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912 and Gregoire

From the day it was pitched, Initiative 912 – the one seeking to roll back the road funding package passed earlier this year by the Washington Legislature and brokered by Governor Christine Gregoire – was billed as a referendum on Gregoire and unified Democratic control of the legislative and executive branches.

Given the closeness of the last election, and the deep anger among Republicans and many independents over the way it was resolved, there was some feeling that the initiative would be a slam dunk on that basis alone – not to mention the sterling track record of anti-tax intiatives statewide in Washington.

The counting in last week’s election is nearly over now, and I-912 wound up failing 54.5% to 45.5% – a decisive nine percent. Now that the counting is nearly done, what conclusions can we draw from this intiative?

Certainly – by the standards of many of the initiative’s proponents – you’d have to conclude that Gregoire’s stock is rising among Washington voters. Her predecessor, Gary Locke, won election twice with much better numbers yet failed again and again to hold back initiatives he opposed. Gregoire, whose legitimacy as governor was questioned by significant chunks of the population, did in her first time out what he had been unable to. And the connection of the 912 vote to Gregiore is absolutely legitimate: She campaigned against it from beginning to end, tying her fate to it as much as her critics did. She would have had a hard time doing anything close to that if she hadn’t started well down the road of winning over Washington voters.

I-912 election map

Looking at the maps and county vote breakdowns (see our spreadsheet) we can get a little more specific.

First, the rough tie between the vote for Gregoire and against 912 is fairly obvious when you look at the counties most pulled each way. The same four counties topped the list in their voters for Gregoire and against 912 (San Juan, King, Jefferson and Thurston). And, loosely, the counties least enamored of Gregoire also tended to vote best for 912.

But that’s only a tendency, and the variations may be significant.

Last year, for example, Snoh0mish County, which has a small Democratic tilt, voted substantially for Republican Dino Rossi for governor – it was one of Gregoire’s surprise losses. In the 912 voting, however, Snohomish voted even more strongly against the initiative – something of a return to form. Gregoire took some personal heat last year for letting Snohomish slip away; evidently she has begun the process of winning it back.

Also highly interesting are the collection of marginal or Republican counties whose votes on 912 varied from their votes for governor last year. Walla Walla in the southeast jumps out among these: It voted 35.2% for Gregoire last year, but 52.1% against 912 – a remarkable change of heart. (We will be exploring what’s happening in Walla Walla.) To a lesser degree Island County is of interest, too: 44.8% for Gregoire, 52.5% against 912. And there are others.

There is a flip side, too: Counties that, at least in relative terms, like 912 better than they did Gregoire. Whatcom County, which Gregoire won last year (one of only eight she won), narrowly went for 912 this time – due to the especially strong tax antipathy there, or some other reason? The counties liking 912 significantly more than they liked Gregoire – throw Cowlitz, Pacific, Grays Harbor and Sakmania, all in the rural southwest, onto that list – may share a rural unease with taxes and government, even if they hang in with their Democratic heritage. Democratic and Republican strategists both should be taking a close look at those counties.

For the moment, though, 912 suggests Gregoire is well ensconced, and a long way from the easy target some Republicans once had envisioned.

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