Washington is a leading lumber producer. Its rugged surface is rich in stands of Douglas fir, hemlock, ponderosa and white pine, spruce, larch, and cedar. The state is the biggest producer of apples, hops, pears, red raspberries, spearmint oil, and sweet cherries, and ranks high in the production of apricots, asparagus, dry edible peas, grapes, lentils, peppermint oil, and potatoes. Livestock and livestock products make important contributions to total farm revenue, and the commercial fishing of salmon, halibut, and bottomfish makes a significant contribution to the state's economy.
Manufacturing industries in Washington include aircraft and missiles, shipbuilding and other transportation equipment, lumber, food processing, metals and metal products, chemicals, and machinery. Washington has over 1,000 dams, including the Grand Coulee Dam, built for a variety of purposes including irrigation, power, flood control, and water storage.
Washington is the only U.S. state named after a president. To distinguish it from the U.S. capital, which is also named for George Washington, Washington is often referred to as Washington State, or in more formal contexts as "The State of Washington". Washingtonians (residents of Washington) and other residents of the Pacific Northwest normally refer to the state simply as "Washington", while instead referring to the nation's capital as "Washington, D.C." or simply "D.C."
To the east, Washington borders Idaho, bounded mostly by the meridian running north from the confluence of the Snake River and Clearwater River (about 116°57' west), except for the southernmost section where the border follows the Snake River. To the west of Washington lies the Pacific Ocean. Washington was a Union territory during the American Civil War, although it never actually participated in the war.
Washington is part of a region known as the Pacific Northwest, a term which always includes Washington and Oregon and may or may not include Idaho, western Montana, northern California, and Alaska, depending on the user's intent.
The high mountains of the Cascade Range run north-south, bisecting the state. From the Cascades westward, Western Washington has a mostly marine west coast climate, with mild temperatures and wet winters, autumns and springs, and relatively dry summers. The Cascade Range contains several volcanoes, which reach altitudes significantly higher than the rest of the mountains. From the north to the south, these volcanoes are Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. Mount St. Helens is currently the only Washington volcano that is actively erupting; however, all of them are considered active volcanoes. Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the state, is 50 miles (80 km) south of the city of Seattle, from which it is prominently visible. The 14,411-foot-tall (4,392 m) Mt. Rainier is considered the most dangerous volcano in the Cascade Range, due to its proximity to the Seattle metropolitan area, and most dangerous in the continental U.S. according to the Decade Volcanoes list. It is also covered with more glacial ice than any other peak in the contiguous 48 states.
In contrast, Eastern Washington, east of the Cascades, has a relatively dry climate with large areas of semiarid steppe and a few truly arid deserts lying in the rain shadow of the Cascades; the Hanford reservation receives an average annual precipitation of 6 to 7 inches (150 to 180 mm). Farther east, the climate becomes less arid, increasing as one goes east to 21.2 inches (540 mm) in Pullman. The Okanogan Highlands and the rugged Kettle River Range and Selkirk Mountains cover much of the northeastern quadrant of the state. The Palouse southeast region of Washington was grassland that has been mostly converted into farmland, and extends to the Blue Mountains.
Washington's climate varies greatly from west to east. An oceanic climate (also called "west coast marine climate") predominates in western Washington, and a much drier semi-arid climate prevails east of the Cascade Range. Major factors determining Washington's climate include the large semi-permanent high pressure and low pressure systems of the north Pacific Ocean, the continental air masses of North America, and the Olympic and Cascade mountains. In the spring and summer, a high pressure anticyclone system dominates the north Pacific Ocean, causing air to spiral out in a clockwise fashion. For Washington this means prevailing winds from the northwest bring relatively cool air and a predictably dry season.
In the autumn and winter, a low-pressure cyclone system takes over in the north Pacific Ocean, with air spiraling inward in a counter-clockwise fashion. This causes Washington's prevailing winds to come from the southwest, bringing relatively warm and moist air masses and a predictably wet season. The term "Pineapple Express" is used colloquially to describe the extreme form of this wet season pattern.
Despite western Washington's having a marine climate similar to those of many coastal cities of Europe, there are exceptions such as the "Big Snow" events of 1880, 1881, 1893 and 1916 and the "deep freeze" winters of 1883–84, 1915–16, 1949–50 and 1955–56, among others. During these events western Washington experienced up to 6 feet (1.8 m) of snow, sub-zero (−18 °C) temperatures, three months with snow on the ground, and lakes and rivers frozen over for weeks. Seattle's lowest officially recorded temperature is 0 °F (−18 °C) set on January 31, 1950, but low-altitude areas approximately three hours away from Seattle have recorded lows as cold as −48 °F (−44 °C).
