Follow the Bouncing Ballot: A Seismograph of Washington Politics, 1851-2005

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 11/02/2005
  • Essay 7536
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This timeline of Washington's volcanic politics was prepared by for The Seattle Times and published in its Sunday Opinion Section on October 30, 2005.

1851: “Columbians” petition Congress for divorce from Oregon Territory.

1853: Congress creates Washington Territory and constitutional convention rejects woman suffrage by one vote.

1869: Seattle re-incorporates under Republican control after Legislature voids original 1865 city charter.

1889: Washington gains statehood, and elects Republican Elisha P. Ferry becomes as its first governor.

1896: Populist John Rogers wins Governorship on “Fusionist” ticket.

1910: All-male electorate amends State Constitution to give women the vote.

1911: King County voters create Port of Seattle, and Seattle recalls Mayor Hi Gill for corruption (he “reforms” and is elected again in 1914).

1912: “Bull Moose” Teddy Roosevelt and socialists garner quarter of state votes, while Democrat Woodrow Wilson carries Washington. Voters amend State Constitution to permit initiatives and referenda.

1915: State voters endorse Prohibition.

1926: Seattle elects Bertha K. Landes as one of the nation’s first women to lead a major city.

1930: Granges, labor, and urban progressives defeat private utilities to pass state Public Power Initiative No. 1.

1931: Seattle recalls Mayor Frank Edwards after he fires City Light chief J.D. Ross.

1932: Voters pass state income tax passes (later voided by State Supreme Court) and repeal Prohibition during Roosevelt Landslide.

1944: Warren G. Magnuson wins U.S. Senate seat and Mon Wallgren defeats Republican Governor Arthur Langlie.

1948: Langlie regains governorship and advocates state ownership of Puget Sound ferry system.

1952: Henry Jackson is elected to U.S. Senate.

1956: Al Rosellini succeeds Langlie as governor.

1960: Central Washington elects Democrat Julia Butler Hansen to Congress, but state voters prefer Richard Nixon to John Kennedy.

1962: Wing Luke is elected as the first Chinese American member of the Seattle City Council.

1964: Republican Dan Evans defeats Rosellini despite “Lyndon Johnson Landslide,” which elects new generation of Democrats to Congress. Seattle votes two-to-one to reject “open housing” reforms.

1967: First “CHECC” reformers and first African American, Sam Smith, win seats on Seattle City Council

1968: King County voters approve most Forward Thrust Bonds but not rail transit, and adopt King County Home Rule Charter.

1969: John Spellman becomes first King County Executive and Seattle elects Wes Uhlman mayor.

1970: Metro rail transit fails again. State voters reject income tax referendum but liberalize abortion. Chris Bayley deposes longtime King County Prosecutor Charles O. Carroll in Republican primary.

1971: Seattle voters preserve Pike Place Market by initiative.

1972: State voters adopt Public Disclosure Act to report campaign contributions and impose shoreline management regulations, while King County voters create Metro Transit bus system and Seattle kills “Bay Freeway.”

1975: City firefighter campaign fails to recall Mayor Uhlman over budget cuts and affirmative action.

1976: Dixy Lee Ray becomes Washington’s first female governor.

1977: TV commentator Charles Royer defeats city planner Paul Schell to win first of three unprecedented terms as Seattle mayor.

1978: Seattle voters soundly reject Initiative 13, which would have repealed gay rights to fair housing and employment.

1980: Slade Gorton defeats Magnuson amid “Reagan Revolution” and John Spellman is elected governor as Republicans take control of both houses of the Legislature.

1984: Pierce County Executive Booth Gardner defeats Governor Spellman.

1986: Former Congressman Brock Adams defeats Slade Gorton (who defeats Congressman Mike Lowry to return to the Senate in 1988). King County voters approve bonds to improve Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.

1988: After appointment in 1987, Cal Anderson, Washington’s first openly gay State Representative wins election from Seattle. In a major conservative coup, the Rev. Pat Robertson wins the State Republican nomination for president.

1989: Seattle voters approve “CAP” initiative to limit downtown building heights and elect Norm Rice as city’s first African American mayor.

1992: Mike Lowry defeats Ken Eikenberry to win governorship and Patty Murray succeeds Senator Brock Adams, who drops out of the primary amid a sex scandal.

1993: Initiative 601 limits the growth rate of state spending, but voters reject Initiative 602’s tax rollbacks.

1995: The year of “No!”: Puget Sound voters reject $6.7 billion Sound Transit system, King County voters whiff funding for new baseball stadium (which gets built anyways), and Seattle snubs South Lake Union “Seattle Commons” redevelopment.

1996: When Mike Lowry declines to seek reelection after sexual harassment complaints, King County Executive Gary Locke defeats religious conservative Ellen Craswell to become Washington’s first Chinese American Governor. Puget Sound voters approve scaled-back $3.9 billion Sound Transit plan but Seattle turns down revised “Commons” levy.

1997: Seattle voters approve idea of expanding the Monorail, King County voters elect African American Ron Sims to succeed Executive Locke, and state voters narrowly approve taxes for new football stadium.

1998: State voters pass Initiative 200 banning affirmative action and Seattle approves “Libraries for All” bonds.

1999: Voters endorse Initiative 695 to motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) at $30. Although voided by the Supreme Court, the Legislature adopts the new rate.

2000: Marie Cantwell retires Slade Gorton, giving Washington two women U. S. Senators, and Governor Locke soundly defeats conservative radio host John Carlson while Legislative elections create partisan gridlock. Seattle voters fund initial Monorail planning and pass “Parks for All” levy, largest yet in city history.

2001: Tarnished by WTO and post-9/11 jitters, Paul Schell becomes first incumbent Seattle mayor to lose a primary since 1938, and County Councilman Greg Nickels nudges past City Attorney Mark Sidran in a close general election.

2002: State voters reject Referendum 59 transportation plan and pass Initiative 776 to limit MVET for local and state projects, while Seattle voters narrowly approve increase of same to fund Monorail “Green Line” plan.

2004: Christine Gregoire squeaks past State Senator Dino Rossi to win governorship in a bitterly contested recount, giving women the state’s top three political posts. Seattle voters reject monorail “recall.”


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