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Psychoanalyzing Washington: What we now know about ourselves

We know a good deal more about politics and the public's will in Washington state and the West today than earlier this month. Six takeaways from the election.
The Palouse Hills northeast of Walla Walla in Whitman County: Voting patterns in the county show some real variability.

The Palouse Hills northeast of Walla Walla in Whitman County: Voting patterns in the county show some real variability. Lynn Suckow/Wikimedia Commons

1. We want Democrats (to act like Republicans):

If Washington state voters sent a clear message in 2012, it was that we want Democrats to run the state, while applying GOP fiscal principles. President Barack Obama won the state handily, the most electable GOP gubernatorial candidate in a generation was defeated, Democrats hold all but one statewide executive office and they are the dominating force in the state House and, at least mathematically, the state Senate. Questions about how much control they have in the Senate go to the larger point: the balance of power is in the hands of Democrats who often vote like Republicans. Washington should be blue on paper, but....

The clearest statement about where Washingtonians stand was the vote on Tim Eyman's perennially popular idea to make tax increases subject to a two-thirds-vote rule. I-1185 passed in every single county in Washington, all 39 of them. There was no Cascade or Red/Blue divide. Urban counties passed it, so did rural ones. The only question was, how much did it pass by? The worst it did was in liberal San Juan County where it eked a slim majority of 50.24 percent. It carried Democratic King County with 54 percent. Majorities were bigger in Eastern Washington where the worst it did was in Whitman County, which passed Eyman's initiative with a healthy 61.8 percent.

So, Washington said, Gay marriage, let's do it. Legal pot, fantastic. People with progressive values in charge, you got it. But don't let them raise taxes without jumping the high bar. It's the politics of broad minds and fiscal constraint.

2. What are they smoking in the Palouse?

It's always interesting to see how the state looks a bit scrambled on ballot measures.  For example, I-1185 found Washington to be all red on tax increases. Charter Schools (I-1240) did well in much of Pugetopolis (though not King County), Central Washington (Chelan, Yakima, Benton, Kittitas counties) and Southwest Washington (Lewis, Clark, Pacific counties), but it lost in many traditionally Republican Eastern Washington counties. Enthusiasm and skepticism for charters does not follow strict partisan lines. Neither did pot legalization (I-502), which won in some usually Republican leaning counties like Clallam on the Olympic Peninsula, and notably in some of Eastern Washington's northern tier counties (Chelan, Okanogan, Ferry), plus in Spokane and Whitman. Whitman is becoming one of the more interesting Eastern Washington counties to watch, showing flashes of both liberalism and conservatism. This cycle, Whitman County was pro-pot, anti-charters, pro-gay marriage, and voted for Mitt Romney. What are they smoking in the Palouse?

3. Libertarians matter, at least a little:

Nationally, it was a good show for the Libertarian Party. The standard bearer, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, was a credible, experienced presidential candidate who drew more than 1.2 million votes nationally, and that's without being on the ballot in every state (the party now has full ballot access in 30 states and the District of Columbia). According to the party, there were in fact seven Libertarian candidates who received over 1 million votes. Five of those were in Texas and one in Georgia. More importantly, the party posed a serious problem for Republicans in a number of races. In at least nine contests nationally, the Daily Kos estimates, Libertarians appear to have helped Democrats defeat Republicans by receiving a percentage of the vote that exceeded the winning Democrat's margin of victory. The working assumption is that most of those votes would have gone Republican without a Libertarian on the ballot. (The Washington state Libertarian Party's endorsements offer ideological evidence, as they heavily favored Republicans.)

The nine races tipped by Libertarians were consequential ones, including a Senate and governor's race in Montana, two House seats in Arizona, and one in Utah. According to The Washington Post's "The Fix," in Senate contests in Indiana and Montana, the Libertarian Party candidate drew around 6 percent, which they said are "the party’s best showings in three-way Senate races in at least the last decade." The Fix's conclusion: "The question ... is whether the Libertarian Party continues to be an occasional nuisance, or whether it continues to build on its nascent progress and becomes a real headache for the Republican Party. Given the GOP’s ongoing problems with its brand, it’s not hard to see voters continuing to desert that brand and pick an increasingly valid third-party." In other words, GOP woes offer a potential opening for Libertarians, especially if they find candidates who can mainstream their ideology.

