Washington voters reject property rights, casino gambling, and other ballot measures on November 7, 1995.

  • By Kit Oldham and David Wilma
  • Posted 9/07/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7916
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On November 7, 1995, Washington voters overwhelmingly defeat three high-profile ballot measures that would have allowed unrestricted casino-style gambling on Indian reservations, banned most gillnet and purse seine fishing, and required government to pay for reduced property values caused by some land use regulation. Seattle voters reject a change to the City Charter that would have provided for election of the City Council by district rather than under the at-large system in place since 1910. In the off-year election, there is only one statewide office (a Supreme Court position) on the ballot, while local races include Seattle City Council and King County Council seats.

Without major offices at issue, much attention focused on the three controversial ballot measures, each of them heavily financed by interests that opponents claimed would benefit if the measure passed. Two lower-profile statewide measures were approved, including one that transferred power to appoint the fish and wildlife director from the governor to the state fish and wildlife commission, but the three most-debated measures failed decisively.

Voters Say No

Five Indian tribes backed Initiative 651, which would have allowed casinos on Indian reservations to offer slot machines and video poker. Despite outspending opponents, who included nine other tribes, I-651 sponsors saw their measure defeated by 74.2 percent (1,010,787 votes) to 25.8 percent (350,708 votes).

Initiative 640, to ban most purse seine and gillnet fishing in Washington, attracted unusual alliances on both sides. The ban was supported by sports-fishing groups and commercial river users like the aluminum industry and it was opposed by commercial fishing interests and some leading environmental groups. Both campaigns spent heavily. Voters rejected I-640 by 57.5 percent (767,686 votes) to 42.5 percent (566,880 votes).

Referendum 48 asked voters whether they wanted to approve or reject a "property rights" law passed earlier by the Legislature that limited land use regulation and required compensation for imposing some regulations. The measure had been presented to the Legislature as Initiative 164, supported by timber companies, developers, and Realtors. After the Legislature approved it, environmental groups, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and other opponents submitted a record-breaking number of signatures to compel a public referendum. Property rights supporters outspent opponents $1.1 million to $800,000, but voters rejected Referendum 48 by 59.6 percent (796,869 votes) to 40.6 percent (544,788 votes).

The result in the only race for a statewide office -- a seat on the Supreme Court -- came as a surprise to some observers in light of Referendum 48's overwhelming defeat. Bellevue attorney Richard Sanders, best known for his strong support of property rights and backed by many of the same interests who supported R-48, easily defeated appointed incumbent Rosselle Pekelis, who garnered support from environmentalists. Sanders, who has since been re-elected twice, went on to establish a reputation as an outspoken, sometimes controversial justice and frequent dissenter who consistently championed the rights of citizens, whether wealthy developers or indigent criminal defendants, against the power of the government.

Seattle City Council

Like the statewide measures, Seattle's proposed charter amendment, which called for replacing the nine at-large City Council members with nine members each representing a district of the city, lost decisively (55 to 45 percent). The district election movement was backed by Citizens for a Community Based City Council and by West Seattle developers Tom and Diane Benton. The Bentons' $35,000 donation was the bulk of the $46,086 raised by the campaign. Most of the campaign funds went to pay signature collectors to place the measure on the ballot.

Seattle Mayor Norm Rice opposed the measure although he had supported a similar proposal in 1974. At that time only one African American sat on the council. By 1995, racial minorities constituted one third of the council. In 1998, Seattle businessman Thomas Stewart paid $570,000 in civil infractions to the State of Washington for making $60,000 in laundered donations to the campaign. Stewart, his company Food Services of America, and an associate also pled guilty to misdemeanor charges in federal district court, paying a total $5 million fine (including the payment to the state) for a series of campaign law violations that included the charter referendum donations.

The Seattle City Council did gain two new members. Seattle Police sergeant John Manning defeated one-term incumbent Sherry Harris, who had defeated long-time member Sam Smith (1922-1995) four years earlier. In a race for an open seat, former Microsoft executive Tina Podlodowski defeated former legislator Jesse Wineberry. Incumbents Martha Choe, Sue Donaldson, and Margaret Pageler all won easily.

King County Council

One new member joined the King County Council, which unlike Seattle's has always been elected by district. Bellevue lawyer Rob McKenna (who went on to be elected state Attorney General in 2004) won the Eastside District 6 seat that fellow Republican Bruce Laing vacated. The only serious contests for County Council seats occurred in the September 19 primary. McKenna defeated state legislator and former five-term Councilmember Bill Reams to win the Republican primary, then easily beat Democrat Sharon Mast in the heavily Republican district on November 7.

Two incumbent councilmembers also survived strong challenges in the September primary. Maverick Republican Brian Derdowski (who first won his seat by ousting Reams in 1989), a strong advocate of growth control, had help from Democrats in besting State Representative Brian Thomas in the primary for his rural eastern District 12 seat. In West Seattle's District 8, two-term incumbent Councilmember (and later Seattle mayor) Greg Nickels (b. 1955) narrowly defeated State Senator Mike Heavey in a Democratic primary race decided by absentee ballots. On November 7, Derdowski and Nickels each easily defeated token opponents from the other party. The other three Councilmembers up for re-election, Seattle Democrats Cynthia Sullivan, Larry Phillips (b. 1956), and Larry Gossett (b. 1945) were unopposed in both the primary and general election.

Sources: "Election Results Search (November 1995 General)," Washington Secretary of State website accessed June 23, 2006 (http://www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/results_search.aspx); Scott Maier, "The Quiet Campaign to Amend City Charter -- Supporters Think They Will Win," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 2, 1995, p. B-1; Neil Modie, "Land-Use, Gamble Issues Lose -- Seattle Voters Reject 9-District City Council," Ibid., November 8, 1995, p. A-1; Mark Higgins, "Novices Triumph In Council Contests -- Podlodowski Wins, Manning Ousts Harris," Ibid.; Ed Penhale, "McKenna Puts GOP Imprint on Council," Ibid., p. A-9; Higgins, "Seattle Gets Message: Let's Stay the Course," Ibid., November 9, 1995, p. A-1; Modie, "Vote Showed Money Doesn't Ensure Victory," Ibid., November 10, 1995, p. B-1; Jake Batsell, Jack Broom, Barbara A. Serrano, "Stewart Case: $5 Million Fine -- Republican Fund-Raiser Pleads Guilty To Illegal Campaign Donations" The Seattle Times, March 18, 1998, p. A-1; David Schaefer, Steve Clutter, "McKenna, Derdowski Clear Winners -- Nickels-Heavey Race Still Iffy, Will Hinge on Count of Absentee Votes," Ibid., September 20, 1995, p. A-14.

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