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Seeds of Change 

by The Inlander & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s elections results washed over the nation, starting on the East Coast and rolling West, the question became whether the Inland Northwest would be swept up in not staying the course. In 1994, the Inland Northwest was ground zero for the reform movement that Republicans rode in taking over Congress. Not so this time around, as Cathy McMorris shook off her connections to Tom DeLay and George W. Bush in a way many of her colleagues could not. For the first time since 1964, the 5th District will be represented by a member of the minority party in Congress. In Idaho, however, Democrat Larry Grant was hanging close as of the Tuesday returns, with Boise voters pushing him forward.





But the tide of change did wash up in other places, and in Spokane County about 65 percent of registered voters turned out to make their views known. Although there were at least 50,000 more Spokane County votes to tally after Tuesday night, it appears Phil Harris has seen his 12-year tenure at Spokane County come to an end. And Chris Marr became the first Democrat to represent the 6th District in the state Senate since 1940. But lost in all the excitement were two important but neglected propositions to push forward a light rail system for Spokane. Both failed.





Here's a closer look at some of the big races.


-- Ted S. McGregor Jr.








U.S. Senate, Washington


Mike McGavick may have had the right message for 2006, but he was delivering it from the wrong side of the political tracks. People did want to reform D.C., but they just didn't trust a Republican to do the job. Meanwhile, Maria Cantwell ran a careful, effective campaign -- she had a big lead and never lost it.





Still, if the Iraq war was the issue on every voter's mind -- as a lot of polls suggested -- you wouldn't have known it from this race. That's because Cantwell was stuck with her vote that led to the invasion of Iraq; McGavick, like every good Republican, lined up behind President Bush's "stay the course" mantra. So the issue was effectively off the table -- which was exactly what Cantwell hoped for. Then, when the president said he had "never been about stay the course," it left candidates like McGavick flapping in the wind.





McGavick responded with a late TV ad that attacked Cantwell on Iraq, chided President Bush for not listening and even proposed partitioning Iraq as a solution. It was a very effective ad, but it came about six months too late.





The result only confirms the trend: Washington state is becoming bluer with every election, driven in large part by King County. The Republicans continue to spend millions on statewide races, but except for Dino Rossi, their recent efforts have been futile.





So Cantwell will return for another six years, and Washington will continue to hold the distinction of being the only state with women holding both U.S. Senate seats and the governorship.


-- Ted S. McGregor Jr.





Congress, 5th District, WA


The "ride" appeared to be coming to an end Tuesday night as Congresswoman Cathy McMorris appeared to be easily fending off a challenge from rancher Peter Goldmark in Washington's 5th District.





Goldmark was losing 52 percent to 48 percent in Spokane County, the 5th District's largest reservoir of Democratic votes. If McMorris could win in Spokane County, she was cruising in the rest of the district -- including a 54-45 percent edge in Goldmark's home territory of Okanogan County.





"Peter is saying that the tally is still pretty close and we have to wait and see what the numbers will be," said Goldmark campaign spokesman Dave Bullock Tuesday night, noting slightly less than half of the votes in the 5th District had been posted.





This was supposed to be have been easy for McMorris, who pummeled Don Barbieri 60-40 two years ago. Goldmark didn't start his campaign until spring and had no money and less name recognition.





The 60-year-old conservative rancher and scientist from the Okanogan Highlands has run a feisty campaign, accusing McMorris of ignoring the grim economic depression sweeping through Eastern Washington's farm country, then taking her to task on high Medicare drug prices and for "the sleaze," as he put it, in the GOP leadership.





But the 37-year-old McMorris is part of that leadership, as freshman whip, and has been labeled a rising star in D.C. just as she was in Olympia. That may have been a plus in this district even if it went against a national tide of sweeping change.


-- Kevin Taylor





Idaho Governor


Consider that Butch Otter collected 96,000 votes for governor in Idaho's May primaries to Jerry Brady's 25,000. And then consider that Brady, an underdog Democrat, fought his way into a dead heat with the folksy GOP Congressman by early this week.





That may be all the victory Brady can claim. Ballots in Kootenai County and the state Tuesday night showed Otter pulling away in the early returns 50 percent to 48 in Kootenai County and 57-39 statewide.





Butch Otter was supposed to be the 32nd governor of Idaho. He's been waiting patiently, after all, in the line that's taken him from the Legislature to lieutenant governor to Congress and is supposed to end as governor where he could live in the Boise mansion on the hill his ex-father-in-law (potato tycoon J.R. Simplot and Idaho's most powerful man) donated to the state for its first official governor's residence.





Brady, a wiry and pleasant former newspaper publisher from Idaho Falls, latched onto a brilliant tagline for his campaign: "I'm not for sale, and Idaho shouldn't be either."





The latter is a reference not only to Otter's deep ties to the business-as-usual crowed, but also Otter's rash attempt to sell off some 5 million acres of Idaho public lands last year to fund Hurricane Katrina relief. Otter was deluged with a Category 5 storm of outrage from constituents and not only dropped the bill but also publicly apologized.





The gaffe may have focused Idahoans on the desire for change -- everything from the GOP "line of succession" for governor and for business as usual. But Otter, a cross between Ronald Reagan and a rodeo cowboy, delivered homilies about the great red state and spent more than $1.4 million on his way to office.


-- Kevin Taylor





Spokane County Commissioner


Can a grass-roots army of 300 volunteers effectively counter as many check-writing honchos who form a Who's Who of local business and development interests? Yes, it seems. Bonnie Mager, a longtime citizen's advocate, used a dynamic grass-roots approach to emerge from a three-way Democratic primary and take down three-term, well-funded Republican incumbent Phil Harris. Late Tuesday, Mager was some 5,000 votes ahead of Harris, leading the polls 53 percent to 47 with roughly 82,000 votes counted out of 132,000 ballots received.





