Washington's voters ran over their political leaders on election night. The electorate not only rejected the politicians' solution to gridlock—Referendum 51, which would have raised $7.7 billion with new gas taxes to be used mostly for road construction—but they also continued the tax revolt by supporting Tim Eyman's Initiative 776, which promised $30 license-plate renewals and a new vote on Sound Transit's light-rail system. Seattle voters, as usual, appeared to be bucking the statewide trend by supporting $1.7 billion in new taxes for a 14-mile monorail, but that measure remained too close to call before absentee ballots were counted.
EYMAN CAME BACK from the dead on election night. The tax-cutting-initiative king emerged with a stunning victory on I-776, 53 percent to 46 percent. Just months ago, Eyman appeared to be floundering after admitting that he had lied about paying himself thousands of dollars to run his initiative campaigns. He emerged from seclusion this summer and fought his political enemies head on, never straying from his message: The voters want cheap car tabs and accountability for a "rogue" transit agency. He insisted the electorate didn't care about his personal credibility.
While he won decisively on election night, he continued his erratic behavior by refusing to acknowledge his victory. "Win, lose, or draw on I-776, look at what we have accomplished together in four years: Vehicle tabs are dramatically lower, property taxes are strictly capped, and politicians are asking voters' permission on big tax increases," he declared to his supporters.
I-776 eliminates funding for a variety of things: local road construction in King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Douglas counties, statewide highway repairs, ferry operations, and law enforcement. The biggest loser, however, is Sound Transit, which will have its funding slashed by 20 percent. Eyman predicts this will force the transit agency to bring its troubled, downtown-Seattle-to-Tukwila light-rail line back to the voters.
Christian Sinderman, a political consultant and one of Eyman's fiercest opponents, predicts I-776 will face and likely lose a court challenge. Sound Transit will emerge from court financially unscathed, Sinderman claims. However, "Politically, [I-776] stinks for Sound Transit," Sinderman admits. The agency has been trying to turn itself around after cost overruns forced it to reduce its light rail line by one third. Now, Sinderman thinks, I-776 puts Sound Transit back under a cloud. "It just kills me," he says.
Meanwhile, Referendum 51 backers must be feeling ill over the amount of money and political capital they spent for such a poor result. The incessant canvassing, the reams of mailers, and the TV saturation failed to pay off for R-51, which was failing on election night by a gaping 37-to-63 percent margin. The $7.7 billion package, put on the ballot by the state Legislature last summer, would have funded dozens of road projects statewide. The measure was even tanking in tax-friendly King County, where voters rejected it 41 percent to 58 percent.
"I know the question that's on everybody's minds," said 1000 Friends of Washington director Aaron Ostrom, who led the environmental opposition to R-51. "How can you get outspent 50-to-1 and still win a statewide campaign? It helps when the other side is selling a giant boondoggle."
It also helps when voters are not in a mood to entrust their leaders with billions of their dollars, as the failure of R-51 and the success of Eyman's I-776 proved Tuesday night. "They didn't trust the Legislature's ability to deliver the projects" in R-51, Ostrom said. "They just had a bad plan."
Ostrom and his environmentalist allies felt R-51, by putting billions into new highway and road construction, would lead to more sprawl, more pollution, and more traffic. Now the environmentalists believe they can go back to the drawing board and work with the Legislature to come up with a smaller, more transit-friendly alternative. "We're going to start working with them tomorrow," Ostrom said. "You have to come up with something that satisfies the people who want to vote yes."
Political consultant John Wyble, former political director of Washington Conservation Voters, predicted Ostrom and fellow greens would have "a real challenge once they get back in the legislative process" and try to sell their plan. Since Ostrom opposed his allies in the Democratic Party, Wyble wonders if there will be political retribution. "I don't know if [the environmentalists] will be at the table," he warned.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS CAN definitely take heart from the trend in the monorail race, however. The elevated train was doing well on election night with 52 percent approval. The thousands of absentee votes that had not been tabulated stopped backers from declaring victory.
