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GOP: At sea in Bellevue without Rodney Tom?

Demographics and recent election results make it clear: The Republican Party has a problem in the 48th Legislative District.

With Rodney Tom out of the running, the 48th Legislative District is gearing up for a good ol’-fashioned red-on-blue rumble.  That’s bad news for the Republicans in a district where they’ve suffered a 20-year bleed of support.

Everything changed in the swing district with the announcement by incumbent Sen. Rodney Tom — the Republican, turned Democrat, turned Majority Coalition Caucus leader — that he would not run for re-election, citing personal and family issues.

This election is no longer about Tom. Instead, it’s an open seat race, likely to come down to a conventional Democrat versus a conventional Republican. That’s bad news for the Republicans. Crosscut's John Stang recently noted that the GOP now restarts the fight with a candidate problem – or, rather, the problem of having no candidate. I’d like to explain why the GOP also has a 48th LD problem. Namely, their problem is that it isn’t 1988 anymore.

Let’s start with a broad overview of the district, and then dive into the Republicans’ 48th LD dilemma.

Downtown Bellevue J.C. Winkler/Flickr

The 48th LD is a suburban district that encompasses portions of Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland.  It also contains the entirety of the Gold Coast, an affluent enclave consisting of the cities of Clyde Hill, Hunts Point, Medina, and Yarrow Point.  The Gold Coast is home to some of the most expensive properties and highest income-earners in Washington State.  Six-digit incomes are the norm.  Homes generally go for well over one million.  These towns exemplify the profile that gives the 48th LD a reputation for big money.  This reputation is not without merit: by virtually every estimate, the 48th ranks within Washington’s five wealthiest legislative districts.

For a district often caricaturized as a haven for BMW-driving Neiman Marcus customers and Microsoft managers, it might be surprising that the 48th isn’t a solid first in wealth. The truth is that this area has never been uniformly wealthy: Bellevue especially has some modest post-War developments, and the 48th is dotted with a considerable number of apartments. All walks of life are represented in the 48th LD.

The Republican Party’s problem is that certain walks of life are particularly prevalent in the 48th LD, and they’re populations that have become particularly nettlesome for the GOP in the past 25 years:  first, wealthy, educated suburbanites; and second, ethnic minorities.

Old money and the decline of the Republican Party

The wealth of much of the 48th LD should not be understated. The Lake Washington Gold Coast community of Hunts Point is among the wealthiest in the country. It boasts a per-capita income of $139,032, about five times the national average. The other Gold Coast communities are not far behind: Yarrow Point at $105,938; Medina at $96,978; and Clyde Hill at $93,769.

Traditionally, moneyed suburbanites are a staunchly Republican bloc. That just isn’t true anymore.

These communities are still somewhat Republican. The GOP’s problem is that they aren’t nearly as Republican as they used to be.  Fifty years ago, this was Goldwater country, a hub of rock-ribbed country club conservatism that emphasized fiscal issues. The last 30 years, though, have seen a marked shift in this constituency, which peaked with Barack Obama’s 2008 victory.

Take a look at the table below, which displays Presidential election returns in the Gold Coast portion of the 48th. In 2000, George W. Bush won these communities by a margin of 23.5 points. By his 2004 re-election, Bush’s margin had been cut in half, despite Bush improving his national margin by a few points. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate ever to carry the Gold Coast, defeating John McCain by 5.5 points.

Presidential Election results in the Gold Coast communities, 2000-2012 Presidential Elections

A notable Democratic regression occurred in 2012, with Mitt Romney prevailing over Obama by 6.6 points. This was a big swing toward the GOP in a year where Washington state only budged a few points. Nonetheless, even with this retraction, Romney’s 2012 Gold Coast was a full 17 points smaller than Bush’s 12 years earlier.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 5:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Less Republican's in the state legislature can only be good thing. And good riddance to that traitor Rodney Tom, he was nothing but a power hungry Benedict Arnold.

eric1972

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 6:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Because a one Party Democrat Monopoly in Olympia, King County and Seattle has resulted in budget surpluses, fully funded schools, world class roads and transit systems.

Cameron

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

@Cameron

If Republicans were willing to respect the State Supreme Court and fully fund K-12, I might listen to your pet meme above. The fact that the Republican Senate lost an additional $40 million in federal funds shows the fallacy of thinking Republicans in this state are any better than Republicans in Congress.

Amaliada

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 11:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Our local newspaper of record, not a right-wing publication, puts the responsibility for the loss of $40M on WEA. The Republicans, as far as I know, did not object to having teachers performance being monitored, hard to imagine they would because they get negligible votes or campaign funds from teachers. As far as the McCleary decision you are probably aware that the Washington House and Senate have been under Democratic control since forever except for 2013 and 2014 when the "coalition" partially controlled the Senate. Democrats now complain that they did not know that education was underfunded until McCleary… had no idea that the State's obligation to fund education was not being met. So when McCleary was handed down (2009) did the Democrats increase funding? sadly no, Democratic Legislature and Democratic Governor put off the problem until they had a few Republicans in the Senate (2013) to blame for inaction. I await responsible education funding to be provided when the Democrats control the House and Senate again. Just kidding

kieth

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

"Our local newspaper of record, not a right-wing publication."

