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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

As Clinton Path To White House Narrows, Democrats Win In Washington State

Deborah Wang
Anxiety on the faces of Democrats watching early returns at the Westin Hotel in Seattle.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee was cruising to re-election Tuesday night with 56 percent of the vote over Republican challenger Bill Bryant. But several other statewide races were still too close to call, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction.


Throughout his re-election campaign, Inslee enjoyed a number of advantages including the power of incumbency, an ample campaign war chest and the fact he’s a Democrat in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor in more than three decades.

Bryant, a former Port of Seattle Commissioner, played the role of loyal opposition but battled a series of deficits. Among them low name recognition and the inability to raise enough money to run a competitive statewide campaign.

Lt. Governor

In the open race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Cyrus Habib was leading his Republican opponent Marty McClendon by 11 percent in early returns.

Just 35, Habib currently serves as a state senator from Kirkland. If ultimately elected, he will become the first Iranian-American to hold statewide office in the United States and the second blind lieutenant governor, following in the steps of David Paterson of New York. Habib lost his eyesight to a childhood cancer. Among his campaign promises, Habib has vowed to ban guns from the Senate gallery.

Even before the election, Habib had trounced McClendon in the money race with more than $1 million raised for his campaign compared to McClendon’s $130,962.

Secretary of State

In the secretary of state race, Republican incumbent Kim Wyman had a 7 percent lead over Democratic challenger Tina Podlodowski, a former Seattle City Councilmember.

Podlodowski ran an aggressive and well-funded campaign against Wyman blaming her for low voter turnout in recent past elections and attacking Wyman for her support of citizenship verification of voters.

Even though Washington is a blue state, Republicans have held the secretary of state’s office since 1964.

State Treasurer

If there was an anomaly in Washington’s election this year, it was that two Republicans advanced from the top-two primary in August to face off in the general election in the open race for state treasurer. In early returns, Benton County Treasurer Duane Davidson was leading first-time candidate Michael Waite, an investment executive, with 59 percent of the vote.

The race provided a stark contrast as Davidson, who’s 57, promised to play it safe and “just watch the money” while Waite, who’s only 39 and a former professional tennis player from Australia, vowed to play an activist role, with a special focus on driving down state debt.

The election of a Republican state treasurer ends 60 years of Democratic control of that office.

State Auditor

In the race for state auditor, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, a Democrat, was poised to become the first woman to hold that office since statehood. She was leading Republican state Senator Mark Miloscia by eight points.

If there’s an embattled statewide office in Washington these days, it’s state auditor. Incumbent Democrat Troy Kelley’s four years in office were overshadowed by his federal indictment and subsequent trial on charges related to his past business practices in the real estate services industry.

Last April, a jury found Kelley not guilty of lying to the IRS, but deadlocked on 14 other charges. In May, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle announced it would retry Kelley. A March 2017 trial was scheduled, although that’s likely to be delayed while his attorneys appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

McCarthy and Miloscia both campaigned on a promise to restore trust and credibility to the office.

Commissioner of Public Lands

Five incumbent statewide officeholders decided not to run for re-election in 2016. They include two-term state lands commissioner Peter Goldmark, a Democrat.

In the race to replace him, Democrat Hilary Franz, a land-use attorney, was ahead of Republican Steve McLaughlin, former executive officer of Naval Station Everett, by 10 percent of the vote.

McLaughlin’s campaign got a late boost in fundraising from the state Republican Party and timber interests, allowing him to outraise Franz by $100,000. But it likely came too late. Meanwhile, Franz benefitted from heaving independent spending by environmental interests like Washington Conservation Voters, which spent money supporting her and opposing McLaughlin.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Washington’s one nonpartisan statewide office is superintendent of public instruction. Democratic state Representative Chris Reykdal was leading former assistant state superintendent Erin Jones by just two percent in early returns. If Jones were to ultimately prevail in the race, she would become the first African American to hold statewide office, not including state Supreme Court.

Ballot Measures

Washington voters also got to decide six initiatives. The only one of the bunch that inspired a well-funded opposition campaign was a proposal to fight climate change by taxing carbon emissions.

That measure, I-732, came with offsetting reductions in other state taxes. The "revenue neutral" design was intended to broaden support, but the early returns suggest few conservatives were swayed with 58 percent of voters saying “no” to the measure.

Groups on the political left also defected from the cause because they said a carbon tax they would support must generate additional money for the state to "invest" in retraining displaced industrial workers and other programs to ameliorate the effects of global warming.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."