization, volunteers come and go - to be that older sister, stable sister per se, that has historical knowledge. If a chair in a local party organization needs to take a new job and move to Olympia, what do I do? We will connect you with another chair for mentoring - because we all, working together, is what really moves the dial on policy, on initiatives, and on candidates when needed. So it's a relationship, it's a sister relationship - 17 local organizations - the county encompasses all of them, and we all work together.

[00:18:39] Crystal Fincher: Now that is a really good point. You do work together, you have done a lot of the training function. Another thing PCOs get to do is quite significant - and that is play a major role in the appointment of new legislators. I don't know what the number is now, but usually it's around a third of the legislators in our State Legislature originally get their positions via appointment. And if a vacancy opens up - someone has to move out of state, someone moves to a new position, new role, someone decides to retire or step down - then the legislative districts play a major role. And PCOs, in particular, play a major role in the appointment of someone new. How does that work?

[00:19:26] Carrie Barnes: It's a real fabulous scenario we could be looking at in 2024. So if there is a vacancy for a state - either a State Representative or a State Senator - the PCOs in that legislative district vote. Only the PCOs who have been elected or appointed then vote for the replacement of the either senator or representative. So only the PCOs vote in that legislative district, which is in our constitution, and then they take the top three candidates. And an example I can pull up is when Pramila Jayapal won her US Congressional race - in the 37th, then her Senate seat was, she had vacated her Senate seat - and the PCOs in the 37th voted for three people that then get sent to the King County Council and for final appointment. It is a monumental way to have your voice and your vote heard - in a really local level - by having that vote, having that privilege to then vote for the appointment, replacement of the elected official. And Rebecca Saldaña, our amazing Senator from the 37th, is just the right person in the right moment for that appointment - and the PCOs were the ones who vote. And just to highlight how many PCOs are in a legislative district, it varies from 29 all the way up to 111 - I think we've got one LD that has quite a bit more, so I'm going off old news, but just as an example - it's a very honorable, worthy vote that you get to have as PCO.

[00:21:04] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And so now these people get into office - whether it's the appointment, or being elected, or they're running for office - how does the party support its endorsed candidates who are running for office?

[00:21:19] Carrie Barnes: That's our job. So our endorsed candidates - we just finished our endorsement process - and what we're doing is to, at its core, empower candidates with data to help them better target their voters, which is harder in nonpartisan races. An example is the county, myself - we've got a committee chair, his name is Alexander Erickson, who works at the county, engaging with that local party organization, and we say - We're working with the campaign, the local party, and the county. What do you need? Where can we support you? - again, to empower candidates with data to engage our voters in the most important races, to ensure that we elect a slate of Democratic leading candidates up and down the ballot. We reach out to all our endorsed candidates, and we will be doing door knocking canvasses, Get Out the Vote. With our candidates that have the primary - they're our focus - and we will be out door knocking for our endorsed candidates, we'll be bringing in our coalition partners to help us. And then after - the general - it will be a weekend of action. It is having a weekend - the four weekends leading up into the general for our endorsed candidates - these are the folks that need our support, and we are out there at a very data-driven level to really point them in the right direction, point us in the right direction to really move that dial - without overlapping with the campaign or the LD, so we're bringing them all in together. This is the first time we've really taken this approach at such a local level, and I just look forward to the success and to continue it in '25 and '27.

[00:22:53] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And so you're supporting this candidate - they get elected. Does the party also get involved in issue advocacy and trying to advance local policy and ordinances? Does the party hold people who it's endorsed and other elected officials accountable to what they promised when they were running? How does that work?

[00:23:16] Carrie Barnes: It's a really exciting question. The answer is yes. The elected official - just making up a story, just for example - we want to give them political will to continue the promises that they ran on to get elected. And we hold incumbents to a higher standard, especially because they have committed and are in office - we expect acumen, we expect solving for solutions. And as it happens - maybe an elected isn't living up to that promise that we endorsed on - what will typically happen is either a letter from a local party gets supported by the county and conversations happen. It is important to live your truth of why you ran - representing Democratic values. Does that change? Possibly. But our job is to say - How do we support the voters that voted you in office? - whether it is through advocacy, through letter, or through initiative. It is really important that we all come together and we are all on the same page - and at the county, we work with that local legislative district, and we can take it countywide - really, how do we use and leverage our voice as County Democrats to push or pull on those levers to get that needed change from an elected official?

[00:24:36] Crystal Fincher: How, generally, is the reception from elected officials to that? Is that something that people generally work through? Does it result in the severing of a relationship, a revocation of an endorsement? How has that process worked?

[00:24:50] Carrie Barnes: So, I'd have to look in the past if there's been a rescinding of an endorsement. Rescinding of endorsements has happened - there's maybe - social media didn't get checked enough and it's a quick pull. How it is met - it depends on the elected official. I think that some are more resistant than others. Some are absolutely gobsmacked that they didn't realize that the voters and the constituents weren't feeling seen or heard, and it's a conversation - that they're not bringing up through their own storytelling what their individual process or plan is. And voters who don't hear - we make up stories in our heads without that information - they're not representing us, they're not talking. So, I would not say it's always with welcome arms, but that's okay - getting the truth about where the vision of why you were elected - and are you living that, are you communicating with your constituents is really important for an elected official. And also for the voters because, at the end of the day, what voters, what PCOs, what committee members want is to solve the issues we all agree are important.

