Senator Maria Cantwell wins fourth term as Washington voters reject carbon fee, approve stricter gun controls, and return incumbents to Congress on November 6, 2018.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 10/21/2019
  • Essay 20883

In the election of November 6, 2018, Democratic U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (b. 1958) wins a fourth term in the United States Senate. Nationally, the Democratic Party regains control of the U.S. House of Representatives, with one House seat from Washington shifting hands as Democrat Kim Schrier (b. 1968) defeats Republican Dino Rossi (b. 1959) in the Eighth District, previously represented by Republican Dave Reichert (b. 1950). In the state's other nine districts, the incumbents -- six Democrats and three Republicans -- all win re-election. For the second time in two years voters reject a proposal to impose a tax or fee on carbon, and for the third statewide election in a row they overwhelmingly approve a strict new gun-control measure. Voters also approve an initiative making it easier to prosecute police officers for wrongful use of deadly force and one prohibiting cities from imposing local taxes on food and beverages.

Congressional and Legislative Races

First elected in 2000, when she narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Senator Slade Gorton (b. 1928), Maria Cantwell won her fourth Senate race easily, defeating Susan Hutchison (b. 1954), a longtime television news anchor and former chair of the state Republican Party, with 58 percent of the vote to Hutchison's 42 percent. In doing so, Cantwell became the fifth U.S. Senator in state history to win at least four terms. She joined her Democratic colleague Patty Murray (b. 1950), who had won her fifth term two years earlier, along with their Democratic predecessors Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983) -- who each won six consecutive terms and, like Murray and Cantwell, served together for many years -- and Republican Wesley L. Jones (1863-1932), who served four terms from 1909 through 1932.

Although Cantwell won easily, some of her colleagues across the country did not, with four Democratic senators losing to Republican challengers, while the Democrats won only two formerly Republican seats. In all, the GOP, which already controlled the U.S. Senate, had a net gain of one seat. It was a different story in the U.S. House of Representatives, which the Republicans also controlled before the 2018 election. With Democratic activists and voters motivated by opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump (b. 1946), particularly in traditionally Republican suburban districts, Democrats ousted 30 Republican incumbents and picked up a total of 40 seats to win control of the House for the first time since 2008.

In Washington, the three Republican U.S. Representatives running for re-election -- Jaime Herrera Beutler (b. 1978) in the Third District, Dan Newhouse (b. 1955) in the Fourth, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (b. 1969) in the Fifth -- all held off Democratic challengers, but the state did play a small role in the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House, as the open seat in Eighth District went Democratic for the first time since the district's creation in 1980. In 2018 the district encompassed much of eastern King and Pierce counties as well as all of Kittitas and Chelan counties. While those areas had all long been solidly Republican (and Kittitas and Chelan remained so), suburban King County epitomized metropolitan areas around the country that were seeing a rapid swing from Republican to Democratic voting. That trend might have played a role in the decision by incumbent Representative Dave Reichert to retire after seven terms.

Despite Reichert's retirement, Republicans fielded a high-profile candidate in former State Senator Dino Rossi, who was well-known to voters in the district and across the state following three statewide campaigns since 2004, when he lost the closest governor's race in state history to Christine Gregoire (b. 1947) following recounts and a court case. (Rossi lost again to Gregoire in the 2008 election, and in 2010 lost to Patty Murray as she won her fourth senate term.) Kim Schrier, a pediatrician who had never run for office before, won the contested Democratic primary in August to face Rossi in what became the most expensive U.S. House contest in state history, and one of the most expensive in the country in 2018, with total expenditures exceeding $28 million. In the end Schrier won by enough in the King County portion of the district to offset Rossi's margin in the other three countries, giving her 52 percent of the total vote to 48 percent for Rossi.

All six of the state's Democratic U.S. Representatives sought re-election and all won easily. In the Second District, encompassing western Snohomish and Skagit counties along with San Juan and Island counties, Rick Larsen (b. 1965) defeated Libertarian Brian Luke and in the Ninth, representing a stretch of King County from Bellevue to Federal Way, Adam Smith (b. 1965) beat fellow Democrat (but no relation) Sarah Smith. Suzan DelBene (b. 1962) in the First District, Derek Kilmer (b. 1974) in the Sixth, Pramila Jayapal (b. 1965) in the Seventh, and Denny Heck (b. 1952) in the Tenth, defeated Republican challengers.

Democratic gains in the King County suburbs did not stop with Schrier's victory. In state legislature contests, Democrats ousted a total of eight Republican legislative incumbents, six in the state House of Representatives and two in the state Senate, with many of those victories coming in suburban King County. Those wins and the pickup of some open seats saw Democrats significantly increase their margins in both houses of the legislature, where they previously had only a two-vote margin in the House following the 2016 election, and just a one-vote margin in the Senate gained in a 2017 special-election victory. Republicans did not defeat any incumbent Democratic legislators, but in the 32nd District, extending from North Seattle into southern Snohomish County, longtime Democratic State Senator Maralyn Chase lost in a divisive contest to fellow Democrat Jesse Salomon, deputy mayor of Shoreline.

Recurring Issues

Two of the most prominent issues on the ballot -- imposing a price on carbon emissions and tightening gun-control regulations -- were before voters for the second statewide election in a row, and the results were the same in both cases. Initiative 1631, which would have imposed a carbon fee on emissions from fossil fuels and used the money raised to fund state efforts to reduce emissions contributing to climate change, was defeated. Initiative 1639, establishing strict new regulations on the purchase and storage of firearms, was approved.

