Seattle: Voters say no to taxes, but monorail gains


Associated Press
King 5 News

SEATTLE, WA– Washington voters, rattled by recession and rumors of war, were in little mood for change – or for taxes.

Independent-minded and evenly divided, voters were keeping Gov. Gary Locke on a short leash by maintaining tight margins in the Legislature – narrow Democratic majorities in both houses as of early Wednesday – and by rejecting the transportation taxes he proposed.

Referendum 51, the gas-tax measure, was resoundingly defeated everywhere but tiny San Juan County, even though voters regularly call traffic congestion one of their main concerns.

Incumbents ruled. All nine U.S. House members – six Democrats and three Republicans – were heading back to Washington, D.C. Nearly all state legislators who sought re-election were winning new terms with only a handful of races too close to call, though bagloads of absentee ballots remain to be counted across the state.

Voters continued to salute Tim Eyman's initiatives, approving a $30-car-tab measure by a landslide just months after he confessed to taking campaign contributions to set up a personal salary fund for himself.

"It passed despite me, not because of me," Eyman said.

"This whole election was about preserving the status quo," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.

McDermott was returned to office in a landslide weeks after going to Baghdad to blister President Bush's Iraq policies and to praise the trustworthiness of Saddam Hussein's pledges of unfettered inspections.

Independent pollster Stuart Elway said voters have made it clear for months that they were neither upset with incumbents nor swayed by national trends or issues.

The economy, Iraq, and other concerns packed an emotional wallop, but neither party enjoyed much momentum, leaving it to candidates to stress local issues.

Candidates and ballot campaigns flooded mailboxes and the airwaves with their pitches, and voters responded by making almost no changes:

– No new taxes. Voters rejected Referendum 51, the country's largest transportation measure this election, despite a full-court press by Locke and a rare coalition of business and labor support.

Voters further trimmed car tab taxes in central Puget Sound, possibly dealing a blow to the much-maligned Sound Transit light rail project.

One possible countertrend was in Seattle, where a $1.7 billion monorail proposal was leading in returns early Wednesday.

– Familiar congressmen. The entire congressional delegation was winning re-election, most by landslides. The closest margin of victory as of early Wednesday was by freshman Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat, who led Republican Norma Smith by six percentage points in the 2nd District.

– Close margins in Olympia. Some races could go to absentees if election night numbers hold, but the Legislature would end up right where it started before candidates spent over $14 million – with Democrats holding tiny majorities in both houses.

– Supremely confident. Both incumbent Supreme Court justices, Charles Johnson and Bobbe Bridge, were re-elected, Bridge without opposition. Olympia attorney Jim Johnson had a slim lead for an open seat.

A look at the highlights:


It's back to the drawing boards after the referendum from Locke and lawmakers tanked. Despite a $4 million campaign financed by Bill Gates and other captains of industry and labor, R-51 was defeated 63 percent to 37 percent.

"We're very, very disappointed but determined to press on," said Locke, who joined former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton in barnstorming the state to tout the measure. "Regardless of the election outcome, transportation remains a critical issue." He and key legislators said the Legislature again will confront the issue, but no one proposed a fallback position Tuesday night.

"Ordinary taxpayers stood up to the $4 million Goliath," cheered Dick Patten, director of the opposition group Citizens for Accountability and Results.

"We're happy with defeat of R-51, but the real victory will be the day we have a new package put together for the Legislature and the people," said John Healy, spokesman for the environmentalist group 1,000 Friends of Washington. "We want a solution."


In another transportation-oriented ballot measure, voters gave Eyman a bit of redemption by approving Initiative 776. It was the Mukilteo businessman's first election since he admitted using about $200,000 in campaign donations to create a secret salary fund.

His latest initiative will roll back the cost of registering cars to $30 a year in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Douglas counties. Eyman also hopes to force a revote on the multibillion-dollar Sound Transit project.


Democrats headed into the election with single-seat majorities in both chambers and as vote tallies continued Wednesday, they led for control of both chambers. But a number of House and Senate seats were too close to call and neither party was making definitive statements.

Locke has said he wants to work with a Democratic Legislature this winter in deciding how to plug a $2 billion budget hole and deal with transportation.

– CONGRESS. McDermott nailed down 72 percent of the vote in the 7th District in Seattle, winning state bragging rights. Five other incumbents topped 60 percent – Democrats Norm Dicks and Brian Baird and Republicans Doc Hastings, George Nethercutt and Jennifer Dunn. Democrats Adam Smith and Jay Inslee had 59 percent and 56 percent, respectively.


Homebuilders won a big one, defeating Referendum 53, the Legislature's recent overhaul of unemployment insurance taxes. Voters were approving I-790, a plan by firefighters and police for greater say over their pensions. And fire protection districts won a constitutional amendment to allow them to ask local patrons to approve longer special operating and construction levies.


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