Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat provided running commentary on local and national election results as they rolled in Tuesday night.
What does Election 2014 mean? Some quick-hit impressions:
Expect more gun control legislation to come down the pike, and soon. The politics around that issue — the old trembling at the might of the NRA, the worries about the wrath of gun-loving voters — has officially changed.
Expect Seattle to roll out a slew of new tax measures, on roads, police, publicly funded elections, you name it. Why not? City keeps saying yes.
Expect a donnybrook of a Legislative session and a huge fight over education spending. The election resolved nothing on that front.
Expect Republicans to open more investigations into President Obama, now that they control the U.S. Senate. Don’t expect Obamacare to be repealed.
Expect more war? I don’t know about that last one, but that’s what I’m most worried about.
NOT ENOUGH MURRAY TO GO AROUND
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray was supposed to be at three election night parties — Yes on gun background checks, Yes on Metro bus transit and Yes on Universal Pre-K. All three won handily. Too many victory parties is a good problem to have.
MONEY FOR NOTHING?
This was the most money spent on Washington state legislative races in history, and the state Senate contest in the 45th District, centered on Redmond, was the priciest single legislative race in state history. All that money seems to have changed … nothing. It’s looking like Republicans will retain control in the state Senate, but by the same margin as before. That’s a lot of money for the status quo.
UNIONS NOT HAVING A GOOD NIGHT
State and national teachers’ unions spent more than $4 million on the class size reduction measure, Initiative 1351, and are narrowly losing (it’s basically a 50-50 tie.) And other unions put a competing preschool initiative on the ballot in Seattle and lost badly. The two initiatives opened up a rift between good government Democrats like, say, City Councilman Tim Burgess, and the Democrats’ union backers. The good government Democrats won.
SEATTLE BUYS PROGRESSIVE DREAMS
Last spring I wrote some columns wondering whether Seattleites were someday going to choke on the big price tag of our leaders’ progressive dreams. Answer: Nope!
Not yet, anyway. New Mayor Ed Murray has now run the tax table in this town, getting voters to back new taxes for a major new parks district, for buses and for starting up universal preschool. Add the $15 minimum wage and that’s a pretty heady series of wins for the new mayor in his first year.
HOW DID GUN CONTROL BREAKTHROUGH HAPPEN?
Well, they had a winning issue — background checks are widely supported in public opinion surveys. Plus, the campaign spent about $10 million, enough to flood the zone with ads. Again, the Marysville school shooting surely had an impact (even though background checks wouldn’t have affected that shooting.)
Also, even though the campaign was pushed by elite gajillionaires like Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Nick Hanauer, the campaign also reports more than 9,000 citizen contributors. It was a bigger, more broadly-based campaign than it was given credit for, and it worked in our increasingly liberal state.
GUN CONTROL BREAKTHROUGH
Gun control measures have never done well at the ballot box, including in this liberal state. But the gun control groups broke through that barrier in a big way.
Initiative 594, to mandate background checks on all gun purchases, is passing overwhelmingly, by about a 20-point margin. That’s a watershed vote. I don’t know if it was the Marysville shooting right in the last weeks of the election or just that the public has had enough of mass shootings, but it’s clear gun control’s moment has arrived.
It’s another example of the voters being ahead of the politicians. Roughly this same background check measure died in last year’s Legislative session, killed by National Rifle Association lobbying and gun-supporting Democrats without ever coming up for a vote.
REPUBLICANS RETAINING STATE SENATE
It’s early yet, but Republicans appear to be running the table in all the heavily contested state Senate races. It appears the party will keep the Senate and maybe expand its control.
NO GOP WAVE HERE
The only local Democratic congressperson who got any serious challenge, Suzan DelBene in the 1st Congressional District, seems to be cruising to re-election. Her lead at this early point in the vote counting is about nine points, but that’s a lot in what is supposed to be a 50-50 swing district. Republican challenger Pedro Celis just never caught on.
SEATTLE ALSO APPROVES PRESCHOOL
This was a confusing one, but Seattle voters had zero trouble figuring it out or making up their minds. Yes we want a preschool program. And yes we’re willing to pay for it. Seattle voters approved property taxes to essentially begin expanding the school system down to 3 and 4 year olds.
OK, SEATTLE DOESN’T LOVE ALL TRANSIT!
Even Seattle couldn’t stomach another quixotic try at expanding the quirky monorail. Remember when that cab driver drew an X on a napkin and the whole city had monorail dreams? Never mind. The latest try at monorail-mania was getting crushed in early returns — an 80 percent “no” ‘vote. So the monorail is finally dead? Long live the monorail (you can still ride the little one down at Seattle Center, though.)
SEATTLE APPROVES BUSES
City leaders made a real hash of the second bus measure this year – saying it was to stop devastating bus system cuts but switching messages midstream when those cuts were canceled. But Seattle voters agreed to pay the $60 car tabs and 0.1 percent sales tax anyway.
I think dissatisfaction with how this was handled is reflected in the vote – it was passing by about 59 percent, but that’s less than the city’s 66 percent approval of a similar measure back in April (that one failed countywide.) But anyone who tries to move around the city knows we need more transit. So transit won. Transit will always win in Seattle — at least until we get our acts together and finally build some!
U.S. SENATE GOING REPUBLICAN
Seems pretty obvious the GOP is going to win at least one more of these tightly contested races. It’s looking like Republicans will have at least a 51 or 52-seat majority.
GOP HOUSE DOMINATION
Networks are projecting Republicans will have 246 to 250 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives — the most for either party since Democrats dominated the joint back in the 1970s,’80s and early ’90s.