Seriously? In case you've never ready their editorial section, our local newspaper of record IS a right-wing publication!

Meanwhile, your capacity for revisionist history is mind-boggling:

"...the Washington House and Senate have been under Democratic control since forever except for 2013 and 2014 when the "coalition" partially controlled the Senate."

You mean except for 2003-04 when Republicans controlled the Senate, 1999-2001 when the House was evenly divided, 1997-98 when the Republicans controlled the entire Legislature, 1995-96 when Republicans controlled the House, and 1992 when Republicans controlled the Senate? Is that the "since forever" you're talking about? (http://ballotpedia.org/Washington_State_Legislature)

"So when McCleary was handed down (2009)"

The Supreme Court issued its opinion on McCleary on January 5, 2012. (http://www.courts.wa.gov/appellate_trial_courts/SupremeCourt/?fa=supremecourt.McCleary_Education.)

"...Democratic Legislature and Democratic Governor put off the problem until they had a few Republicans in the Senate (2013) to blame for inaction."

The defection of Senators Jim Kastama, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, which gave Republicans control of the Senate budget-writing process in March of 2012 - the same Session during which the McCleary decision was handed down. (http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol/2012/mar/02/wa-lege-senate-republicans-pull-budget-maneuver/)

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 9:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for setting keith straight.

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 2:34 p.m. Inappropriate

The Seattle Times is not a "right wing publication". Yes, I am serious; are you?

Washington Supreme Court's rulings on school funding go back to 1978 when that court ruled (Seattle School District #1 v State of Washington) that the State was obligated to fund
“basic education”. When basic education had been (arguably) defined, then, in 2007, the McCleary suit was filed (McCleary v. State of Washington). In February of 2010 Judge Erlich, King County Superior Court, ruled against the State. An appeal by the State to the State Supreme Court was rejected that same year. Since 1978 there has been no reason to suppose on the part of Democrats or Republicans that the State was not obligated to fully funding basic education or, even more important, that it was doing so. I believe and I argue here that the Democrats in the Legislature and the Governor's mansion have been no more eager to fund education than the Republicans and as evidence I point to the period of time following the Superior Court decision (Feb, 2010) to 2012 when Democrats controlled both Legislative Houses and the Governor's office and they did nothing. Furthermore, as I suggest above, Democrats seem to be arguing that prior to McCleary there was no evidence of inadequate funding for schools, especially “basic education”. That is nonsense. The 1978 case, above, clearly made the same interpretation of our Constitution and made the same decision. Since that time we have had one Republican Governor and you make the claim that Repubicans controlled the Legislature during some periods of time. Maybe so but, if that is true, it is clear that Washington State Schools have done no worse under a Republican dominated Legislature than the Democrats. Perhaps better.

kieth

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 5:39 a.m. Inappropriate

If you think unchecked power, by one party in Olympia, King County and Seattle is a "Good" for the State, we have decades of recent history that shows that not to be the case. If you and your party were in the minority and saw these kinds of results produced by the opposition, would you not advocate for change? No need to make up strawman arguements about School Funding and not obtaining waivers from the Feds for NCLB, that was all Inslee, the Democrats and the Unions.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

I've heard House Minority Leader, Rep. Dan Kristiansen, promote the idea of an "education-first" budget process...City Club in January was the last time, I believe.

The idea being that we fund education first because it is our state's "paramount duty" per the Constitution. Then, allocate remaining funds accordingly or ask voters to fill in gaps.

Amaliada, is the progressive left willing to prioritize education funding over all other special interests?

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Overall, this is a very thoughtful analysis. However, it neglects to mention that Republicans hold two Senate seats in similarly Democratic Eastside legislative districts to LD-48.

Steve Litzow holds a district (LD-41: Mercer Island, Beaux Arts and portions of Issaquah, Sammamish, Bellevue, Newcastle and Renton) that voted 60.00% for President Obama 50.83% for Rob McKenna in 2012 and Andy Hill holds a district* (LD-45: Woodinville and Duvall and portions of Kirkland, Redmond, and Sammamish) that voted 58.18% for President Obama and 50.44% for Rob McKenna in 2012.

As a point of reference, LD-48 voted 61.67% for President Obama and 47.00% for Rob McKenna in 2012. So, it's a tougher district for Republicans than both LD-41 and LD-45 are, but not considerably so.

Remember, though, Senator Litzow won re-election by 8.08%, suggesting that he could have handled a considerably tougher district. Now, Litzow was a very popular Mercer Island City Councilman for 7 years and is, by all accounts, a moderate's moderate. Also, Andy Hill won against a staunchly progressive incumbent with a penchant for saying highly controversial things in a good GOP year in 2010. Still, judging by the GOP's success in LD-41 and LD-45 in recent years, a locally popular GOP businessman or elected official could make a real run at LD-48's Senate seat in the fall.

