John Laird: Our state's evolution draws both 'Yippee!' and 'Yikes!'

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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Perhaps next year in our state, a legally married gay couple will smoke marijuana without breaking the law, while a heterosexual couple will violate the law by smoking traditional cigarettes indoors in a public place.

Boy, howdy, this ain't your father's Washington anymore!

It's all part of an incremental but inexorable evolution of our state, a shift that troubles many people. As Herman Cain would say, I have no facts to back this up, but my suspicion is that many of the people who are troubled by Washington's evolution are men over 60. Oh, don't worry about me. No, sir. I was excommunicated long ago by my own demographic group because of my heretical beliefs.

But I still keep an eye on 'em, and I've noticed something besides gays and pot that infuriates many of the geezer guys: women wielding clout, especially outside the home.

Shrewd politicians, though, embrace reality. A recent KING 5 poll -- in which SurveyUSA interviewed 524 likely voters in our state -- suggests that, if you don't understand women in Washington, you might not understand winning. To wit:

• President Obama has a 16-point lead (54 percent to 38 percent) over Mitt Romney in Washington. But among women, that lead is 26 points.

• In the race for governor, Democrat Jay Inslee has a 5-point lead over Republican Rob McKenna. For that razor-thin lead, Jay can thank women, among whom he has a 14-point lead.

• Supporters of Referendum 74, which would affirm legalizing gay marriage, have an 18-point lead. For that, marriage-equality proponents can thank women, who favor R-74 by a whopping 36 percentage points.

Admittedly, the point I'm trying to make has a few exceptions. The ballot measure that would legalize recreational use of marijuana (Initiative 502) has a huge lead in the poll (58 percent to 21 percent), but earlier polls have shown the support to be weaker among women.

And there are two other truths to remember. First, don't place too much emphasis on polls. We're still more than seven weeks away from the Nov. 6 election, and many shifts can be near-tectonic. Percentages of undecided voters are fairly high in many races. The charter schools measure (I-1240) is supported by 52 percent of poll respondents, but 22 percent are undecided. Similarly, the measure requiring two-thirds approval for tax increases (I-1185) is supported by 58 percent, but 21 percent are undecided.

Second, remember what history tells us about polls that are taken this far in advance of an election, especially when it comes to reform measures. As a recent KING5.com story explains: "Polls measuring sentiment on ballot initiatives taken a month or more before Election Day can often understate opposition. Typically, many of the undecided voters wind up in the 'no' column, which could make the tax and charter school races much closer."

Supporters decided early

In other words, many of the pot proponents and same-sex marriage supporters made up their minds long ago. If you're in it to win it, you've probably been there for years. The corollary is that many less-inspired voters will find their safe port in the status quo, and vote "no."

Washington is not alone in our marijuana and gay-marriage ballot measures. We're sharing a noteworthy spotlight with a few other states. A recent report from the University of Southern California notes there are marijuana-related ballot measures in six states. According to the report, "The most far-reaching propositions are citizen proposals that would legalize recreational use of cannabis: Colorado's Amendment 64, Oregon's Measure 80, Washington's I-502."

Five states have Nov. 6 ballot measures that are related to marriage. In three states (Washington, Maine and Maryland) the electorate for the first time in U.S. history -- and not the courts or legislatures -- could legalize same-sex marriage.

Even if every reform measure fails, our state's evolution will continue. I know what you're thinking. It's only a matter of time.