Dashed hopes for Democrats: State Senate stays Republican

Even with Rodney Tom departing, Republicans maintain their hold on a share of the power in Olympia. In the House, they picked up a few seats.
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Transfer of power: With Sen. Rodney Tom, left, leaving the Legislature, Republican Sen. Mark Schoesler could take over the position of Majority Leader.

Even with Rodney Tom departing, Republicans maintain their hold on a share of the power in Olympia. In the House, they picked up a few seats.

It looks like the Republicans will keep control of the Washington Senate by the same 26-23 margin that the GOP had going into Tuesday's ballot counting.

And barring major concessions by the political parties or innovative compromise proposals, that means gridlock is favored to continue in Olympia between the GOP-dominated Senate and the Democratic-controlled House. So massive feuds will likely continue over funding smaller K-3 class sizes, a master transportation package and a push on carbon emissions issues by Gov. Jay Inslee.

One initiative vote count that might influence Olympia's deadlock is Initiative 1351, which was losing 600,833 to 588,262 at 10 p.m., a 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent margin against the measure. But that could easily change with ballots counted later this week. I-1351 would take further the 2012 Washington Supreme Court's McCleary ruling on better funding for schools, expanding the court's mandates for smaller class sizes in Grades K-3 to smaller class sizes throughout grades K-12. The results mean almost half the voters want all class sizes to shrink; and an undetermined percentage of the "no" votes likely support smaller classes in Grades K-3 while balking at the price tag of shrinking the upper grades' classes.

I-1351's troubles were Tuesday's biggest surprises because pre-election polls had this measure easily passing. A big question will be what the state Legislature will read into the I-1351 results in its 2015 session as it struggles with how to meet the demands fo the McCleary decision for school improvements.

In a sidelight, GOP control of the Senate likely means Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, will likely become the new Senate majority leader. Right now, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, had been leader of the overall Senate Majority Coalition Caucus with Schoesler being the Republican Caucus Leader. Since Tom did not run for re-election, that makes Schoesler the heir apparent to the majority leader's post. Schoesler is more conservative than Tom, which could possibly shift the conservative majority coalition further to the right.

The only two Senate seats to change parties Tuesday were ones where a current senator decided against seeking re-election; all the Senate incumbents easily won re-election. Democratic Rep. Cyrus Habib picked up the Bellevue-Medina 48th District seat, succeeding Tom, one of two Democrats who decided to join the Republicans to create the Majority Coalition Caucus. On the other hand, Democrat-turned-Republican Mark Miloscia easily bested Democrat Shari Song to take over retiring Democrat Sen. Tracey Eide’s 30th District seat in Federal Way.

The bottom line is that the Majority Coalition Caucus still has 26 members, only now it has 25 Republicans and one Democrat. Majority coalition member Sen. Tim Sheldon, D- Potlatch, held off a challenge from Democrat Irene Bowling in the 35th District to remain the sole Democrat in the coalition.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are on track to gain three seats in the state House. Prior to Tuesday, the Democrats had a 55-43 advantage, and now they tentatively have a 52-to-46 lead. But one apparent Democratic winner — Kathy Haigh, who is leading Republican Dan Griffey in the 35th — is in a tight enough race to lose on late ballots. And three apparent GOP winners are in races so close that late ballots could turn the tide. Michelle Caldier is leading Democrat Larry Seaquist in the 26th; Paul Wageman is leading Democrat Christine Kilduff in the 28th, and Lynda Wilson is leading Democrat Monica Stonier in the 17th. Haigh, Stonier and Seaquist are incumbents and account for two of the three tentatively lost Democratic seats.

So the Republicans' best-case scenario with the late ballots is a 47-to-51 disadvantage, while the Democrats' best-case scenario is 55-to-43 on the late counts. Rep. Roger Freeman, D-Federal Way, who died last week, won his race 9,520 to 8,422 — a 53 percent to 47 percent split. A successor will be picked by the Pierce and King County councils from among three nominations to be made by 30th District Democrats. 

Outside of the 48th District, the Democrats'  best hopes to gain extra Senate seats were in the 45th and 28th districts, and they fell short in both. Conceivably, the Democrats could get lucky with a horde of late ballots this week to pull off an upset in the 45th District.  But gaining 1,515 more votes in late ballots than GOP incumbent Sen. Andy Hill is an extremely long shot — and even that would leave Republicans in charge of the Senate.