"This has really never been about me," a happy Mager said Tuesday night. "It's been about community, and about everybody in all the neighborhoods spreading the word about open government and access and inviting people in and not locking them out."





Harris has been criticized for being part of a three-man county commissioner board that has restricted access and conducted less business in public. He has also been harshly attacked for cronyism and nepotism after all three of his adult sons found county jobs since his first election.





One blog site was already joking Tuesday that the county would see a Harris-related spike in unemployment soon. Mager laughed when told about it. "His sons are not in jeopardy. But the joke down here is now they will have to help him find a job."





Although Harris tried to box Mager as a one-issue candidate, she argued that focusing on growth and development encompasses many other aspects of the job: economic development, quality of life, even crime.


-- Kevin Taylor





Washington State Senate, 6th District


Local Democrats figured that if anybody was going to be able to take back a state Senate seat inhabited by Republicans for 66 straight years, it was Chris Marr. They were right.





It appears Marr's complex profile paid off. The handsome, charismatic Asian-American -- who's served on countless local boards and chaired the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce -- is both a businessman and a liberal. The former president of Foothills Auto Group went to Olympia to (successfully) push for tighter emissions controls. So he's also both a car salesman and an environmentalist.





Of course, it helps that he raised a ton of cash. The latest reports from the state's Public Disclosure Commission indicate he overshadowed incumbent Sen. Brad Benson's $243,438 with an astonishing $399,146 (though he still fell $18,000 short of Jim West's record). Marr also launched an exhaustive (and most likely exhausting) shoe-leather, baby-kissing, door-knocking populist campaign, working from voter lists left over after Don Barbieri's unsuccessful bid for the U.S. House.





It's too early to tell, of course, what he will do in Olympia. While Benson -- who had quickly become the ranking Republican on the state transportation commission since jumping to the Senate in 2004 -- seemed to have a solid answer to every question posed to him at local debates, Marr was more elusive. Chalk that up to the fact that he's never held elected office (and so has no record), or to his almost Clintonian charm and political savvy. Either way, we look forward to seeing what he's got.


-- Joel Smith





Spokane Transit Authority Propositions one and two


The future of light rail was dealt two heavy blows Tuesday night when voters resoundingly rejected both advisory measures placed on the ballot by Spokane Transit Authority.





Proposition One -- which would have OK'd the STA to study the potential costs of a light rail system, put together a financing plan and bring that plan to the voters -- was down 56 to 44 percent as of press time.





Proposition Two -- which would've given the STA the green light to begin preliminary engineering studies on the potential system and begin acquiring rights-of-way for a possible future track -- was down 54 to 46.





What this means exactly isn't yet clear. Spokane city councilman Brad Stark, who sits on STA's board of directors, stressed to us last month that these were simply advisory votes -- that the board can still do whatever it wants with its money and push ahead with plans for a light rail project if it so chooses. But others believed the public vote would be a decisive moment in the effort for light rail, which has been going on for a decade.





"Oh, it's over. Spokane won't have light rail," said Phyllis Holmes, citizen chair of the light rail steering committee. She pointed to the rising costs of construction and said the amount of political and public will that would have to be turned back around would be too great. (It took STA's board all summer just to get the issues on the ballot; and there was barely an effort to get the measures passed.)





Faced with two measures that wouldn't cost them a dime, Spokane County voters signaled they didn't want to hear another word about light rail. And they probably won't for a long while.


-- Joel Smith





Washington Initiative 937


The answer to the state's future energy stocks seemed to be blowing in the wind as of press time with Initiative 937 maintaining a 51 percent lead and numbers from left-leaning King County still tumbling in.





If it passes, the initiative will require the state's largest utilities -- including Avista and Inland Power & amp; Light -- to derive 15 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020. In Washington, those renewable resources would include wind power, biomass, solar and tidal power, but not hydroelectric power, which is conspicuous in a state that derives about 70 percent of its energy from renewable streams of water flowing through the dams.





Leaving hydro largely out of the equation (it would still count toward certain lesser requirements) caused considerable debate in the run-up to the election. Opponents of the initiative said that -- counting water power -- the state is already producing enough renewable energy to be on par with other states. They also argued that -- other than water -- there weren't enough renewables to meet the standards.





Supporters said they respect Washington's tradition of providing cheap, renewable energy, but noted that this initiative would send a message to utilities that consumers were interested in cleaner energy, not more coal plants. They also insisted that there's sufficient capacity available to meet demand.





The thing is, this nationwide push for renewable energy is so young that nobody really knows how well it's working yet, or how it's going to pan out. But it looks as if we're about to find out.


-- Joel Smith





Congress, 1st District, Idaho


Former Clinton administration official Bruce Reed has been writing a political column on Slate.com for a while now, and he's been following the 1st District race very closely, giving it lots of national exposure. It's not that surprising, since Reed grew up in Coeur d'Alene. But he has made the case that the 1st District of Idaho is a bellwether -- if Republicans can't hold onto a seat in one of the reddest states in the nation, then the party is in real trouble.





And the party seemed to do all it could to lose, winding up with extremist Bill Sali out of the contested primary. On Slate, Reed pointed out that Idahoans were in a quandary: "An astonishing 25 percent [of 1st District voters] haven't made up their mind in the congressional race, which makes Idahoans the most undecided voters in America."





And Democrat Larry Grant, who came off as almost too normal in the race, made it hard for the usual GOP stalwarts to decide, as he ran on getting back to basics like economic development. As of late Tuesday night, Sali was holding onto a slim lead, but as Boise votes were counted, Grant was surging. n


-- Ted S. McGregor Jr.

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