Editorial: Tenth District mirrors nation

Pundits say this nation is almost perfectly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with a presidential “mandate” these days being anything above 50 percent of the vote. Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt must be smiling in the great beyond, because in their day a mandate took closer to 60 percent of the vote.

This narrow political divide permeates much of the nation, and can be seen to some extent right here in the 10th Legislative District. Two of the three positions are too close to call even a week after the election.

Veteran Democratic Senator Mary Margaret Haugen as of Monday was hanging on to a narrow lead, with 50.18 percent of the vote to 47.23 percent for April Axthelm, her Republican challenger. Libertarian Brett Wilhelm muddled things up by taking 2.57 percent of the roughly 50,000 votes counted, but it does not appear that he swung the election one way or the other. Take all his votes and add them to Axthelm’s total, and she’s still behind Haugen. And Libertarian voters may be as likely to go Democrat as Republican if those are the only two choices offered.

An even more dramatic cliff hanger is in the race for State House, Position 1, where Republican newcomer Chris Strow has 49.97 percent of the vote to 47.28 percent for Democrat Nancy Conard. Strow made an excellent debut in local politics, out-polling Conard, the long-time mayor of Coupeville. If the totals hold up when the election is certified, Conard supporters can take solace in the fact she will still be Coupeville’s mayor, and will still be able to work on state issues through our delegation in Olympia.

Less close was the House Position 2 race, where Oak Harbor Republican Barbara Bailey received something of a true mandate for her second term, winning 58 percent of the voter against her Democrat challenger, Camano Island resident Mark Norton. Norton never had the resources to make a competitive race of it, and Bailey obviously impressed many voters with her sincerity and hard work during her first term.

If the present numbers hold, the 10th District will be in fair shape when the Legislature convenes in January. The Democrats took over control of the Senate from the Republicans, meaning Sen. Haugen will again chair the Transportation Committee. With Island County’s dependency on ferries and one lonesome bridge, this is about as good as we could hope for in terms of Senate power from our district.

The Democrats maintained control of the House, meaning our two Republican representatives will be in the minority. But Bailey seems well liked on both sides of the aisle, and Strow has extensive experience working with both parties in Washington, D.C., as Jack Metcalf’s congressional aide. They should be able to get things done for their district if they work together, and with our powerful Democrat in the Senate.

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