Washington voters approve strict gun-purchase background checks and return incumbents to Congress on November 4, 2014.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 5/21/2019
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20772

In the election of November 4, 2014, Washington voters approve one of the nation's strictest background-check requirements for gun purchases, reject a competing gun-rights measure, and approve reducing class sizes in public schools. All nine members of the state's U.S. House of Representatives delegation seeking re-election win easily, while Dan Newhouse (b. 1955) edges fellow Republican Clint Didier (b. 1959) to claim the only open House seat, in Central Washington's Fourth District. John Lovick, who was appointed Snohomish County Executive following Aaron Reardon's resignation, wins a special election to retain his position. Seattle voters approve tax increases to provide subsidized preschool and to expand bus service, but overwhelmingly reject reviving efforts to build a new monorail line.

Statewide: Dueling Gun Measures

With no seriously contested statewide positions at stake (the only state offices on the 2014 ballot were four state supreme court seats, which the four incumbent justices retained handily, two with no opponent and two facing only token opposition), the major issue that appeared on ballots across the state was gun control, with two competing initiatives from advocates on opposite sides of the issue. Initiative 594 sought to significantly expand existing requirements for background checks prior to a firearm sale or transfer, while Initiative 591 would have prohibited the state from imposing any background checks beyond those required under federal law.

Under existing law, before a sale licensed gun dealers were required to check an FBI database to determine if the buyer was prohibited from owning a firearm, due to a prior conviction, fugitive status, undocumented immigration status, having been found mentally incompetent, or other basis. However, private sales or those by unlicensed dealers were not subject to any background check. I-594, sponsored by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, expanded the background-check requirement to cover any sale or transfer of a firearm, mandating that the parties to all such transactions have a licensed gun dealer conduct the required check. The Yes on I-594 campaign raised more than $10 million and ran television advertisements featuring survivors of mass shootings, including the 2006 attack on the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle office.

Opponents of expanded background checks, including the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, raised significantly less money. In addition to opposing I-594, which they argued could require background checks any time a gun was handed from one person to another at a shooting range or on a hunting trip, gun-rights advocates promoted their own measure. I-591 aimed to preclude I-594 or any other state effort to increase background checks beyond those required under federal law, by prohibiting the state from "requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required" ("Voters' Guide").

Gun-control proponents prevailed in both contests. I-594 passed easily, with nearly 60 percent of voters in favor, and I-591 lost with 45 percent in favor and 55 percent opposed. The result gave Washington some of the strictest background-check requirements in the country. Opponents challenged the new law in the courts, but I-594 was upheld.

There was one other statewide measure on the ballot. Initiative 1351, backed by teachers unions and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, called for lowering class sizes in state schools by hiring more teachers and other school employees. Although there was no organized opposition campaign, I-1351 was only narrowly approved, with not quite 51 percent of the votes in favor. In advisory votes, two taxes enacted by the legislature were approved, including an excise tax on marijuana that followed voter approval two years earlier of recreational marijuana use.

Congressional and Legislative Races

With incumbents cruising to victory in nine of the state's 10 U.S. House of Representatives districts, the only close House race was the hard-fought contest to succeed Republican U.S. Representative Doc Hastings (b. 1941), who was retiring after representing his Central Washington district for 10 terms. For the first time in a state Congressional race, the general election pitted two members of the same political party, a result made possible by the "top two" primary system adopted by Washington voters in 2004, which first took effect in 2008 following court challenges. Unlike the unpopular "pick a party" primary that it replaced, under the top-two system voters could choose candidates from different parties for different offices, and the top two vote-getters for each position advanced to the general election even if both were members of the same party.

In the heavily Republican Fourth District, the top two finishers in the 2014 primary, Dan Newhouse and Clint Didier, were both members of that party. Nevertheless they staked out significantly different positions. Newhouse, a farmer from Sunnyside who had served in the state legislature and as director of the state agriculture department, was viewed as the more moderate. He sought support from independents and Democrats as well as Republicans, telling voters he would be "a calmer conservative voice" than his opponent (Brunner). Didier, also a farmer, was best known as a former professional football player. He had previously run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and for state Commissioner of Public Lands. Supported by the far-right Tea Party movement he harshly attacked both Democrats and "establishment Republicans" (Brunner).

