Washington voters who have yet to turn in their ballots – and based on the latest figures, that’s most of us – have some interesting choices to make between now and Tuesday.
The buildup to this off-year election is admittedly many decibel levels below last year’s presidential contest. The races, and many of the issues, are local. But voters across the state still must decide some complicated issues on government spending and domestic partnerships. Southeast Washington’s 9th Legislative District needs to fill an opening in the state House of Representatives. Cities and towns have council seats up for grabs, and some are electing mayors. School, fire and water districts are filling board positions.
And Spokane city voters are being asked to approve $33 million for fire equipment and determine whether their charter, the equivalent of a municipal constitution, needs a “Bill of Rights.” And if it does, how should the city pay for any changes that wind up costing money.
All but one of Washington’s counties votes by mail, so in one sense the election has been happening for more than two weeks. Campaign literature started filling mailboxes before that and yard signs went up months ago.
But many ballots still remain on desks or kitchen counters, under magazines or early holiday catalogs. The latest figures from Spokane County showed only about one voter in four had mailed in a ballot or dropped it off at a collection box. Secretary of State Sam Reed said recently only about half of the voters will cast a ballot – although he added he’d be happy to be proved wrong if that’s an underestimate.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights on ballots in the Spokane area:
Initiative 1033 would place restrictions on how much the state, counties and cities can spend from year to year, limiting any increases to a formula that takes the previous year and accounts for inflation and population growth. Perennial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman describes it as a way to rein in an ever-expanding government, and has picked up endorsements from conservatives and some business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business. Government officials, large companies that include Microsoft, Group Health and Avista, and state and national unions are involved in a full-court press to defeat it.
Referendum 71 gives voters a chance to decide whether the Legislature did the right thing by expanding domestic partnership rights with a bill that was called “everything but marriage.” The rights, which are being offered to same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples over 62, cover such things as community property, visitation at hospitals, many estate and tax issues and, for public employees, many workplace benefits. Opponents of the bill, who contend this is akin to same-sex marriage, gathered signatures on petitions to place it before voters. But to stop the law from taking effect, a voter marks “rejected”; those who support the rights would mark “approved.”
Spokane ballot measures include Proposition 1, which asks voters to approve some $33 million in bonds for new fire equipment and new stations. The 10-year bonds would replace bonds approved in 1999 and cost homeowners an estimated $27 a year for each $100,000 of assessed valuation. That’s about $10 more per $100,000 of valuation than the expiring bonds. It needs a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
Spokane Proposition 4 offers nine amendments to the City Charter, proposing rights for residents on everything from support of local businesses and prevailing wages on certain construction projects to affordable preventive health care, housing and energy. Neighborhoods would have greater say over developments and the environment would be granted rights and corporations would lose some. The rights come as a package, so it’s an up-or-down vote. Propositions 2 and 3 ask voters how the city should pay for Prop 4, should it pass.
The cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley have spirited council races. Spokane City has one seat on the ballot in each of its three council districts. Because of term limits, the seat in northeast Spokane is open and matches Mike Fagan, a Hillyard neighborhood activist and Eyman associate, against Amber Waldref, a Logan neighborhood activist who works for the Lands Council. Councilman Mike Allen, a former Eastern Washington University administrator, faces Jon Snyder, the publisher of Out There Monthly, in the south Spokane district, and Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, a fiscal and social conservative, faces Karen Kearney, a former bank manager and campaign manager, in the northwest district.
Spokane Valley voters elect their council citywide, and have five seats on the ballot. Incumbent Gary Schimmels and Tom Towey are unopposed, and one seat that came open after the filing deadline has four candidates: Ian Robertson, who was appointed to the spot, plus Dean Grafos, Ed Pace and Edward Foote. Rich Munson, retired stock broker and longtime Republican activist who has been on the council since incorporation and currently serves as mayor, faces a challenge from state Sen. Bob McCaslin, who was first elected to the Legislature in 1980. Councilwoman Diana Wilhite, a businesswoman and former mayor who is also one of the original council members, faces a challenge from Brenda Grassel, a businesswoman and former teacher.
In the state’s 9th Legislative District, Pat Hailey, of Mesa, a farmer and rancher, and the widow of Steve Hailey who died after being elected to the seat last year, faces Susan Fagan, of Pullman, a former director of public affairs for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and a former staffer for U.S. senators in Idaho. The winner represents the state’s second-largest district for the year that’s left on the term and would face re-election next year.