What matters now: Election guide 2015

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It’s an off-year election, which means no vote for president, no vote for U.S. Congress and only one vote for the Washington Legislature. As a result, voter turnout will drag in the general election that ends Nov. 3.

That's too bad. There are big issues on the ballot. In Seattle, voters will choose council members by district for the first time in over a hundred years. Mayor Ed Murray will find out just how far taxpayers are willing to go for transportation — close to $1 billion if he’s figured right. The Seattle School Board could be reshaped just months after Seattle teachers went on strike. And eyes from as far away as New York will be watching what happens with the new experiment in campaign finance.

In King County, voters will weigh in on upstream services for children, law enforcement oversight, County council members and port commission candidates — one named Goodspaceguy.

At the state level, Tim Eyman is rattling the bars once again, mainly with his two-thirds majority-for-tax-increases initiative and the long list of advisory votes he got on the ballot through an initiative in 2007. Washington will decide whether to jump into the fight against illegal poaching. And one seat in the Legislature could maintain or narrow the Democrats’ majority in the Washington State House of Representatives.

So while Donald Trump will have to sit on the sidelines for this one, there’s still a lot at stake. To bring you up to speed, we’ve provided you with a quick rundown of what’s on the ballot, plus links to the best coverage from our site and beyond. Enjoy!

Note: We are skipping uncontested races and, for the state's four advisory ballots, have only provided a listing of the individual issues. 


Initiative 1366: State taxes and fees (two-thirds majority for tax increases)

This measure would decrease the sales tax rate unless the Legislature refers to voters a constitutional amendment requiring either voter approval or approval from two-thirds of the legislature to raise taxes, and legislative approval for fee increases. It's a Tim Eyman special, seeking to overcome the repeated court findings that his earlier two-thirds measures were unconstitutional — or punish lawmakers for not bending to the repeated votes for limits. Opponents say it would mainly punish students, nursing home residents and the state's ability to meet the needs of a growing population.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Seattle Times: Tim Eyman's legal woes, K-12 funding loom over supermajority initiative

Crosscut: Court keeps Tim Eyman initiative on November ballot

Recommendations: Seattle Times: no. The Stranger: no

Initiative 1401 Penalties for trading in products from some endangered species

This measure would make selling, purchasing, trading or distributing certain endangered animal species, and products made from such species, a gross misdemeanor or class-C felony, with exemptions for certain types of transfers. Paul Allen helped put the measure on the ballot, and it has picked up wide support.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: Ballot initiative puts "extinction economy" in the crosshairs.

Recommendations: Seattle Times: yes. The Stranger: yes.

Advisory ballots

These are Tim Eyman-inspired votes on whether you approve of tax and fee increases that have already been enacted. The results are non-binding. There are four this year, including ones on marijuana taxes and taxing petroleum products for an oil-spill fund. In each case, voters are asked their opinion of whether the taxes should be maintained or repealed.

Advisory Vote No. 10 Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1449 regarding oil and petroleum products taxes for oil-spill response

Advisory Vote No. 11 Second Substitute Senate Bill 5052 regarding the imposition of an excise tax on medical marijuana 

Advisory Vote No. 12 Second Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5987 regarding additional motor vehicle and special fuel taxes

Advisory Vote No. 13 Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6138 regarding repeal of a sales tax exemption on certain software manufacturers and an increase of a business and occupation tax 

Background: Voters pamphlet.

State Representative Legislative District 30 (Federal Way and surrounding areas) — Teri Hickel or Carol Gregory

Democratic state Rep. Carol Gregory, just appointed in January to fill a vacancy created by the death of popular Democrat Roger Freeman, is trying to hold the seat for her party. She faces a strong challenge from Republican Teri Hickel, who has long managed a leadership training program for the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. Both parties in the Legislature are watching closely: A Republican victory would narrow the Democratic majority in the state House to just a two-vote margin, potentially complicating political life for the Democratic leadership.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: 30th District race poses new worries for legislative Democrats  

The News Tribune: Smell test: Half truths abound in ads running in 30th District state House race

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Teri Hickel. Muni League of King County:  Hickel — oustanding. Gregory — very good.


