It was a long and brutal campaign season for the Northwest, as for the rest of the United States. In the end, it brought a historic vote on marriage equality, a new approach to marijuana regulation, a small leftward shift in the Oregon House and the Northwest’s Congressional delegation, election of a strong champion for clean energy to the governor’s mansion in Olympia, and an awful lot of the same people—or the same party—returning to office. Many races remain undecided, and Sightline staff has been monitoring results across the region. We’ll keep updating this as results come in.
As expected, President Obama won most of the Northwest’s electoral votes, running up leads in Oregon and Washington and claiming those 19 electoral votes. In Idaho, which has four electoral votes, and Alaska and Montana, which have three electors each, challenger Mitt Romney prevailed, giving him 10 of Cascadia’s electors. None of these states were “battlegrounds” contested by the campaigns. We’ll be interested to see the final popular vote for the president in the three main Northwest states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington (as of November 9 at 11:00 a.m., it was 53 percent for Obama), but we have to wait for the half-million-or-so ballots that are still in the mail, mostly in Washington, to be counted. (If British Columbia could vote for the US president, the province would have supported him by much larger margins.)
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The key US Senate race in the Northwest (and one where the politics of coal figured prominently) was the first reelection campaign of Montana Democrat Jon Tester, who defeated Republican challenger US Rep. Denny Rehberg by nearly four points. In a year when Republicans need to pick up only four seats to gain control of the US Senate, massive amounts of outside money flooded through super-PACs and other channels into the state to influence one of the country’s most hotly contested races.
In the region’s only other US Senate race, incumbent Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) won reelection handily. Overall, D’s increased their edge in the US Senate. Senate D’s also may have become a bit more liberal. Now, much depends on filibuster reform.
US House of Representatives
Cascadia’s House delegation went from a 11-9 Democratic majority to what looks likely to be a 12-9 division favoring D’s. (We define Cascadia’s House delegation as including all representatives from Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, plus the at-large members from Alaska and Montana, and California’s new 2nd district, which is on the Redwood Coast.) In Washington’s 1st district, where the seat vacated by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee produced one of the region’s closest races and presented voters with two starkly different alternatives, Democrat Suzan DelBene won a commanding victory over Republican John Koster. In Montana’s solitary seat vacated by Senate candidate Denny Rehberg, Republican Steve Daine beat Democrat Kim Gillan.
Incumbents in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho all won reelection. In Washington’s new 10th district seat encompassing parts of Thurston and Pierce counties, which the state gained this year because of population growth, Democrat and former state house majority leader Denny Heck was well ahead of the Republican candidate, retired Air Force officer Dick Muri. The seat in Washington’s 6th district left open by Democrat Norm Dicks’ retirement was went to Democrat Derek Kilmer. In northern California’s newly redistricted 2nd Congressional seat, Democrat Jared Huffman trounced Republican Daniel Roberts.
The Washington governor’s race was a closely fought contest between state Attorney General Rob McKenna (a west-side Republican with a cultivated reputation as a moderate) and US Rep. Jay Inslee (a Seattle-area Democrat best known for his leadership on climate and clean energy policy). In a state known for its razor thin margins between gubernatorial candidates, neither polls nor pundits predicted a clear winner on Tuesday night, but as of 9:30 a.m. on November 8, Inslee held a lead of 2.2 percentage points — a large enough lead that it is very likely to hold.
Montanans voted for a new governor to replace Democrat Brian Schweitzer, who was forced to retire by term limits. Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock defeated Republican former US Rep. Rick Hill.
Other Statewide Offices
Washington’s attorney general holds key if little-noticed levers of sustainability. The attorney general writes the titles of ballot measures that go before voters, and the wording of these short descriptions can have an enormous impact on whether they pass or fail. A differently written version of Tim Eyman’s “supermajority” ballot title might have fared very differently. The AG’s office also advises the state Utilities and Transportation Commission on consumer protection. The AG’s office has been no friend of de-coupling of utility profits from conservation, nor of revising the outdated rule that forces phone companies to deliver white pages to every landline customer every year, even if customers don’t want them. Democrat and former King County Council member Bob Ferguson prevailed over his opponent Reagan Dunn; we are optimistic that the new AG will play a more helpful role than did his predecessor.