4. Lack of party loyalty in the West:

Speaking of third parties, they continue to do best, on the whole, in the West. Based on returns thus far, third-party presidential candidates drew 1.69 percent of the national vote. But in 11 states, third party candidates drew double that national average or better:
New Mexico 4.17
Wyoming 3.54
Oregon 3.52
Maine 3.17
North Dakota 2.99
Montana 2.93
Idaho 2.85
California 2.61
Arkansas 2.55
Washington 2.54

Note that five of those 11 states are in the Great Nearby — the Pacific Northwest region already well-known for its high percentage of "nones," that is people who belong to no organized religion or church. Same seems to be true in politics. Voters in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana are much more likely than the national average to throw their support to alternative candidates. In Washington, this included Libertarian Gary Johnson, the Green Party's Jill Stein, and the conservative Constitution Party's Virgil Goode.

Another tidbit: Even in Washington's most conservative counties, like Columbia, Garfield, and Lincoln, a socialist presidential candidate received at least one vote, and in some cases more. At the micro-level, even the state's reliably red counties are, well, a little bit red — in the old, Cold War War meaning of that term.

5. Maintaining a tradition, breaking a barrier:

In Washington, much has been made about the fact that Jay Inslee's victory over McKenna means that the state GOP will have to defer its dreams of returning to the Governor's Mansion for another four years. The last Republican governor in Washington was John Spellman, elected in 1980. But they can console themselves with keeping an even longer lock on another statewide office: Secretary of State, which has been held by a Republican since Ludlow Kramer was elected in 1964 (the chain is Kramer, Bruce Chapman, Ralph Munro, Sam Reed). But there was also progress: Kim Wyman will be the first woman to hold the office. She also becomes the first Secretary of State since the '64 election who did not serve in some capacity during the Dan Evans administration!

Why has the Secretary of State's office become a Republican stronghold? One reason is because for some time, its occupants have put the job above partisanship. Lud Kramer gained fame for being one of the first state Republican elected officials to openly criticize President Richard Nixon during Watergate; Munro was well-known for behind-the-scenes bipartisanship, and Reed gained respect, from Democrats anyway, for his handling of the disputed Rossi-Gregoire contest of 2004. Another might be that the office is one where traditional, though not exclusively Republican, principles prevail. In addition to overseeing elections, the SOS is in charge of stewarding Washington's memory by managing the vital state archives and, because of Reed's desire to save an important institution from the axe, the state library. The job is conserving, and instinctual, traditional conservatives ought to be pretty good at that.

6. So much for newspaper endorsements:
Newspaper endorsements seemed to have little impact in the governor's race, where the state's major newspapers were nearly unanimous (save for The Olympian) in endorsing McKenna over Inslee. While McKenna won the endorsement war, he lost the race. And that was even with the extra-special Seattle Times ad campaign on his behalf that was designed to prove how effective the Times is as a political ad medium. Oops. McKenna, of course, did not even win the Times' home county, King, hardly unexpected.

Many of the McKenna-endorsing newspapers were in counties that traditionally vote Republican, so they likely reflected the majority opinion of their readers. But how did gubernatorial newspaper endorsements do in counties that might have swung? Well, the Everett Herald also endorsed McKenna but Inslee won Snohomish County anyway. The Aberdeen Daily World backed McKenna, but Gray's Harbor county went with Inslee. The Kitsap Sun in Inslee's home county endorsed McKenna, and Inslee was just barely edged there — the endorsement might have made a difference. The Tacoma News-Tribune endorsed McKenna who won narrowly in Pierce County, so their editorial might have made a difference as well.