King County Charter Amendment No. 1 Law Enforcement Oversight

In theory, this amendment would make the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) in the King County Sheriff’s Office more permanent and effective. OLEO was established in 2006 as an accountability measure after the Seattle P.I. levied accusations of unethical behavior and lack of oversight within the Sheriff’s Office. Court battles with the King County Officer’s Guild delayed the office from operating until 2011, stripping it of most of its power along the way. This amendment would grant the office more investigative authority and make it harder for public officials to dissolve it. Proponents say it’s a necessary step while dissenters say it would trigger a replay of all the same battles with the police union.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: What is the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight and why are we voting on it?

Recommendations: Muni League Foundation: yes. Seattle Times: yes. The Stranger: yes.

King County Proposition No. 1 Regular Property Tax Levy for Children, Youth, Families and Communities

Voters are being asked to approve a property tax hike of $14 per $100,000 of assessed valuation to improve services for children, families and communities. Officials say it would fund proven, evidence-based programs in areas such as domestic violence and children’s health, early development and mental health care. Opponents say it sounds good but would provide a blank check.

Background: Voters pamphlet

Seattle Times: King County seeks $392M for kids; critics ask, exactly for what?

Recommendations: Muni League Foundation: yes. Seattle Times: yes. The Stranger: yes.

King County Assessor — Lloyd Hara or John Wilson

Longtime elected official and political leader Lloyd Hara — King County auditor, Seattle treasurer and Port commissioner, among other posts — is running for re-election as assessor, a post he has held since 2009. His challenger is John Wilson, Hara’s deputy assessor until 2013, who cites his own innovations while working in the office and says the introduction of new efficiencies seems to have slowed. 

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Seattlepi.com: Two Seattle fixtures vie for the assessor’s office

Endorsements: Seattle Times: John Wilson. The Stranger: John Wilson. 

King County Director of Elections – Julie Wise or Zack Hudgins

State Rep. Zack Hudgins, and a longtime elections employee, Julie Wise, are seeking to head the county elections office. The current director, Sherril Huff, decided against seeking re-election, although she has overseen a big turnaround in the office, which she joined in 2007 as a deputy director, after its bad stumbles in the 2004 vote count. It's largely because of the 2004 problems that the position is elective. Hudgins, who served as a Democratic representative, has criticized the office as too quick to reject ballots where there are questions. Wise says she has introduced efficiencies, overseen four elections a year and is proud to be nonpartisan.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Seattle Times: King County Elections candidates disagree over department's performance

KUOW: Harvard educated? King County candidate exaggerates resume

Endorsements: Seattle Times: Julie Wise. The Stranger: Julie Wise.

King County Council District No. 4 (Queen Anne, Ballard)— Rufe Orr or Jeanne Kohl-Welles 

It's not really a contest: Kohl-Welles, a longtime Democratic legislator of exceptional skill and willingness to work on hard issues with colleagues of both parties, will romp to victory in this nonpartisan contest. Orr, a retired IRS attorney, says in the voter's pamphlet that he is running to protest state plans to increase taxes and "to protest the handpicked selection of Ms. Welles by the Governor and KC Executive to fill the open position of KC Council."

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Jeanne Kohl-Welles. The Stranger: Jeanne Kohl-Welles. Muni League: Kohl-Welles — very good. Orr — insufficient information. 

