On November 8, 1988, Republican Slade Gorton (b. 1928) is returned to the U.S. Senate and Vice President George H. W. Bush (b. 1924) is elected president, although Washington voters go for Democrat Michael Dukakis (b. 1933). Governor Booth Gardner (1936-2013) decisively defeats his Republican opponent. State voters approve initiatives establishing a minimum wage and a policy of enforcement rather than compromise to clean up pollution.
Washington was one of 10 states carried by the Democrat Dukakis, but voters chose a Republican for Senator. They elected a Democrat for Governor. The state House of Representatives remained in Democratic hands and the Senate just barely in Republican hands.
In 1986, Gorton was defeated for reelection to the Senate and pledged to never seek public office again. He ran against Democratic Congressman Mike Lowry (1939-2017) for the Senate seat once held by Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983) and occupied by former Governor Daniel J. Evans (b. 1925) since Jackson's death in 1983. A poll by The Seattle Times indicated that Lowry's liberal stand on issues had shifted voters to the more conservative Gorton.
Democrat Jim McDermott (b. 1936) easily won election to Lowry's 7th District Congressional seat. McDermott was a child psychiatrist who served in the state legislature and ran for governor. In 1987, he volunteered for the foreign service in Zaire. He left that position to run for Congress. He defeated Republican Robert Edwards, a relative unknown.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Booth Gardner easily defeated state representative Bob Williams by one of the largest margins in state history. Attorney General Ken Eikenberry (b. 1932) was also reelected.
Initiative 97 proposed to tax fuels, chemicals, and pesticides and to "make polluters pay" for environmental cleanups. Initiative 97B offered the same tax scheme, but stressed compromise, cooperation, and incentives to mitigate environmental problems. The alternative measure was backed by industrial interests which spent four times as much money as did backers of the 97 campaign. State legislators had tried for three years to pass a toxics cleanup law, but failed in the face of strong lobbying.
An initiative raising the minimum wage for the first time in 12 years passed. Voters also approved ballot measures increasing the tax exemption on personal property, allowing public utilities to make loans to customers, and amending the state constitution to replace references to "idiots and insane persons" and "blind, deaf, dumb or otherwise defective youth" with non-offensive language.
The statewide voter turnout was 77 percent and the King County turnout was 78 percent. Statewide totals were as follows:
- George Bush (R) - 903,835
- Michael Dukakis (D) - 933,516
- Slade Gorton (R) - 944,539
- Mike Lowry (D) - 904,183
- Booth Gardner (D) - 1,166,448
- Bob Williams (R) - 708,481
7th Congressional District
- Jim McDermott (D) - 160,746
- Robert Edwards (R) - 48,167
Initiative 97 and 97B
- For either - 1,307,638
- Against both - 224,486
- For 97 - 860,835
- For 97B - 676,469