Washington voters choose Bill Clinton and Democrats on November 3, 1992.

  • By Kit Oldham and David Wilma
  • Posted 7/02/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7821
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On November 3, 1992, Washington voters favor Democrats, giving Bill Clinton (b. 1946) the state's electoral votes for president and electing Mike Lowry (1939-2017) as governor and Patty Murray (b. 1950) as U.S. Senator. Democrats win eight of Washington's nine seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, including the new Ninth District, and control the state legislature. Women and newcomers are prominent among the victors. Not since the Depression year of 1936 have Democrats won so many offices in the state. Dual voter majorities in Seattle and in the balance of King County approve County Charter amendments merging Metro's water quality and transit services into county government and creating an expanded 13-member Metropolitan King County Council.

Federal Offices

State voters followed the national trend and voted for Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton over the incumbent George Bush (b. 1924). Independent candidate Ross Perot (b. 1930) garnered approximately 24 percent of the vote in Washington. State Senator Patty Murray's defeat of Republican Congressman Rod Chandler (b. 1942) surprised pollsters who predicted a close race. A poll by The Seattle Times indicated that voters chose Murray because she symbolized the outsider with a "common touch."

Washington, having gained a seat following the 1990 census, had nine seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats won eight of them. The sole Republican winner was state party chair Jennifer Dunn (1941-2007) who won the Eighth District on King County's east side that Chandler gave up to run for Senate. Democratic incumbents Al Swift (1935-2018) in the Second District, Jolene Unsoeld (b. 1931) in the Third, Tom Foley (1929-2013) in the Fifth, Norm Dicks (b. 1940) in the Sixth, and Jim McDermott (b. 1936) in the Seventh were easily re-elected.

Olympia optometrist Mike Kreidler (b. 1943) defeated fellow state senator Pete von Reichbauer to win the newly created Ninth District that stretched from Thurston County to the fast-growing suburbs of south King County. Maria Cantwell (b. 1958) won the First District and Jay Inslee (b. 1951) narrowly defeated Doc Hastings (b. 1941) in the Fourth. The three Democratic newcomers all lost their seats two years later (as did Foley and Unsoeld), but they soon returned to office. Inslee gained Cantwell's former First District seat in 1998. Two years later Cantwell narrowly won election to the U.S. Senate and Kreidler was elected state Insurance Commissioner.

State Races

Former Congressman Mike Lowry defeated Republican Attorney General Ken Eikenberry for the Governor's office. Lowry refused campaign contributions larger than $1,500. He collected money from a record 17,000 contributors raising almost $1.5 million. Democrats took all but two of the top state offices. Christine Gregoire was elected Attorney General and Deborah Senn was elected Insurance Commissioner to further increase the number of women in high elective office. Community activist Velma Veloria, born in the Philippines, became the first Asian American woman elected to the State Legislature when she won a House of Representatives seat from south Seattle's 11th District.

Initiative 134 offered campaign finance reform and Initiative 573 set term limits for United States senators and representatives and state legislators. Both measures passed. However, I-573 never took effect: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot limit congressional terms, and in 1998 the Washington Supreme Court held that I-573's limits on state legislative terms were also unconstitutional.

Metro Merger

King County voters approved a new regional justice center to be built in Kent, including a courthouse and a jail to supplement the increasingly crowded County Jail in Seattle. Dual majorities also approved Charter amendments absorbing the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (first created in 1958 to provide regional wastewater treatment and expanded in 1972 to also run a county-wide transit system) into the County and creating an expanded 13-member Metropolitan King County Council. The vote was the second attempt to reform Metro following a ruling that its federated governance structure was unconstitutional.

The 1990 decision by U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer (1929-2002) found that the governing the Metro Council failed to meet the constitutional standard of "one person, one vote." The ruling triggered long and fractious negotiations between County, Seattle, and suburban officials. The County Council placed proposed Charter Amendments on the November 5, 1991, ballot despite municipal objections. They eked out narrow overall majorities, but the merger failed to muster the required majority outside of Seattle.

Facing a deadline from Judge Dwyer, officials eventually agreed on a revised merger plan for the November 3, 1992, ballot, in the form of two separate proposed Charter amendments. The first county-wide proposition expanded and renamed the existing nine-member King County Council as a 13-member Metropolitan King County Council and created special committees with municipal participation. The second folded the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle and its water quality and transit functions into County government. This merger required separate majorities in Seattle and in the balance of King County in accordance with Metro's state enabling statutes.

Voters approved the new County Council by 343,641 votes to 263,637. The merger itself passed by 146,001 to 85,788 in Seattle, and by a narrower margin of 212,962 to 192,357 in the rest of King County. This was ironic because Metro historically had drawn much more criticism from the suburbs than from Seattle. In accordance with the approved measures, Metro officially ceased to exist on January 1, 1994.


Washington Secretary of State, Official Returns of the State General Election, November 3, 1992 (Olympia: State of Washington, 1992); Mark Matassa, "Democrats' Day: From White House to State, Party of Clinton, Murray and Lowry Wins Big," The Seattle Times, November 4, 1992, p. 1, 14; Susan Gilmore, "Poll: Issues Secondary to Symbols," Ibid., p. A-1, A-14; Jim Simon, "Liberal Lowry Surprises Many," Ibid., pp. C-1, C-2; Terry McDermott, "Vote for Change Includes Term Limits," Ibid., p. C-8; Bob Lane, "Saying We Do: Metro, County Will Tie the Knot," Ibid., p. C-8; Geordie Wilson, "State Legislature -- Democrats Sweep 11th District -- Prentice Moves To Senate As Veloria Wins House Seat," Ibid., p. C-10; Robert T. Nelson, "Term Limits Return to Haunt Lawmakers," Ibid., February 15, 1998, p. B-4; Walt Crowley, Routes: An Interpretative History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993); Bob Lane, Better Than Promised: An Informal History of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: King County Department of Metropolitan Services, 1995).
Note: This essay was greatly expanded on July 2, 2006, and incorporates two smaller essays that are no longer extant. It was updated on September 5, 2007, and corrected on August 7, 2013.

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