Washington Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, the conservative Democrat and long-time incumbent won reelection despite a spirited challenge from Republican Bill Finkbeiner, who ran to his left, with the support of women’s groups, labor, and conservationists. The lieutenant governor plays an important, if little noted, role in setting up legal challenges to Tim Eyman’s minority rule ballot measures. The LG is the state senate’s parliamentarian: Brad Owen has pledged his support to Eyman’s minority-rule measure; Finkbeiner told one of us that he was willing to consider allowing a parliamentary procedure that would test the measure’s constitutionality.
In a battle of eastern Washington candidates, the incumbent commissioner of public lands, conservation-minded Democrat Peter Goldmark, cruised to an easy victory over conservative Republican Clint Didier. The public lands position will be an especially important one in the coming years as proposed coal export facilities try to make their way through environmental review and permitting on state aquatic lands.
In most other statewide executive races, incumbents returned to their offices. The Washington secretary of state race between Kathleen Drew and Kim Wyman is too close to call.
In Washington’s only contested supreme court race, controversial former justice Richard B. Sanders lost his bid to rejoin the court to appellate attorney Sheryl Gordon McCloud. In Oregon’s only supreme court race, Richard Baldwin prevailed.
In Oregon’s other statewide races, incumbents Kate Brown and Ted Wheeler were re-elected as secretary of state and treasurer. The vacancy created in the Oregon attorney general’s office when John Kroger resigned earlier this year will be filled by Democrat Ellen Rosenberg, a former Oregon court of appeals judge who had been acting as the interim AG.
Statewide Ballot Measures
The Northwest is a national center of direct democracy, and the region had several consequential ballot measures to decide.
- Marriage equality. Equal marriage rights for same-sex couples achieved victory in Washington, adding the Evergreen State to Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota on November 6th in a streak for same-sex marriage rights. We are proud.
- Marijuana. Washington was a battleground for revising marijuana law, ending prohibition on the drug and replacing it with regulation and taxation. In what appears to be a Bradley effect, state voters overwhelmingly approve of the idea, with support evident across the state.
- Tim Eyman’s latest incarnation of rule over taxes by minority faction in the state legislature (funded this time by the liquor and oil lobbies) passed, as expected. Sightline’s spilled a lot of blood, sweat, and ink on this measure. We are not pleased, although we have some hope the state supreme court will throw out supermajorities in the weeks ahead.
- Charter Schools—Vote tallies favored Initiative 1240 to allow the creation of up to 40 charter schools that would be independently run but publicly funded, and which supporters argued would allow more flexibility to help underserved students and critics believe would drain resources from other schools. Many Washington votes remain uncounted, however. The outcome of this measure will take days to discover.
- Marijuana—Voters rejected Measure 80, one of the most liberal proposals in the country to legalize marijuana, and demonstrated a lack of confidence in the ballot initiative’s chief sponsor.
- Columbia River gillnets—Voters also rejected Measure 81, an initiative to prohibit nontribal commercial fishermen from using gillnets that snag salmon on the Columbia River, which lost traction after Gov. John Kitzhaber reached an alternative compromise to move gillnetters off the lower river.
- Gambling—They also rejected a pair of measures that would have allowed a nontribal casino east of Portland.
- Education Reform—In one of Idaho’s most expensive ballot campaigns, voters said “no” to three measures and overturned planks of the state’s 2011 education reform package that limit union bargaining, institute merit pay for teachers and lease laptops for students.
- Revenue—Governor Jerry Brown’s crusade to raise about $6 billion of new revenue a year for schools and other services convinced a large majority of California voters.
- GMO Foods—A measure to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms failed, after a multimillion dollar campaign by giant ag and food interests.
Republicans did well in AK yesterday, securing clear control of the House and “a major power shift” in the Senate, AP/Fairbanks Daily News Miner reports. Sixteen of the Senate’s 20 seats were up for grabs and Republicans appear to have shifted a previous tie into a sizable majority.
Oil policy in the state may hinge on these shifts. Notably, two key Fairbanks members of the Senate bipartisan coalition were defeated. As the Daily News Miner explained:
The Democratic members of the Senate Bipartisan Working Group had come under fire this election largely for the group’s refusal to pass an industry-backed plan to cut taxes on oil production.
