Washington state is in for big changes next year. In two days, residents should have an idea of how big.
Tuesday will bring an end to back-to-back-to-back candidate commercials that debate and snipe at each other on points of economics or character. An end to phone calls from earnest volunteers or recorded messages from celebrities seeking a vote for or against someone or something. An end to bus or RV odysseys around the state by gaggles of Democratic or Republican candidates trying to exhort supporters who have already voted to find a couple friends who haven’t, then get them to mark and mail their ballots. An end to revelations that some high-tech billionaire, out-of-state millionaire or Hollywood celebrity has sent a five-, six- or seven-figure contribution to a campaign for or against a ballot measure.
Shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday, elections officials in the state’s 39 counties will push buttons to tabulate the ballots they’ve processed. Whether Washington’s 12 Electoral College votes are going to President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will probably be known by 9 p.m. Other outcomes may take longer.
Because Washington only requires ballots to be dropped off or postmarked by Tuesday, elections officials will only have about 60 percent of the votes cast. The rest will be tallied over the next two weeks.
Regardless of the outcome, Washington will have a new governor, a new attorney general, a new secretary of state and a new auditor. The current holders of those offices are either retiring or running for some other post. The Democrats’ 28-year hold on the governor’s office is in doubt; so is the Republicans’ 48-year hold on the secretary of state’s office.
Also still uncertain: Will same-sex couples be allowed to marry instead of being limited to domestic partnerships? Will the recreational use of marijuana for adults be legalized?
The state will have at least three new U.S. representatives – one because it gained a congressional seat this year from a growing population, one because longtime Rep. Norm Dicks is retiring and one because Rep. Jay Inslee quit Congress to run for governor.
Other members of Congress are seeking another term, including two-term Sen. Maria Cantwell, challenged by Spokane Republican Michael Baumgartner, a state senator calling for an immediate end to the war in Afghanistan. U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, finishing her fourth term in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District seat, is running against Democrat Rich Cowan, a Spokane businessman accusing her of overlooking the needs of her district by spending too much time traveling across the country in support of other candidates.
Democrat Inslee is locked in a tight, high-spending race with Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna for the open governor’s seat. The winner faces daunting fiscal issues, because expected revenues won’t cover approved state programs and salaries through the end of next June, and a state Supreme Court decision could mean the state needs another $1 billion to fulfill its constitutional obligation to public schools.
Both talk about finding savings within government and generating more revenue through economic growth. Neither says he will raise taxes. The person they hope to replace, Gov. Chris Gregoire, contends whoever wins will have to change their tune.
All eight of the state’s other executive offices are also on the ballot.
Of the three state Supreme Court seats on the ballot, only one is contested. Richard Sanders, who served three terms before losing a race in 2010, is running against Sheryl Gordon McCloud, a Bainbridge Island attorney.
Before getting to the long list of names and offices, Washington voters first must wade through a list of ballot measures with a mix of contentious issues and technical adjustments.
Referendum 74 asks voters whether they will accept or reject a law passed and signed earlier this year that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington. It doesn’t require any religious organization opposed to same-sex marriage to perform those ceremonies or hold them in its facilities, but opponents contend it redefines marriage and infringes on their rights. Voting yes supports allowing the law to take effect next month.
Six other states now recognize same-sex marriage, but none approved it through a public vote. Supporters raised more than $12 million, with backing from some of the state’s iconic companies like Microsoft and Starbucks; actor Brad Pitt gave money and Barack Obama recorded a robocall. Opponents raised more than $2.6 million, with about $1 million coming from the National Organization for Marriage, and have the backing of the state’s Catholic bishops.
Initiative 502 would make recreational use of marijuana by adults legal under state law, although not if they are under its influence while driving. Marijuana would still be illegal under state law for anyone younger than 21, and the state would set up a system to regulate and tax the plant’s sale and growth. The initiative won’t change the fact that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug – which means it is illegal for all uses – under federal law.
Initiative 1240 would allow the state to set up a total of 40 charter schools over the next five years within the public school system. Those schools would have to hire certified staff but would have more latitude on curriculum and be free from some of the other regulations that public schools have. Supporters say it’s a needed innovation to improve the state’s school system; opponents say the $5,800 in state funds for each pupil that will go to the charter schools will drain scarce resources from the other schools.
Initiative 1185 would continue the current requirement that any tax increase receive a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the Legislature. Voters have approved similar restrictions four times before, and the most recent version remains in effect, although its constitutionality is before the state Supreme Court. If voters say yes but the court says no, the concept could resurface as a constitutional amendment in some future election.
The ballot has a pair of constitutional amendments that are more technical in nature. One allows the University of Washington and Washington State University to invest some of their money in stocks and bonds; the constitution generally prohibits that kind of investment with state money but already has some exemptions, such as for state pension funds. The other reduces the percentage of the state budget that can be used to pay off bonds for things like roads, bridges and buildings, but it also broadens the state funds that can be counted when figuring that percentage.
There are also two advisory votes on changes to tax law the Legislature made this year, but neither is binding.
All 98 seats in the state House, and about half the 49 seats in the state Senate, are up for election. Democrats hold a 56-to-42 majority in the House and a 27-to-22 majority in the Senate. Control of the House next year seems unlikely to change, but Republicans have a chance to forge a working majority in the Senate if they pick up a few seats and make alliances with conservative Democrats.
At least two Spokane-area legislators aren’t going back in January. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown announced this summer she was retiring after 20 years, and Rep. John Ahern stepped down after serving 10 of the last 12 years.
Rep. Andy Billig, a Democrat, faces Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, a Republican, in the race for Brown’s seat in central Spokane’s 3rd District. To fill Billig’s seat, Democrat Marcus Riccelli, a legislative aide to Brown, is running against Republican Tim Benn, co-owner of a day care center.
Republican Jeff Holy, a lawyer and former police officer, faces Democrat Dennis Dellwo, a lawyer and former legislator, for Ahern’s seat in the 6th District, which includes parts of south and northwest Spokane, the West Plains and some other suburban areas.
Rep. Matt Shea, a two-term House member, faces a challenge from Democrat Amy Biviano, a certified public accountant, in Spokane Valley’s 4th District. Rep. Timm Ormsby, a nine-year veteran, faces Republican Dave White in the 3rd District. Most other legislative seats in the Spokane area are uncontested.
Spokane County voters also will choose two of their three county commissioners. Republican Shelly O’Quinn, who works for Greater Spokane Incorporated, faces Democrat Daryl Romeyn, an organic farmer and former television broadcaster, for an open seat. Two-term incumbent Republican Todd Mielke faces former two-term commissioner Democrat John Roskelley in the other race.