Meanwhile, in two high-profile but never-in-doubt races in Seattle, Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp cruised to his 11th term by defeating Socialist challenger Jess Spear in the über-liberal 43rd District, and Democrat Pramila Jayapal defeated fellow Democrat Louis Watanabe for her first term as southeast Seattle's 37th District senator, replacing retiring Sen. Adam Kline. Chopp swamped Spear, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s protégé, 19,444 to 3,826 — an 84 percent to 16 percent split. By comparison, Sawant captured 28 percent of the vote against Chopp in 2012, while Spear took 19 percent in the Aug. 5 primary. Jayapal beat Watanabe 11,576 to 5,767 — a 67 percent to 33 percent split.

Statewide, here is how the key Senate races panned out as of 10 p.m. Tuesday:

  • 6th District, Southern and northern Spokane, Cheney, Fairchild Air Force Base, and rural Spokane County: Conservative Republican incumbent Michael Baumgartner of Spokane held off Spokane filmmaker and Democrat Rich Cowan 17,686 to 13,426. That was a 57 percent to 43 percent split. Baumgartner's win keeps a potential legislative deadlock on the Zombie Apocalypse out of the Capitol Dome. Cowan's company produces Z Nation, a zombie television series on the SyFy channel.
  • 26th District, Southern Kitsap County and a piece of Pierce County: Veteran Republican legislator Jan Angel outpolled Democrat and retired teacher Judy Arbogast 18,113 to 13,045 in this slightly GOP-leaning district. That's a 58 percent to 42 percent split.
  • 28th District, Southern Pierce County: The Democrats thought they had a chance in this race. But Republican Steve O'Ban, the incumbent, leads longtime Democratic State Rep. Tami Green 55-to-45 percent, with the vote at 12,979 to 10,727 in the initial counting. 
  • 30th District, Northern Pierce and southern King Counties with Federal Way in the middle: This is where the Senate Democrats lost a seat. Mark Miloscia, who represented the 30th in the state House for years as a conservative Democrat, switched parties to take on Democrat Shari Song, who recently moved from Bellevue to Federal Way to oppose him. On Tuesday evening, Miloscia tallied 10,369 votes to her 7,993. That's a 56 percent to 44 percent split. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide retired, making this seat more vulnerable to the Republicans.
  • 35th District, Mason County, southern Kitsap County and a piece of Thurston County: Democrat Irene Bowling failed to knock off maverick Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon. Sheldon of Potlatch and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, switched in late 2012 to create the currently 24-Republican-two-Democrat Majority Coalition Caucus, which controls the Senate. Sheldon had a scare in August's three-way primary, barely surviving in second place. However, he picked up Libertarian Republican primary challenger Travis Couture's voters to offset Bowling's extra Democrats. That was good enough for Sheldon to have a 55-to-45 percent lead, with the vote count at 16,854 to 14,038.
  • 42nd District Most of Whatcom County, but minus parts of Bellingham: Democrat Seth Fleetwood could not overcome a 57-percent-to-43-percent primary showing in the most politically polarized district in Washington. Rural Whatcom's conservatives outpolled Bellingham's liberals to give incumbent GOP Sen. Doug Ericksen a 22,291-to-15,327 victory over Fleetwood. That's a 59 percent to 41 percent split.
  • 44th District Stretching from Lake Stevens and Marysville to the Mill Creek area: Republican challenger Jim Kellett posted a 48-percent-to-52-percent loss to moderate Democratic incumbent Steve Hobbs. In the Aug. 5 primary, raising questions on whether Hobbs was vulnerable. However, Republicans did not sink the amounts of money in this race that they did in defending other GOP seats. Hobbs won 10,747 to 8,244 — a 57 percent to 43 percent split.
  • 45th District Redmond, Kirkland and part of Bellevue: This was the state's most expensive legislative race with the two sides spending almost $3 million. Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond was considered vulnerable. But he led Democrat challenger Matt Isenhower Tuesday 13,852 to 12,338 — a 53 percent to 47 percent split.
  • 48th District, Medina and much of Bellevue, plus parts of Kirkland and Redmond: Tom's retirement gave this Senate seat to the Democrats. Democratic Rep. Cyrus Habib outpolled Republican Michelle Darnell by a whopping 64-to-36 percent margin.

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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8