If they are victorious, monorail proponents will have to decide whether to tear down the existing 1962 monorail, which stands in the path of the proposed monorail's route; who will serve on its governing board, which will be mostly appointed; and where the exact route through Seattle Center and downtown will be. Questions about public disclosure, the ability of residents to evade the 1.4 percent motor-vehicle excise tax, and to whom the tax applies also will need to be addressed as the little elevated train that could climbs its next hill.
With Philip Dawdy contributing.
Tabulations based on election-night totals.
Absentee ballots might change outcomes.
* Election-night leader
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
* Jim McDermott (D) 88,540 (74.9%)
Carol Cassady (R) 24,963 (21.1%)
Stan Lippmann (L) 4,685 (3.9%)
WASHINGTON STATE BALLOT MEASURES
($30 car tabs, cut transportation money)
* Yes 579,009 (53.7%) No 497,888 (46.2%)
(Reform public safety pension plan)
* Yes 555,533 (53.0%) No 492,097 (47.0%)
(Change unemployment funding)
Yes 398,732 (39.6%) * No 608,944 (60.4%)
(Gas-tax increase for road construction)
Yes 402,036 (37.3%) * No 677,225 (62.7%)
House Joint Resolution 4220
(Make fire district levies longer):
* Yes 701,201 (68.1%) No 328,379 (31.9%)
WASHINGTON STATE SUPREME COURT
Mary Fairhurst 440,996 (49.5%)
* Jim Johnson 449,036 (50.5%)
* Charles W. Johnson 468,552 (54.5%)
Pamela Loginsky 390,722 (45.5%)
WASHINGTON STATE LEGISLATURE
11th District, State Representative, Position 1
Ruth Gibbs (R) 5,311 (40.1%)
* Zack Hudgins (D) 7,937 (59.9%)
11th District, State Representative, Position 2
John Potter (R) 4,557 (34.5%)
* Velma Veloria (D) 8,646 (65.5%)
32nd District, State Senator
* Darlene Fairley (D) 14,342 (61.4%)
Michael Plunkett (R) 9,015 (38.6%)
32nd District, State Representative, Position 1
* Maralyn Chase (D) 13,645 (59.1%)
Bob Ransom(R) 9,418 (40.8%)
32nd District, State Representative, Position 2
* Ruth Kagi (D) 14,681 (63.8%)
Margaret R.Wiggins (R) 8,345 (36.2%)
34th District, State Representative, Position 2
* Joe McDermott (D) 14,351 (67.7%)
Larry Gilbert (R) 5,736 (27.0%)
Cary Thomas (L) 1,114 (5.3%)
36th District, State Representative, Position 1
Angela Brink (R) 5,719 (21.4%)
* Helen Sommers (D) 21,036 (78.6%)
36th District, State Representative, Position 2
* Mary Lou Dickerson (D) 21,298 (80.3%)
Rudy McCoy-Pantoja Jr. (R) 5,230 (19.7%)
37th District, State Representative, Position 1
* Sharon Tomiko Santos (D) 12,243 (86.7%)
John Stafford (I) 1,872 (13.3%)
37th District, State Representative, Position 2
Ruth Bennett (L) 2,333 (16.6%)
* Eric Pettigrew (D) 11,704 (83.4%)
43rd District, State Senator
Linde Knight (GRN) 4,774 (21.3%)
* Patricia Thibaudeau (D) 17,641 (78.7%)
METROPOLITAN KING COUNTY COUNCIL
* Dow Constantine (D) 16,058 (74.0%)
Oudom Danh (R) 4,041 (18.6%)
Michael Nelson (L) 1,612 (7.4%)
CITY OF SEATTLE BALLOT MEASURES
Citizen Petition No. 1
* Yes 54,477 (52.1%) No 49,976 (47.9%)
Charter Amendment No. 1
(Allow summary publication of new laws)
* Yes 54,793 (62.8%) No 32,421 (37.2%)
Charter Amendment No. 2
(Allow fewer notices of charter change)
* Yes 54,287 (64.2%) No 30,294 (35.8%)
Charter Amendment No. 3
(Change initiative rules)
* Yes 50,933 (61.0%) No 32,544 (39.0%)
Charter Amendment No. 4
(Acknowledge county counts initiative signatures)
* Yes 61,798 (73.6%) No 22,159 (26.4%