‘Soviet of Washington’ reputation was earned, but it’s outdated

Ross Reynolds at KUOW examined an interesting question recently: “Does the ‘Soviet of Washington’ deserve its lefty reputation?” That phrase is usually attributed to James Farley, FDR’s postmaster general, who supposedly referred to “the 47 states and the Soviet of Washington.” Farley probably didn’t say it, but the joke stuck.

Looking at Washington’s largest city, it’s not hard to see why Reynolds raised the question. Seattle is reliably for all things “progressive.” City voters consistently approve an ever-growing list of special levy taxes, embrace identity politics and trendy causes, and have now twice elected a city councilmember who said Boeing workers should “take over the factories” and “re-tool the machines to produce mass transit like buses, instead of destructive, you know, war machines,” among many other gems.

So it’s not a surprise that some look at Seattle and see a “soviet” or “San Francisco North.” Cross that city line, though, and you quickly start shedding that soviet feeling. In reality (which is nowhere near Seattle City Council chambers), this is a fairly purple state.

Maybe you wouldn’t guess it by looking at our statewide elected officials. Only one of them, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, is a Republican (Wyman is the lone statewide Republican on the West Coast, actually). Strong voter turnout in Seattle has helped keep Washington’s executive branch reliably Democratic.

Legislative Republicans are leading the way
But in legislative elections, Republicans are outshining, and outpolling, the Democrats. The state Senate has a Republican majority, thanks to candidates like Steve Litzow of Mercer Island, Andy Hill of Redmond, Joe Fain of Auburn and others who appeal to suburban swing district voters.

House Republicans have 48 of the House’s 98 seats, their highest total in years. They’ve been slowly adding members every election since 2007, rebuilding to near-parity with the Democrats. New members such as Melanie Stambaugh of Puyallup and Teri Hickel of Federal Way are emblematic of that success. They’re real, they’re personable, and they speak fluent “suburb.”

After another strong round of recruiting, House Republicans have a real shot of winning a majority this year (acknowledging, of course, that nobody really knows what turnout will look like in November in this topsy-turvy year) – wouldn’t that be something.

Compared to other West Coast states…
Take a look at our West Coast neighbors and you’ll see the Washington is a much more balanced state. Oregon’s Senate is 18-12 Democratic (60%) and its House is 35-25 Democratic (58.3%). In California, Democrats hold 26 of 40 Senate seats (65%) and 52 of 80 Assembly seats (65%).

Conditions look downright rosy for Washington Republicans in comparison – and you can see the difference in Olympia. Without Senate Republicans gaining a majority and House Republicans chipping away at Speaker Chopp’s totals, we would have already seen major tax increases under Gov. Inslee, including perhaps an income tax (whether we’d have a carbon tax or not is tough to say – House Democrats are clearly lukewarm to idea and have never brought a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system to a vote).

So are we the Soviet of Washington? Reynolds’ piece points to some solid historical reasons for the reputation. As our legislature shows, though, we’re a pretty purple state – and it’s likely to stay that way if legislative Republicans keep recruiting quality candidates who fit their districts so well.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.