The battle over I-1631, the carbon-fee initiative, became the most expensive of any ballot measure in state history, with more than $31 million, mostly contributed by the oil industry, spent opposing the initiative, and more than $15 million spent in favor. Supporters included the Nature Conservancy and other environmental groups, labor unions, and some prominent state officials including Governor Jay Inslee (b. 1951), a leading advocate for fighting climate change (an issue that he would soon make the centerpiece of a short-lived campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination).

The unified support contrasted sharply with the divisions within the environmental community over Initiative 732, a 2016 ballot measure that would have imposed a carbon tax but, rather than leaving the money collected in state hands to fight climate change, sought to be revenue neutral by cutting the state sales tax. Governor Inslee, other state officials, and even some leading environmental groups opposed I-732 based in large part on fears it would actually reduce state revenue. I-1631 may have unified previously divided environmentalists, but it did not fare much better than the earlier initiative did with voters generally. The proposed carbon fee won only 43 percent of the vote, just a couple percentage points more than I-732 had garnered two years before.

Washington voters also maintained the same position -- support -- for gun regulation that they had shown, on that issue, in the two previous statewide elections. In 2014, Initiative 594, expanding background-check requirements for the sale or transfer of firearms, won nearly 60 percent of the vote. Two years later Initiative 1491, authorizing protection orders prohibiting people found to pose a significant danger to themselves or others from possessing firearms, won by an even wider margin. In 2018, gun-control advocates returned to voters with a new measure that would give the state some of the strictest gun-control regulations in the nation.

I-1639 mandated an enhanced background check, a 10-day waiting period, and completion of a training course for purchasers of semi-automatic rifles, and banned those under 21 from purchasing the weapons altogether. It also imposed storage requirements for firearms, making gun owners who fail to secure weapons with trigger locks, safes, or other measures potentially criminally liable if children or other people prohibited from using guns gain access to them. As with the two previous gun-control measures, supporters of I-1639 considerably outspent opponents, raising more than $5.5 million compared to $622,000 raised by gun-rights advocates. And as in those cases, the newest gun-control measure won handily, with 59 percent of the vote in favor. Opponents filed several lawsuits challenging the new restrictions, but those pending cases did not prevent the law from taking effect in 2019, portions in January and the remainder in July, although some local officials around the state asserted that they would not enforce provisions they considered unconstitutional.

Easily Approved

The other two measures on the statewide ballot were approved by large margins. Initiative 1634, supported with more than $20 million in spending by Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co, and other soda-makers, responded to the City of Seattle's recently imposed tax on sweetened drinks by prohibiting Washington cities from imposing any new taxes on beverages or food. (It did not affect the tax already adopted in Seattle.) Although voters in King County, along with Jefferson and San Juan counties, opposed I-1634, it won in the rest of the state, with 56 percent of the total vote in favor.

Initiative 940 made it easier for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against law-enforcement officers for wrongful use of deadly force by removing a unique provision in Washington law, not found in other states, that made such prosecutions virtually impossible by requiring proof that an officer acted with malice, or "evil intent." The measure also mandated "de-escalation and mental-health training for police" and required officers to administer first aid to anyone injured by law-enforcement deadly force (Miletich). After proponents of eliminating the "evil intent" standard gathered sufficient signatures to put I-940 on the November ballot, the 2018 state legislature passed a compromise bill that addressed some law-enforcement concerns over the measure.

Proponents agreed with the compromise and planned to withdraw the measure, but the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislature did not have authority to modify the proposed initiative, so I-940 went on the ballot as originally written. Voters approved it easily, with 60 percent in favor. The two sides agreed to again support a compromise package in the legislature, which can amend approved initiatives with a two-thirds vote. In February 2019 the legislature passed, and Governor Inslee signed, a bill making changes sought by law enforcement, including a requirement that the state reimburse the legal fees of an officer who is acquitted after being charged under the measure.

Local Races

One of the few high-profile races on local ballots came in Pierce County, where incumbent Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist faced a strong challenge from Mary Robnett, an assistant attorney general who had earlier worked as chief criminal deputy prosecutor in Lindquist's office. Lindquist's tenure had been controversial, including a bar complaint against him and a news report that Pierce County had more criminal convictions overturned by the courts based on prosecutorial error than any other county. Robnett finished ahead of Lindquist in the August primary, a sign the incumbent was in trouble, and she won the general election easily with 63 percent of the vote. Things were different in the King County Prosecuting Attorney's race. There incumbent Dan Satterberg, who had held the office since succeeding longtime prosecutor Norm Maleng (1938-2007) in 2007, faced a re-election challenge for the first time, but the challenger withdrew from campaigning for health reasons and Satterberg again cruised to re-election.

School measures fared well across the state, with voters in the state's two largest cities approving a combined total of more than $1 billion in new education funding. In Seattle, a $600 million education levy won with 69 percent approval, despite opposition from the local League of Women Voters and some charter-school opponents who feared that privately run charter schools could access some of the funding, which they believed should be devoted solely to publicly run schools. In Spokane, voters gave 67 percent approval to a $495 million construction bond to fund construction of new schools to replace aging facilities.

In Everett, voters approved a change in the way the city council was elected. Instead of at-large positions in which all city voters could vote for all seven councilmembers, as had been the case for more than a century, the new district election system divided the city into five districts with voters able to vote for one member from their district and two at-large members. Seattle voters had approved a similar change from at-large to district city council elections five years earlier.


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