Back in November, Washington State voters approved I-1433 to eventually raise the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour. I wrote about the voter’s remorse some people are experiencing as a result here.
Statewide, the measure passed with 57.42% voting for to 42.58% against, but in Eastern Washington, the measure failed with near-mirror image numbers, 57.72% voting against to 42.28 % for.* In King County, the county with the highest percentage of votes for, it passed with 69.84% voting for and 30.16% voting against. In Lincoln County, the county with the highest percentage of votes against, it was another near-mirror image, with 69.79% voting against and 30.21% voting for.
All 20 counties in Eastern Washington (plus three in Western Washington) voted the measure down. The 16 remaining counties in Western Washington voted to pass the measure. And so, of course, the measure passed. This isn’t surprising; it’s typical that the two halves of the state disagree on ballot measures and candidates elected at the state level, including U.S. Senators. Roughly 2/3 of Washington voters live on the west side of the state; so while I do find it interesting how the results are mirrored, it’s not a mystery.
Now here is the what I find to be discouraging and depressing.
In raw numbers, 687,996 King County residents voted for I-1433. In the 20 counties of Eastern Washington, 642,913 residents voted for and against the measure.
So there were more “yes” votes in King County than the total number of votes cast in Eastern Washington. Let me repeat that…more “yes” votes in King County alone than the total number of “yes” and “no” votes in Eastern Washington.
This is a real problem.
The domination of statewide elections by King County voters – and in Washington this includes the election of our Supreme Court justices – leads to policies that are at times misguided and at other times downright hostile to the interests of the eastern portion of the State.
The minimum wage initiative is a case in point. It may make sense in King county (although my personal feeling is that it’s poor policy even there), with employers like Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing, where many employees are already earning over the minimum wage. In the small towns of Eastern Washington, it may lead to unacceptable job losses in small towns where the economy is not so robust.
I mentioned the Washington Supreme Court. Back in October they handed down the Hirst Ruling, which, by depriving rural property owners of the ability to drill water wells, denies them the rightful use of their property.
If you clicked through to the article about the Hirst ruling, you’ll have seen the reference to the Growth Management Act. The GMA requires rural Lincoln County to follow all the same planning procedures as King County. This is despite Lincoln having a population density of four people per square mile with a population loss of just over 2% between 2010 and 2015 while King County has a population density of 938 people per square mile and population growth of nearly 10% over the same time period.
King County residents vote with a complete lack of regard for the issues facing residents of rural areas in Eastern Washington. That’s fine. They have issues of their own and shouldn’t be expected to lay them aside in favor of someone else’s; however, it would be nice if they’d occasionally stop to consider that the answer to every urban problem need not be forced on rural areas.
Instead of voting for a statewide flat-rate minimum wage, they could have waited for a minimum wage tied to cost of living. They could have looked at court decisions like Hirst, recognized that the court had over-stepped its bounds and replaced some of the justices in November (it’s more than likely that most King County residents have never heard of the Hirst ruling). Or the Growth Management Act could have been amended to reflect the idea that counties that aren’t experiencing explosive growth probably don’t need to manage it in quite the same way as counties that are.
This year, two Eastern Washington lawmakers introduced legislation to split Washington into two states. You may laugh, but the frustration that Eastern Washington residents feel is real. We’re outnumbered, so the solution is going to have to come from, you guessed it…King County. Wish us luck.
*I made this calculation from numbers I entered by hand into an Excel spreadsheet; therefore they may be very slightly off due to data entry errors.