King County Council District No. 6 (Bellevue, Kirkland, Mercer Island) - Claudia Balducci or Jane Hague

Jane Hague, a member of the council since 1994, is campaigning hard for a new term, facing a serious challenge from Claudia Balducci, Bellevue's mayor and the former director of King County Jails. A Republican, Hague is generally considered a moderate and has good relations with her Democratic colleagues on the nominally non-partisan council — she notes that none of those D colleagues has endorsed her opponent. Balducci helped create agreement in Bellevue on plans to bring Sound Transit light rail, no easy undertaking in that city. She argues that an increasingly Democratic Eastside deserves a council member more representative of local views on transit, the environment and protecting agricultural land.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Seattle Times: King County race heats up between Hague, Bellevue mayor

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Claudia Balducci. The Stranger: Claudia Balducci. Muni League: Hague and Balducci — both outstanding.


Port Commissioner Position No. 2 – Courtney Gregoire or Goodspaceguy

Appointed to a vacancy in 2013 and then elected to fill the remainder of the term, Courtney Gregoire is now set to win a full four-year post on the Port Commission. Gregoire, a former U.S. Commerce Department official in the Obama administration, is currently a legal counsel for Microsoft. Goodspaceguy is a perennial candidate (who is sometimes said to be from Phoebe, a moon of Saturn, though he actually says he's from a more prosaic spot, Minnesota).

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Courtney Gregoire. The Stranger: Courtney Gregoire. Muni League: Gregoire — outstanding. Goodspaceguy — not qualified.

Commissioner Position No. 5 —Fred Felleman or Marion Yoshino

Fred Felleman is a marine environmental consultant and environmental activist, a background that makes him perfect for the port, or a nightmare, depending on your point of view. Marion Yoshino is an economic development consultant (she was formerly the city of Des Moines' economic development manager) who says that her voice as a south King County resident would be helpful to overseeing Sea-Tac Airport, which is operated by the Port. Felleman leads in contributions, with a number of labor groups supporting him, while Yoshino is picking up support from some business groups, which view the port as an important tool for economic development.

Seattle Times: Port of Seattle candidates' — views similar, backgrounds differ

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Marion Yoshino. The Stranger: Fred Felleman. Muni League: Felleman and Yoshino — both good.


City Council District No. 1  (Southwest Seattle, including West Seattle and South Park) — Lisa Herbold or Shannon Braddock

Both candidates from West Seattle know the ins and outs of local government from behind the scenes — Shannon Braddock as chief of staff to King County Councilmember Joe McDermott and Lisa Herbold as longtime aide to Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata. As is true with all of Seattle’s council races, both are progressives. However, Herbold has been painted further left than Braddock, who has been saddled with the “establishment” label thanks in large part to the support she’s received from the Chamber of Commerce and the landlord-driven Rental Housing Association, plus a massive Independent Expenditure.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: Tight council race exposes a divided West Seattle.

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Shannon Braddock. The Stranger: Lisa Herbold. Muni League: Braddock — very good. Herbold — good.

City Council District No. 2 (Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, Georgetown) — Bruce Harrell or Tammy Morales

Until recent weeks, the ever-personable chair of the Public Safety Committee, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, was coasting on his way to an easy re-election. Not to say that he is now in danger, exactly, but engaged citizen Tammy Morales has made up a bit of ground lately, convincing the Stranger to pull its endorsement of Harrell and give it to her and doing more to align herself with Seattle’s ultra-left block, something she struggled with in the previous months.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Bruce Harrell. The Stranger: Tammy Morales. Muni League: Harrell — very good. Morales — good.

City Council District No. 3 (Capitol Hill, Central Area, Montlake) — Kshama Sawant or Pamela Banks

The race is the rock star of all the contests. Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant, known as an uncompromising advocate of “the people,” is the most recognized, loved and hated of all the candidates. Pamela Banks, her challenger, argues Sawant is too focused on the lofty and not connected enough to her city and neighborhood. Despite the presence of a socialist, this race has far and away attracted the most money, the candidates pushing $400,000 apiece. The origins of that money has become the most heated topic between the two, with Banks claiming more money from within the district while Sawant skewers her for accepting money from the rich and Republicans.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: Can Pamela Banks topple the symbol of Seattle socialism?

Seattle Times: In rare move, council members take sides in District 3

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Pamela Banks. The Stranger: Kshama Sawant. Muni League: Banks — very good. Sawant — good.

