"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

WA: A decade gone by

One in a series of posts about changes, or lack thereof, over the last decade around Northwest politics.

Washington looked a good deal different a decade ago – it looked like a closely-split state, a place whether either party could about as easily catch a break. It 2000, for example, it had a true cliffhanger of a U.S. Senate race. In the upcoming Senate race for 2010, Republicans have had a tough time getting a top-drawer candidate at all.

Here is where Washington was a decade ago in partisan office-holding:

Office Democrats Republicans
U.S. Senate Murray Gorton
U.S. House 5 4
Governor Locke 0
Statewide ofcs 7 1
St Senate 27 22
St House 49 49

And here is where Washington is today:

Office Democrats Republicans
U.S. Senate Murray, Cantwell 0
U.S. House 6 3
Governor Gregoire 0
Statewide ofcs 6 2
St Senate 31 18
St House 61 37

It shows up most strongly in the legislative numbers, where the parties went from something very close to parity a decade ago (exact parity in the House) to serious Democratic dominance.

The parallel to Oregon is overall fairly close. As in Oregon, not a lot changed in the central urban areas (Democratic) or the rural regions (Republican). The shift was in the suburbs, and it was profound. Eastern King County was still clearly Republican a decade ago; now by most measures it is clearly Democratic (the persistence of Republican Representative Dave Reichert notwithstanding). The patterns are similar, and the moves and development notably in parallel. (That applies to a considerable extent in the Spokane area, on a smaller scale, as well as Seattle.)

What will the next decade bring?

There’s no particular reason to think the political shifts are over, though some reason to think the Democrats, with their big legislative majorities, have come somewhere close to maxing out. A good part of what makes the difference could have to do with what face the Republican Party puts on itself in the next few years.

Something to watch: The congressional race in the 3rd district, for the seat held for more than a decade by Democrat Brian Baird. It has been held decisively by Baird, but the overall voting patterns are a close split. Either party could realistically win the seat; and what’s more neither party’s nomination is locked. What chances do Republicans have for a comeback? (After all, with the right approach, Attorney General Rob McKenna is a fair bet for governor in 2012.) Watch this 3rd district race; it could provide a number of clues for what will come next.

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