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Eastside politics: 50 shades of blue?

Once a strong Republican enclave, the Eastside is undergoing a shift from Red to Blue. But it's also incubating a new, centrist shade featuring pragmatic and aggressive political centrism that opens opportunity for Democrats, the GOP and independents.
Precinct map of the Greater Seattle area.

Precinct map of the Greater Seattle area. Dick Morrill

The Eastside

The Eastside Google Maps

Sitting before me is a precinct map of Greater Seattle. Our sprawling metropolis is a jigsaw of irregular black lines that define the micro-climates of our politics. This is the political landscape when viewed not by state, county or municipal boundaries, but by coffee klatch and community caucus.

The map details how precincts voted in the governor's race of 2008 Christine Gregoire, Democrat vs. Dino Rossi, Republican, Round II. Gregoire won, taking 65 percent of the King County vote to Rossi's 36 percent. The colors of the map show the percentage of the vote: precincts that went solidly for Gregoire are blue and green, precincts that she lost are bright red, pink or yellow. It's a rainbow code of voting patterns.

No surprise, but Seattle's eastern shore is mostly dark blue like Puget Sound on a summer day. Blue means Gregoire won by 60 percent or more, dark blue by over 70 percent. When you get across Lake Washington to the Eastside, the precincts are decidedly mixed, the blue shifting to green like the jade color of a glacier-fed lake. Gregoire won Mercer Island, Kirkland, Bellevue and Redmond with between 50 and 60 percent of the vote. There are definitely some enclaves that didn't show enthusiasm for Gregoire, mostly wealthy communities near water like Hunt's Point, Medina, Yarrow Point, Clyde Hill — The Points communities, as they're called.

But the Eastside is not uniform. It subdivides into two distinct parts. East of Lake Sammamish, it looks like the Eastside as it used to be; the Eastside your parents knew. This is Dino Rossi's home turf, and it's distinctly suburban and exurban. It's colored mostly pink and yellow, indicating that the incumbent governor received less than 50 percent of the vote. Jim Vesely of Mercer Island, a longtime Eastside observer and retired editor of the Seattle Times editorial page, confirms what the map seems to show: the "western shore of Lake Sammamish is the eastern edge of the Democratic party."

The Eastside has always been a kind of false construct, more complex than how it is viewed from Seattle, with farmlands, high-tech campuses, booming cities, classic sprawl and a web of communities with different goals and traditions. It ranges from Bothell and Kenmore at the north end of Lake Washington to Renton at the south end; from the shores of the wealthy Bellevue Gold Coast to the "home of contented cows" in Carnation. It has long been Seattle's "other" more than a unified entity; a region defined as "east" of Seattle rather than delineated by any cohesive element or landmark of its own.

The old view from Seattle was that, politically speaking, the Eastside was reliably Red, a Republican enclave that preferred roads, cars and single-family sprawl. Its mainstay was the Boeing engineer and his nuclear family, and a politics defined by the pragmatic conservatism exemplified by stolid, real-life engineers like former senate majority leader Dan McDonald of Bellevue and former senate transportation chair Jim Horn of Mercer Island.

But over two decades, there's been a shift, with some ebb and flow. In 1992 Bill Clinton won the Eastside — the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since the Lyndon Johnson landslide over Barry Goldwater in 1964. It was a signal that the area was changing. Microsoft was growing, a coffee chain named Starbucks was opening cafes in malls, the old Crossroads Shopping Center in Bellevue was being remade as a multi-cultural community gathering place and Democrats began getting elected from time to time to represent Eastside districts in Olympia.

Some Republicans also point to a watershed moment in the last decade: the two-term presidency of George W. Bush and the Iraq war. Bush's Texas-style swagger turned off many Eastside voters, says Mariana Parks, a public affairs consultant, former Slade Gorton staffer and ex-Microsofter. Plus, opposition to the Iraq war seemed to galvanize suburbanites against Bush, says conservative commentator, activist and former Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carlson.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Oct 25, 6:23 a.m. Inappropriate

The different shade of blue is more of a purple. Most of the the folks in the area are socially liberal and fiscally responsible. Most of Seattle is socially insane and fiscally ignorant, it's a product of too much density.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Oct 25, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

As a Seattlite I LOL'd at your description. I can vouch for the fact that there are also a lot of posers on the Eastside who are not as fiscally responsible as you might think.

s_calvert

Posted Thu, Oct 25, 7:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice article. When I was a student at UW in 1980 I looked at the eastside as a vacuous conservative wasteland where I couldn't imagine ever wanting to live. Then 30 years later when I returned to the northwest, suddenly Bellevue seems like it was tailor-made for me. I love that young, can-do, non-dogmatic attitude that you described.

