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The state of Washington at the beginning of the 21st century


Washington’s forests
Washington’s forests

In politics, Washington has always been a two-party state. In presidential elections, Washington voters generally favored Republican candidates before 1932, but backed Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt in his four races (1932-1944). For the next four decades, Washington voters preferred Republicans, but favored Democrats in presidential elections from 1988 on. Prominent national politicians from Washington have included Warren G. Magnuson, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1945 to 1981; Henry M. Jackson, who also served in the Senate from 1953 to 1983; and Thomas S. Foley, who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1989 to 1995.

In state and local politics, Washington voters often split their votes after World War II (1939-1945), electing a governor from one party and legislative majorities from the other. In 1976 Dixy Lee Ray, a Democrat and former chairwoman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, became the first woman governor of the state.

Beginning with the 1992 election of President Bill Clinton, Washington consistently supported Democrats in presidential elections. In 1997 Gary Locke became the first Asian American governor in the continental United States. Locke was succeeded in 2005 by Democrat Christine Gregoire, who won by a mere 129 votes after a closely contested election that required two recounts. Despite the narrow victory in the gubernatorial election, the Democrats dominated both houses of the state legislature. In 2008 Gregoire was reelected, this time with a comfortable margin as Washington voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic ticket headed by Barack Obama.

On May 18, 1980, Mount Saint Helens erupted in Washington, resulting in 57 deaths and billions of dollars of damage. Volcanic ash was carried hundreds of miles from the mountain by the wind. In 1983 Mount Saint Helens and its immediate vicinity became a national volcanic monument.

In 1990 the northern spotted owl, a rare bird that lives in parts of Washington’s forests, was listed as a threatened species by federal agencies. Efforts to protect the owl and other species led to restrictions on logging throughout the Pacific Northwest and set off years of economic and political controversy between environmentalists and timber-related industries. Runs of wild Pacific salmon have also dwindled in Washington state and other areas along the West Coast. In 1999 the government gave endangered or threatened status to nine species of salmon and steelhead (sea-going trout) in the Pacific Northwest. Major urban centers like the Puget Sound area were directly affected by efforts to protect and restore salmon populations, but little opposition to saving the salmon surfaced. Environmental and health concerns have also arisen over the nuclear waste stored at the Hanford reservation in south central Washington. Hanford was the site of plutonium production during World War II (1939-1945), and tanks filled with radioactive waste from these projects have leaked, causing fears about possible contamination of underground water supplies and the Columbia River.

Voter initiatives gained importance in the state political process in the late 1990s. In 1998 voters approved Initiative 200, which banned most affirmative action programs in state and local government in Washington. The following year state voters passed Initiative 695, which replaced the state’s high motor vehicle tax with a flat $30 fee and required voter approval for all increases in taxes and fees by state and local governments. In 2000 the Washington Supreme Court declared I-695 unconstitutional. However, theflat $30 fee for motor vehicle tax remained in effect because earlier in the year the Washington legislature passed a bill making it a law.

The creation of new jobs by biotechnology and high-technology companies in the late 1980s and 1990s lured many newcomers to the state. The Microsoft Corporation, based in a Seattle suburb, became the largest creator of computer software in the world and recruited software engineers from many countries and other parts of the United States to work at the corporate headquarters. According to the 2000 census, more than half the residents of metropolitan Seattle were born outside Washington. Washington has also drawn a large number of Asian-born immigrants. Rapid growth throughout the state, and particularly in the Puget Sound region, has bolstered the economy, but also brought new problems of pollution, congestion, and urban sprawl. Washington faces the challenge of maintaining its natural beauty and environmental quality in the face of an expanding population and other development pressures. The passage of a mass transit initiative in 2008 was expected to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and to reduce traffic congestion, which was ranked among the worst in the nation. "Washington" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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