*Andy Hill was elected to the State Senate under a different set of LD-45 district lines, but the similar district that he won in 2010 was similarly liberal considering that it voted 60.8% for President Obama in 2008.

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

Overall, this analysis is very thoughtful. However, it neglects an important fact: Republicans hold two Senate seats in similarly Democratic Eastside legislative districts that border LD-48.

As a point of reference for the rest of this comment, LD-48 voted 61.67% for President Obama 47.00% for Rob McKenna in 2012.

1) Former 7-year Mercer Island City Councilman and current Senator Steve Litzow represents LD-41 (containing all of Mercer Island and Beaux Arts and portions of Bellevue, Renton, Isssaquah, Newcastle, and Sammamish). LD-41 voted 60.00% for President Obama and 50.83% For Rob McKenna in 2012. Litzow lost by only ~1% for one of LD-41's State House seats against Marcie Maxwell in a tough year for the GOP in 2008. He then narrowly won a Senate seat in 2010 and was re-elected by 8 points in 2012. This latest result suggests that he could handle an even tougher district.

2) Freshman Senator Andy Hill represents LD-45 (containing all of Duvall and Woodinville and portions of Sammamish, Redmond, and Kirkland). LD-45 voted 58.18% for President Obama and 50.44 for Rob McKenna in 2012. Hill was elected in a very similar pre-redistricting version of LD-45 in 2010 by 1.93%, albeit against a very progressive incumbent with a penchant for saying highly controversial things in a tone deaf manner, and is favored for re-election.

So, based on the GOP's success at winning Senate seats in similarly Democratic Eastside districts, the GOP has a real chance of winning LD-48 if it can find a locally popular businessman, community leader, or elected official. Still, the Democratic candidate should--of course--be considered the favored candidate in the fall.

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Sorry for the repetitive comments! My browser said that my internet failed when I tried to post the first one, so I rewrote a similar one. Now I see that they're both there!

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 5:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Just saying, but Cyrus Habib, the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat got 61.3% of the vote in the 48th in the 2012 general election for the House seat he occupies today. He seems pretty popular still. His opponent was a pro-choice, sitting city council member from Redmond, not some right-wing stiff.

Candidates matter in these races, and Rep. Habib has a two-year head-start on any GOP candidate in name ID, voting record, endorsements, knowledge of the issues and everything else that goes into running a strong campaign. He's not the candidates that lost the Senate races in the 45th and 41st. I think it's a tough row to hoe for a Republican candidate.

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 11:04 p.m. Inappropriate

My response is posted below. I forgot to click the "reply" button... late night sloppiness!

Posted Mon, Apr 28, 10:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Rep. Hunter: If the race becomes a referendum on giving Washington Democrats a governing trifecta, a moderate Republican could potentially defeat Rep. Habib. A midterm electorate in this district is one that Rob McKenna probably narrowly won in 2012. The MCC is the sole reason why Governor Inslee hasn't been able to govern as fiscally to the left as he'd like to be able to, and returning control of the Senate to the Democrats would cause rapid changes in the state. I'm not sure voters want to give up a check on Inslee's power.

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

If the Ds would go all in on a viable fix of our regressive tax structure including a constitutional amendment (income tax, capped state sales and property taxes, drastic reduction of B&O;, relieve Eyman choking of local government ability to raise revenue with voter approval, etc.), I suspect the purple suburbs would join with urban Ds and vote them in and then vote for the change itself. Come on Dems, let's just do it.

louploup

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, please, run another income tax referendum, until you and yours get the message! How many landslide defeats for the state income tax until you learn?

simorgh

Posted Thu, May 1, 5:52 p.m. Inappropriate

You're not paying attention: I suggested a constitutional amendment to sooth the fears of reactionaries by capping regressive aspects of the tax structure. You think people will stupidly vote against their own interests indefinitely? Are you proud of being a resident of the state with the most regressive tax structure in the U.S.?

louploup

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 2:11 p.m. Inappropriate

I think it's obvious to anyone paying attention that Tom decided against running again because he knew he would get clobbered. I don't live there, but I'm sure his constituents could see through his act. Glad to see that the (majority) of the voters in Washington are waking up to the shell game being played by the Republican party in the US.

AIC70

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 5:44 p.m. Inappropriate

No one believes this. Serious people all expected a close race with Tom having the advantage. Hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been deployed there on both sides.

As a partisan talking point, your post is below average.

simorgh

Posted Thu, May 1, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

If out of state money such as that from the Koch's were not involved in the race it would not be anywhere near close. Unfortunately there are gullible trolls such as yourself still lingering that think the Republican party is here for you. Your IQ appears to be below average.

AIC70

Posted Fri, May 2, 3:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Proof? Koch brothers -- any proof of that, or just another partisan talking point?

simorgh

Posted Sun, May 4, 11:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Tom knew he wouldn't get one cent of Democratic Party money if he ran again, and it would have been unlikely the Republicans or Republican donors would have funded him, DINO though he may be.

sarah90

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