Republicans gain ground in House and Senate

Elections: Not all agree it will make a difference

November 6, 2010 

  • STATE LEGISLATURE AT A GLANCE

    CHANGES IN THE SENATE

    At least four Senate seats are changing partisan hands, and possibly a fifth could shift from Democrat to Republican after Tuesday’s election:

     • One-term Sen. Chris Marr of Spokane conceded to Republican Michael Baumgartner in Spokane’s 6th district.

     • Appointed Democratic Sen. Randy Gordon was losing to Republican Steve Litzow in Bellevue’s 41st district.

     • Republican Andy Hill beat one-term Democratic Sen. Eric Oemig of Kirkland in the 45th district.

     • One-term Democratic Sen. Claudia Kauffman of Kent conceded to Republican Joe Fain in the 47th district.

    One Senate race was still up in the air but trending for the incumbent:

     • Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens led Republican Dave Schmidt of Bothell by 543 votes in the 44th district before Friday evening’s vote count.

    CHANGES IN THE HOUSE

    At least four House seats are expected to change party hands from Democratic to Republican:

     • Republican Paul Harris beat Monica Stonier in the 17th district seat left open by the retirement of Democratic Rep. Deb Wallace of Vancouver.

     • Democrat John Driscoll lost to Republican ex-lawmaker John Ahern in Spokane’s 6th district.

     • Democrat Kelli Linville, the budget writer from Bellingham, was losing by 545 votes to Vincent Buys in the 42nd district.

     • Democrat Geoff Simpson lost to Mark Hargrove in the 47th district near Covington.

    Three more Democratic seats in the House were up in the air:

     • Democrat Luis Moscoso led Republican Heidi Munson by 291 votes Friday in the 1st district seat left open by the retirement of Democratic Rep. Mark Ericks of Bothell. Munson had been up by nearly 400 votes two days before.

     • Democratic Rep. Dawn Morrell of Puyallup led Republican Hans Zeiger by 101 votes in the 25th district, up from just 16 votes on Wednesday.

     • Democrat Roger Goodman overtook Republican Kevin Haistings in Kirkland’s 45th district by 375 votes late Friday after trailing two days before.

    Lost Republican seats:

     • Rep. Tom Campbell, a Republican who served as the chairman of committees for Democrats, lost to fellow Republican J.T. Wilcox of Roy in the 2nd district, which overlaps southeast Thurston and southwest Pierce counties.

Tuesday's wave of Republican electoral wins is shrinking the Democrats' majorities in both the state House and Senate in Olympia.

The GOP’s gains are less than the party had hoped for but could give Republicans more of a voice on tax and budget issues next year.

Votes remain to be counted, but Republicans already have won four Senate seats that had been in the Democratic column and were near certain to win four House seats. One Senate race and three House races still were undecided, and King County votes were helping Democrats in some of those races to reverse Republican leads.

“At least we’re going to get back to public debate,” said Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla. “We’ve been shut out of the process for the last four years. Now we’re getting back to the table and we’re back in the hunt.”

Hewitt’s caucus was outnumbered 31-18 by the Democrats this year when they approved nearly $800 million in new revenues over GOP objections. If vote-counting trends from late in the week continue, Democrats’ new and smaller majorities will be 57-41 in the House and 27-22 in the Senate.

Rep. Gary Alexander, a Thurston County Republican who leads his caucus on budget issues, said he doesn’t think the GOP picked up enough House seats to sharply tilt the discussion in that chamber.

“I don’t know if it makes that much difference. If we could have gotten to about 46 … it would have made a significant difference,” Alexander said Friday. “There are four or five Democrats who are pretty conservative, and we could have worked with (them).”

But Alexander said it is promising that Gov. Chris Gregoire seemed to want Republicans involved in legislative decisions to cut services. He also had not given up hope his party might still gain another seat or two.

Democrats, meanwhile, were preparing for a tough legislative session with spending cuts on the table and little appetite for taxes – after voters soundly approved a tax repeal initiative and passed another measure to require two-thirds supermajorities to raise taxes in the Legislature.

Voters also ousted key Democrats such as Rep. Kelli Linville of Bellingham, who was losing by 545 votes Friday to Republican Vincent Buys. Linville was the chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee and marshaled the budget-writing effort in the House this year, and her budgets required tax increases in 2010 but also cut more than $4 billion in spending over the past two years.

Gregoire noted Friday that voters sent a message that they expect no new revenues and an all-cuts budget.

“Obviously it’s going to be very difficult” to govern, said Rep. Sam Hunt, the Olympia Democrat who serves as the chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee. He expects to have a majority of about 55 Democrats in the House but said, “I think it’s equally difficult if you have 60, 55 or 57.”

Hunt said voter approval of activist Tim Eyman’s initiative requiring two-thirds votes on taxes means lawmakers will have “one and a half hands tied behind our back.”

“With Eyman’s initiative, you can’t close (tax) loopholes, you can’t add revenues, and you can’t increase fees (without a supermajority). You can only cut. It’s going to be extremely difficult,” Hunt said. “The governor said the other day we have cut around the edges, and now we have to eliminate programs and departments.”

Some undecided races could require recounts. One big worry to Hunt and a source of hope to his Republican rivals was in Pierce County’s 25th district. Rep. Dawn Morrell, the House Democratic Caucus chairwoman, led Republican Hans Zeiger of Sumner by just 16 votes Thursday afternoon – an edge that grew to 101 votes by Friday evening and could easily change again in the coming days.

The Morrell-Zeiger race was on track for a mandatory recount, which happens if the vote difference remains less than a half-percent.

Another race on the edge of a recount is the 44th district Senate campaign, in which former Republican lawmaker Dave Schmidt of Bothell trailed first-term Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens by just 543 votes.

But several seats were getting more clearly into the Democrats’ column – including both 35th district House seats. Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton edged 954 votes ahead of Republican Dan Griffey of Allyn, and Rep. Fred Finn of west Thurston County pulled 3,635 votes ahead of challenger Republican Linda Simpson of Bremerton.

The 35th district includes Mason County and parts of Thurston, Grays Harbor and Kitsap counties.

Two Democratic Senate seats also appeared to be veering out of Republican hands. Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, expanded her lead Friday to 979 votes over Republican Tony Moore in the 30th, and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, expanded his edge to 1,010 votes over Republican Greg Bennett in the Bellevue area’s 48th district.

Only one Republican lost his position – but the seat stays in the party’s hands. Republican Rep. Tom Campbell of Spanaway lost to Republican J.T. Wilcox of Roy. Campbell often sided with Democrats on labor, consumer protection and some environmental issues.

Overall, the losses could have been much worse for the Democrats, who got out the vote in key areas such as King County.

“I think we did a fairly good job of telling our story and having good candidates that went out and worked very, very hard to talk about what we have done,” Hunt said.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog

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