Opinion

Election ‘08: Voters swamp leaderless GOP

Nationally, the Democratic blue wave of change proved to be real as it swamped everything Republican in its path.

Sen. Barack Obama was elected president over Sen. John McCain with more than 300 electoral votes, although the popular electoral vote was much closer at 52 percent to 46 percent.

The Democrats picked up five seats in the U.S. Senate, although they appear to have fallen tantalizingly short of the filibuster-proof goal of 60. Democrats also added 22 seats in the U.S. House.

The message was clear and unmistakable. But the messenger wasn’t women or “Joe the plumber” voters that the McCain-Palin ticket had hoped would pave their way to victory. They stayed with Obama, as did a broad tapestry of support across all demographic lines. No one group can claim credit for Obama’s victory.

The real messenger may have been our nation’s youth. Their dramatic participation and turnout provided an energy level that established them as a potent force on the national political stage. Their passion for change, for consensus and cooperation rather than confrontation and partisanship demonstrated a belief in government’s ability to be part of the solution — and may have signaled an end to the era of government being viewed as part of the problem.

But for Obama and the Democrats, the hard part is just beginning as they seek to govern while being confronted with challenges not seen in over 50 years.

Locally, the Obama effect carried Gov. Christine Gregoire from a potentially close race with Republican Dino Rossi to an easy win. Obama carried King County with over 70 percent and gave Gregoire a 5 percent bump above the 60 percent she needed to balance off the rest of the state. McCain only received 25 percent in King County, which is 7 percent below the Republican baseline, and Rossi’s vision of “Dinocrats” providing his margin of victory proved to be an unfulfilled campaign philosophy. While many Democrats in addition to Gregoire benefited from Obama’s coattails, Washington voters retained their independent selective streak.

Eastern Washington Democrat Peter Goldmark upset of incumbent Lands Commissioner Republican Doug Sutherland, and Democrat Jim McIntire’s win as State Treasurer, are likely results of the Obama effect. But incumbent Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary of State Sam Reed were returned to office comfortably. Also, in two closely watched races, incumbent Republicans Skip Priest (R-Federal Way) and Dan Roach (R-Maple Valley) retained their seats in the state House, proving voters were discretionary on local issues and candidates.

The biggest surprise was the passage of Proposition 1 to continue mass transit implementation. The size of the victory ended a 40-year regional economic debate. The electorate’s willingness to tax current and future generations to end the transit stalemate and move forward was startling in this economic climate.

The voters also proved that they did their homework by rejecting Tim Eyman’s I-985 and weren’t enticed by its superficial appeal. They read the details and understood it could have led to worse traffic congestion and discontinuation of city efforts to curtail dangerous red light runners.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson’s close loss is probably more reflective of parent, student and teacher unhappiness over the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) test rather than strong support for Randy Dorn — whose style may wear thin in Olympia.

Other winners? State Democrats, who retained the status quo while change ruled the nation. Also, mass transit advocates, government optimists and young people who claimed the role as determiners of our state’s future.

Losers? Tim Eyman, the BIAW (Business Industry Association of Washington) whose negative divisive campaign in support of Dino Rossi may have hurt more than it helped, and Republicans whose opportunity for a return to power must be done by reshaping and updating their vision for a broader appeal to a new generation of voters. Maintaining their current ideology or simply criticizing and obstructing Democrats won’t work. With Rossi’s loss, they are temporarily leaderless, so a new leader will need to emerge.

Next week, changes in county government.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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