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Voters repeal state Prohibition laws, elect Warren Magnuson to state legislature, elect other Democrats to Congress, and back Franklin Roosevelt on November 8, 1932.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5565 : Printer-Friendly Format

On November 8, 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) and fellow Democrats dominate state and national elections. Washington voters repeal the state's ban on alcohol (federal Prohibition will remain on the books for a little longer) and approve a state income tax (which the state Supreme Court will overturn), both by landslide margins. Seattle voters pick 28-year-old Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) for the Washington State House of Representatives, his first elected office. Magnuson will go on to become an extremely influential U.S. senator. Clarence D. Martin (1884-1955) is elected governor and Homer T. Bone (1883-1970) wins a seat in the U.S. Senate by defeating four-term incumbent Wesley L. Jones (1863-1932). All six seats in the House of Representatives also go to Democrats.

The 1932 election saw a major turnaround of the Democratic Party in Washington and in the United States. Republicans had dominated state politics since before statehood, but the Great Depression had devastated the U.S. economy. Voters turned to political change as a solution. Roosevelt defeated Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) with a promise of a New Deal for the American People. He also supported public ownership of electrical utilities, which appealed to voters in the Northwest.

Incumbents Fall

Tacoma public power advocate Homer T. Bone unseated incumbent Republican Senator Wesley L. Jones, who had represented Washington in Congress since 1899, serving five terms in the House of Representatives followed by four in the Senate.  Jones was doubly doomed. He was a Republican closely allied with the highly unpopular Hoover in an overwhelmingly Democratic year. And he was an ardent Prohibitionist who was strongly identified with some of the excesses in enforcement that were turning the public mood strongly against the experiment in social engineering -- indeed, his name was on the 1929 Jones Act, which increased federal penalties for liquor violations. The rigors of the campaign worsened Jones's already poor health; disheartened by the twin defeats, he died less than two weeks after the election.

Democrats, who had won only one of Washington's five U.S. House of Representatives in the 1930 election, swept all six in 1932 (Washington gained one representative in redistricting following the 1930 census). In the First District, Marion Zioncheck (1901-1936) defeated former Republican Congressman John F. Miller (1862-1936). Miller had served seven terms in Congress before losing in the 1930 primary to fellow Republican Ralph Horr in an early sign that voters were tired of Prohibition -- Miller was "dry" (against legalizing alcohol); Horr was "wet." After promising to accept the results of the repeal vote, Miller bested Horr in a rematch in the 1932 primary but lost the general election to Zioncheck, who had been active in politics at the University of Washington and earned visibility in the campaign to recall of Seattle Mayor Frank Edwards in 1931.

Three Republican incumbents fell to Democratic challengers. In the Second District, Monrad C. Wallgren (1891-1961), who would go on to serve as both a U.S. Senator and Washington governor, ousted Lindley Hoag Hadley (1861-1948). In the Third, Martin F. Smith (1891-1954) defeated Albert Johnson (1869-1957), and in the Fourth, Knute Hill (1876-1963) out-polled John W. Summers (1870-1937). Incumbent Democrat Sam B. Hill (1875-1958) coasted to re-election in the Fifth District without Republican opposition, and in the newly created Sixth District, Democrat Wesley Lloyd (1883-1936) defeated Republican John T. McCutcheon.

Democrats in Charge

Democratic Cheney businessman Clarence D. Martin took advantage of a schism in the Republican Party to beat Lieutenant Governor John A. Gellatly. Martin was criticized by his opponent for spending $18,793 on his campaign. He responded by saying that by spending his own money, he would be under no obligation to pay any one. Martin and Bone each tallied more votes in the state than did Roosevelt.

After the 1930 election, the Washington State House of Representatives had 89 Republicans and just 8 Democrats. In 1932, 29 Republicans and 70 Democrats were elected to the House. The state Senate went from 41 Republicans and 1 Democrat in 1930 to 21 Republicans and 25 Democrats.

The 1932 victory was Magnuson's first elective office. Magnuson lived in a apartment at 105 Harvard Avenue N (later changed to E) in Seattle's 37th District, which included the Capitol Hill, Madrona Park, Central Area, and First Hill neighborhoods. Vote totals for the two House positions in the 37th District were: Democrats Warren G. Magnuson (6,502 votes) and T. A. O'Gorman (6,569 votes) defeated Republicans Sam G. Lamping (5,887 votes) and E. R. Peoples (5,537 votes). Magnuson would become one of Washington's most influential U.S. senators ever.