City Council District No. 4 (Wallingford, U-District, Points East, Eastlake) — Rob Johnson or Michael Maddux

District 4, just north of the Montlake Cut and mostly east of I-5, would still be the ballot haunt of longtime Councilmember Jean Godden were it not for Rob Johnson and Michael Maddux, who ousted Godden in the low-turnout primary. Now it’s become a race between transportation wonk Johnson and the slightly edgy Maddux. The dynamic between the two has the look of the Establishment v. Populist trope playing out across the city. But Johnson has avoided some of the criticism heaped on other "establishment" candidates Pamela Banks, Shannon Braddock and Councilmember Tim Burgess, likely as a result of his transportation credibility and support from unions. Maddux aligns himself on the left, with the likes of Councilmember Kshama Sawant and at-large council candidate Jon Grant, but hasn’t gone for Johnson’s throat like Sawant and Grant have with their opponents. Many of the endorsements, either for Maddux or Johnson, have ended along the lines of “but the other guy would be good too.”

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Rob Johnson. The Stranger: Michael Maddux. Muni League: Johnson — outstanding. Maddux — good.

City Council District No. 5 (Lake City, Northgate, Northwest Seattle) Debora Juarez or Sandy Brown

District 5 is the forgotten voice of Seattle that, arguably, stands to gain the most from Seattle’s new district elections. It is the only district without a sitting council member under the expiring at-large system and its lack of sidewalks is often used as an example of how it lags behind the rest of the city when it comes to infrastructure. Sandy Brown and Debora Juarez both defy categorization. Brown is a pastor, the son of a Mexican American mother, out in front in favor of gun control and gay marriage. Juarez is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and has been a voice for tribal rights her entire life. There’s been some confusion lately as to which candidate Mayor Ed Murray is actually endorsing, a sign that either would likely be an ally to his office. However, neither has given him carte blanche on the campaign trail.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: Who will speak for Seattle's northern frontier?

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Debora Juarez. The Stranger: Debora Juarez. Muni League: Juarez and Brown — both good.

City Council District No. 6 (Green Lake, Fremont, Ballard, Crown Hill) — Mike O'Brien or Catherine Weatbrook

Incumbent Mike O’Brien has been awarded the shoo-in label by many of Seattle’s media outlets. He’s seen as the nice-guy lefty who generally votes in step with councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant. His recent tenure has been defined by harsh criticisms of the tunnel project, protesting Shell's Arctic drilling and, most recently, making it easier for Uber and Lyft drivers to collectively bargain. There have been some rumblings, all unconfirmed, of O’Brien making a run for mayor in 2017. Catherine Weatbrook, running as a neighborhood activist, fell flat in the primaries and hasn’t shown much progress in picking herself up. Her one win was snagging the endorsement from the Seattle Times — its editorial board has done little to hide its distaste for O'Brien — after the District 6 race went without endorsement in the primaries.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

KUOW: It's Tubs girl vs. kale guy in northwest Seattle.

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Catherine Weatbrook. The Stranger: Mike O’Brien. Muni League: O'Brien — very good. Westbrook — good.

City Council District No. 7 (Magnolia, Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Downtown) — Sally Bashaw or Deborah Zech Artis

District 7 is, for all intents, a non-race. Deborah Zech-Artis filed her campaign declaration hours before the deadline, has not solicited any money and has received only the endorsement of an animal rights group. With the exit of Councilmember Jean Godden, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who only joined the council in 2010, will take the title of the council’s longest serving woman. At times, she can have an edge to her personality, but she places a premium on cooperation between councilmembers, which helps explain her endorsement of Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s challenger Pamela Banks, who says she will be more collaborative than Sawant. Bagshaw opposed district elections and will be tasked with representing the lefty-scorned sectors of Downtown, Queen Anne and Magnolia.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

KUOW: These Seattle candidates disagreed on everything, then drove off together.

