Those candidates who came out on top Tuesday night in the 2018 general election — or at least have a healthy lead as final ballots trickle in during the next few days — can take some pride in having earned the confidence of a majority of their voters, inculding many new ones.
Washington state topped 4 registered million voters early in 2016 and by that November’s presidential election had 4.27 million registered, nearly 79 percent who voted. For today’s election, 4,315,594 were registered, with turnout expected to surpass 70 percent.
Any pride in having won an election ought to swallowed with just a little unease and the realization that with that turnout, a whole lotta people — those who voted for ’em and agin ’em — will be watching and expecting effort and results during the next two to six years.
And that’s true for Republicans and Democrats, alike, regardless of whether they are in the majority or minority, in Congress or the Legislature. Regular voters have been pretty good about keeping an eye on the performance of their lawmakers and other public officials. But there’s a whole batch of new voters and those who only voted occasionally who have recently begun paying attention and may make this a regular thing.
There are expectations for both legislative bodies and both parties.
At the national level: Democrats appear to have earned back control of the House for the first time since the 2010 midterms, while Republicans have retained their majority in the Senate.
Democratic control of the House will bring an end to one-party control of Congress and more oversight of the Trump administration, a responsibility that Republicans abdicated. Democrats’ mandate for that oversight — including the extent of their activity to hold hearings and seek subpoenas regarding the activities of federal agencies and investigation of administration officials and policies — will depend on the size of the blue wave they surfed in on.
It’s a responsibility that the region’s re-elected members of the House, Democrats Rep. Rick Larsen and Rep. Suzan DelBene, both specifically discussed during their endorsement interviews with The Herald Editorial Board. They are correct about that responsibility, but Democrats — if they hope to hold the House longer than two years this time — must balance that function with an effective record of legislation, one that works to find bipartisan solutions with House Republicans, with the Senate and with President Trump.
That happened with a package of legislation to confront the nation’s opioid crisis earlier this year, but similar results on other issues, in particular health care, have been too infrequent.
The Senate, to which Washington’s Democratic junior senator, Maria Cantwell, returns for a fourth term, remains in Republican hands, but the GOP, too, has something to demonstrate to voters through a legislative record more responsive to most Americans if it hopes to retain control after 2020.
Meanwhile, in Olympia: Gridlock wasn’t the problem for the state Legislature this year, after a special election broke years of divided government with the House in Democratic control and Republicans with a majority in the Senate. With slim majorities in both, Democrats went on a bill-passage spree this year, including breaking a logjam that had prevented adoption of the $4.2 billion capital budget — including more than $1 billion for sorely needed new school and classroom construction — during the 2017 session.
While that torrent of bills included good legislation, it also resulted in unforced errors by Democrats.
One of those corner-cutting decisions resulted in a rebuke by the state Supreme Court that put Initiative 940 on the ballot. Presented with the citizen initiative, the Legislature had the choice — outlined in the constitution — to adopt I-940; allow it to go on the ballot; or put it and a legislatively written alternative side by side on the ballot. The Legislature invented a fourth option that adopted its own version, attempting to bypass the voters entirely.
The Supreme Court ruled against the move and told the Secretary of State to put I-940, with necessary changes to the state’s “deadly force” standard for police, on the ballot where Tuesday night it appeared to have enough votes to pass. If lawmakers want to adopt the version they passed this year, they’ll have to find a two-thirds majority to amend I-940 or wait two years to do so.
Haste and overconfidence also appears to have been behind the lawmakers’ botched attempt to largely excuse themselves from the provisions of the Public Records Act that applies to almost every other public official and agency in the state. In less than 48 hours and with no debate or public testimony, House and Senate passed legislation that shielded lawmakers’ emails, calendars and other documents, including those on disciplinary actions. Only a veto by Gov. Jay Inslee prevented it from becoming law.
Assuming Democrats continue to control both Senate and House, they would do well to be more deliberative and transparent in pursing their goals, especially if they plan to make changes to the state’s tax structure.
The voters want to see a productive Legislature, but that production must be informed by input from stakeholders, debate among lawmakers and careful consideration of both bodies before a final vote.
The voters have made their choices as to who should lead and where. And they’ll be watching what comes next.