Still, the overall weight in sheer pounds tipped the media scales heavily against Inslee making him seem the underdog even in a state that routinely elects Democrats, and even while he was leading in the polls. The main takeaway is that if editorial boards decided elections, the outcomes would be very different than reality. As a former member of a newspaper editorial board, I can say with some small authority that reality is often a salmon that must swim hard upstream during edit board deliberations.
 

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 7:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Sounds like Washingtonians have the voting habits of herd animals. The Inslee Administration will be a vivid example of talking reform, progress and change and providing no results, just so they don't spook the herd.

Cameron

Posted Sat, Dec 1, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Washington Democrats certainly need to get more businesslike, but, heaven forbid, not like the Republicans. The loss of Brian Sonntag in this regard is a timely tragedy and Inslee's appointment of Microsoft Counsel Brad Smith a bad corporatist omen.

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

"And that was even with the extra-special Seattle Times ad campaign on his behalf that was designed to prove how effective the Times is as a political ad medium. Oops."

I think the times needs some aloe vera, 'cause they just got burned.

Jon Sayer

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

The only people who are going to get "Burned" are the legal citizen taxpayers of State of Washington.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

A closer analysis of Whitman County show that, like King County, there are two different electorates. You have the more liberal Pullman, along with the satellite communities such as Albion and Palouse, which voted overwhelmingly for gay marriage and pot, and then you have the rest of the county that voted against these measures.

DavidA

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

DavidA: Yes, exactly, which is why it's fascinating and results aren't always predictable, like the Apple Cup.

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

This election would make a great Rorschach Test. So why are you showing me all those dirty pictures? My favorite imponderable is that the marijuana initiative outpolled gay marriage. Any thoughts on the electoral cohort of pot heads who are also homophobes?

woofer

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 9:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Ever been to Jamaica? Anyone who thinks smoking dope makes someone "socially liberal," to coin a phrase, isn't very bright. Which, come to think of it ...

NotFan

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Woofer: What I've heard is that the pro-pot, anti-gay vote is from farmers in areas that are likely to profit from hemp agriculture.

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Unlike in the 60's, when hippies smoked dope and loggers didnt, smoking pot is completely evenly spread across social, geographical, and economic boundaries these days. Plenty of loggers, fishermen, wheat farmers, and beer drinking pickup driving rednecks also smoke pot.
Most people, even racists and homophobes, just dont think its that big of a deal anymore.

Ries

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Pot users are forever trying to claim that marijuana use is mainstream, but the facts run against them. The frequency of pot smoking is by far the highest between the ages of 19 and 22. Once people graduate from college, or are past college age, pot smoking drops off a cliff. Past the age of 35, only 1 in 30 people use pot, compared to 20 in 30 who use alcohol.

Alcohol use: http://tinyurl.com/9mptaqg

Marijuana (and other drug) use: http://tinyurl.com/bd83dyc

NotFan

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Good piece. BTW, on last item, Wyman is not the first woman SecState. That would be Belle Reeves, a Democrat who served from 1938 until her death in 1948. (Her ghost is said to haunt the Capitol!) Wyman will be the first Republican woman SecState and the only woman Republican statewide on the West Coast, including, of course, WA.

Ammons

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 10:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh, thanks for the correction; I missed her, both corporeally and in her spirit state!

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 11:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Berger's post-election analysis, otherwise apparently informative, misses the mark badly apropos Pierce County. His error, it seems, is to assume Tacoma/Pierce County is the demographic little brother of Seattle/King County.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While Tacoma is undoubtedly progressive -- in terms of per capita union membership far more so than Seattle -- the surrounding Pierce County suburbs are reactionary even by Eastern Washington standards.

Marriage equality lost in those precincts by as much as 70 percent. Gubernatorial Loser Rob McKenna and Presidential Losers Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan won equally big amongst these same voters. See http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/11/16/2369942/pierce-county-election-results.html

The Proposition One vote, on a minuscule tax increase that would have saved Pierce Transit from a now-inevitable total shutdown, is especially revealing.

Prop One passed 55-45 in Tacoma -- not that it mattered.

