A cautionary tale in Washington state

  The GOP sweep in 1994 hit Washington state like a monsoon: In seven of nine districts, voters sent freshmen Republicans to the House of Representatives. But this year's election presents a cautionary tale: If you won your last election by a razor-thin margin, perhaps you'd better not slavishly follow the GOP line on environmental issues.


Washington boasts rain forests, farmland and fisheries, and activists think the anti-environmental voting record of three freshmen representatives may make the incumbents vulnerable. Jack Metcalf, Rick White and Randy Tate - the three Republicans in the Seattle area - are clear targets.


Republican Rep. Metcalf, whose district includes the San Juan Islands and Cascades National Park, voted to raise entrance fees to national parks and expedite salvage logging. Rep. Rick White's mid-1995 vote to weaken the Clean Water Act went over like a dead salmon: Most of his constituents live on or near the polluted Puget Sound. Rep. Randy Tate's suburban district south of Seattle contains numerous Superfund sites, yet he voted to slash the EPA's funding.


Incumbents Rep. George Nethercutt and Rep. Richard (Doc) Hastings in rural eastern Washington may not be able to inspire the same anti-incumbent fervor that elected them two years ago. Nethercutt, widely known for his ousting of Speaker Tom Foley in 1994 (HCN, 5/29/95), sponsored a rider that would delay and weaken a study of his district's Columbia River Basin; Hastings has drawn flak for not fighting for funds to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.


Washington's in-state political landscape may also be vulnerable to an earthquake. The current Legislature is at a stalemate similar to the national impasse: Democratic Gov. Mike Lowry vetoed a large number of the bills sent to him by the Republican-controlled state House and narrowly Democratic Senate. But while it is anyone's guess what will happen in the Legislature, the state will have a new governor.


After an aide accused Lowry of sexual harassment, the governor announced he would not run again. Six Republicans and four Democrats are contending for their parties' nominations; the candidates will be chosen at the late September primary.


*Heather Abel