Opinion

Endangered Elephants, Democrats and the Eastside

Craig Groshart
Island Forum

I suppose the Republicans can blame Ross Hunter for this. Hunter, an ex-Microsoft manager who lives in Medina, ran for the Legislature a few years back as a DEMOCRAT. And, he — gasp! — WON.

Doing so, he became the first Democrat to represent the 48th Legislative District. Oh, how times have changed.

Now, with news that Republican Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island is switching parties and will run for the Senate as a Democrat, there are no more GOP representatives or senators in districts east of Lake Washington.

Shortly after Hunter’s win, fellow House member Rodney Tom, a Republican, bolted the party and ran as a Democrat and won the Senate seat from Republican Luke Esser. Next, Democrat Deb Eddy took over Tom’s House seat.

How did the solidly suburban Republican Eastside go astray?

Maybe it didn’t.

Democrats aren’t rare everywhere. They’ve always held the upper hand in the Bothell/Kenmore area with Sen. Rosemarie McAuliffe and Reps. Al O’Brien and Mark Ericks.

The Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville area has been good to Democrats, too, with Sen. Eric Oemig and Reps. Roger Goodman and Larry Springer.

And two Democrats hold power in the 41st district (which includes half of Bellevue and Mercer Island) with Sen. Brian Weinstein and Rep. Judy Clibborn. Jarrett was the lone Republican holding down the fort. Jarrett, who volunteered on his Republican campaign 40 years ago, is now switching.

You have to go out to Issaquah, Sammamish and Snoqualmie to find a solid core of Republicans in Sen. Cheryl Pflug and Reps. Jay Rodne and Glenn Anderson.

South King County, of course, has been mostly Democratic for years.

In reality, the Eastside has been changing politically for some years now. Al Gore ran well against George Bush in this area. The majority of Eastsiders also supported Chris Gregoire, Gary Locke and Mike Lowry for governor. Politicians saw this, but Republicans were slow to respond, if at all.

Here, the party name doesn’t matter so much as what the candidate stands for. In the suburbs, that often means schools, safety, transportation and a bipartisan approach to governing. Democrats score well in all four areas.

Hunter made his case as a champion of schools in his first race and hasn’t wavered since. Tom, too, had strong education support, both as a Republican and a Democrat. The party designation didn’t matter to voters; he still is Rodney Tom and voters like what they see.

That’s likely going to be the case with Jarrett, too.

“I think I remained true to Republican values of investment in education and transportation, civil rights, environmental protection, and well managed and effective government,” Jarrett said when announcing his switch. “Yet over the years, while those values have remained important to the 41st District and to me, the Republican Party has evolved in different directions.”

Republicans aren’t anti-schools or against public safety. But it doesn’t help them in the suburbs when they argue against a simple majority to pass school levies and harp about an anti-tax agenda. Sure, people don’t like taxes, but people in the suburbs have kids. Their schools are very important. People also want government to work. More and more they see Democrats as able to make that happen.

One other comment from Jarrett is telling: “I have also been told that this move will cause some to say that I am abandoning the Republican Party. Yet I am the same person today that I was when first elected to public office in 1979.”

For independents and mainstream Republican voters, more and more that means voting Democratic.

Craig Groshart is the editor of the Bellevue Reporter.

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