Opinion

Election highlights the two Washingtons

Downtown Seattle and the landmark Space Needle slowly emerge from a cooling blanket of late-morning fog.
Downtown Seattle and the landmark Space Needle slowly emerge from a cooling blanket of late-morning fog. Associated Press file, 1999

I can’t think of this last election without staring at that map. I can’t look at the map without wondering just what kind of state we live in, politically speaking.

We have talked for years about the Cascade Curtain, the political divide between East and West. More recently we have traded the curtain for the King County-Is-An-Island model, which at times becomes the One-County-To-Rule-Them-All strategy, or maybe looks like the ruling aristocracy donning their chainmail and peeping out at the serfs from the castle turrets.

If that isn’t a big enough pile of metaphors, there’s more. Washington’s wise Secretary of State Ralph Munro famously said there are two Washingtons – the one you see from the top of the Space Needle and the one you see from Goat Rocks Wilderness. The observation always comes up in these situations, but this time the Space Needle measure is too broad.

I am looking at the nifty county-by-county results map posted by the secretary of state for Initiative 1366, this year’s Tim Eyman special. The measure mandates a cut in the state sales tax unless the Legislature puts a constitutional amendment on the ballot requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

Measured by area, the initiative was predictably popular nearly everywhere (Chelan County, 61 percent yes; Douglas County, 65 percent yes; Grant County, 69 percent yes, etc.). It was predictably very unpopular in King County, where so far it runs 58.7 percent no and 41.3 percent yes. The initiative also trails in Thurston, Jefferson and San Juan counties, but they pale in significance relative to hefty King.

On the map, yes counties are green and no counties are yellow. King glows bright, which is supremely important considering it represents nearly a third of the 949,500 votes counted for the initiative statewide, so far (as of Wednesday afternoon). Statewide the measure leads 53 percent to 47 percent, and King County is the only reason it is that close. Tim Eyman himself says that in King County precincts outside Seattle, I-1366 probably did well. If so, there are two Washingtons and the Space Needle just shrank.

This phenomenon isn’t new, of course. We saw evidence in Gregoire-Rossi and Inslee-McKenna and others, and we will see it again soon. Initiative 1366 is just another data set for the analysis. Why this is significant, I’m not certain, but I’m sure even now there are candidates plotting their strategy, to win enough votes in the hinterlands to overcome Seattle, or win enough votes in Seattle to overcome the hinterlands.

Tracy Warner is editorial page editor at The Wenatchee World. Email him at warner@wenatcheeworld.com.

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