[00:26:03] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, when it comes to those issues, making progress - people are like - Well, does the local party really make a difference? What does the party do? When people ask you - What difference can the local party make? What policy have you engaged with and advocated for and gotten passed? - what do you tell people?

[00:26:26] Carrie Barnes: I say it makes a difference because it's a collective. It is a collective of Democrats. It is having a voice. An example is a resolution. If there's a resolution that you need scale at - from a community group, and I'm just using an example, who - they want a service or an opportunity that they are not getting from their city council member. The local party - we are a collection that - they bring a resolution, we will sign on to it. Their voice is not the 17 people who need that help. Their voice is now the membership of the 37th legislative district - it includes 117 PCOs, the membership of 350 members - who are signing on - on behalf of this community group, where it is a scale. We are saying - We support you, and we will further this. You have the ability, by working in a local party, to get engaged personally with your elected official who comes to meetings - who you can ask your question. You could say - My property tax is too high. Can we have our King County Assessor John Wilson address our membership so we understand those changes better? And then to go out into our coalition partners and either share the recording. But it's a way - the local party and getting engaged is a way to not only get yourself involved into what questions, what issues, what passions you have, how do we advocate for those that need it - and as a collective voice, how do we further that change? So a local community group that's looking for services in the 37th - the 37th signs on to a resolution - they can bring it to the county, they can bring it to the other LDs - where now you have the King County Democrats, you have multiple local political organizations and LDs signing on, which then becomes over several thousand folks backing your ask for a specific service or a specific action to support what you need.

[00:28:27] Crystal Fincher: When considering what's on the table now in terms of candidates, in terms of policy - what are the top priorities for the King County Democrats to address?

[00:28:39] Carrie Barnes: So I'll start with candidates, and then I'll go to initiatives. Right now, in our local election, we have some amazing candidates who have been doing amazing work - very progressive work that is around housing, around parks, around public safety, around even pandemic response. And I'll just talk about Bothell. We've got a really great group of previously endorsed Democratic candidates in Bothell, who now have pretty well-funded competitors because - as with just human nature, when things are going well and progressing, there's also a group of opposition who's - I just want to keep things the same. I just want to keep my city the same way it has been since whenever. And the priority for the county is to support those candidates that are making the best change for the most human beings in their city. Crisis solutions, really working with the - I said public safety - but really working with creating a community core, providing body-worn cameras for police. These are really - I mean, they're common-sense solutions, but they're also viewed in some opposition as too much, too fast. And so our priority are making sure that these incumbents are re-elected. They can continue to do their good work. And we've got really great candidates in Kirkland, as well. We have candidates in Burien. These are where, as Democrats - who we have endorsed and are doing solutions based on data, but have some strong opposition that is organized - that we support them so that each of their priorities are fulfilled.

[00:30:18] Crystal Fincher: When it comes to continuing to build the party, working with local party organizations - what are the things that are most important or at the top of your list that will help with that?

[00:30:32] Carrie Barnes: Building the party is absolutely getting people connected. With COVID, it felt very like we were - and we still are, to a certain extent - a little disengaged. And it is telling the story of Democrats - of how your voice can make a change. When we talk about recruitment, that is bringing in our community groups and our neighbors. I look at party building as outreach. With any volunteer organization, you have some that have never left - they're amazing, there are stalwarts. And there are some people who don't know that they have a legislative district of Democrats. They can really have this amazing conversation all about politics, all about local politics, so that they're not annoying their husband like mine. I can have these conversations - my husband's like, Ugh, too much - but I love that community. It is letting people know there is community space with local Democrats who share those values and visions. How does the county do that? We've got to support our local, progressive candidates we've endorsed, asking for volunteers to join us - but to meet like-minded Democrats to create these opportunities and spaces. And coming up into a presidential year, it's really, again, telling our story - that if you are a mom with two kids and Zoom is perfect for you, come to our meetings, but also come to our social. We would love to have your engagement reaching out to our community groups and labor. It's really a lot of outreach and a lot of in-person conversations. And it will look different after COVID. We will have next year - for the Democratic Party in King County, we will have an all-county convention. So anyone who's thought about - What do these guys do? - this will be a month-long introduction into building the party.

[00:32:24] Crystal Fincher: Sounds good. And as we part, if people are interested in getting involved, how can they do that?

[00:32:33] Carrie Barnes: I would love for anyone who wants to get involved to send an email to We have volunteer coordinator who will have a conversation with you and give you all the happenings, where everyone is meeting in the county. You can pick and choose. And let's have a conversation about where your passion for public service is and make sure that we're aligning you with that community.

[00:32:58] Crystal Fincher: All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Carrie Barnes - appreciate your time today.

[00:33:03] Carrie Barnes: Thank you so much - I appreciate you.

[00:33:06] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.