Repealing Prohibition

Initiative 61, which repealed Washington's Prohibition laws, was one of five initiative measures before voters in 1932. All five were approved (four, including repeal, by landslide margins) -- a record unmatched in the history of state voter initiatives. Prohibition had originally come to Washington the same way it was overturned, by voter initiative (the first in state history) in 1914, several years before the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enforced by the federal Volstead Act, imposed Prohibition nationwide. Because federal law takes precedence, even after passage of Initiative 61 alcohol remained illegal in Washington (unless prescribed by a doctor for "medicinal" purposes, which state law before the initiative had precluded, but federal Prohibition permitted).  The U.S. Congress modified the Volstead Act in April 1933 to allow some beer sales; Prohibition ended completely in December 1933 with the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

The fact that the decisions to impose and repeal Prohibition in Washington were both left to voters, rather than being enacted by the legislature, illustrates the divisive nature of the Prohibition debate, which cut across party lines and at times bitterly divided both major parties. Indeed, the leading historian of Prohibition in Washington notes that the presence of Initiative 61 on the 1932 ballot benefitted office-seekers by removing the issue from those races -- candidates could promise to accept the voters' mandate on Prohibition (repeal at the state level was seen as sending a message to Washington, D.C., in favor of nationwide repeal) and concentrate on the economic crisis (Clark, 230).

Well before 1932, sentiment in Washington and around the country had been turning against Prohibition, hastened by heavy-handed and uneven enforcement, substantial corruption, and an erosion of civil liberties, exemplified by the United States Supreme Court decision, in the case of notorious Seattle Police Lieutenant turned bootlegger Roy Olmstead (1886-1966), that approved police use of wire tapping without a warrant (Congress and the courts later limited that ruling). Not surprisingly given the times, the strongest arguments for repeal were economic: ending Prohibition would boost jobs, business, agricultural markets, and government revenue. In the end, state Prohibition was repealed by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, far exceeding the 52 percent margin that had enacted it in 1914.

As lopsided as that vote was, repeal was not the most popular initiative on the ballot. More than 83 percent of voters favored Initiative 58, which provided for permanent registration of voters for the first time. And more than 70 percent approved Initiative 69, which would have imposed a graduated state income tax. A divided state Supreme Court, in a decision criticized as "tortured" (Chesley), declared the income tax unconstitutional; subsequent attempts to establish a state income tax (which many legal scholars believe would now be deemed constitutional) have all failed. Ironically, the court upheld another tax measure passed by voters on November 8, 1932 -- Initiative 64, which imposed a limit on the aggregate amount of property taxes that all levels of government can impose. The invalidation of the income tax combined with the property tax limitation put state officials seeking revenue in a continuing bind. Voters also approved Initiative 62, which created a state Department of Game (a predecessor to the current Department of Fish and Wildlife).

Results in the races for senator and governor were as follows:

    U.S. Senator
  • Homer T. Bone (D) - 365,939
  • Wesley L. Jones (R) - 197,450
  • Frederick Burch (Liberty) - 28,859

    Governor

  • Clarence D. Martin (D) - 352,215
  • John A. Gellatly (R) - 207,497
  • L.C. Hicks (Liberty) - 41,710
  • John F. McKay (Socialist) - 9,987

Sources:
F. H. Gloyd, Abstract of Votes Polled in the State of Washington at the General Election held November 8, 1932 (Olympia: J. Grant Hinkle Secretary of State, n.d. [ca 1932]), 39; R. L. Polk & Co., Polk's Seattle City Directory 1932 (Seattle: R L Polk & Co., Inc., 1932); Precinct Map of Seattle (Seattle: Kroll Map Company, n.d. [ca 1936]); Edgar I. Stewart, Washington: Northwest Frontier, (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1957), 290-297; Norman H. Clark, The Dry Years: Prohibition and Social Change in Washington (Seattle: UW Press, 1988), 206-40; "Past Election Results," Washington Secretary of State website accessed October 11, 2011 (http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/results_search.aspx); "Biographical Directory," United States Congress website accessed October 11, 2011 (http://bioguide.congress.gov/biosearch/biosearch.asp); Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928); HistoryLink Online Encyclpedia of Washington State History, "Washington State Taxation" (by Frank Chesley) and "Prohibition in Washington State" (by Paula Becker), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed October 11, 2011).
Note: This essay was corrected on May 26, 2005, was revised and expanded on October 11, 2011, and emended on January 25, 2012, to correct the birthdate of Clarence D. Martin.


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Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989), 1934
Courtesy UW Special Collections


Homer T. Bone, 1932
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Wesley L. Jones (1863-1932)
Courtesy Biographical Directory of the United States Congress


Clarence D. Martin (1887-1955), 1933
Courtesy Washington State Archives


Mon C. Wallgren (1891-1961), 1945
Courtesy Washington State Archives


Representative Albert Johnson (1869-1957)
Courtesy Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress


"Liberty's Torch is lighted once more today," 1933
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer


 
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