Politics & Government

Final tally: Legislature to remain split with Democrats controlling House, Republicans leading Senate

The state Legislative Building in Olympia is shown in January 2010.
The state Legislative Building in Olympia is shown in January 2010. The Olympian

Votes kept coming up Republican as more ballots were counted in Washington state this month, but it wasn’t enough to give the GOP full control of the Legislature.

The later vote counts did, however, cut into gains that Democrats initially looked like they’d make in the state House.

Now that a handful of close races are settled, Democrats will maintain their slim 50-48 majority in the Legislature’s lower chamber, while gaining one seat in the state Senate.

The state Senate will remain controlled by a mostly Republican coalition, which will have a 25-24 majority in that chamber.

At one point, it looked as if Democrats might increase their House majority by two seats, but subsequent vote counts in Washington’s all-mail election didn’t bear that out.

On election night, Democrat Jason Ritchie was leading incumbent Republican state Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, in the 5th Legislative District, while Democrat Teresa Purcell was ahead of Republican Jim Walsh in the 19th Legislative District.

Ultimately, Rodne and Walsh pulled ahead in those races, placing those House seats firmly in the GOP column.

State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said Democrats are “just happy and grateful we’re still in the majority” in the House.

Fitzgibbon had previously expressed hope that Democrats would expand their House majority.

On Tuesday, he said he thinks lukewarm enthusiasm surrounding Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the days leading up to the election ended up hurting Democratic turnout and affecting candidates in key local races.

Clearly the late ballots trended against us in most places ... certainly the FBI letter (about Hillary Clinton’s emails) seemed to be a turning point both here and nationally

State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle and chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee

Fitzgibbon attributed that partly to FBI Director James Comey’s letter less than two weeks before the election, saying the agency would review new emails that might be connected to Clinton’s use of a private email server.

“Clearly the late ballots trended against us in most places,” Fitzgibbon said. “We don’t know exactly what went wrong there, but certainly the FBI letter seemed to be a turning point both here and nationally, depressing turnout among Democratic voters.”

Republicans also made gains in later vote counts in other races, but not enough to close the gap between them and their Democratic opponents.

In the 30th Legislative District, incumbent state Rep. Teri Hickel, R-Federal Way, lost her seat to Kristine Reeves, a Democrat who works as the director of the military defense sector at the state Department of Commerce.

Hickel, who was losing by about 2 percentage points, conceded the race to Reeves late last week.

Hickel’s seatmate, state Rep. Linda Kochmar of Federal Way, was unseated by Democrat Mike Pellicciotti, who posted a 9-point victory over the incumbent Republican lawmaker.

Yet Democrats lost a seat they previously held in the 31st Legislative District, which crosses the King and Pierce county line. There, Republican Phil Fortunato of Auburn will replace retiring state Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw.

Fortunato defeated his Democratic opponent, firefighter Lane Walthers, by more than 15 points in the general election.

I believe the national political environment overwhelmed (Hickel and Kochmar’s) very strong ground game and personal ties in the district.

State Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm and co-chairman of the House Republican Organizational Committee

J.T. Wilcox, the co-chairman of the House Republican Organization Committee, wrote on Facebook that the political environment for local candidates was “very complex” this year, primarily due to the presidential election.

He wrote that Clinton’s 16-point margin of victory in Washington state “provided an even stronger headwind to Republican candidates than (President) Obama,” who won the state in 2008 and 2012.

In the cases of Hickel and Kochmar, Wilcox said, “I believe the national political environment overwhelmed their very strong ground game and personal ties in the district.”

Late returns didn’t change the results of several closely watched races in the Senate.

On Monday, state Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, conceded his loss to state Sen. Mark Mullet, an Issaquah Democrat. Magendanz gave up his House seat to try to unseat Mullet in King County’s 5th Legislative District.

Magendanz lost the race by less than a percentage point — roughly 500 votes out of about 74,000 cast.

The only Senate seat to change hands this year was that of state Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island.

Litzow lost to Democrat Lisa Wellman, a managing director at a software company, by about 4 percentage points in the 41st Legislative District, which includes Mercer Island, Newcastle, Issaquah, Sammamish and parts of Bellevue and Renton.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1