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Saturday, November 6, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Democrats making Eastside inroads

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

It wasn't so long ago that the Eastside's political personality was as predictable as its bad traffic. As Seattle leaned left, suburbanites leaned right.

But in recent years, a subtle shift in attitudes has opened the door to the state Legislature for a handful of Eastside Democrats.

This week, the most recent victim of that shift appears to be 41st District Republican Sen. Jim Horn, a 16-year political veteran and Olympia power broker who chairs the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.

Although Horn had not conceded, all week the election returns have shown him trailing Democrat Brian Weinstein, a lawyer and political newcomer from Mercer Island.

"The Eastside is no longer a safe Republican territory. It's not a happy message, but it's true," said state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance

Tuesday's vote showed other signs of the shift.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, who slipped into office two years ago as the first Democrat elected in the 41st District in almost half a century, was retaining her seat by a large margin against charter-school champion Fawn Spady. That would leave moderate Rep. Fred Jarrett, who was leading his race, as the district's only Republican in Olympia.

Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter, first elected in District 48 two years ago, was far in the lead to keep his seat representing voters in parts of Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond. And farther north and east, Democrat Larry Springer was winning the 45th District seat vacated by Rep. Laura Ruderman, further securing the party's growing foothold on the Eastside.

During his campaign, Horn said he thought the 41st District still has a Republican base, despite recent Democratic inroads.

Weinstein, who has school-age children and campaigned heavily on improving public education, said he is an example of how the district has changed. Younger, more economically diverse residents are fiscally moderate, but are looking for someone to reflect their "social liberal" values, he said.

"I'm going to get in there and do what I said I'd do," he said yesterday. "Fight for smaller class sizes and find a way to fund education."

It's unclear how Horn's departure would ultimately affect transportation issues on the chronically congested Eastside. The longtime legislator and transportation committee chairman has been a strong advocate for suburban funding, especially for road construction.

Environmentalists, however, attacked Horn this election season for his focus on roads, running television ads that painted the senator as a roadblock to balanced regional transportation solutions that could include funding for rail.

"He could never see beyond Interstate 405, beyond new lanes," said Aaron Ostrom, executive director of 1000 Friends of Washington, an environmental-advocacy organization. "And that was his undoing."

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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