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47 Days to Election Day: Washington Races

First and foremost, Obama will win this state by 6-7 percentage points and their 12 electoral votes.

Second, there is a Governor’s race as incumbent Democrat Christine Gregoire decided not to seek another term. The decision by 1st District Representative Jay Inslee to seek the Democratic nod sent ripple effects through Washington in a redistricting year. For the Republicans, it will be state attorney general Rob McKenna. He is probably best known as being one of the first state attorney generals to sign on to the lawsuit against Obamacare. His first term was defined as a war on meth. Mckenna is a pro-choice Republican which gives him a fighting chance in this blue state. In retrospect, this may have been a bad political choice by Inslee. Although leading in recent polls, he currently would likely lose to McKenna, although it will be a very close final vote. Still, look for McKenna to eek this one out.

There is another statewide race- for Senate. Incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell is up for reelection. She is considered a rank-and-file Democrat and has built up an impressive $10 million war chest. She will face off against state senator Michael Baumgartner. A little perspective is in order here. In 2010, Patty Murray was a weaker opponent and target for the GOP in Washington and nominee Dino Rossi ran a good campaign against her and was closing in on Murray late in the race. Another two weeks, and may just have won that race. This year is considerably different. First, this will not be a wave election year like 2010 was, so Baumgartner does not have that Republican momentum at his back. Second, Cantwell has fewer vulnerabilities than Patty Murray. Third, this is a Presidential election year with a Democratic President seeking reelection coupled with a gubernatorial election which will increase turn out which is to the advantage of Cantwell. There is nothing against Baumgartner; he is just the right man in the wrong year. Still, if he finishes close, he may be a face in the GOP in the state of Washington in the future.

The decision by Inslee to run for Governor along with the retirement of Democratic Representative Norm Dicks in the 6th District plus redistricting gives Republicans some hope here. Washington gains a seat in the House and their current delegation is, surprisingly 5-4 Democratic. In that 1st District, which became slightly more conservative in redistricting, Suzan DelBene will run for the Democrats while the Republicans will run John Koster. DelBene, a former Microsoft executive, ran against Dave Reichert in the 8th District in 2010 and lost by 5 points. Koster, a Snohomish County executive, is in his first run at statewide office. Although certainly a race to watch, this will likely remain in Democratic hands. Incidentally, DelBene has raised $2.5 million to Koster’s $500,000.

In the open 6th District race, Derek Kilmer is the Democratic candidate against Bill Driscoll for the GOP. Kilmer is a member of the state House; Driscoll a businessman. Considered less Democratic than the 1st District, it encompasses the Olympic peninsula and most of Tacoma which should be Kilmer’s base. This is another race that bears watching, but that will likely result in a Democratic Party victory. The newly formed 10th district will feature Danny Heck for the Democrats and Richard Muri for the Republicans. Heck is the former state minority leader in the House while Muri is a Pierce County official, although the base of the county is Olympia in neighboring Thurston County. Given Heck’s name recognition in the area and its Democratic leanings, this should be a Democratic seat come November.

There are eight questions on the Washington ballot- 5 fiscal and three social. One would direct the state to accept the recommendations of a state commission on changes in the use of state bond debt in order to alleviate the state’s debt. Washington is putting to its citizens what Congress would not do with Simpson-Bowles. A second question, which seems like a no-brainer to me, would allow state universities to invest research funds. The third, an advisory question that the legislature does not have to follow, would delay the expiration of the state’s pollution liability insurance fund while another advisory question would allow the legislature to remove certain tax breaks afforded large banks (by their definition) in order to raise revenue. Yes, the Occupy movement is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest. The final question of a fiscal nature would require a 2/3 majority, or a vote of the people, to raise taxes in the state. A similar law is currently being litigated in the courts, so even if adopted, the legality of this provision under their state constitution remains murky.

Like Oregon to the south, Washington is attempting to legalize small amounts of marijuana, allow its regulated sale and tax those sales. Like most of these “innovative” means to increase revenue, the devil is in the details. One also surmises that the projected revenue, like casino gambling, will level off after an initial period, if enacted. The real “revenue,” however, is in the savings from law enforcement and incarceration of low-level marijuana users. In Washington, some proponents are also pushing the racial angle. However, like Oregon, this will likely be approved although never see the light of day until federal laws regarding marijuana are reformed.

Another question would allow the state to establish 40 charter schools over the next five years. The usual suspects are present in the opposition- the teacher unions and public worker unions. However, the state educational bureaucracy has come out against it arguing that it lacks necessary safeguards that allows the state a say in curriculum development and the unchartering of schools that do not perform. Finally, there is the big question: whether to allow gay marriage in the state. The question would actually rescind SB 6329 which legalized gay marriage in the state, but exempted religious organizations from performing such marriages if they so choose. The bill passed 28-21 in the state senate and 55-43 in the state house. Neither of these were overwhelming majorities which indicates that the issue is not that clear-cut when it comes to the voters. In fact, most of the media coverage of the elections in Washington have focused on this question and not individual races. The issue gained some notoriety as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife donated $2.5 million to defeat this referendum (that is, they support gay marriage). Could this be yet another state where the voters speak to the dismay of the LGBT community? Washington is a fairly liberal state, but so was California so stay tuned here.

In conclusion: A Republican will win the gubernatorial race while Maria Cantwell will be reelected to the Senate. Barack Obama will take Washington’s 12 electoral votes. Although the GOP will not lose any seats in the House out of Washington, the two open Democratic districts should remain in their hands and they will likely take the newly created district awarded the state as a result of reapportionment.

Running totals to date: Obama leads in electoral votes 23-3 and Democrats hold a 7-1 lead in the Senate. Democrats also lead in the House of Representatives 12-6 in seats.

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