Independent streak defines Eastside voters

October 26, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The sprint — or slog — to Election Day has a familiar storyline: The angry electorate is poised to rebuke Democrats for a far-reaching agenda and choose a roster of penny-pinching Republicans to slash spending.

The reality is more nuanced — and more complicated.

“There’s always talk about the angry voter and how everybody’s really mad and they’ve got their torches and pitchforks out,” Seattle independent pollster Stuart Elway said. “We’re really not seeing that here, at least statewide.”

Eastside residents from Newcastle to North Bend exhibited different shades of the national mood — in the form of fired-up Republicans and dispirited Democrats — but experts said the local electorate could not be pigeonholed.

Reed Davis, chairman of the political science department at Seattle Pacific University and a former King County GOP chief, said although Democrats might be resigned to defeat on a national scale, the party has not faded in the Evergreen State.

“Democrats in Washington aren’t going home, and right now is when the Democrat get-out-the-vote operation kicks into high gear,” he said.

The turnout effort could limit the effect of a national GOP rout in the Evergreen State. Like most political analysts and pollsters, Issaquah information technology employee and avowed Democrat Chris Fox, 36, said he expects Democrats to lose many state and federal races nationwide.

“I hope to lose as few seats as possible,” he said. “I think the Republicans are probably going to do good, and that makes me sad.”

Kelly Kavanaugh, 47, a retired Newcastle mortgage broker and self-described conservative, called for the next class of state and federal lawmakers to adopt a back-to-basics approach.

“The real liberal agenda really isn’t working for us,” she said. Legislators should focus on “going back to the less spending and lower taxes, and just kind of bringing some reality back a little bit. I think we’re kind of going off track.”

North Bend marketing specialist Linda Young, 49, said partisan labels matter little in her election decisions.

“I don’t vote by party. It’s about who’s doing the best job,” she said. “I’ve gone with Republicans and Democrats. Both ways, it really depends on who’s doing the best job.”

Candidates seek Young and other independent-minded voters as a sort of Holy Grail, especially in a polarized political climate. The undecided group in the center holds outsized ability to influence elections.

“Here in Washington, we’re a less-partisan state than most other states,” Elway said. “Even though we’re more partisan than we used to be here, party identification, I think, plays somewhat less of a role here than it might in some other states.”

The independent streak stretches back to the days before Washington entered the Union.

“There’s a real strong strain of populism, even libertarian orientation, here in the Northwest,” Elway continued. “We’re out here in the far West, and we’re here because we don’t want to be in the East.”

‘Too much money’ in politics

Though the storyline in the Evergreen State differs from the national narrative, the electorate here has raised some of the same concerns as voters elsewhere.

“I think the economic issues are uppermost in voters’ minds,” Davis said. “Closely tied to that are accountability issues, insofar as most people have this sense that they’ve lost control of their government, that their government no longer responds to public opinion.”

Elmore Brolin, a retired Issaquah businessman and engineer, said politicians focus too much on the next election instead of other priorities.

“I’m concerned we have too many politicians who are re-elected and re-elected. I’d put a term limit on them, just like the president,” he said. “They’re more concerned about being re-elected than about the country they serve.”

The barrage of attack ads on radio and television — including many funded by outside groups — has also disgusted Brolin and other voters.

“There’s too much antagonism. There is too much party-ism, negativism,” he said. “Too much money is being allowed to be spent.”

Tina Freed, 80, a retired Issaquah obstetrician-gynecologist, described the ads as a turn-off.

“It’s extremely affected by the Supreme Court’s decision in January about corporations that are able to give unlimited amounts without disclosing the source,” she said. “It’s almost what can money buy rather than the issues at hand.”

In the landmark Citizens United ruling, the high court freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited dollars to air ads for or against political candidates.

North Bend Verizon Wireless employee Tammie Adams, 41, said she makes a decision based on the candidate, not the chatter on the airwaves and chooses, “Someone who is going to do what they say they are going to do and not necessarily go for what’s the most popular.”

Newcastle resident Kavanaugh said she turns to cable to help make election decisions.

“I read the voter pamphlets, but I watch all different news channels, primarily Fox News, but I watch other news and read a lot on the computer to try to stay informed on different issues that are coming up,” she said.

The state has about 3.6 million registered voters. Secretary of State Sam Reed, the top elections official, estimates 66 percent turnout — the highest participation in a midterm election since 1970. (King County Elections predicts 67 percent turnout in areas outside of Seattle.)

“Yes, people are frustrated and anxious about the economy, but there’s just not the level of anger that we see on the national news,” pollster Elway said. “It’s just not showing up in the polls.”

Seattle Pacific University professor Davis disagreed. The former party chairman attributed the high turnout forecasts to frustration and likened the current election to the GOP surge in 1994.

“What I see this time around is much deeper and much more fundamental,” he said. “I think the big difference, too, is that what voters are really unhappy about now is what government has become.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Reporters Laura Geggel, Caleb Heeringa, Sebastian Moraga and Tim Pfarr contributed to this report. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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