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Originally published November 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 8, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Election 2007

Reading the election's tea leaves

Turns out people still don't like taxes. That much seemed clear from Tuesday's off-year election. But what it all means beyond that ...

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — Turns out people still don't like taxes.

That much seemed clear from Tuesday's off-year election. But what it all means beyond that — and what it portends about next year's bigger-stakes election — is anybody's guess. And here's a big surprise: Republicans and Democrats have vastly different guesses.

Republicans say voters sent a resounding message to state and local politicians alike that they are fed up with taxes and concerned about recent rapid growth in state government spending.

Democrats, however, say it's a mistake to read too much into the election, especially given the meager voter turnout, which could wind up below 45 percent once all the mail-in ballots are tallied.

While tens of thousands of votes remain to be counted, it appears most of the big races have been settled.

In the central Puget Sound region, voters gave a firm thumbs-down to Proposition 1, the multibillion-dollar roads-and-transit package.

Tim Eyman's Initiative 960, which would require a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature to increase taxes, held a comfortable lead statewide as ballot counting continued Wednesday.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that will require state budget writers each year to set aside a portion of tax collections in a "rainy-day" savings account. And another constitutional tweak that would allow school districts to pass levies with a simple-majority vote — as opposed to the existing 60 percent threshold — was failing.

"So much for the euphoria of last year, when everything went well," liberal blogger Geov Parrish lamented Wednesday on Horsesass.org.

"Everyone's feeling real queasy about the economy," Eyman said. "You throw in the stuff about the mortgage crisis, and voters aren't feeling comfortable. Gas prices are going up. ... There clearly was a wave, and we happened to be there to catch it."

The queasy-about-taxes mood was apparent in many local elections, as well.

In Clark County a fire levy was close, but appeared to be failing. A DuPont park-district measure went down easily, and so did a Kennewick hospital levy. Even in Thurston County, home of state government's company town, voters turned down a sales-tax increase to fund social services and criminal-justice programs.

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"Washington has long been an easy [place] for politicians to push the people around, and yesterday the people pushed back a bit," Darin Di Pietro, a 43-year-old Federal Way resident, said in an e-mail.

"Unfortunately 'enough is enough' will totally be lost on today's greedy politicians, and they'll just seek new ways to skirt the voter's wishes like they've done every time in the past," he said.

Republicans, who in recent years have seen their numbers in the Legislature dwindle to near-record lows, were heartened by the outcomes.

"People think the Democrat-controlled state government is overspending, just like they thought Republicans in Congress were overspending in 2006," Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said in a written statement.

Richard Davis, spokesman for the Association of Washington Business, had a similar take. But he said Tuesday's vote can't be construed as a tax revolt, because "there hasn't been a tax increase that people are reacting against."

"It was more of a 'let's slow down' kind of thing," Davis said. "Washington voters have always wanted to have a say in tax policies, and they like spending controls."

Seattle pollster Stuart Elway said it was clearly an "anti-tax Election Day." But that had more to do with the extremely low turnout than anything else. In low-turnout years, he said, a larger percentage of ballots are cast by older, more conservative voters.

"With a turnout like that, the anti-tax constituency rules," Elway said. "It's always been that way."

Likewise, Democrats were downplaying the results.

"This is not a repudiation of anything," said Christian Sinderman, a Democratic campaign consultant who worked against Eyman's Initiative 960.

Sinderman echoed Elway's comments about the low turnout and said he remains confident his party will fare well in 2008, when "a completely different group of voters will be exercising their vote."

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown pointed out that voters in Spokane, her hometown, approved a local bond issue for parks and pools.

"It's not that people don't want to vote for public services," Brown said. "It's just a very high bar of proving to them what the money's going for and that it's being well-spent."

Brown and Sinderman said people still want lawmakers and the governor to address funding needs for education, transportation and health care.

"Massive denial," responded Eyman. "They're just not listening. They've got this world view and they can't conceive of a world that's different from that view."

Seattle Times reporter David Postman contributed to this story. Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or rthomas@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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