Democrat Jay Inslee will get another four years in the governor’s office.
The incumbent was elected comfortably to a second term Tuesday, continuing the Democratic party’s more than 30-year reign over the office. He was aided by strong support in the heavily populated King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
“Washington was, is and will always be a beacon for progressive values across the United States of America," Inslee said in a speech delivered at the state Democrats' election-watching party at the Seattle Westin.
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Republican challenger Bill Bryant did not concede the race Tuesday night. His spokesman Jason Roe cited the thousands of votes to be counted in coming days as a result of Washington’s mail-in voting system.
Bryant, a former Port of Seattle commissioner, had a lead in most counties in Eastern Washington, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Inslee’s early advantage on the western side of the state.
“We were not exactly where we wanted to be at this moment,” he told the crowd at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue. “Let’s see what the sunshine brings.”
Tuesday’s results mirror predictions by pollsters that the outcome was safely in Inslee’s hands for much of the year. Inslee’s lead in the early ballot results Tuesday was higher than his slim margin of victory over two-term attorney general Rob McKenna in 2012, and could be the biggest Democratic win since Gary Locke beat Republican John Carlson in 2000.
His win also matched the general theme that emerged from state returns as voters appeared to choose the status quo, keeping Democrats in most statewide offices, re-electing the state’s only Republican agency chief and leaving the Legislature split between the parties.
How Inslee’s second term will play out largely depends on that legislative balance of power.
Tuesday’s election results showed Democrats likely will keep their majority in the House and Republicans will hold the reins in the Senate.
That means Inslee will have to continue bargaining with Republicans on key issues like how to pay for a court order requiring the state to fully fund public schools by 2018. GOP leaders were resistant to Inslee’s efforts to implement a cap-and-trade system on carbon-polluting industries and a capital gains tax on high earners.
Inslee has kept concrete plans for the next session and beyond relatively close to the vest. He hasn’t unveiled major proposals for new environmental legislation, an education-funding fix or tax changes, outside of pledging to close some tax breaks. A more detailed look at Inslee’s agenda could come when he unveils his 2017 budget proposal in December.
Bryant had sought to paint the governor as an ineffective manager. He hammered Inslee for safety issues and quality of care problems at Western State Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric facility. He also needled the governor for his handling of the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling that requires the state to fix the way it pays for education.
While the Legislature has put billions into the public school system in response to the decision, lawmakers are still working to meet remaining aspects of the ruling.
Bryant also accused Inslee of secretly supporting a new state income tax — something Inslee denies — and blamed traffic congestion, rising homelessness and the health of rural economies on the governor.
But the attacks didn’t make enough of a dent in Inslee’s support to win Bryant the election.
On the campaign trail, the governor steered the conversation to the overall strength of the state’s economy and the billions already invested in K-12 schools to meet McCleary.
He also touted the reduction of tuition at public colleges and universities during his tenure and led the charge for a ballot measure that seeks to incrementally raise the state’s $9.47-per-hour minimum wage to $13.50 an hour.
One of Inslee’s biggest advantages over Bryant came in fundraising. He outspent the Republican by more than $5 million, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission, and was helped by about $700,000 in independent spending that attacked Bryant for taking campaign money from oil companies.
In other statewide races, a late blast of campaign cash from the state Republican Party wasn’t enough to put Republican Steve McLaughlin up over Democrat Hilary Franz to lead the Department of Natural Resources. Franz, an environmental attorney, was ahead of McLaughlin, a former Navy commander.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, a Democrat, was cruising to re-election based on early ballot returns. He had a large lead on Republican Richard Schrock. Incumbent Democrat Bob Ferguson also was up big over Libertarian Joshua Trumbull. Ferguson had a huge fundraising advantage over Trumbull.
Still, Republicans had some success in statewide races.
Washington’s primary election system, in which the top-two vote getters advance regardless of party affiliation, produced a general election contest between two GOP candidates for state treasurer. In that race, Benton County Treasurer Duane Davidson was ahead in early ballot counts over investment executive Michael Waite.
Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman also appeared to hold off a challenge from Democrat Tina Podlodowski.
Staff writers Sean Robinson and Derrick Nunnally contributed to this report.