Yes, we can run our own lives just fine if we have the right tools. Appreciating that nuance, that some kinds of spending are good and others not so good, and that we can live and let live, is something that seems obvious to eastsiders. We can't understand why that is not so obvious to most of the rest of the country.

Posted Thu, Oct 25, 9:42 a.m. Inappropriate

One of the points in this piece is misleading:

“. . . Bellevue Square's Kemper Freeman, Jr., [ ] unsuccessfully sued to keep rail off of I-90.”

That suggests he was trying to win that lawsuit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kemper Freeman and his partners in Kemper Development Company have huge financial incentives to assist in getting Sound Transit’s East Link train line built out. If it starts operating they would become vastly richer. It would be GREAT for his development business. The proposed light rail station at the Bellevue Transit Center would have an entrance on 110th Ave. NE near NE 6th Street. That is just a couple of blocks from the Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square properties KDC owns. The Lincoln Square office, condo and hotel properties could be developed and would be much more valuable with a light rail station within blocks. If thousands of extra people a day were to be delivered by train to the doorstep of those properties those planned and existing KDC holdings could sell or rent for much more. Moreover, if East Link gets built out KDC also could hike the rents of the tenants in the Bellevue Square properties.

There is no good reason for Freeman to truly oppose the East Link plan, and plenty of financial motives for him to act in sneaky ways by faking opposition to it in an effort to get it built out. Sure enough, that’s what he does. Here’s an essay describing how he’s been part of fake-opposition PR and legal campaigns for years that are designed to obtain good press and unjustified case law for Sound Transit:

http://kemperfreeman.webs.com/

What Freeman actually has done -- signing the lame Statement Against for the 2008 voters guide, arguing weakly in opposition to ST2 at the roadshow stops with Nickels during the run-up to that election, directing some money to get I-1125 on the ballot, ignoring the legitimate legal claims that could derail Sound Transit and East Link in particular, and prosecuting the bogus lawsuits -- does not come close to any kind of legitimate opposition.

If you click on that “kemperfreeman” URL and then search for the term “second bogus lawsuit” you’ll see a description of the several legitimate legal claims that someone interested in preventing WSDOT’s handover of the highway infrastructure at issue would raise. Needless to say, none of the claims Freeman raises in his lawsuits reference the key facts or controlling law underlying those legitimate claims. He just raises bogus, straw-man claims.

The state supreme court is expected to decide soon whether to accept direct review of Freeman’s appeal of the dismissal of his second bogus writ action, the one he brought in Kittitas County. Anyone want to discuss the “merits” of the claims Freeman raised in that action? They are a complete joke; they were designed to lose -- big time.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Oct 25, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Remember also that the Eastside's "redness" was not a bunch of dairy farmers griping because salmon protection rules had suddenly dumped in their lap and made their farming impossible (which they did because it was).

The red explosion on the Eastside was from the megachurch Christian nuts who bought all those "family" homes on cul-de-sacs and weren't content to keep homosexuals and Mexicans out of their yards, but wanted them out of their universe.

The bluing of the Eastside corresponds to it become less of simply a bedroom community and of the decline of the megachurch nutcase's political and social prominence.

I count the minutes before there's an explosion of articles about the "urban singles life" in Bellevue and Redmond.

Goforride

Posted Thu, Oct 25, 3:31 p.m. Inappropriate

You do realize that Bellevue is more diverse than Seattle when it comes to ethinic minorities...right Goforride?

Cameron

Posted Thu, Oct 25, 10:03 p.m. Inappropriate

I wonder what percentage of that Bellevue diversity is actually US citizens. It certainly is true that the cultural diversity within a 2 mile radius of Crossroads matches anything within the Seattle city limits, but those H1-B's and refugees don't vote.

It's noteworthy that the census doesn't ask if one is a citizen, just a resident.

Goforride

Posted Fri, Oct 26, 6:55 a.m. Inappropriate

It really doesn't matter since they still count for apportionment for Representatives in Congress. Since the Federal Department of Homeland Security will not share it's immigration databases with Washington State to help verify eligibility to vote.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Oct 26, 6:56 a.m. Inappropriate

I very much enjoyed being a source for this article and I think Knute did an excellent job of writing about a very interesting subject and trend here on the Eastside. Of course, like most sources, I do have a quibble with the piece that I'd like to quickly address and add to the record. My quote re: Hunter, Tom and Clibburn is completely accurate, but we also talked at length about centrist R state Senators Litzow, Fain and Hill. Adding my comments about those three and how centrist candidates are the rule over here vs. ideological lefties/conservatives would have made Knute's overall points stronger and more accurate. Great piece -- let's just always remember that the Eastside already has plenty of strong centrist R voices in office, which is great for the region and the state. Thank you, Crosscut, for diving into this subject.

Best,
TW

cfw82267

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