Boosted by the endorsement of outgoing Representative Hastings, Newhouse eked out a narrow victory, with 50.8 percent of the vote to Didier's 49.2 percent. Two years later, in 2016, Didier would again challenge Newhouse for the Fourth District seat, but that time Newhouse prevailed by a much-larger margin. Didier eventually won political office in 2018, when he was elected as a Franklin County Commissioner.

In the state's other U.S. House districts, all nine incumbents easily won re-election: Democrats Suzan DelBene (b. 1962) in the First District, Rick Larsen (b. 1965) in the Second, Derek Kilmer (b. 1974) in the Sixth, Jim McDermott (b. 1936) in the Seventh, Adam Smith (b. 1965) in the Ninth, and Denny Heck (b. 1952) in the Tenth, along with Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler (b. 1978) in the Third District, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (b. 1969) in the Fifth, and Dave Reichert (b. 1950) in the Eighth.

While none of Washington's U.S. House of Representatives seats switched parties, and neither of the state's Democratic U.S. Senators -- Patty Murray (b. 1950) and Maria Cantwell (b. 1958) -- were up for re-election in 2014, nationally the Republicans made gains in both houses of Congress, taking control of the Senate and increasing their numbers in the House. Unlike at the national level, neither chamber of the Washington State Legislature changed hands, with each party retaining control of one. The Democrats already had a solid majority in the state House of Representatives, and that remained the case.

In the previous legislative session Republicans had narrowly controlled the state Senate thanks to a "Majority Coalition Caucus" that included two Democratic senators, Tim Sheldon of Potlatch in Mason County and Rodney Tom of Medina in eastern King County, who caucused with the Republicans rather than their party. Democrats made a major effort to retake the Senate, but fell short. With Tom retiring, Democrat Cyrus Habib (b. 1981), an Iranian American who would go on to be elected lieutenant governor two years later, won the 48th District seat that Tom had represented. But Sheldon defeated another Democrat to retain his seat, and continued caucusing with the Republicans. That caucus held on to its slim Senate majority when Republican state Representative Mark Miloscia won the 30th District seat representing Federal Way in south King County formerly held by retiring Democratic Senator Tracey Eide.

Local Results: More Dueling Ballot Measures

In Seattle, in addition to deciding between the competing statewide background-check initiatives (city voters overwhelmingly supported stricter controls), local voters also had to choose between two competing proposals to raise property taxes to fund city-subsidized preschools. City officials, along with some of the area's largest businesses such as Amazon and Microsoft, supported Proposition No. 1B, which established a four-year pilot program to subsidize preschool on a sliding scale, to make it more affordable for low-income families. Two unions representing some 1,500 child-care workers in Seattle -- Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 925 and the American Federation of Teachers-Washington -- backed an alternative preschool-funding measure, Proposition No. 1A, which included a $15 minimum wage for child-care workers and required training and certification for those workers.

The pair of proposals resulted from a breakdown in negotiations between city officials and the unions; when the two sides could not agree, the unions collected sufficient signatures to put their proposal on the ballot alongside the officials' version. As a result city voters first had to vote on whether either measure should be approved -- more than two thirds voted yes -- and then (regardless of how they answered the first question) indicate which of the two alternatives they wanted. On the second question, a sizable majority supported No. 1B, the proposal supported by city officials and business leaders.

Seattle voters also faced two separate transit-funding measures (both also somewhat confusingly included "Proposition No. 1" in their ballot title), one to expand bus service in the city and the other to revive plans to build a new monorail. Though not actually conflicting -- voters could have approved both proposals -- again the measure supported by business and government leaders won and the other lost. Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition No. 1, backed by city and county officials and local business groups, increased the city sales tax by 0.1 percent and imposed a $60 car-tab fee to raise more money for more bus service in the city, which Seattle would pay to King County Metro Transit for additional service hours. Voters easily approved that proposition.

