Despite Washington’s blue-state politics and the Trump factor, Republicans could take the state Legislature for the first time since 1997, writes columnist Jonathan Martin.
Forget Trump. Tune out Hillary and the Bern.
The election Washington voters should be obsessing about is not the circus on CNN. Rather, it is the fight this fall for control of the state Legislature. It will determine if Washington, for practical purposes, fades from blue to a shade of purple.
You wouldn’t know it in the political bubble of Seattle, but Republicans are on the upswing in Olympia. Since effectively retaking the state Senate in 2013, the GOP has cast the biggest shadow, outfoxing Democrats by cutting college tuition and whittling Gov. Jay Inslee’s environmental ambitions from a Tesla down to a pinewood derby car.
This fall, the Democrats’ slim majority in the state House (50-48) is up for grabs. It is not hard to sketch a scenario in which the GOP keeps the Senate and picks up three or four House seats.
If that happens, Democrats would be mostly frozen out of budget negotiations, leaving Inslee — if he’s re-elected — playing defense with his veto pen.
This isn’t just me talking; Democrats are nervous. Since the Obama wave in 2008, when the historic 84 percent turnout propelled Democrats to a 63-35 House majority, the GOP has chipped away every year.
That’s partly because the party political machine — traditionally staunch social conservatives in a left- and libertarian-leaning state — stopped imposing a litmus test. Leadership — particularly state Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm — recruited candidates with moderate social views to compete in suburban swing districts. That helped focus races on economic issues, where the GOP fares better.
The “big tent” approach has included recent wins by pro-abortion-rights state Reps. Terri Hickel in Federal Way and Melanie Stambaugh in Puyallup, who is 29. And there are, by some counts, 13 votes for repealing the death penalty among House Republicans, as I wrote recently.
This year, the big-tent approach includes Pablo Monroy, a 28-year-old Latino and Iraq war veteran, who would be the Legislature’s first openly gay Republican. Co-owner of Odd Otter Brewing in Tacoma, Monroy leads with a business-friendly pitch. But as an activist for gay marriage during the Referendum…