How Politics Surprised Us, and Didn’t, in 2016

Nationally few things were predictable. Locally, few things weren’t.

Cyrus Habib

OLYMPIA — This wasn’t a very good year for many of the nation’s venerable pollsters and pundits as they got trumped by fake news and fiery tweets.

Not many correctly forecast a billionaire real estate mogul who starred in a reality TV show getting elected president of the United States.

Nor did many anticipate all the post-election attention paid to the Electoral College and the 235-year-old political instructions of a dead man who, coincidentally, is the subject of a hit Broadway show.

In this state, however, the political world proved a lot more predictable the last 12 months.

State lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee succeeded in completing the 2016 legislative session without discovering a formula to fully fund public schools per the McCleary decision. That didn’t please the state Supreme Court. But justices didn’t throw any of them in jail and voters didn’t throw many of them out of office.

As expected, Inslee won a second term without much of a fight, extending the Democratic Party’s occupation of the executive office for four more years. He’ll again be dealing with a state House run by Democrats and a Senate ruled by Republicans, pretty much an equation for stalemate the last four years.

Voters didn’t redo the line-up in the the state’s congressional delegation. Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray won a fifth term and will burn through several pairs of tennis shoes to keep pace with Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

Every incumbent running for Congress won, too. Retiring Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott will be succeeded by another equally liberal Democrat, Pramila Jayapal, who has been a state senator.

This year’s election did produce a crop of new faces in statewide executive office. Chris Reykdal, a Democratic state lawmaker, will become the Superintendent of Public Instruction. This means he will be the number one cheerleader for public schools at a time when they are the focal point of everyone’s attention.

And when Democrat Cyrus Habib assumes power as lieutenant governor he’ll make history as the first blind person elected to the job in Washington.

Voters did some significant legislating of their own via the ballot.

In the Puget Sound region, they passed Sound Transit 3 to forge ahead with a $54 billion expansion of light rail and bus rapid transit service in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Statewide, the minimum wage will jump to $11 an hour Jan. 1. And concerned family members will have a means to take guns away from children, siblings and relatives who they fear are a danger to themselves and others. Both changes, which have been debated by legislators in recent years, came about via passage of ballot measures.

In non-election news, the state’s economy perked up quite a bit in 2016. Unemployment dipped to its lowest levels in years in some parts of the state. More people working in the Puget Sound region meant more cars on the road with $10 tolls becoming a daily occurrence on I-405 express lanes.

State coffers received a surge in revenues from new construction, especially in crane-congested King County. Marijuana as well. Monthly tax receipts from pot sales climbed steadily, overtaking booze in the year’s home stretch.

As home prices and apartment rents rose in urban areas, so too did homelessness. Seattle , and many other communities across the state, will wrestle with this challenge in 2017.

There was a heavy loss in the state’s political universe in 2016 when Republican state Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond succumbed to cancer. A familiar face, Dino Rossi, is filling the seat. Rossi, a former state senator and two-time candidate for governor, should be a fount of knowledge, and at times a source of friction, on budget matters.

But he won’t be a candidate for governor again.

That seems like a safe prediction.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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