Washington voters re-elect incumbents to Congress and reject property-rights and anti-estate-tax initiatives on November 7, 2006.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 12/23/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8038
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On November 7, 2006, Washington voters re-elect U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (b. 1958) and all nine of the state's incumbent United States Representatives. Three incumbent state Supreme Court justices also retain their seats following hotly contested and controversial challenges. Voters soundly reject two initiatives -- I-920, which would have repealed the state's estate tax, and I-933, a "property rights" measure that would have required government to pay for reduced property values caused by land-use and other regulations. A third initiative, I-937, requiring large electric utilities to meet renewable energy goals, passes easily.

Incumbents Prevail

Democrat Maria Cantwell, seeking her second Senate term, was initially thought to be vulnerable. In 2006, she had defeated incumbent Senator Slade Gorton (b. 1928) in a race so close it was undecided for weeks until all the absentee ballots had been counted. Cantwell faced a strong challenge from Republican Mike McGavick, former chief executive officer of the Safeco insurance company. However, in a year that a Democratic tide gave the party control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years, Cantwell won easily. Projected the winner within minutes after the polls closed, she told supporters happily "I have been waiting six long years for a real election night party" (Roberts).

Cantwell won 1,184,659 votes (56.85 percent) to 832,106 (39.93 percent) for McGavick. Libertarian Bruce Guthrie, Green Party candidate Aaron Dixon, and independent Robin Adair together won slightly over 3 percent. McGavick's showing was the lowest percentage by a major-party candidate since 1982, when Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983) trounced Seattle City Attorney Doug Jewett 68.96 percent to 24.28 percent in his final race.

Although Democrats captured Republican congressional seats across the country, all three Republicans in Washington's delegation won re-election. Former King County Sheriff Dave Reichert had the closest race. He won a second term from the Eighth District representing eastern King and Pierce counties by defeating Democrat Darcy Burner 129,362 votes (51.46 percent) to 122,021 votes (48.54 percent). Fellow Republicans Doc Hastings (b. 1941) in central Washington's Fourth District and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (b. 1969) in eastern Washington's Fifth District were easily re-elected (first elected in 2004 as Cathy McMorris, Representative McMorris Rodgers married Brian Rodgers while in office).

The six Democratic incumbents -- Jay Inslee (b. 1951) in the First District, Rick Larsen (b. 1965) in the Second, Brian Baird (b. 1956) in the Third, Norm Dicks (b. 1940) in the Sixth, Jim McDermott (b. 1936) in the Seventh, and Adam Smith (b. 1965) in the Ninth -- won by landslide margins, ranging from Baird's 63 percent to McDermott's 79 percent.

Supreme Court

Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Susan Owens retained her seat by defeating Republican State Senator Stephen Johnson in the non-partisan judicial race. Owens and Chief Justice Gerry Alexander had faced well-financed challengers supported by the building industry and other business and property-rights interests. Alexander defeated attorney John Groen in the September primary so he appeared unopposed on the November ballot, as did Justice Tom Chambers, who was supported by the building industry but turned back a primary challenge from property-rights activist and former King County superior court judge Jeanette Burrage.

In the Susan Owens/Stephen Johnson race there were a total of five candidates, including a second Johnson, attorney Michael Johnson, who was trying like Senator Johnson to become the third Justice Johnson on the court. No candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary so Owens and Stephen Johnson faced off in the general election, with Owens prevailing by 1,058,020 votes (59.84 percent) to 710,144 votes (40.16). During and after the campaign, many commentators expressed concern about the record $1.6 million raised by candidates in the three Supreme Court races and the additional $3 million spent by special-interest groups supporting or opposing court candidates.


Initiative 933 provided a second front, in addition to the Supreme Court races, in the battle between supporters and opponents of "property rights" that had been going on for decades. In 1995, timber companies, developers, realtors, and other property-rights supporters got the Legislature to pass a measure restricting land use and environmental regulation and requiring government to pay for reduced property values caused by some regulations. However, opponents, including the League of Women Voters and environmental groups, filed a ballot measure challenging the law and voters overwhelmingly rejected it.

In 2006, two years after Oregon voters passed a property-rights measure, activists angered by additional environmental regulations such as King County's Critical Areas Ordinances, again placed a property-rights measure on the ballot. Washington was one of several western states where similar measures appeared, although all differed in some respects. Washington's, which was not limited to land-use regulations, was seen as one of the most sweeping proposals. In the end voters rejected it by 1,199,679 votes (58.82 percent) to 839,992 votes (41.18 percent), a margin only slightly closer than that by which the 1995 proposal lost.

Initiative 920, the proposal to repeal the estate tax, lost by an even wider margin. The tax on estates worth more than $2 million ($4 million for couples) was enacted in 2005 to raise around $100 million per year for education funding. Evidently agreeing with estate-tax supporters that it was fair to tax the wealthiest individuals in the state to support education, voters rejected repeal by 1,258,110 votes (61.79 percent) to 778,047 votes (38.21 percent)

A third measure, I-937, passed by a vote of 1,042,679 (51.73 percent) to 972,747 (48.27 percent). It required electric utilities with 25,000 or more customers to meet designated targets for energy conservation, including co-generation and use of eligible renewable energy resources.

Sources: "2006 General Election Results" and "2006 Primary Election Results," State of Washington, Office of the Secretary of State website accessed December 19, 2006 (http://www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/); Neil Modie and Charles Pope, "Democrats Grab House, Look Likely to Take Senate," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 8, 2006, pp. A-1, A-6; Amy Rolph, "Voters Reject Land-Use Idea, Estate Tax Repeal," Ibid., pp. A-1, A-5; Tracy Johnson, "Justice Owens Wins a Second Term," Ibid., p. A-4; Gregory Roberts, "Cantwell Defeats McGavick," Ibid., p. A-6; Dan Balz, "Democrats Harness Wave of Discontent," The Seattle Times, November 8, 2006, pp. A-1, A-14; Susan Kelleher, "Owens Wins Another Term After Unusually Costly Race," Ibid., p. B-5; David Postman, "A Place in History for McGavick?" Ibid.; Eric Pryne, "Key Counties Reject Property Measure," Ibid., p. B-7.
Note: This essay was updated on January 8, 2013.

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