King County Swung Left, Statewide Measures Were Split, and Many Races Remain Too Close to Call

by Geov Parrish

Nationally, Tuesday’s election pretty much went as polls suggested they would. With Democrats and Republicans highly motivated to vote this year, 2018’s midterms have shattered all kinds of national election turnout records for a non-presidential year. In Washington State, however, the 1970 record, which topped a whopping 70 percent, remains unchallenged. But with that enthusiasm, far more people than usual voted early: Almost half of the state’s 4.3 million registered voters had their ballots counted with the state’s first release of election totals on Tuesday night. That will likely be at least two-thirds of the final total of voters. That means that candidates with a significant first-night lead in key races will be difficult to overcome as more ballots are counted.

In the Seattle area, where there aren’t that many fans of President Donald Trump fans to urge to vote, progressive Democrats are looking at a nearly clean sweep. But some statewide initiatives that were considered progressive fared worse.

Starting with the statewide initiatives: Initiative 1631 (the carbon tax) is one exception to progressive success. It’s losing solidly, 44 to 56 percent, in a campaign that pitted environmental activists and Gov. Jay Inslee against against Big Oil, which paid almost entirely for a $16 million dollar advertising onslaught. I-1631 would have been the first measure of its type in the country. However, we’ve seen in the past how much money companies or industries are willing to spend to prevent a new local or statewide idea from taking hold, whether it be an Employee Hours Tax, a ban on plastic bags, or Initiative 732, an earlier, messier attempt at a carbon tax in 2016. Or soda taxes.

On that front, the sugared drink industry, led by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, sponsored initiatives in Washington and Oregon this November that would have banned future taxes similar to Seattle’s new sugared drink tax, which went into effect last January. In both Northwest states, those initiatives are passing — 57 to 43 percent in Oregon; 55 to 45 percent in Washington — following a blizzard of dishonest advertising that depicted politicians as poised to tax all of our groceries and hurt grandma.

Other progressive efforts had better success. The National Rifle Association failed in its efforts to block Initiative 1639, a package of background checks and other firearms purchasing and safety requirements that leads comfortably after one night, 60 to 40 percent.

Another progressive ballot measure, Initiative 940 would remove language in state law that has made it functionally impossible to criminally prosecute law enforcement officers for criminal on-duty use of force incidents. The initiative is also passing by roughly 60 to 40 percent after one night.

Moving on from voter initiatives to the biggest race in Western Washington, Democrat Kim Schreier ended the night with an astonishing 11,764-vote lead (53 to 47 percent) against Republican Dino Rossi in their bids to replace retiring Republican Dave Reichert in Congress. Polls showed the race as a toss-up, with Rossi leading slightly. Fifty-three percent might not sound like much of a lead, but given the large early voting turnout, Rossi would likely need to win at least 60 percent of the remaining votes to catch up with Schrier. If her lead holds, that would be a huge victory for local Democrats.

The few progressive Democrats clearly losing after the first night’s count are trailing other Democrats in to left-vs.-left races: Sarah Smith trails longtime incumbent congressional Rep. Adam Smith, 30 to 70 percent. In state Legislative District 32, incumbent Sen. Maralyn Chase, who has long ruffled the feathers of centrist Democrats in her district, trails Shoreline Deputy Mayor Jesse Saloman by a similar 30 to 70 percent margin.

The news is otherwise remarkably good for progressives after one night. In races nobody expected to be close, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Pramila Jayapal are ahead by unassailable margins. Several closer state legislative races have also broken well for progressives. In Federal Way’s Legislative District 30, reactionary incumbent Sen. Mark Miloscia won last August’s primary against Federal Way school board director Claire Wilson, but this time Wilson is leading, 53 to 47 percent. If Wilson can hold onto that lead, she will join two notably progressive first-time legislators of color in Olympia: West Seattle’s Joe Nguyen, who leads centrist Shannon Braddock, 57 to 43 percent, in the race to replace retiring Sen. Sharon Nelson in Legislative District 34; and My-Linh Thai, who leads Michael Appleby in Bellevue’s Legislative District 41, an open House seat, by a 65 to 35 percent margin.

Two high-profile races remain too close to call after one night: In Legislative District 47 (Auburn), embattled Republican incumbent Sen. Joe Fain, who is under investigation for an alleged 2007 rape, leads challenger Mona Das by only 274 votes. And up in Whatcom County’s Legislative District 42, far right incumbent Sen. Doug Ericksen, who chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in our state in 2016, leads Democratic challenger Pinky Vargas by only 451 votes.

In the coming days, watch the margins of the critical Schrier-Rossi race, as well as Fain-Das in Legislative District 47 and Ericksen-Vargas in Legislative District 42. If they don’t narrow — a lot — on the second and third days, the leader on the first night will likely win. But if, for example, Democrats were stronger in later voting, Fain and Ericksen could be in real trouble. Either of those races has the potential to expand the Democrats’ legislative majorities in Olympia, in what has already been a strong election for progressives.

Featured Photo: Supporters of Initiative 940, which changes laws that have prevented police officers from being criminally prosecuted for shooting deaths, celebrate Nov. 6 after a decisive lead in the first ballot drop. (Photo: Susan Fried)