UP NEXT: OUR OWN BATTLE FOR SENATE CONTROL
In about 45 minutes we’ll start to learn which party is going to control our own state Senate. With Republicans doing well nationally, though maybe not tidal wave well, it bodes very well for local Republicans to retain control of the state Senate and maybe even win it outright (they currently have power only due to two crossover Democrats.)
REPUBLICANS TAKE COLORADO
This was a big pickup for the GOP. Colorado allegedly has been getting bluer, but Republican Corey Gardner carrying it tonight means the party needs only one more pickup around the country to win the Senate.
THEN THERE’S THE EBOLA GAP
Exit polls also asked whether voters approved of the government’s handling of the Ebola crisis. Weirdly Democrats are in approval by 71 to 27, while Republicans are the exact mirror opposite — 27 percent approve and 71 percent don’t. How did we get this partisan about an infectious disease?
GENDER GAP MAY ALWAYS BE WITH US
I was looking at the national exit polls, and once again there’s a big gender gap — women favored Democrats by 8 points, and men favored Republicans by 12. I remember writing stories 20 years ago about the late Republican Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn’s project to try to get her testosterone-fueled party to appeal to women voters (because more women vote than men.) But the gap looks to be about the same today as it was back then — maybe even larger.
EVEN GUNS AREN’T RILING US
I figured the gun debate would drive up voter turnout, but Secretary of State Kim Wyman tweets that only 34 percent of ballots have been returned as of this evening. Maybe a couple million voted really late like me? Or maybe this election just never caught on.
NO WAVE SO FAR
Democrats won in New Hampshire and are winning North Carolina but Republicans are doing better than expected in Virginia. We may not know who controls the U.S. Senate for weeks. Or months.
IS EYMAN NOTICING THIS?
Wasn’t Tim Eyman’s next initiative supposed to be something capping minimum wages or barring cities from setting municipal level wages? Seems like higher mandated wages are about as universally popular as a political issue can get.
NEBRASKA BACKING WAGES, TOO
Nebraska appears to be voting to raise its minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 in two years — a 24 percent boost. That’s not $15, true, but when it comes to the power of the minimum wage, we’re apparently all Seattleites now.
EVEN RED STATES BACKING MINIMUM WAGE
Even Arkansas appears to be voting to raise the minimum wage, and by nearly a 2 to 1 ratio (although only from $7.25 an hour to $8.50.) Weird that higher wages is such a divisive partisan issue.
Our paper reported over the weekend that the state legislative campaigns are setting a record for total campaign spending, much of it on ads or mailers. At the same time, the Secretary of State reported that only 29 percent of voters have turned in their ballots, and voter turnout may barely top 50 percent.
POT LEGALIZATION ROLLS ON
Even Florida is
approving voting for medical pot (it’s at 57 percent yes, but it turns out it needs 60 percent to pass.)
IF REPUBLICANS TAKE THE U.S. SENATE
What would it mean? Two outcomes we know will happen if Republicans win — Sen. Patty Murray would lose her influential spot as head of the Budget Committee, and Sen. Maria Cantwell would lose her considerably less influential position as chairwoman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
NO POLITICS IS LOCAL ANYMORE
The mega story of modern politics was told last weekend by our own Jim Brunner, who noted that 1) no congressional incumbents have lost in this state in 16 years and 2) unlike the old Tip O’ Neill adage that “all politics is local,” now it doesn’t appear to matter much who you are or what you say — only what party identifier you have after your name. We are a polarized people.
HERE IT’S IN THE MAIL
Colorado and Oregon both do mail-in voting like we do, but both require that your ballot reach election offices by today. Here, votes will be trickling in for days because we only require they be postmarked by today. Can we change that please? P.S. One of the votes trickling in is my own, which I mailed at about noon today…
TIDAL WAVE COMING?
Probably not — they’re rare. It also doesn’t seem like there’s tangible anger in the land – more like frustration. But watch two states – New Hampshire and Connecticut – for early signs if a true GOP wave is building anyway. Both states’ polls close at 5 p.m. our time and both are blue or light blue. If voters in New Hampshire elect Republican Scott Brown in a replay of the Tea Party revolt of 2010 and/or Connecticut voters throw out their Democratic governor Daniel Malloy, look out.
Still, even big Election Night rollers have died out before reaching this state’s shores. In the 2010 Tea Party revolt, all our Democratic incumbents survived anyway, despite scares for Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Rick Larsen. Our state has gotten so blue maybe it’s wave-proof.
THE DEMOCRATS’ HEADWIND
On Election Day 2012, when Obama was re-elected, Americans were pessimistic but only marginally so. More Americans felt we were on the wrong track than the right track by about ten points. But last fall that gap exploded. Today wrong track leads by a whopping 38 points.
It’s interesting that the date of the collapse roughly corresponds with the botched computer rollout of Obamacare. Coincidence, maybe. Or maybe Obama lost the faith of people then and hasn’t been able to get it back.
IT’S FEELING LIKE A GOP DAY
Unless the polls are colossally wrong – and they usually aren’t — Republicans are poised to retake the U.S. Senate in the election today for the first time in the Obama era.
We’ll have more on that later, but it’s worth wondering: Why? It’s not as if Republicans are suddenly popular.
My own sense is it comes down to three things. 1) People are weary of Obama. That includes even many who think he’s been a good president. 2) Geography. Most of the Democratic senators on the hot seat are in red states. 3) Discipline. Republicans may have had no driving cause this year (other than anti-Obama), but for the first time in years they didn’t implode talking about contraception or other social stuff (remember “legitimate rape?”)