In the overwhelmingly white, fanatically rabid-Right suburbs -- where mass transit is venomously denounced as welfare -- the vote against the measure nullified Tacoman support and killed Prop One by less than 1000 votes. For a detailed report, see http://lorenbliss.typepad.com/loren-bliss-outside-agitators-notebook/2012/11/how-republican-hatemongering-wrecked-an-urban-transit-system-.html

The outcome, effective after February 2013, inflicts a 53-percent service cutback that will abolish weekend bus service, slash most weekday bus service to one bus per hour and end all weekday service at 7 p.m. Shuttles for elderly and disabled people will also be discontinued.

Because Pierce Transit has already downsized its operations by 43 percent since 2008, the additional reduction will impose a ruinous decrease in fare-box revenues and federal funding. Such a loss will almost certainly kill the entire system -- exactly what the anti-transit-user suburbanites want -- and it may also prompt Sound Transit to withdraw its Tacoma and Pierce County operations.

As many transit advocates noted, the rejection of Prop One was unmistakably "a hate vote." Without bus and shuttle service, the growing number of people who can't afford private vehicles will have no way to get to jobs, medical appointments, shopping and other life-sustaining necessities. The consequences will be especially wrenching to elderly and disabled people -- deadly to many.

Its brazenly contemptuous, often blatantly racist message to transit-users and lower-income people in general -- move elsewhere or die -- is a deliberately malicious act of gentrification.

Though Tacoma has a Public Transportation Benefit District that could operate its own bus system by leasing rolling stock and personnel from Pierce Transit as Bellingham does from Whatcom Transit, its present-day function is limited to street and sidewalk repairs. And city officials say there is little likelihood its scope of operations will ever be expanded.

Why? The obvious answer is Tacoma politicians lack the courage to fight the required battles. It is a classic example of how today's Democrats -- even those who are avowedly “progressive” -- are hardly different from the Republicans in their hostility toward lower-income people.

In this political environment, and contrary to what Mr. Berger concluded, endorsements by The News Tribune were in fact irrelevant. Yes, TNT endorsed McKenna, who lost in Tacoma but carried suburban Pierce County by Eastern Washington margins. But the paper also endorsed Prop One, which brought jeers and tirades against "that socialist rag" from the anti-transit-user victors.

Moreover, when we view the Pierce County anti-transit-user vote in the context of the values expressed by overwhelming statewide approval of I-1185, the election's deceptive “blue” tint is revealed as meaningless. The ugly truth of I-1185 is it outlaws tax reform forever; the equally ugly truth about the Washington state electorate is it is scarcely different from its Mississippi counterpart in its hatefulness toward the needy.

The Pierce County anti-transit-user vote -- and the associated cowardice of the Tacoma politicians -- is thus a microcosm of so-called "fiscally conservative" statewide political reality.

But fiscal conservatism -- a deliberately deceptive euphemism for Ayn Rand savagery -- is the very doctrine that legitimizes the Hard Right's vicious practice of falsely blaming lower-income people for the economic ruin inflicted by the obscenely wealthy One Percent.

And it's fiscal conservatism that continues to grant new respectability to white racial and socioeconomic bigotry -- so much so it has already doomed the once-adequate transit system in Tacoma and Pierce County.

The parallel to the last days of the Weimar Republic – the final years before the intensifying hatred aimed at another minority became a matter of German law – should terrify anyone familiar with history.

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 9:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Poor lauren. Pierce County voted not to fund the buses so they're a bunch of Nazis. As for I-1185, if you don't like it, you can always move back to California where you came from. Did it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, a whole lot of people have decided that the constant whining from the "progressives" has become annoying as hell?

Nah, it hasn't occurred to you. It's so much easier to tell yourselves that we're all Nazis. Oh, and racists. Hey lauren, maybe you could go crawling to your fellow "progressives" for some transit funding and see what they say when you try to tell them that it's more important to fund Pierce County's buses than it is to keep subsidizing the Cascade train, whose riders have an average household income of $75,000.

