Voters send Walsh back to Olympia

Voters returned state Rep. Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla to office Tuesday, despite a challenge from Constitution Party candidate Brenda High of Pasco in the 16th Legislative District.

The Republican incumbent will serve a fourth term after winning 21,339 votes, or 79 percent, of the ballots counted Tuesday night. High drew 5,817 votes.

The seat represents voters in Pasco; part of Benton County, including part of Kennewick; Walla Walla County and Columbia County.

In Benton County, Walsh received 3,676 votes, or 72 percent, and High 1,430 votes. Franklin County had similar results, with 71 percent supporting Walsh. The total Tuesday night was 5,603 votes for Walsh and 2,282 for High.

Walsh's support was even stronger in Walla Walla County, where she received 85 percent, or 10,409 votes to 1,810 votes for High.

In Columbia County, 85 percent of voters also supported Walsh. The total counted Tuesday was 1,651 for Walsh and 295 for High.

The Legislature has its work cut out for it, Walsh said Tuesday night.

"It cannot be business as usual," she said. "The state has been bled dry as the result of poor budget decisions by the majority party."

She prides herself on being able to work with Republicans and Democrats, but she was expecting Republicans to pick up some seats, which would force cooperation, she said.

"We will have to work together to reach consensus on a sustainable budget," she said.

High was among the Franklin County Republicans who voted to censure Walsh for supporting same-sex domestic partnership rights.

Walsh describes herself as a moderate Republican who is fiscally conservative but supports abortion rights for women and equal rights for everyone -- including gays and lesbians.

"I have never identified myself as a mouthpiece for the right wing of the Republican party and I never will," Walsh said during the campaign.

Her support for the "everything but marriage" bill giving registered same-sex and elderly domestic partners all of the legal rights and benefits of married couples put her at odds with members of the Franklin County Republicans, who voted to censure her in 2009.

High, a longtime Republican, said during the campaign she did not think Walsh was a true Republican and maintained she would better represent conservative Republicans.

Walsh has been a strong advocate for early learning programs, which she said save the state money in the long run by giving kids and parents tools to succeed. That means kids stay in school, out of trouble and out of the courts or foster care system, she said.