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Four takeaways for legislative politics resulting from the General Election

After collecting my notes from this year’s legislative races, and talking through what’s ahead with legislative folks, four key takeaways stand out to me on Election Night 2017.  These are related to state-level politics, different from a separate post on the lessons from local-level politics.

But, here are four things that I think may get missed about Washington State politics in the celebrations and sufferings that spawn on election night.  Here goes.

First, this is not a wave election.  Virginia is not Washington State.  In the seven legislative races where an appointed incumbent was on the ballot, the incumbent won all seven races. This was true in a number of high profile local races, too, where incumbents were standing for re-election.

All incumbents won in the City of Seattle, King County Exec and Council (though not Sheriff), Snohomish County Council, City of Edmonds, City of Everett, Port of Seattle, City of Bellevue, City of Tacoma, and the City of Spokane.  All of them.

When you add in the legislative races with incumbents, that’s 28 of 29 incumbents in select races that won re-election.  (I see you Spokane Valley, with only 1 of 5 incumbents losing, but you’re not quite on the list this year.)  This was not a wave election.  It was the opposite: localized, and campaign-specific.

Second, if Senate Republicans won’t pass the capital budget to protect the majority, they won’t pass it to protect the minority.  Recall there are two portions of the capital budget: the cash portion that can be passed by a simple majority and the bond/debt portion that needs 60% to pass.  That means to get the bonded portion passed, Senate Democrats will still need to have a few Senate Republicans with them.

Now, it’s sometimes easier to pick off a few votes from a minority caucus than it is when you’re trying to run a working majority.  So, it’s possible that Senate Dems will be able to pick up the extra 5 votes they will need.  The budget does have broad, near unanimous support from both parties in both chambers.

But Senate Republicans are coming off a run of five years of very solid coalescence and unification as a caucus.  It’s hard to see them break up now.

I’ve argued they should have cut a deal in August or risk losing their leverage.  They still have some leverage over the debt portion of the budget, but the cash portion may come up for a vote as soon as December.  We’ll see.  But Democrats are going to have to figure out a way to work with Republicans on this if they want to move infrastructure projects of any size.

Third, being a Republican is, all things being equal, probably worse than being Donald Trump in swing districts like the 45th.  We saw this trend in our Wire Poll in the 45th.  Now, it’s certainly common for a party’s president to be more popular than the party.  In fact, it’s normal. What’s not normal is how low the president’s numbers are.  To be lower than Trump in swing districts in Washington State makes being a Republican without significant name ID a very difficult proposition.

The exception is potentially being a Republican with high name ID, a situation where you’re known for your work, your commitment to the district and party, and which exists beyond simple party affiliation.  There are very, very few of these kinds of non-incumbent potential candidates out there in swing districts.

However, Dino Rossi is probably one of them.  In other words, expect low name-ID Republican candidates to likely suffer from Trump.  There is no evidence yet that would extend to Dino Rossi in the 8th CD.  We’ll poll on this question in the months ahead.

Adam Bartz is tremendously under-appreciated. It’s not a surprise if you don’t know his name.  That’s probably a good thing, from his perspective.  He runs the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, the political arm of the Senate Democratic Caucus.  For context, he stepped into a very dicey situation following a scandal in 2013.  He quietly rebuilt the team and infrastructure, working closely with Sen. Sharon Nelson to raise more money than the caucus ever had before.

And, while victories have a lot of credit to go around – deservedly so – Adam’s role was among the most important and most complex.  The campaigns themselves become something of proxies in these types of special elections because of the sheer amount of money involved around and not in the campaigns themselves.  A position like Adam’s must manage millions of dollars of funds, complex reporting and compliance rules, senators looking to be named committee chairman, key stakeholders writing big checks, and a host of other ego-related issues.

Put differently, there are a hundred ways to screw up in this position.  There are only a handful of ways to be successful.  This week, Adam was a success and Washington State legislative politics are different as a result.


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