When they tell you that you are the Nazi, don't come running to us, okay? Bottom line: The Democratic "progressives" of Puget Sound are fakers from the get-go, including yourself.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 12:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Your counter rant is far worse than the rant. The least you can do is spell his name right; it's right in front of you.

louploup

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 2:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Sorry, looploop. In any case, the racist Nazis won in Pierce County so I guess lauren needs to move back to California. By the way, maybe next time the people who want the system funded should confine themselves to presrving existing service rather than expanding it. But I guess that would've made too much common sense.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 3, 4:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm guessing, NotFan, you failed geography throughout your school years.

Brooklyn is not in California. It's one of the five boroughs of New York City, all of which are nearly 3,000 miles to the east. Yup, I'm one of those "Jew Yorkers" you people out here so despise -- and I'm not even Jewish. I was born in Brooklyn, spent the formative years of my childhood in Queens (another of the five boroughs), lived the best years of my life in Manhattan (aka "the City" and the most energizing of the five boroughs).

Bet you can't name all five.

California? Never cared much for it; only there three times in my life: April 1961, at Oakland Army Terminal en route to Korea on the U.S.S. Mann; September 1962, OAT again, myself home from Korea via the U.S.S Sultan, ETS from a six-year enlistment and soon on my way to my first wife in Baltimore; May 1977, drove down the coast to rescue my lover from a bad situation in San Francisco, brought her back here to live with me for a while.

Nevertheless, SnotFan, despite your geographical misconceptions I owe you thanks: you exemplify -- indeed to perfection -- all the better sociologists' conclusions about Seattle and its indigenous people.

(Oops, sorry I misspelled your name on second reference. Slip of the arthritic Finger; too bad I didn't catch it in time to make it right.)

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:30 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm one of those "Jew Yorkers" you people out here so despise -- and I'm not even Jewish.

Where is Greg Louganis when we need him? He could tell us what kind of dive you just tried to execute. Maybe he could even score it.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 12:22 p.m. Inappropriate

"Washington should be blue on paper, but...." thanks to redistricting controlled by Slade Gorton (and the outmaneuvered Tim Ceis), the Legislature is barely blue.

"It's the politics of broad minds and fiscal constraint." No, it's the politics of libertarianism. Liberal on some things, stupidly Ayn Randish on others.

louploup

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

It's the politics of "keep your slimy hand away from my pocket or I'll cut that sucker off."

NotFan

Posted Sat, Dec 1, 9:20 a.m. Inappropriate

What we really know about ourselves is that we really don't like those on the other side. We feel this way about them because they disagree with the true gospel. This writer, like most political pundits, cloaks the gut feelings of the electorate with misdirection and word smithing, as though he's an impartial observer of the masses. This from a guy who has a bumper sticker that says "impeach the Supreme Court Five".

The posters here are the honest ones, they are not afraid to say how they feel about issues. Right now they are content to fling barbs and lies at each other. But how much satisfaction does that really provide for zealots? Not much. We grow increasingly more tribal after each election.

Djinn

Posted Sat, Dec 1, 2:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Tribal. Another popular buzzword that is annoying and defeats valid conversation.

Posted Sat, Dec 1, 6:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Common sense another trait you lack.

Djinn

Posted Sun, Dec 2, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Interesting analysis. I suspect that I-1185's broad support partly reflects fiscal moderation (re: a preference for Democrats who act like Dan Evans-style, "good-government" Republicans). However, another factor may be the decline of the capital press corps. If I may overgeneralize, we're seeing both less state-level coverage and a greater tendency toward superficial and even "gotcha!" story angles. This invariably results in less informed voters who are susceptible to simple solutions to complex problems.

Regarding The Olympian's endorsement of Inslee, I sense that this reflects a new direction for the paper's editorial page -- more policy driven and moderate-to-liberal. That makes sense given The Olympian's readership base.

Posted Mon, Dec 3, 10:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, apparently, it's all been said ... so I'll just add: Darn good piece, Knute. Spot on.

Deb Eddy

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