In the election of November 2, 2010, Patty Murray (b. 1950) becomes the third senator in state history to win at least four terms in the United States Senate. All eight of Washington's U.S. Representatives running for re-election also win, while Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler (b. 1978) takes the one open U.S. House seat. Voters approve two anti-tax initiatives and soundly reject a proposed state income tax on income above $200,000. An initiative to privatize workers compensation insurance fails, as do two proposals to privatize hard liquor sales (a liquor privatization measure will pass in 2011). The 2010 general election is the last one in which any voters -- about 29,000 in Pierce County -- vote at polling stations. In 2011, the state legislature will eliminate polling places and make Washington the second all-mail-voting state in the country.
First elected in 1992, Democrat Patty Murray was a powerful three-term incumbent who used her Senate position to funnel federal funding to her home state. Nevertheless in 2010, a year in which Republicans were poised to make large gains nationwide, she faced a strong challenge from Republican former state senator Dino Rossi (b. 1959), a veteran of two hard-fought statewide campaigns. Rossi nearly beat Chris Gregoire (b. 1947) in the 2004 governor's race, losing by the tiny margin of 133 votes following multiple recounts and a court battle, then lost by a wider margin when he challenged Gregoire again in 2008. A third time was not the charm for Rossi -- Murray won with 52.4 percent of the vote to Rossi's 47.6 percent.
The win put Murray in elite company. She joined legendary Democratic predecessors Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983) -- who each won six consecutive terms and were renowned for their legislative influence -- and Republican Wesley L. Jones (1863-1932), who served four terms from 1909 through 1932, as the only Washingtonians to win at least four U.S. Senate terms.
Nationally, 2010 was a Republican year, especially in races for the House of Representatives, where Republicans wrested control from Democrats by winning 65 formerly Democratic seats, defeating many incumbents along the way. But the anti-incumbent tide did not reach Washington state, where all five Democratic incumbents -- Jay Inslee (b. 1951) in the First District, Rick Larsen (b. 1965) in the Second, Norm Dicks (b. 1940) in the Sixth, Jim McDermott (b. 1936) in the Seventh, and Adam Smith (b. 1965) in the Ninth -- won re-election, as did their three Republican colleagues -- Doc Hastings (b. 1941) in the Fourth District, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (b. 1969) in the Fifth, and Dave Reichert (b. 1950) in the Eighth.
Washington did play a small role in the GOP takeover of the U.S. House, as Republicans won in the state's Third District, where Democrat Brian Baird (b. 1956) did not seek re-election. Republican state representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (b. 1978), who had earlier served as an aide to McMorris Rodgers, defeated former Democratic state representative Denny Heck (b. 1952) to pick up the seat for the Republicans.
There were two anti-tax measures on the ballot, and both won handily. Initiative 1053, the latest sponsored by professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman, reiterated a requirement -- previously enacted by earlier Eyman initiatives but later suspended by the legislature -- for either a two-thirds vote in the legislature, or else voter approval, to raise taxes. I-1053 won 63.8 percent of the vote. Initiative 1107, heavily funded by the national soda industry, repealed taxes that the legislature had recently had imposed on candy, bottled water, and carbonated sodas. It won 60.4 percent of the vote. Voters also rejected a referendum measure that would have authorized more than $500 million in bonds to fund energy-efficient retrofits of public schools, paid for by an extension of the bottled water tax (which I-1107 repealed).
Anti-tax sentiment was further demonstrated in the decisive defeat of Initiative 1098, which sought to establish a state income tax on high incomes, but won little more than a third of the vote (35.9 percent). I-1098, which would have taxed income above $200,000 for individuals and $400,000 for couples while reducing the state portion of property taxes and exempting more small businesses from business taxes, was championed by Bill Gates Sr. (b. 1927), father of the Microsoft co-founder, but strongly opposed by leading state businesses including Microsoft.
The ballot also featured three initiatives seeking to privatize functions currently handled by the state. Initiative 1082, supported by private insurance companies and other businesses, would have allowed private companies to sell workers compensation insurance, which since 1911 had been provided by the state Department of Labor and Industries. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to privatize workers compensation.
They also turned back two competing proposals that would have dismantled the system, in place since Prohibition ended in the 1930s, under which hard liquor sales and distribution were handled by the state, and allowed private retailers to sell "spirits" or hard liquor (essentially all alcoholic beverages except beer or wine, which had long been available from private retailers). Initiative 1100, largely financed by Costco Wholesale, the giant Issaquah-based warehouse club chain, and Initiative 1105, supported by liquor distributors, both lost. However, the reprieve for state-run liquor stores was brief. A year later in the 2011 general election, Initiative 1183, another liquor privatization measure financed by Costco, was approved by a wide margin and the private sector took over hard liquor distribution and sales in 2012.
Final Polling Places
The November 2010 general election marked a milestone. It was the last in which any voters cast their ballots at a polling station, as voters had been doing since the first elections held in Washington Territory in the 1850s. Only a tiny fraction of the more than 2.5 million who voted statewide did so -- most Washington counties had switched to all-mail voting years earlier. By the 2008 election only King and Pierce counties still operated polling places, and even in those counties, the majority of voters mailed in their ballots. King County, the state's largest, switched to all-mail voting with the off-year elections of 2009.
Thus in 2010 the only traditional polling places in Washington were located in Pierce County. On November 2, a total of 28,960 people (approximately 10 percent of those who voted in Pierce County) cast their ballots at one of those polling places, the last time any Washingtonians would do so. In 2011, at the request of Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state legislature passed a law, plainly directed at Pierce County, which eliminated polling places and mandated all-mail voting. Initially written with a 2012 effective date, the legislation was amended to apply to the 2011 primary and general elections, which Pierce County, like the rest of the state, conducted by mail. Washington followed Oregon as the second state to go to all-mail balloting.
While Pierce County voters exercised one venerable electoral tradition, Benton County voters practiced another. Voters there considered a measure to move the county seat. Proposals to move the headquarters of county government from one city to another are not uncommon in Washington history, particularly in the early years, when there were more than a few contentious battles between settlements for the prestige and power of being a county seat. The measure on the Benton County ballot in 2010 sought to move the county seat from the small town of Prosser, where it had resided since the county was formed in 1905, to the larger metropolis of Kennewick. A majority of voters (55.6 percent) favored the move, but 60 percent was required for passage, so Prosser remained the official county seat (although courts, the jail, and many other county offices were already located in Kennewick).