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Sally Bagshaw. The Stranger: Sally Bagshaw. Muni League: Bagshaw — outstanding. Zech Artis — adequate. 

City Council Position No. 8 (citywide at-large) Tim Burgess or Jon Grant

The race between Council President Tim Burgess and former Tenants Union Executive Director Jon Grant is in the running with District 3 for juiciest contest. Burgess has been a monster raising money, while Grant has touted his “People’s Campaign,” built around volunteer hours (including from his dad, his treasurer). The two candidates don’t pull any punches: Grant accuses Burgess of being a closet Republican, while Burgess accuses Grant of bloated rhetoric. This race hit a fever pitch recently when Grant went public with an offer from Triad Development VP Brett Allen to deep-six an anti-Grant campaign expenditure if Grant convinced the Tenants Union to drop a lawsuit against Triad. Although Burgess was not involved, the event helps Grant’s case that City Hall is too tight with developers. Burgess probably holds the advantage, but his 46 percent in the primaries makes him look at least a little vulnerable.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: Council President Tim Burgess gets a run for his money from a scruffy political outsider

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Tim Burgess. The Stranger: Jon Grant. Muni League: Burgess — outstanding. Grant — good.

City Council Position No. 9 (citywide at-large) —Lorena Gonzalez or Bill Bradburd

Lorena Gonzalez is the former legal counsel to Mayor Ed Murray and the prosecuting attorney in the case against the Seattle Police Officer heard threatening to “kick the Mexican piss” out of a man. She dominated the field in the primaries, getting more votes than all the other candidates for this seat combined. Bill Bradburd is running on a “Take back Seattle” platform, resistant to large scale changes in anticipation of a growing population. Bradburd has a strong background in civic affairs as the chair of the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Seattle Times: Seattle City Council race: 2 progressives differ on growth

Endorsements and ratings: Seattle Times: Lorena Gonzalez. The Stranger: Lorena Gonzalez. Muni League: Lorena Gonzales — outstanding. Bill Bradburd — good.

City of Seattle Initiative Measure No. 122 (public financing of election vouchers)

Add the campaign finance initiative 122, known as the Honest Elections initiative, to the list of Seattle experiments. After a ballot measure to match small donations with public funding narrowly lost in 2013, its architects went back to the white board. Very little regarding campaign finance reform can be mandated thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which classified money as free speech. So I-122 sought out a way to incentivize candidates to agree to campaign limits. If approved, every voter in Seattle would get four $25 vouchers to distribute to candidates. The idea is to get a broader range of people involved in elections while allowing candidates to jump into a race without the help of wealthy backers. But if candidates take these vouchers, they have to agree to campaign caps as well as another host of restrictions. Opponents argue that this will have unintended consequences, such as pushing that money into outside independent expenditure groups.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: It's taking a lot of money to get big money out of local politics

Recommendations: Muni League: yes. Seattle Times: no. The Stranger: yes.

City of Seattle - Proposition No. 1 (Transportation levy)

Proposition 1, known as the Move Seattle levy, is the behemoth transportation package put forward by Mayor Ed Murray. At $930 million in property taxes over 10 years, the package would represent a quarter of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s budget. The measure has the stamp of approval from all nine council members as well as most candidates even if not everyone is in love with the reliance on property taxes. Opponents claim the measure is too expensive and lacks specifics. The recent troubles on the city's seawall project hasn't helped the levy campaign, either. Those in favor counter that SDOT has a long history of completing projects and that the projects are as specific as they can be. Recent polling shows support for the measure to be strong, probably a result of Seattle’s paralyzing traffic.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Crosscut: Voters can expect all $930 million of Move Seattle next fall

Recommendations: Muni League: no. Seattle Times: no. The Stranger: yes.


School Board members receive no pay, but they make up for this with extra heapings of community criticism, occasional fury and perpetual expectations that they be available to discuss any problem bigger than a malfunctioning closing bell at any one of Seattle’s 60-some elementary schools. The board's main duties include selecting and overseeing the superintendent, setting policies to govern schools, and trying to guarantee a good education for all students in a system where funding issues have brought the state to the brink of constitutional crisis.

