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WA: Watching for Tuesday


Tuesday will not be a big political day in Oregon; only a few scattered local races, few of much significance, will get attention, and then not much. Tuesday will be an election day of a little more import to the north and east, though, most notably in Washington.

The real importance and indicators in Washington state are likely to come from the results on two ballot issues, one launched by social conservatives and one by tax conservatives, and both treading somewhere near the lines of acceptability on their respective fronts. The results for both will be indicators, markers, for where Washington is politically now, and where it may be next year.

Referendum 71 was launched with the idea of repealing a law passed by the 2009 legislature to expand the terms of non-marriage domestic partnerships, to include almost all of the legal standards marriage has under state law. It marks a flash point in the culture wars, and what Washington’s voters do about it will say quite a bit. Not only liberal groups but also many of the state’s largest corporations (Microsoft and Starbucks, for example) have signed on to keep the law intact.

Initiative 1033 is another Tim Eyman tax measure, to (as a secretary of state blog item summarized it) “limit revenue growth for state, county and city general funds and use excess money for property tax relief.” It is not far off from the kind of TABOR measure that caused so much grief in Colorado a few years back, and was defeated at the polls in Oregon in 2006. But there’s also a good deal of push behind it.

Results released late last week from the Washington Poll at the University of Washington suggest that both ballot measures are close enough that the outcome is in some doubt. In the case of 71, voters 56%-39% seemed to favor keeping the domestic partnership law in place. Eyman’s measure pulled 41% yes-46% no – realistically, too close to call. A lot, simply, depends on who gets out. Turnout may be pretty good for an off year (it’s been estimated upward of 50%), but there’ll be some nail biting going on.

Three executive office elections ought to get some attention too, though only one will necessarily have a clear story to tell.

The Seattle mayor’s race pits too local Democrats, neither well known in town even a year ago – businessman Joe Mallahan and attorney Mike McGinn. As you might guess, Mallahan seems a little more business oriented, probably closer to the power structure of the city, while McGinn comes out of environmental activism. But both are in general moderate to liberal Democrats, as most Seattle city officials are.

Mallahan seems to have an edge, partly because of endorsements (like that of the Seattle Times) and a smoother campaign (fewer missteps, like McGinn’s on the viaduct tunnel process). The Washington Poll gives Mallahan the edge 39%-32% – but that’s still a lot of undecideds out there, and McGinn’s activist background could be of help in rallying troops.

The King County executive race is somewhat clearer cut, since County Council member Dow Constantine is a conventional Democrat while former news anchor Susan Hutchison seems closer to the Republican mainstream. But a lot has been fuzzed over in this race, and Hutchison has taken care to avoid red-meat stands on the right. The Washington Poll gives it to Constantine, 45%-32%, but other polls have given her a lead. This one is anyone’s guess, and it may be hard to know what to make of the results until a precinct analysis clears.

In some ways the most significant office race on the ballot in Washington is in an smaller jurisdiction, the city of Vancouver. There, Mayor Royce Pollard has for some years seemed to have a lock on city hall. But this year he drew a stronger than usual challenger, Council member Tim Leavitt, and more significantly he’s become the face of a super-hot issue: The proposal to impose tolls on the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. Feelings have gotten intense, especially as residents who travel regularly to Portland have started totting up the cost. (Check out the frequent signs that say, “Bridge tolls will cost you $1300/yr.”) Pollard is openly in favor of tolling to get done the needed renovation of the bridge; Leavitt, whose actual stance is fairly nuanced and not absolutely toll-resistant, has become the effective face of the anti-toll forces. As the battle over the bridge has grown, Portland interests have become deeply involved and invested in this mayoral battle – generally on Pollard’s side.

A Pollard win would be a major boost for I-5 bridge renovation (likely involving tolling). A Leavitt win would be . . . well, no one knows exactly what it would mean. Even if Leavitt isn’t necessarily inclined to blow up the bridge reconstruction efforts (and he doesn’t seem to be so inclined), his election would be a signal of the popular mood in Vancouver that elected officials would be wary of ignoring.

Who wins? A good guess would be Pollard, because he has been a popular mayor with deep residual support. If he loses, see that as a major win for the I-5 protesters, and an indication that funding the bridge is going to have to find another way.

Five ballot items to watch. All of interest, one way or another.

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