Morning Fizz

Early Ballot Returns Give Democrats Big Lead in Key State Senate Battles

Good news for Democrats on early ballot returns, city budget news today, and sad news about state Republican senator Andy Hill.

By Josh Feit November 2, 2016

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1. There’s some very good news for Democrats in the early voting numbers here in Washington state. The “matchback” numbers—that is, the party’s cross reference of their voter lists with the public lists of who’s already voted—show about a 1.8-to-one lead over Republicans in all five races that could help change the balance of the state senate from a GOP majority to a Democratic majority.

Traditionally, Republicans lead at a two-to-one clip in early returns. It appears that Democrats have flipped the trend this year. (Democrats were actually leading two-to-one earlier in the voting, but Republicans have gained slightly in the later early voting.)

The districts up for grabs, the 5th Legislative District (East and Southeast King County), the 17th Legislative District (Vancouver area), 28th Legislative District (Tacoma area), and the 41st Legislative District (Mercer Island), represent the kind of swing turf where Republicans may be suffering from having an extremist candidate like Trump at the top of the ticket.

Additionally, Washington state appears to be on the way to a big election turnout. As of this morning, 1.2 million ballots are in for a 29 percent return rate. Bigger turnouts tend to favor Democrats; the record, 84.6 percent, was set in 2008.

2. City council member and budget chair Tim Burgess is presenting the council version of the budget today. (We’ll see how much he plans to raise those pot business licenses by.) One item that won’t be included, but is still in play as negotiations continue, is council member Lisa Herbold’s pitch for a tiered fee tacked to business size by employee (the bigger a company, the more it pays) to create a dedicated fund to pay for the Office of Labor Standards. OLS monitors local labor law to crack down on things like wage theft and enforces Seattle’s batch of progressive workplace rules like the $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, and if Seattle’s I-124 passes next week, a law protecting local hotel workers from sexual harassment (and the right to keep union jobs.)

Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed budget already funds the office, and in fact, increases funding from about $2 million a year now to about $5.2 million. However, Murray’s plan simply funds OLS out of the general fund. Herbold, identifying the logical nexus between businesses themselves and the need to regulate them, would create a new dedicated fund while freeing up dollars in the general fund for basic city programs.

3. Seattle Department of Transportation Deputy Director Barbara Gray is reportedly leaving to take the top DOT job in Toronto.

Gray is a longtime SDOT staffer and gets a PubliCola Pedestrian Chronicles shout out for heading up the city’s pedestrian master plan.

4. Sad news: Republican state senate budget leader, state senator Andy Hill (R-45, Kirkland), 54, died yesterday after a long battle with lung cancer. The cancer, first diagnosed in 2008, had been in remission, but returned during this year's legislative session. Hill was not a smoker.

The Democrats’ state senate leader, minority leader Sharon Nelson (D-34, West Seattle) said in a statement:

Today’s news leaves us all with heavy hearts. We are devastated to learn of Senator Hill’s passing. He was a tireless advocate for his community and despite our political differences, I always respected his willingness to work across party lines.

Throughout his career he stayed focused on serving his district and state and did so with pride and distinction.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. This is a tremendously sad day for our state.

Hill—a former Microsoft exec (he helped develop Windows 95),  was elected to the state senate in 2010 and quickly rose to the top Republican spot on the ways and means committee.

Hill led the Republican budget fight holding the the line against Democratic demands for tax increases, particularly against the Democrats' demand for a capital gains tax. Hill, who was often mentioned as a potential GOP gubernatorial contender, always crafted bipartisan deals. Ultimately, the deals failed the to satisfy the state supreme court’s demand on education funding, but Hill helped add about $2.5 billion to education funding over the last three sessions.

Hill also teamed up with his Eastside suburban Seattle Republican senate colleagues to cross the aisle and give the Democrats the votes to defeat this year’s GOP attempt to roll back transgender rights.

The GOP will appoint his replacement; Hill's seat was up for reelection in 2018.

His senate Republican colleague and close ally state senator Joe Fain (R-47, Auburn) said in a statement:

Andy was an extraordinary public official and a principled leader in the Legislature. His passion to serve families of people with developmental disabilities led to the passage of the VIP Act -- granting life-changing services to thousands of individuals in our state. His leadership as the Chairman of the Ways and Means committee in the Senate led to unprecedented increases in funding for schools and historic reductions in tuition at our community colleges and four-year institutions.
Outside the Legislature, he served his community in many ways. Perhaps his favorite way of giving back was as a youth soccer coach in the Lake Washington Youth Soccer League. There he combined his competitive spirit with his skills as a mentor and teacher and nurtured the next generation of young athletes.

Fain says more details to come on a Friday, November 11 memorial service in Redmond.

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