The mood turned from jovial to sickened and somber last night at the Washington Democrats’ election party at the Westin. Sickened, literally: More than one person referred to vomiting over the national results.
But the theme that rose from every Democrat’s speech, and from some conversations with attendees, was that despite the horror and dread and disbelief, in Seattle and in Washington, there are reasons to celebrate.
“If you’d like to see evidence of that, look around,” Governor Jay Inslee told the deflated crowd in a hoarse, yet passionate voice. Many progressive ballot measures and candidates won by a landslide in Washington state. From Gov. Inslee’s reelection to U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s, from a state minimum wage to a gun safety measure, from Cyrus Habib as Lieutenant Governor to Hilary Franz as Commissioner of Public Lands. “I hope you will take this to heart,” Inslee said. “Washington voted tonight to stay on the path of progress… I think from tonight we can say this: Washington was, is, and will always be a beacon for progressive values across the United States of America.”
And now? “It is as important as ever that leaders band together to continue the fundamental values of the state of Washington.”
Here are 11 reasons for progressive voters to know that, at least locally, all is not lost:
Labor wins. After the city of SeaTac and then Seattle passed a $15 minimum wage, Washington voters soundly approved the state minimum wage law by nearly 60 percent of the vote. Workers across the state can expect to earn $13.50 per hour by 2020 and know that every employer will provide them with paid sick leave by 2018. Celebrating that victory for working families topped the list for most Democratic speakers last night.
And I-124, the Seattle initiative designed to protect hotel housekeepers from injury and harassment on the job, passed with a whopping 77 percent of the city’s vote. While the Seattle Hotel Association maintains in a statement that there are some “unanswered questions” and the city will need to “provide guidance on the specifics,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold lauded the win, and Councilmember Gonzalez did, too, saying in a statement that the vote “sends a strong message of solidarity to a workforce largely composed of low-income women of color performing underappreciated labor… Seattleites are together in saying: We see you, we acknowledge your hard work and we stand with you.”
Environmental wins. For starters, Washington reelected Governor Jay Inslee, for whom climate change is a clear priority. “Washington is and will be a place that will fight against climate change and for clean air and clean water; Washington is and will be a leader in clean energy technology,” Gov. Inslee said to whoops of support.
And ST3 passed — by a nearly ten-point margin. A large-scale, comprehensive public transportation system will get built in the Puget Sound region. While there were sound arguments for and against the measure, and some are now concerned that a Trump presidency could impact federal funding for the project, many in the room last night were hopeful and praised it heartily, not only for its attention to a low-carbon future, but for its effects on economic justice, too. ST3 will have “real effects on families who need to get to the grocery store and to medical appointments,” said Chris Langeler, executive director of the nonprofit West Seattle Helpline. The promised miles of light rail won’t be built for a long time, of course, but buses will soon come more frequently and travel more rapidly — enough to make a tangible difference in the lives of low-income and marginalized communities. “It’s a massive, massive change,” he said.
Voters also elected Hilary Franz, who only ran a six-month campaign, to state office as the Commissioner of Public Lands by a nearly ten-point margin. As a longtime environmental conservation attorney, she, too, believes in making climate change a priority, and told Democrats last night that thinking of her children’s future in a climate changed-world was the reason she chose to run for the office. “We do not have time to wait,” she said. “We must, we must, we must do something about climate change.” And that work, she argued, goes hand in hand with helping boost justice for the underserved. “You do not take care of place if you do not take care of people, and you do not take care of people if you do not take care of place,” she said. “We have to stay uplifted. We have to work harder and do more.”
Common sense wins. Washington voters overwhelmingly passed I-1491, a gun safety measure, with 71 percent of the vote. Now, there will be a system in place in Washington so that family members and police can help prevent those at risk of committing gun violence from harming themselves or others. For many voters and public officials, like Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who said in a statement that “beyond doubt the people in our state want responsible gun ownership,” this move demonstrates Washington voters’ desire for stronger gun control overall.
We’re also one baby step closer to overturning Citizens United. Last night, nearly 64 percent of Washingtonians confirmed that they believe that corporations are not people, and that the U.S. Constitution should reflect that. Washington is the 18th state to pass such a resolution.
Progressive candidate wins. Many of the local left’s favorites were victorious this election. Among them: Senator Pramila Jayapal, who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders, will be the first Indian-American woman elected to U.S. Congress; as the national news turned dark, she told her supporters last night that she would help “fight for social justice as never before.” And Lieutenant Governor-elect Cyrus Habib — who was endorsed by President Barack Obama and described himself last night as the “first-ever Middle Eastern American to hold state office” in Washington — promised to do everything in his power to help fully fund basic education, pass more investments in public infrastructure, and “work together to make a more inclusive culture.”
U.S. Senator Patty Murray, beloved by her Democratic base and reelected with more than 60 percent of the vote, promised to help keep the faith that “government can be a force for good” when “the promise of opportunity for everyone is kept and it is protected.” Attorney General Bob Ferguson, after he was reelected with nearly 70 percent of the vote, but before the national results were finalized, reminded Democrats in the room that “if the truly unthinkable were to happen, I want to tell you who the most important officials in the country are: Your Democratic attorneys general. We can hold your elected officials accountable to the rule of law,” he said.
Everyone who spoke at the Democrats’ event, from Patty Murray to former U.S. Representative Jim McDermott, began with a grim acknowledgement. But everyone, from elected officials to activists, immediately set their sights on the future.
Jessa Lewis, an active Democrat and former delegate for Bernie Sanders, said that she hopes this election “is a wake-up call” — both to the country, and to the Democratic Party. “We need to start showing up,” she said, “especially at the local level…. We can’t focus on what happened. We need to be looking at what we need to do now.”
Or, as McDermott put it: “Politics is not for sprinters. It’s for long-distance runners.”