It took him five years. He weathered two electoral losses along the way. But on Thursday morning, Republican Dan Griffey claimed victory over Democratic state Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton in the 35th Legislative District race.
The victory came in his third try against Haigh and sealed House Republicans’ strong electoral season.
Democrats will retain the House majority but will likely see their majority shrink from 55 seats to 51 in January, while the GOP’s ranks grow to 47 – the most Republican seats since the party had 48 in 2002. Republicans also captured an outright majority in the Senate with 25 seats – plus Sen. Tim Sheldon, the conservative Democrat from the 35th District who caucused with the GOP in a coalition majority the past two years.
“It’s a good feeling. I’m very, very proud of our team. It’s been a long time coming” Griffey said in an interview, noting his wife, Dinah, had also worked on the campaigns.
Haigh, an eight-term incumbent and a legislative leader on education-funding issues, had held out hope that votes in Thurston County might bring her close enough to require a hand recount. But it wasn’t to be in a year with dismal voter turnout that might end up the lowest since 1978.
A tally of about 2,000 ballots late Wednesday in Olympia closed the gap to 512 votes out of 47,100 counted. Additional counts scheduled later this month in Thurston, Kitsap and Mason counties are not expected to change the outcome.
“I would wait (declaring a winner) until we get any last bulk of ballots … but trends don’t change,” Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall said Wednesday. “There isn’t any reason to believe these will trend any differently than those we have already counted. That’s a pretty big margin with the number of ballots left to count.’’
GRIFFEY EYES HIS AGENDA
Rep.-elect Griffey is getting eager to start work on his priorities. The career firefighter had campaigned on property rights and on improving the Mason County economy. He contended lawmakers can close their budget gap and fully fund K-12 schools to answer a Supreme Court order without raising taxes.
He said he plans to sign onto a draft of one of the “fund-education first” bills the GOP has advocated, which is meant to allocate state revenues to public schools before putting a dime toward other programs such as prisons, welfare or colleges. The Republican also wants to sponsor legislation transferring power to counties from regional growth management hearings boards, which can reject county-level land-use plans.
He also wants to back legislation letting utilities count hydroelectric power as renewable power under the renewable power portfolio mandated by voters who approved Initiative 937 in 2006. That measure was meant to promote alternatives such as wind, solar and geothermal power rather than fossil-fuel sources when utilities expand supply to meet growing demand.
Griffey said he plans to attend the House Republican Caucus’ reorganization meetings next week in Olympia, and he’s hoping he can land appointments to the House Local Government and Agriculture committees.
Lawmakers face a budget shortfall of up to $3 billion – and that’s before counting voter passage of I-1351, which mandates potentially $2 billion more in class-size improvements for K-12 schools.
“It will be an interesting session there’s no doubt,’’ Griffey predicted.
And it will be different to stand on the House floor having launched his political ambitions in 2010 while watching from the House galleries as Haigh and majority Democrats voted to temporarily suspend the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases. That law eventually was declared unconstitutional, but Griffey hasn’t changed his tune on taxes.
HAIGH NOT GIVING UP ON PUBLIC SERVICE
Haigh campaigned on improving school funding, and she’d been open in saying lawmakers need to raise new revenue to meet the court’s mandate without slashing programs that help the poor. The veteran lawmaker said she leaves with accomplishments, and she first mentioned her work in 2007 to pass a constitutional amendment allowing a simple majority of voters (50 percent plus one) to approve a local school levy.
“That was the main reason I ran in the first place,” Haigh said.
For a short while longer, Haigh remains chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee, which puts state programs to performance tests and also has a role evaluating tax breaks for effectiveness. She also was attending a final meeting Thursday with the Capital Projects Advisory and Review Board, which she worked to create and kept funded.
The board is made up of contractors and subcontractors and representatives of cities, counties, ports, schools, and higher education institutions, and it has worked since 2007 to make public construction projects more efficient and effective, Haigh said. It led to more use of alternative construction financing and management including what’s called design-build, which lets the same team design and build a project and avoid costly overruns due to change-orders.
“It’s made a huge difference,’’ she said.
Haigh said her loss had a lot to do with low turnout and “”the political winds across the country” that went against the Democratic president’s party. But she is not leaving politics or closing the door on government work, which she believes in.
“I’ve learned so much over the last 16 years. If what I’ve learned can be used in some way, I’d be very happy to participate and help,’’ she said.
Three other Democratic incumbents lost seats Nov. 4 — first-term Rep. Monica Stonier of Vancouver lost to Republican Lynda Wilson; Rep. Dawn Morrell of Puyallup was defeated by Republican Melanie Stambaugh of Puyallup; and veteran Rep. Larry Seaquist of Gig Harbor was beaten by Republican Michelle Caldier of Port Orchard.
In one other hotly contested race, Democrat Christine Kilduff of University Place had a 279-vote edge over Republican Paul Wagemann of Lakewood in the 28th District race for Democratic Rep. Tami Green’s seat. Green ran for the Senate and lost.
If Wagemann prevails, Democrats’ majority would sink to 50 seats.