But they trounced the attempt to revive plans for a new monorail line, nine years after having voted in 2005 to close down the the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) -- which they had supported in four previous elections -- and its efforts to build a monorail linking West Seattle and Ballard through downtown. The 2014 monorail measure, Citizen Proposition No. 1, which would have authorized spending $2 million to again study building a monorail, "was steered largely by one activist, Elizabeth Campbell of Magnolia, who campaigned virtually alone" (Lindblom, "Voters Say No Thanks ..."). She gained little support -- the yes vote for the citizen proposition was less than 20 percent.

Voters elsewhere rejected several local funding measures. In Lynnwood, in south Snohomish County, a measure to fund road improvements, including around Alderwood Mall, by raising the sales tax (it would have given Lynnwood the highest combined-sales-tax rate in the state), was defeated. And in Bothell, straddling the King-Snohomish county line, residents turned down a property-tax measure that would have funded park acquisition throughout the city and improved downtown streets for pedestrians, bicycles, and cars, intended as part of a major, already-in-progress redevelopment of the city's downtown core.

Not many local officials faced voters in 2014, but in Snohomish County the ballot included a special election for County Executive, stemming from former executive Aaron Reardon's resignation in May 2013 following accusations that he had had an affair with a county employee. Former Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick was appointed executive when Reardon resigned, and the position went on the 2014 ballot to determine who would serve the remainder of the four-year term. Lovick defeated Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick and completed the term, although he lost his bid for re-election in 2015. The next year Lovick, who had served previously in the state House of Representatives, was appointed, and then elected, to an open House seat.


"November 4, 2014: General Election Results," Washington Secretary of State website accessed April 30, 2019 (https://results.vote.wa.gov/results/20141104/); "Voters' Guide: 2014 General Election," Washington Secretary of State website accessed April 30, 2019 (https://weiapplets.sos.wa.gov/MyVoteOLVR/onlinevotersguide/Measures?language=en&electionId=54&countyCode=xx&ismyVote=False&electionTitle=2014%20General%20Election%20); "2014 Results: November 4 General Election," King County website accessed May 2, 2019 (https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/elections/results/2014/201411.aspx); "Newhouse, Daniel Milton, (1955 - )," Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress website accessed May 2, 2019 (http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=N000189); Joseph O'Sullivan, "Gun-check Law Will Be Among Most Strict in U.S.," The Seattle Times, November 5, 2014, p. A-1; John Higgins, "Voters Split on Cost, Benefit of Shrinking Classes," Ibid., p. A-1; "Rep. Suzan DelBene Defeats GOP Rival Celis," Ibid., p. A-5; Lynn Thompson, "Democrats Trailing in State Senate Races," Ibid., p. A-5; Daniel Beekman, " Seattle OKs Preschool Measure," Ibid., p. A-6; Mike Lindblom, "Metro Bus Service to Get Boost with Prop. 1 Vote," Ibid., p. A-6; Mike Lindblom, "Voters Say No Thanks to Monorail," Ibid., p. A-6; "Lovick Elected Snohomish County Executive," Ibid., p. A-8; "Appeals Court Upholds Washington Gun Background Check Law," The Spokesman-Review, October 26, 2017 (www.spokesman.com); Wendy Culverwell, "Clint Didier Wants to Hear from Franklin County: He's Even Giving Out His Personal Phone Number," Tri-City Herald, November 18, 2018 (www.tri-cityherald.com); "John Lovick: Biography," Washington State House Democrats website accessed May 2, 2019 (https://housedemocrats.wa.gov/lovick/); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Hill, Andy (1962-2016)" (by Phil Dougherty), "Voters ban indoor smoking, require performance audits, reject dueling malpractice initiatives, and pull the plug on the monorail on November 8, 2005" (by Kit Oldham), and "Washington voters set turnout record, support Barack Obama for president, re-elect Governor Christine Gregoire, and legalize assisted suicide on November 4, 2008" (by Kit Oldham), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed March 27, 2019).

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