By Bruce Haulman
For The Beachcomber
This year’s hotly contested Presidential election resulted in a solid Electoral College victory for Joe Biden.
But on Vashon, there was little surprise as Democrats Joe Biden, Pramila Jayapal, Jay Inslee, and Denny Heck swept to easy victories. Vashon has become a reliably Democratic voting stronghold, although that was not always the case.
At the beginning of the last century, Vashon was as reliably Republican as is it reliably Democratic today. Just as Biden/Harris swept to an 87.5% victory on Vashon last week, in 1904, Vashon selected Republican Theodore Roosevelt by 88% over Democratic opponent Alton B. Parker.
Similar victories were won by Republican Warren G. Harding (72%) in 1920 and Herbert Hoover (73%) in 1928. The exceptions were in 1916 when Republican Charles Evans Hughes won by only 51% of the vote, and in 1924 when third party Progressive Party candidate Robert LaFollette won 36% of the vote that combined with Republican Calvin Coolidge’s 59% of the vote accounted for a whopping 95% of the vote for those opposing the Democrats.
Of course, the Republican and Democratic Parties of that time represented very different values. Vashon was primarily a rural agricultural community originally settled by Union Civil War veterans who were staunch Lincoln Republicans and whose values supported the progressive reform-centered values of the Republican Party. The Democratic Party of that time was a coalition party of the Old South and, increasingly, of new urban immigrant groups, which did not match the values of those living on Vashon Island.
The Great Depression changed the island’s Republican allegiance dramatically and beginning in 1932 Vashon voted reliably Democratic for FDR and his New Deal until the end of World War II. After the War, the island shifted back to being reliably Republican, voting 58% for Dewey in 1948 and 65% and 63% for Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. Vashon continued to vote Republican up to 1980 with the exception of 1964 when the island voted for Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson over far-right Republican Barry Goldwater. But the 1980 election became a turning point for the Island.
In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan won the island with 45% of the vote, but Democrat Jimmy Carter won 38% of the vote, and liberal Republican third-party candidate John Anderson won 17% of the vote. Combined, Carter and Anderson carried the island by 55%. Not an overwhelming victory, but a harbinger of the shift of Vashon from being reliably Republican, except for the FDR New Deal interlude, to the island becoming the reliably Democratic stronghold it is today.
The shift to voting reliably Democratic that began in 1980 held up through the next two decades as Vashon voted for Walter Mondale (1984), George Dukakis (1988), and Bill Clinton (1992 and 1996).
Then, beginning with the 2000 election, something extraordinary happens. Vashon continues to be reliably Democratic but becomes what the Seattle Times has called “ultra-liberal Vashon.” The island begins to vote with margins for Democrats at the 80% plus levels, similar to the 70-80% plus majorities it gave Republicans 100 years ago. In 2004, Vashon voted 77% for Democrat John Kerry over Republican George W. Bush. In 2008 and 2012, Vashon voted 82% and 80% for Democrat Barack Obama, and in 2016 voted 84% for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
So, it is no surprise that in last week’s election Vashon voted 87.5% for Democrat Joe Biden, 10.4% for Republican Donald Trump, and 2.1% for third-party candidates, with a turnout of 79% of registered voters.
After the 1926 mid-term elections, P. Monroe Smock, editor of the Vashon Island News-Record, wrote an editorial, “Let’s Pull Together,” that might be instructive for us all after this 2020 contentious election.
Smock wrote: “The votes are counted. The island was almost a unit. Only a scattering discordant note was heard. We’ll give these few people the belief that they were honest in their ideas and forget that they were ‘on the other side.’ We don’t intend to carry around any chips on our shoulders to pick a quarrel. It is not enough that we ask them to be good losers – we ask you who were on the winning side to be good winners. … We have won and they have lost, so let’s forget the fight and get in to make the victory a boost for the good of Vashon island. Let’s pull together – all of us!”
While Vashon voted reliably for Joe Biden, 12.5% — 154 islanders — did not. If we are to heal the divisions that sunder our nation, we can start right here on Vashon.
— Bruce Haulman is an island historian.