Election 09: Progressive, anti-Eyman voters are not only in King County

Tim Eyman.

Tim Eyman, the Democrats' bête noire: You can only get away with blaming him for so long. Credit: KCTS-TV

Voting patterns on statewide initiatives and referendums tell us something about the strength of Washington’s progressives and conservatives, and the results of 2009 balloting are quite similar to elections of 2007 and 2008. The closer a voter is to Puget Sound, the greater the chances for support for the progressive campaign, and it’s not only King County.

In the last three years, three Tim Eyman initiatives and three other major proposals have been on the ballot. The consensus progressive stance was generally to oppose the Eyman initiatives and to support domestic-partner rights (R-71), physician-assisted suicide (I-1000, 2008) and an education-funding measure (HJR 4204, 2007). The progressive view prevailed on five of the six measures, yielding only on Eyman’s tax limitation (I-960) in 2007.

King County is always the 800-pound gorilla, as voters in Eastern Washington are prone to lament, but there is increasing solidarity around the Sound as well. In this election only Pierce and Mason of the 12 counties touching the Sound voted against domestic-partners’ rights and for Eyman’s Measure 1033. The others all joined King County’s voting pattern over the last three years.

This Puget Sound voting bloc (if such exists) has hardened since 2007, when only government-employee-rich Thurston and wealthy retiree counties San Juan and Jefferson voted solidly with King on both the education measure and Eyman’s I-960. This “gang of four” was solid in 2002 against Eyman’s car-tabs measure, joined by Kitsap, and solid against the 2005 effort to repeal the gas-tax increase, joined by all the Puget Sound counties except Mason and Clallum.

Statewide balloting isn’t tallied by counties, of course, and those red-and-blue maps are very deceiving, with huge red swaths covering a relative handful of people. But the regional pattern of Washington voting points increasingly to the importance of voters in a few swing areas, notably Clark County in Southwest Washington, Skagit and Whatcom in the Northwest corner, and Spokane and Whitman on the far eastern side.

Skagit and Whatcom are moving increasingly to the left, and on some votes Spokane and Whitman join them — but not on social issues, such as domestic-partner or assisted-suicide. Clark is a true wild card but inclined to support Eyman and adopt a conservative view on social issues. The county is in many ways the reverse-mirror of Oregon’s Multnomah County across the Columbia.

Ballot measures carry no party labels, so in many ways they are a better picture of the state’s social climate than partisan races. The regional patterns, particularly on domestic-partners and assisted-suicide measures, reinforce the progressive-Puget Sound and conservative-Eastern Washington image of the state, with the conservatives also likely to pick up support in the southeastern corner.

Based on the trend lines of the past three statewide elections, the progressive core abutting Puget Sound is hardening and growing outside King County. Six of the state’s ten fastest-growing counties touch Puget Sound, of which only military-base-rich Pierce remains outside the progressive tent.

Must be something in the water.

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