The new tally: AK House: 15 Dems, 25 Republicans. Senate: 7 Dems, 13 Republicans.
Democrats’ “grip on Sacramento tightened” as the LA Times put it. In fact, in something of a surprise sweep, Democrats have a super-majority and “can finally overcome the 2/3 vote requirement needed to raise taxes and make California governable and solvent.”
The new tally: CA House: 56 Dems, 24 Republicans. Senate: 26 Dems, 12 Republicans.
The GOP again maintained its overwhelming control of the state legislature. The Idaho Statesman reports that Republicans lost southwest Boise seats but held two others in West Boise that had been targeted by Democrats.
The new tally: ID House: 13 Dems, 57 Republicans. Senate: 6 Dems, 29 Republicans.
Democrats maintained their slim lead in the OR Senate and regained control of the House, which had been tied after losing Portland suburban seats to Republicans two years ago. Democrats defeated four Republican freshmen in the House, to give the party 34 seats. As the Oregonian quips, “Gov. John Kitzhaber wasn’t on the ballot Tuesday, but he received a shiny new present anyway.” OR will see the first full Democratic majority in the legislature in Kitzhaber’s 10 years as chief executive.
The state also elected two new Latino representatives: Jessica Vega Pederson from northeast Portland’s 47th District and Joe Gallegos from the 30th District. Their wins were steps toward catching the legislature up with the shifting demographics of the state.
The new tally: OR House: 34 Dems, 26 Republicans. Senate: 16 Dems, 14 Republicans.
Several House and Senate seats were tightly contested this time around, but it appears that Republicans have maintained their comfortable edge in both chambers.
The new tally: MT House: 37 Dems, 63 Republicans. Senate: 23 Dems, 27 Republicans.
Overall, Democrats maintained control in Olympia. In the state Senate the GOP will narrow Democrats’ majority by only one seat.
One surprise came in the state’s 10th district where the chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, Democrat Mary Margaret Haugen, was unseated by Republican Barbara Bailey. Haugen was a major force for highway expansion in Washington. The new transportation committee, still controlled by Democrats, will almost certainly mean that the legislature will become friendlier to transit and more skeptical of costly road building schemes.
The new tally: WA House: 55 Dems, 43 Republicans. Senate: 27 Dems, 22 Republicans.
In the race for Portland’s mayor that turned up few political differences but instead hinged on past personal behavior and experience, Charlie Hales, a former city commissioner and promoter of transit, compact communities, and walkability, won decisively over Bus Project creator Jefferson Smith.
In Clark County, Washington, just north of Portland, it looks like voters have rejected Proposition 1, a 0.1 percent sales tax increase (a penny on every $10 purchase) slated primarily for operating and maintaining a light rail line across the Columbia River. The defeat may come as something of a surprise, since Clark County voters aren’t particularly anti-tax, and have been generally supportive of transit: just last November, for example, the county voted 54-46 to raise taxes by 0.2 percent—twice as much as the proposal they just rejected—to prevent cutbacks in local bus service.
But this vote wasn’t just about transit or taxes. Instead, it was positioned as a referendum on the Columbia River Crossing, the troubled $3.5 billion project to widen the I-5 bridge across the Columbia, while adding a light rail line between Portland and Vancouver. As the campaign shaped up, Prop. 1 was touted as voters’ “one and only opportunity” to weigh in on the CRC. And the proposition’s defeat represents a double setback for the project: first, because the feds won’t give money for transit construction unless localities first agree to pay for operation and maintenance; and second, because Washington state law prohibits local transit agencies from building “high capacity transit” without voter approval. So this vote, at a minimum, will mean more delays and uncertainties for the CRC—including, quite possibly, another trip back to the voters in a year or two.
In Pierce County, a measure to fund transit appears to be failing by the narrowest of margins, as of a week after the election. The result is likely to be draconian cuts in that county’s bus service.
The US grassroots group Move to Amend sparked local initiatives in dozens of places declaring that corporations are not persons, that big money should have no place in US democracy, and calling for a US constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood and to overturn Citizens United. In Cascadia, such initiatives won huge victory margins in the city of Arcata and Mendocino County, California; the state of Montana; and the cities of Ashland, Corvallis, and Eugene and Lincoln County, Oregon.
We will update this summary as new results come in.