Politics & Government

When they go red, we go blue: Washington not part of Trump train

Gov. Jay Inslee waves to supporters as he heads on stage with his wife, Trudi Inslee, right, at an election night party for Democrats Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Seattle. Inslee defeated Republican challenger Bill Bryant to win re-election.
Gov. Jay Inslee waves to supporters as he heads on stage with his wife, Trudi Inslee, right, at an election night party for Democrats Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Seattle. Inslee defeated Republican challenger Bill Bryant to win re-election. AP

As Republican real estate mogul Donald Trump stunned the world by laying claim to the White House on Tuesday night, the political landscape in left-leaning Washington looked like more of the same — and perhaps even a shade bluer than before.

In the Evergreen State, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was winning 56 percent of the vote to Trump’s 38 percent, a margin higher than President Barack Obama had over Mitt Romney when Obama won the state in 2012.

Democratic incumbents also posted decisive victories in statewide races for governor and the U.S. Senate, while Democrats looked as if they would gain seats in both chambers of the state’s Legislature.

David Domke, chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Communication, said Washington is among a group of U.S. states in the West and Northeast that are becoming increasingly progressive, even as others grow more conservative.

“There are increasingly conservative states, there are increasingly progressive states, and then states where the conflict between those two kind of moral views is really heated,” said Domke, whose writings often focus on U.S. politics.

“I think we’re in a cluster that’s moving one way in this country, and those states tend to be coastal, and they tend to also have some pretty large cities that anchor the state,” he said.

Other states that fall into that category include California and Oregon, said Margaret O’Mara, an associate professor of history at the UW who wrote a book about pivotal elections in the 20th century.

“You look at the Pacific Coast, and it’s like this blue wall with Washington, Oregon and California,” O’Mara said.

“We’re the land of legalized pot, Democratic governors and Democratic legislators,” she added.

Washington’s legislative picture is a little more complicated, with Republicans controlling the state Senate while Democrats control the state House.

Yet early results from Tuesday’s election signaled Democrats would increase their majority in the lower chamber, while cutting a GOP-led coalition’s majority in the state Senate to a single seat.

Given that control of the Legislature looks as though it will remain split, “it’s hard to expect the next few years will be a whole lot different than the last two,” said Mark A. Smith, a UW professor of political science.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the GOP Senate coalition plans to continue with its previous plans to boost funding for higher education and K-12 schools, the latter of which the state is under a court order to fully fund by September 2018. Trump’s election does little to alter that agenda, he said.

“We will continue regardless of what the other Washington does or doesn’t accomplish,” Schoesler said Wednesday.

Ben Anderstone, a local Democratic political consultant, said Trump’s message condemning the loss of manufacturing jobs and criticizing trade deals fell flat in some areas of Washington, especially parts of Western Washington where the economy is doing fairly well compared with other areas of the country.

“If anything, the kind of Trump revolution that happened nationally was sort of in reverse in Washington a little bit,” Anderstone said, noting that was the case even in traditionally more blue-collar areas of Puget Sound, including Tacoma.

Trump found more success in former Democratic strongholds in Cowlitz and Grays Harbor counties where the economy has been more depressed lately, Anderstone said.

State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said one political effect of Trump’s success could be an attempt — even in blue Washington — to start listening closer to the perspectives of those working-class voters.

“I think members of both parties are going to need to be a lot more attuned to the concerns of the working class — how people feel, how people’s pocketbooks are affected,” said Stokesbary, one of several Washington Republicans who denounced Trump as an unsuitable candidate leading up to the election.

What isn’t likely in Washington is a backlash against Republicans like Stokesbary who didn’t rally behind their party’s presidential nominee, said O’Mara, the UW associate history professor.

“Washington state has long been the territory of that endangered species, the moderate Republican,” said O’Mara. “I think that partly reflects the electorate.”

It was a different situation for some Republican U.S. Senate candidates in other states this week, said Domke, the UW communications chair. He noted that two incumbent U.S. senators who lost their seats — Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Kirk of Illinois — had disavowed Trump.

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Heck might have lost support for his Senate bid in the battleground state of Nevada partly because he withdrew his endorsement of Trump and wouldn’t commit to voting for the Republican nominee, Domke said.

“I think they paid a price for that,” Domke said. “In this state, no, I don’t think so.”

State Rep. Hans Zeiger, a Republican who was open about his refusal to vote for Trump, said the only thing he’s heard since Trump’s election are words of support. Zeiger, R-Puyallup, was easily winning his election to an open state Senate seat this week, and said he is now prepared to stand behind the president-elect.

“He said he wants to be unifying, and I’ll take him at his word,” Zeiger said.

O’Mara said Washington under a Trump presidency could look a lot like the “status quo under George W. Bush,” when liberal leaders frustrated with federal Republican policies tried to affect change at the local and metropolitan level. Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels spearheaded a climate protection agreement among hundreds of mayors during that time.

Left-leaning policies also might continue to find their way into law in Washington through citizen initiatives, said Christian Sinderman, a Democratic consultant who worked on this year’s successful initiative to raise the statewide minimum wage.

“It’s part of that Western independence,” Sinderman said. “We will continue to find ways to move good policy, even if it is through the initiative process.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1