This year’s ballot was a long one for an off-year, and a dramatic one too. Affirmative action failed by a small margin, Tim Eyman’s $30 car tab initiative passed and Kshama Sawant made a stunning comeback in the face of Amazon’s financial opposition.
The Seattle City Council elections made waves across the state of Washington. Amazon spent $1.5 million on campaign contributions to Seattle candidates, looking to defeat local, progressive politicians. The company’s rapid growth in Seattle has transformed the city into a tech powerhouse, and candidates like Sawant blame this growth for the increasingly dire homelessness and affordable housing crisis in the city. On Wednesday, Nov. 6, the online retailer said they were “looking forward to working with the new city council, which we believe will be considerably more open to constructive dialogue.”
Unfortunately for Amazon, its candidates didn’t fare well in the elections. Out of the seven city council candidates backed by the company, only two won their respective races and their key political rival Kshama Sawant transformed an 8 percent loss into a 4 percent win over the weekend in a surprise comeback. The openly socialist councilwoman is a former software engineer and has been a vocal critic of Amazon, hosting several rallies at the company’s HQ protesting the perceived negative impacts the company’s growth has on the city. She was one of the main supporters of the Employee Hours Tax or, as it is more commonly known, the “head tax” bill in Seattle, which would have placed a tax of $275 per employee on large businesses in the city. Amazon, the largest business in the city, fiercely opposed this bill, and succeeded in convincing local leaders to repeal the tax.
Sawant’s other top priority is rent control in Seattle, which is rapidly becoming a more expensive place to live. Three of the four incoming members of the council said in surveys and debates that they oppose rent control—Lewis, Strauss, and Alex Pedersen of the fourth district. Lewis, who will now represent the district containing Amazon, also opposes the “head tax” heavily propagated by Sawant.
Sawant’s opponent, Egan Orion, expressed dissatisfaction with his Amazon association on election night, saying that, “We didn’t need more money in this race. I think it was a big distraction that played right into Kshama’s hands.”
In Bellevue, the city council elections were less polarized. Of the three incumbents running—Janice Zahn, John Stokes and Jennifer Robertson—all kept their seats. Jeremy Barksdale took the victory over Stephanie Walter in the only open seat on the council. On election night, he said that he looked forward to “keeping Bellevue affordable, engaging the community and modernizing the city.”
“I think what the election shows is that Bellevue is headed in the right direction,” Zahn commented.
Statewide, voters rejected Referendum 88, which was the effort to end Washington State’s 20-year ban on affirmative action. The measure was intended to boost diversity in public employment, contracting and education, while barring the use of quotas or preferential treatment. Opponents of this policy argued that it gives government the ability to effectively discriminate. The referendum passed only in Jefferson, King, San Juan and Whatcom counties, and lost statewide.
What did pass, however, was initiative 976, which slashed car tabs to $30. The measure did so despite campaigns from local government, unions, and business groups warning that the initiative would lead to significant cuts in road construction and public transit. Around 53 percent of the voters approved the ballot measure, leaving a $4 billion hole in the state transportation budget. Tim Eyman, the infamous anti-tax activist that got the initiative on the ballot, declared victory 15 minutes before the polls closed, saying that “this initiative is a huge victory for the voters of the state of Washington,” and that the initiative sent a powerful message to leaders in Washington. In a news release on the county website, King County Executive Dow Constantine wrote that, “The passage of I-976 underscores the ongoing need for comprehensive state tax reform, but in the short term we must clean up another mess that Tim Eyman has created for our state, our region, and our economy.” Constantine has also asked the Prosecuting Attorney’s office to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the tax reduction. Those in the suit claim that I-976 is “a poorly drafted hodge-podge that violates multiple provisions of the Constitution, including the Single Subject Rule.”
Elections in odd years often get little attention, and this one was no different. Less than half of registered voters cast their ballot in Washington State elections this year, but for better or worse, every Washingtonian will feel its impacts for years to come.