But more than a few eyes are bound to turn this way to find out what happened in a nail-biter of a governor’s race and to see if Washington makes historic decisions to legalize marijuana use and give an electoral endorsement to same-sex marriage.
Those questions, along with education and tax initiatives, vacant positions up and down the ballot and control of the Legislature at stake, have drawn roughly $40 million in out-of-state money to Washington’s biggest-spending political committees and independent-spending efforts here, according to an analysis by The News Tribune. That doesn’t even count direct contributions to candidates.
National state-employee and teachers’ unions, beer makers, oil companies and partisan groups funded by the likes of Koch Industries and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals all have poured money into influencing the outcome. So have actor Brad Pitt and billionaires such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Walmart heiress Alice Walton and Progressive Insurance Chairman Peter Lewis.
Lewis is among those who want Washington, Colorado, Oregon or all three to allow some possession of marijuana. And if Initiative 502’s lead in the polls translates into votes, pot users on the East Coast could wake Wednesday to headlines that make them jealous of Washingtonians.
“This has the potential to be the most significant development we’ve ever had in the legalization movement,” said Keith Stroup, who founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1970.
Also leading in the polls and commanding national attention is the same-sex marriage law the Legislature passed last winter, now the subject of Referendum 74.
It’s a four-state contest for national groups on both sides, with opponents airing some of the same footage in Maine, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington ads. Both the Human Rights Campaign, in support, and the National Organization for Marriage, in opposition, have a presence here. Bloomberg and Pitt are among those whose money is paying for supporters’ ads.
In a state where voters don’t feel very influential in the presidential race, supporters of R-74 are reminding potential allies they have a reason to vote.
“It’s something we are concerned about, that a younger, urban voting bloc may not be energized to cast their ballot,” said Zach Silk, the campaign manager for the pro-R-74 forces, “so we’re spending a lot of time talking to those folks and reminding them they have a chance to make history here.”
No state has ever approved same-sex marriage with a public vote, and 32 states have voted against it in some form.
Opponents would like to keep their record going, especially as the U.S. Supreme Court considers taking up cases on the constitutionality of the federal and California laws limiting marriage to a man and a woman.
“The Supreme Court justices don’t live in a box,” said Chip White, a spokesman for the anti-R-74 campaign. “The Supreme Court justices are human beings. They read the newspaper, they watch television, and would we like to be able to say from coast to coast we’ve won 36 out of 36 states? Sure.”
The courts could get involved more directly in Washington’s marijuana law, if it passes.
“You will create a direct conflict with federal law, and that is what they intended,” Stroup said of supporters. He said he hopes the federal government will let states experiment, but if it insists on trying to shut Washington’s efforts down, it could end up prompting a court showdown over marijuana. “That’s part of the strategy. The feeling is we have to do something to shake the federal government up.”
Some opponents of I-502 are marijuana activists who, among other criticisms, worry that the federal government will be able to successfully challenge the law’s regulation and taxing scheme over its conflicts with U.S. law.
The U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t taken direct aim at the state ballot measures, as it did before California voters rejected a legalization measure in 2010.
The initiatives aren’t the only state races with national undertones. Some TV commercials that attacked gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee’s voting record could have been used against practically any Democrat who has served in Congress. Meanwhile, some hitting rival Rob McKenna have been aimed at tying him to national Republican ideas on abortion and contraception.
“Trying to paint Rob that way and nationalize the campaign was a tactic or a strategy, given that Jay couldn’t go one-on-one with Rob on numbers and specifics and policy,” said state GOP chairman Kirby Wilbur, citing Inslee’s sometimes-vague or amorphous predictions of savings from lean-management techniques and preventive health care.
Democratic consultant Christian Sinderman argues the national themes are a natural result of the “unfortunate fact of the 2012 election that the Republican Party still hasn’t figured out how to respect the basic rights of women,” and also pointed to McKenna’s own actions.
“Rob McKenna nationalized this race when he filed the lawsuit against Obamacare,” Sinderman said. McKenna joined fellow attorneys general around the country, who tried unsuccessfully and in opposition to McKenna’s own publicly stated position to have the whole law struck down.
Partly because of that lawsuit, there are national implications riding on control of Olympia.
Leaders in state governments will help decide the success of President Barack Obama’s health care law in expanding coverage to the uninsured. The Supreme Court opened the door for states to refuse to expand Medicaid insurance for the needy in 2014 to people up to 133 percent of the poverty line.
The expansion comes with considerable federal money, and Inslee said Washington should take it. He argues in the short term the new state costs would be offset by savings, and that in the long term reducing the numbers of the uninsured would lower the cost of their care that ends up being paid by insured people.
McKenna doesn’t want to commit to accepting the federal program until costs can be sorted out. Some 500,000 people in Washington will become newly eligible for Medicaid under the expansion, and one study predicts half of those will enroll in the program. McKenna wants to use the decision as leverage with the federal government to force changes in the overall Medicaid system.
Many issues at play in the governor’s race are specific to Washington, such as the debate over how to comply with a state court mandate for more dependable school funding. But others, such as the costs of public employees and strategies for reducing persistent unemployment, are playing out in different ways all over the country.
McKenna told supporters in an Olympia stop last week to ask voters whether their lives will improve if they keep putting the same people in charge. His green-and-white campaign RV had stopped in the parking lot of the Building Industry Association of Washington, whose leader, Art Castle, said McKenna would make needed changes in the leadership of state agencies and applauded his call to ease the regulatory burden on small businesses.
McKenna and Inslee crisscrossed the state in the final days of the election, with Inslee touring J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. in Tacoma, watching sparks fly from workers welding parts of a 184-foot fishing vessel being built at Martinac, the Northern Leader. Vice President Jonathan Platt credited Washington’s members of Congress, including Inslee, for pushing through new regulations that have changed the conditions in the fishing industry, making the construction project and more than 100 associated jobs possible.
National political pundits have been handicapping the race, with many calling it a toss-up or giving a slight edge to Inslee, whose party has controlled the governor’s mansion since 1985. Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said that’s a “remarkable” streak that might bode well for Inslee, even if McKenna “seems like potentially the right kind of candidate” to break it.
“Barring some new evidence, I think we probably would favor Inslee narrowly,” Kondik said, “but it certainly could be an upset on Election Day.”