by Pia K. Hansen and Ted S. McGregor, Jr.

Washington Initiatives and Referendums -- Despite screams from commuters and businesses in King County, Washington state voters affirmed that they wanted fewer taxes. Referendum 51, the gas tax that was devised by the legislature to pump life into failing state roads, was crushed like a beer can under a Caddy's back tire. And I-776, Tim Eyman's latest swipe at localities' ability to levy additional motor vehicle excise taxes, won big, too.

At the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley, most of the voters we talked to on Tuesday were against R-51.

"It had too many people in the wrong places endorsing it," said Michael Poulin.

"I think the state needs to use its money more efficiently," added Kim Frank.

At Grant Elementary in Spokane on Eighth and Perry, Ken Warto, who brought his kids along to watch Democratic in action, also opposed the plan. "I voted no on Referendum 51. The gas tax just seemed like a lot," he said. "I didn't like the way it didn't complete any of the projects with the funding. If it passes, it looks like it's just going to be starting something that you can't finish -- that's not a good idea."

Jolene Allen, also interviewed at Good Shepherd in the Valley, voted for the measure, saying, "Infrastructure is important to our community."

At the North Spokane Library on Hawthorne Road, in Spokane County, Sheryl Cooney also supported Referendum 51. "I did debate that a whole lot, but we live up here on the Newport Highway and that's one of those dangerous highways that would get some help," she said. "But when it's a statewide initiative like this one, I often feel like we don't get our fair share of the money out here."

Spokane County -- Both advisory votes received thumbs up by county voters. County Commissioners still need to finalize the voters' wishes to extend the conservation futures tax and to remove some billboards in the county.

And two-term incumbent Phil Harris is back for four more years. A third term may not be unprecedented, but it hasn't happened in the past 30 years at least.

At the North Spokane Library, Cooney -- the niece of Sadie Charlene Cooney, the incumbent County Assessor who lost Tuesday night -- voted for Harris. "I can tell you why," she said with a big smile. "Of all of them, he seems to be the only one who has any brains."

Poulin, the Valley voter, disagreed, voting for Louise Chadez, a social worker who defeated Steve Eugster to win the chance to challenge Harris. "I voted for women and cross your fingers and hope they moderate the discussions on the issues," he said.

5th District, US Congress -- After a relatively tight race in 2000, incumbent George Nethercutt had little trouble this time around, winning more than 60 percent of the vote. In a district that got even harder for Democrats after redistricting, challenger Bart Haggin held onto a good share of his party's base but couldn't build from there. Nethercutt, exercising the power of incumbency, outspent him by a wide margin.

In Spokane County, many voters seem comfortable with Nethercutt, even after he rescinded his pledge to only serve three terms.

Voting at Grant Elementary, Connie Roberg supported Nethercutt. "I just like what he stands for," she said. "Yes I know about the term limits, but isn't that the beauty of our country? That you can change your mind? I think he's done a great job."

"I voted for George Nethercutt," said Tracy Edwards, who was leaving the Manito Methodist Episcopal Church on South Grand with a plate-full of bake-sale goodies. "I know people say he should honor the term limits deal he ran on originally, but I think he's done a good job. I teach in a farming community, and I want to support that. Nethercutt has supported the farmers around here."

But at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in the Valley, Poulin said he supported Haggin, even though he questioned his stands on many issues and didn't think he was hard enough on Nethercutt in the debates. "I mean, who else is there, really, in that race?" said Poulin, adding that he's probably the least representative person there is in the Valley. "Every time I'm in the majority with something, it makes me really uncomfortable," he said with a laugh.

Erica Isom, who also cast her ballot at Grant Elementary, supported Haggin as well. "I absolutely did not vote for Nethercutt," she said. "Haggin got my vote because he's a Democrat and he's against anything Nethercutt stands for. I mean, Nethercutt, he has done a lot for the farmers, but what has he really done for the people in this city? For the low-income people and the single moms? Not a lot."

Spokane Valley -- In the new city of Spokane Valley, the male dominance that struck so many people last summer when candidate filings first hit the newspapers has stuck. Only one -- Diana Wilhite -- of the seven city council members elected Tuesday is a woman. Joining Wilhite is Steve Taylor, a field rep for George Nethercutt, Mike Devleming, who defeated the controversial John Kallas, Richard Munson, a Valley stockbroker, Mike Flanigan, who works for the Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Dick Denenny, a lifelong Valley resident. As of press time, the race between Gary Schimmels and Dick Collins was still too close to call, although Schimmels had a small lead.

The State House -- The big race this year -- and one of the biggest in years for anywhere in Washington -- was educational administrator Laurie Dolan challenging Jim West, one of Olympia's most senior lawmakers in the 6th District State Senate race. As of press time Tuesday night, only a few hundred votes separated the two, with West clinging to a slim lead. The state Democratic Party, seeing the race as its best chance to win the majority in the Senate, spent a bundle on TV ads. And West's numerous political stands -- and gaffes -- gave them plenty of ammunition. Still, West fired back that he wouldn't go negative, and Dolan's ads near the end were more positive.

In interviews on Election Day, it wasn't clear if the ads had an impact on how people voted.

At the Manito Methodist Episcopal Church, Tracy Edwards said she supported West despite the fact that she's a teacher. "I tend to vote pretty conservative," she said, even though Dolan was good on education issues. "But that doesn't mean I'm automatically going to support her," Edwards continued. "I want to look at the candidate, too -- at the person. Schools don't get better just because you throw a lot of money at them."

Cooney also supported West. "I think we've been well represented," she said. "Just because you have been in the legislature for a long time doesn't mean you're corrupt. You gain experience that way, too. West seems to know how to get things done."

One voter who supported Dolan did seem to respond to her TV campaign -- "I liked her, she seemed fresh," said the woman.

The 6th District has long been a Republican stronghold in the state, with no Democrat elected there since the 1930s. And although Sheila Collins seemed to have the right stuff, she wasn't able to overcome history or her one-term incumbent opponent, Spokane businessman John Ahern.

Idaho -- On Proposition One, the measure to solidify the tribes' gaming operations under state law, Idahoans seemed persuaded by the argument that gaming and the jobs it creates are good for the state. With three-quarters of the state reporting, it led comfortably at press time Tuesday night.

After voting at the Post Falls Library, Terri Ashburn said she supported Proposition One: "Yes, I'm for that. I believe they deserve to have a job -- I know how tough it is to get a job around here," she said. "Gambling may not be the perfect way for them to make money, but taking it away from the tribes would just make it really bad for them again."

But both Arthur and Beverly Bergquam were unanimously opposed. "It's just that gaming is not the right thing for youth to see," said Arthur Bergquam. "And too many people are becoming, you know, addicted. I think especially poor people are tempted to spend their money that way, and that doesn't help them."

As for the governor's race, Post Falls appeared to be strong Dirk Kempthorne country.

Vicki Currie was stationed just a little down the street from the library with a sign campaigning for her husband Rick Currie, who won his bid to become a Kootenai County Commissioner. She strongly supports Kempthorne. "Why? Because he's done a good job so far," said Currie. "I like to look at the person I vote for. Sometimes I ask my husband, because he's so involved in all the issues, but then if I don't agree with him, I just do my own thing."

Arthur Bergquam said Kempthorne has done a good job "under tough circumstances. Like with the education cuts. It was hard, they didn't have the money."

Bergquam's wife Beverly chimes in: "Good education is not always about the amount of money being spent," she says. "Kempthorne may not be everybody's favorite, but that's politics -- you're not going to be loved by everyone. He's done a good job."

Megan B. McCarthy

contributed to this report.

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