On Sept. 17, Seattle voters proved once again that they're immune from the anti-tax fever that has swept through the rest of the state. Seattle voted overwhelmingly—by a margin of 57 to 43 percent—to enact an $86 million low-income housing levy that will cost the average homeowner in the city $49 in property taxes a year.
In statewide races, the electorate continued to show favoritism toward women in state Supreme Court races, advancing longtime assistant Attorney General Mary Fairhurst in one race and Pamela Loginsky, a tough prosecutor, in the other.
The housing levy will help provide rental housing, first-time home-buyer assistance, and emergency housing assistance for low-income Seattle residents. Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck says the impressive margin—larger than that won by the last housing levy, in 1995—was evidence that "people feel even more compassionate" during an economic downturn. "The housing levy is one issue where people are voting with their hearts," Steinbrueck says.
It wasn't always so clear where their hearts would lead them. Early results showed the levy leading by far slimmer margins, and the tax—an increase over the current levy, which averages $34 a year—comes just months before voters will be asked to approve a $1.7 billion city monorail line and a $7.7 billion gas tax to pay for statewide transportation projects. But as it turned out, people were more than willing to open up their pocketbooks. "Some people just don't want taxes. I understand that. Who likes taxes?" says City Council member Nick Licata, who has spent the last several weeks campaigning for the levy. "On the other hand, people know what they're getting with this tax. People can drive around town and they can see there's low-income housing" provided by the levy, Licata says.
Not all the levy's $86 million would go to fund housing for the poorest of the poor. As City Council member Judy Nicastro has noted repeatedly, $7.8 million—nearly ten percent—would be used to assist first-time homebuyers making up to 80 percent of Seattle's median income, or $62,000 for a family of four. That argument, repeated ceaselessly by levy opponents like Nicastro in the weeks leading up to the election, didn't resonate on Tuesday night. The levy campaign's consultant, Christian Sinderman, believes Nicastro's opposition "only galvanized our supporters. I think she did herself a disservice" by opposing the levy. Steinbrueck says he hopes the levy's victory will "quiet those skeptics and naysayers that we've heard from recently."
And judging from Nicastro's comments on election night, it might. "It certainly will make me re-evaluate," Nicastro says. "I think the policies in this levy are misdirected, but the voters have decided they are not. Perhaps I will support some of these [homeownership] programs."
Statewide voter support for women Supreme Court candidates remains strong.
Pamela Loginsky raised $4,500 for her race against 12-year state Supreme Court incumbent Charles W. Johnson. Her opponent raised $70,000. She did not campaign hard because she has a full-time job as the staff attorney for the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. This is Johnson's third statewide campaign. Loginsky received an "adequate" rating from the King County Bar, while Johnson was rated "well qualified." She has a short list of endorsers, most of whom are other prosecutors. He has a long list of endorsers that range across the political and legal spectrum.
Yet Loginsky led the race much of the night. The final tally was close, with Johnson leading with 200,214 votes to Loginsky's 193,476. The two candidates will advance to November's general election.
"There is a gender component to these races," Johnson says. When he joined the court in 1991, only one out of the nine justices was female; today, there are four women on the bench. In 2000, voters elected a little-known district-court judge from Clallam County, Susan Owens, to the Supreme Court over six male opponents. "The voters perceive women to be more compassionate and understanding of their issues," Johnson says.
Loginsky dismisses the woman factor. "It's my message," she claims. "There is no one on the court with criminal law experience." Loginsky has been a prosecutor for thirteen years, doing everything from "death-penalty cases to traffic infractions."
In addition, Loginsky is very critical of Johnson's tenure on the bench. She is particularly upset with his work on the rules that govern statewide legal practices. She also claims "the court is not duly respectful to the Legislature."
Johnson, for his part, stresses that his allegiance is to "constitutional principles." He says the rules he follows have been developed over the state's 113-year legal history. "I have not tried to insert my personal views and have proven my impartiality, my fairness, and my intellect."
Mary Fairhurst, who led her three male opponents all night in an open-seat race, credits her success to her message and her unusual campaign strategy: She's running on her "28 years of experience." She has served 16 years in the attorney general's office, mostly in civil prosecution, worked in numerous leadership roles in the Washington State Bar Association, and spent two years clerking for state Supreme Court justices after law school. In this year's campaign, she had supporters send out 50,000 postcards to their friends and families, and she believes this grassroots approach impacted voters.
Jim Johnson, a passionate litigator from Olympia, trailed Fairhurst 164,012 to 169,337, and the two seemed likely to head for a runoff in seven weeks. Johnson downplays the gender factor. "I don't think people select judges by sex," he says emphatically. Johnson believes he is the more qualified and experienced candidate, having argued around 100 cases at an appellate level, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
The two will present quite a contrast for voters this fall. Johnson's ardor for constitutional rights, particularly property and voting rights, has earned him the support of conservative interest groups across the state. Fairhurst stresses her impartiality and fairness. "When people appear to have very strong beliefs it's not clear that they can set them aside," she says. "That's where the integrity of the judiciary can erode. I do have beliefs but all my work shows that I can set them aside to seek a just result."
Johnson thinks the race is being cast too strongly in ideological terms by the media. He says he knows that the role of the judge is to be impartial and follow the rule of law. "If there's a vast conspiracy to enforce the state constitution, then I'm probably part of it."