EPHRATA — Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, appears to have won his re-election bid by a wide margin and will serve his third term in the Washington legislature, having beaten back Ellensburg Democrat Jesse Hegstrom Oakey Tuesday.
As of last count, Dent led Hegstrom Oakey by 50 points and won every county in the 13th Legislative District. Hegstrom Oakey had his best showing of the night in Kittitas County with over 40 percent of the vote, outperforming Democrats in years past, but he conversely did worse than other Democrats in Yakima, Lincoln and Grant counties.
Hegstrom Oakey faced an uphill battle in the predominantly Republican region. Many things were unique about Hegstrom Oakey’s candidacy as both the youngest candidate on the general ballot in the Columbia Basin in the modern era and also the first to be openly gay.
Dent largely refrained from criticizing his opponent during the race, a sign that the incumbent did not feel his seat was particularly threatened by the young upstart Hegstrom Oakey.
Hegstrom Oakey was openly critical of Dent’s voting record on gay conversion therapy, which Dent has described as a vote for parents to be able to choose what’s best for their children. Hegstrom Oakey had also criticized Dent’s priorities in the legislature, saying they had been narrowly tailored to areas like aeronautics and foster parents in which Dent had personal interest.
However, in an interview with the Columbia Basin Herald Tuesday night, Hegstrom Oakey said that Dent had been a cordial opponent, and that despite their political differences, he wanted to thank the Republican lawmaker for a professional campaign.
“We had a very cordial, very respectful, very friendly relationship, and I think that is to his credit,” Hegstrom Oakey said. “Obviously we had disagreements on policy, but overwhelmingly we ran a campaign that was centered on policy and not on personal attacks, and that’s absolutely to his credit.”
This election was the best showing for Dent in a contested race since he assumed office in 2015, and Dent said that he was honored to have his work be validated by an affirmative vote from his constituents.
“I work hard doing my job and it’s nice to know that people appreciate that and really support that,” Dent said.
Dent also celebrated the work of the volunteers that had supported him during the campaign.
“You can’t survive, you can’t be successful without them; they’re everything,” Dent said. “Politics is about people, and you have to care for those people and love those people, and they help you moving forward. This is not a job, it’s a position where you carry people’s values forward.”
Though voting tallies will be counted over the coming days and the state will not certify results until Dec. 7, Dent has garnered a large enough lead to practically guarantee his victory.