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Best of 2012: 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

 

Editors' note: Each day during the holidays, Crosscut will revisit top stories from the last year in a specific category. Today's focus is Politics. This article was originally published October 24, 2012.

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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