By Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Street parties on Election Day are becoming a tradition on Capitol Hill, at least during every presidential contest. Often called “the bluest of the blue” for its uniformly liberal leanings, Capitol Hill wasn’t spraying champagne into the air for Bill Clinton back in the 1990s. Pike Street flooded with revelers in 2008 for Barack Obama’s first victory and a similar gathering took place last night, but it wasn’t just for the President’s victory this time around. The real party didn’t start until the official word came down for the seemingly inevitable success of Referendum 74 and, to a lesser extent, the election of Jay Inslee and the legalization of marijuana by Initiative 502.
A great cross section of Capitol Hill residents packed into Pike Street businesses like Neumos, Wildrose, and Caffe Vita to watch the results come in, but the place to be on Tuesday night was Lobby Bar. Lobby has been an unofficial base camp for the R74 approval campaign since the early days of the fight for marriage equality. By 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, the line to get into Lobby took up most of the block. People called down to those waiting in line from the second-story windows to communicate live results, which those outside corroborated on their smartphones. As more and more states turned blue on the national projection maps, the cheers got louder and the already eager line more antsy.
In the end, the battle between incumbent Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney was close but far from the nail-biter many had been expecting. Obama won by two percentage points, nearly 100 electoral votes, and over two million people in the popular vote. Most major news outlets were ready to call the President’s victory by 8:30.
Washington state’s polls closed at 8 p.m. and things only looked grim for the crowd at Lobby in the earliest tallies. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna seemed to have a lead with 30 percent of the vote counted. Likewise, R-74 was trailing at the get-go. After only a half hour, the tide turned to reveal a near sweep for liberal voters in Washington. Inslee, I-502, R-74, and Senator Maria Cantwell all saw victories of various margins as the night went on.
It was telling that there were no cheers or booing about the narrow passing of Initiative 1240, which would allow for the creation of publicly-funded, NPO-run charter schools in Washington. A divisive issue with only pockets of passion throughout the state, nobody at Lobby or apparently anywhere in the busiest part of the Pike/Pine corridor had a bottle of champagne waiting for the polls to close on one side or the other. Generally speaking, liberal political groups in Washington have opposed 1240, but they have spent only a small fraction of the time, energy, and money campaigning against it compared to the campaigns for R-74, I-502, Jay Inslee, and Barack Obama.
In one of the most interesting, if overlooked, turns of events in local politics, the people of Washington’s 43rd legislative district gave 27 percent of their vote to Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant. Dr. Sawant already made history with unprecedented write-in numbers in the August primaries, but the 11 percent of that initial push pales in comparison to snatching more than a quarter of the vote against the long-sitting Speaker of the House Frank Chopp. The Socialist Alternative gathering at Vermillion Gallery on 11th was far more sedate and intellectual than the raucous parties crowding the street outside. Sawant and her supporters seemed encouraged by their performance in 2012. They are hoping Tuesday’s showing will energize a receptive community in the coming years to put more third-party candidates on the ballot and encourage grassroots movements in Seattle and beyond.
As Pike Street filled with music and cheers for the rest of the night, rainbow flags waved beside the flag of our nation. It’s a juxtaposition that owes its very existence to a hard-won slate of candidates and issues for Washington progressives. Had Mitt Romney unseated President Obama, or Rob McKenna taken the Governor’s mansion, or same-sex couples been denied their right to marry in our state, perhaps the flags would have stayed segregated, or maybe there would have been no party at all. The crowd on the Hill this year was happy, but it didn’t have the cathartic jubilation of the spontaneous gathering four years ago. There was as much relief as exhilaration.
This is the reality of putting social issues on any ballot. For the throng on Pike Street, this year’s most controversial measures were far from academic exercises. Many of the people who poured out of Lobby Bar carried the weight of their future weddings, whether that means lining up at the courthouse next month or picking out invitations ten years from now. The celebrations in 2008 were all about the possibilities of what progress may come in an era of change. This year, everyone knew exactly what their campaigning, their voting, and their hard phone calls to family won them.