This year’s crop of Seattle School Board candidates draws heavily on parents or others who have engaged with the schools on particular topics. A majority of the board positions is up for election, meaning the results could heavily influence the future in a district that has seemed to be heading toward greater stability after frequent periods of turmoil.

Background: Crosscut: Election raises questions about school board's direction.

Seattle Times: Seattle School Board hopefuls say new blood is needed.

Seattle School Board Director District No. 1 — Michael Christophersen or Scott Pinkham

Michael Christophersen, a technical consultant, says he will push for greater transparency and more board oversight of spending. Scott S. Pinkham, a University of Washington administrator and lecturer in American Indian Studies, emphasizes the need for science and math education and support for programs that effectively help underprivileged students.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Endorsements and ratings: The Seattle Times: Michael Christophersen. The Stranger: Scott Pinkham. Muni League: Michael Christophersen — not qualified. Scott Pinkham — no active campaign. (The Muni League ratings indicate that Christophersen declined to participate and the League failed in its attempts to contact Pinkham.)

Seattle School Board Director District No. 2 — Laura Obara Gramer or Rick Burke

Laura Obara Gramer, an occupational therapist and parent of two deaf children, says the district must address gaps in achievement for students of color and kids with disabilities. Rick Burke, president of a thermal technology firm and co-founder of the Seattle Math Coalition, says the district should reduce standardized testing and focus on learning strategies with long-term records of success.

Background: Voters pamphlet.

Endorsements and ratings: The Seattle Times: Rick Burke. The Stranger: Rick Burke. Muni League: Burke — very good. Gramer — good.

Seattle School Board Director District No. 3 — Jill Geary or Lauren McGuire

Jill Geary, a special-education and family law attorney, says she developed a passion for education while serving as an administrative law judge with the state Office of Public Instruction. Lauren McGuire points to her experience as a former president of the Seattle Council PTSA, where she says she advocated for all students and eliminating the district's troubling achievement gaps. Both candidates have picked up support from current board members, with Geary's coming from two who tend to be more skeptical of the district leadership and McGuire's from three members, including Board President Sherry Carr, who have been more supportive of Superintendent Larry Nyland's leadership.

Background: Voters pamphlet

Endorsements: The Seattle Times: Lauren McGuire. The Stranger: Jill Geary. 

Seattle School Board Director District No. 6 — Leslie Harris or Marty McLaren

Marty McLaren is the sole incumbent on the board seeking re-election this year, and she points to her part in the board's recent record, including the hiring of Superintendent Nyland, as a reason to support her. She says she has collaborated with the rest of the board to make significant improvements. Her challenger, Leslie Harris, received more votes in the primary and she has the support of the teachers' union, the Seattle Education Association, as well as a host of political groups and leaders. Harris says she would use her background as a litigation paralegal and in PTSAs to contribute to more effective policy-making and oversight.

Background: Voters pamphet.

Endorsements: Seattle Times: Leslie Harris. The Stranger: Leslie Harris.

Endorsements and Guides

There’s more — much more! — out there. That includes:

Crosscut's Cash Money Voter's Guide 

The Seattle City Club’s Living Voters Guide (with interactive features)

Seattle Channel’s Video Voters Guide

King County TV's Video Voters Guide

The Stranger's full endorsements

The Seattle Times's full endorsements

KUOW’s election coverage

The Muni League’s candidate ratings

The Progressive Voters Guide

Washington Policy Center’s analysis of several ballot measures

King County's November election page

The Secretary of State's elections page

Join Crosscut at Civic Cocktail on Nov. 4 for a post-election wrap-up with political consultants Chris Sinderman and John Wyble, and former Seattle mayor Charley Royer. Then, Sen. Pramila Jayapal will discuss race, rent control and more.


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