Weather during the cold season is greatly influenced by the Southern Oscillation. During the El Niño phase, the jet stream enters the U.S. farther south through California, therefore late fall and winter are drier than normal with less snowpack. The La Niña phase reinforces the jet stream through the Pacific Northwest, causing Washington to have even more rain and snow than average.
In 2006, the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington published The Impacts of Climate change in Washington's Economy, a preliminary assessment on the risks and opportunities presented given the possibility of a rise in global temperatures and their effects on Washington state.
Rainfall in Washington varies dramatically going from east to west. The western side of the Olympic Peninsula receives as much as 160 inches (4,100 mm) of precipitation annually, making it the wettest area of the 48 conterminous states and a temperate rainforest. Weeks or even months may pass without a clear day. The western slopes of the Cascade Range receive some of the heaviest annual snowfall (in some places more than 200 inches or 5,100 millimetres water equivalent) in the country. In the rain shadow area east of the Cascades, the annual precipitation is only 6 inches (150 mm). Precipitation then increases again eastward toward the Rocky Mountains.
The Olympic mountains and Cascades compound this climatic pattern by causing orographic lift of the air masses blown inland from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in the windward side of the mountains receiving high levels of precipitation and the leeward side receiving low levels. This occurs most dramatically around the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Range. In both cases the windward slopes facing southwest receive high precipitation and mild, cool temperatures. While the Puget Sound lowlands are known for clouds and rain in the winter, the western slopes of the Cascades receive larger amounts of precipitation, often falling as snow at higher elevations. (Mount Baker, near the state's northern border, is one of the snowiest places in the world: in 1999, it set the world record for snowfall in a single season: 1,140 inches (95 ft; 29 m).)
East of the Cascades, a large region experiences strong rain shadow effects. Semi-arid conditions occur in much of eastern Washington with the strongest rain shadow effects at the relatively low elevations of the central Columbia Plateau—especially the region just east of the Columbia River from about the Snake River to the Okanagan Highland. Thus instead of rain forests much of eastern Washington is covered with grassland and shrub-steppe.
The average annual temperature ranges from 51 °F (11 °C) on the Pacific coast to 40 °F (4 °C) in the northeast. The lowest temperature recorded in the state was −48 °F (−44 °C) in Winthrop and Mazama. The highest recorded temperature in the state was 118 °F (48 °C) at Ice Harbor Dam. Both records were set east of the Cascades. Western Washington is known for its mild climate, considerable fog, frequent cloud cover and long-lasting drizzles in the winter, and warm, temperate summers. The Eastern region occasionally experiences extreme climate. Arctic cold fronts in the winter and heat waves in the summer are not uncommon. In the Western region, temperatures have reached as high as 112 °F (44 °C) in Marietta. and as low as −20 °F (−29 °C) in Longview.
High and low average temperatures in various cities in Washington
expressed in Fahrenheit and (Celsius) degrees
Forests cover 52% of the state's land area, mostly west of the North Cascades. Approximately two-thirds of Washington's forested area is publicly owned, including 64% of federal land. Other common trees and plants in the region are camassia, Douglas fir, hemlock, penstemon, ponderosa pine, western red cedar, and many species of ferns. The state's various areas of wilderness offer sanctuary, with substantially large populations of shorebirds and marine mammals. The Pacific shore surrounding the San Juan Islands are heavily inhabited with killer, gray and humpback whales.
The skeletal remains of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and most complete human remains ever found in North America, were discovered in Washington. Prior to the arrival of explorers from Europe, the region had many established tribes of Native Americans, notable for their totem poles and their ornately carved canoes and masks. Prominent among their industries were salmon fishing and, notably among the Makah, whale hunting. The peoples of the Interior had a very different subsistence-based culture based on hunting, food-gathering and some forms of agriculture, as well as a dependency on salmon from the Columbia and its tributaries. The smallpox epidemic of the 1770s devastated the Native American population.
The first recorded European landing on the Washington coast was by Spanish Captain Don Bruno de Heceta in 1775, on board the Santiago, part of a two-ship flotilla with the Sonora. He claimed all the coastal lands up to Prince William Sound for Spain as part of their claimed rights under the Treaty of Tordesillas, which they maintained made the Pacific a "Spanish lake" and all its shores part of the Spanish Empire.
The British-Spanish Nootka Convention of 1790 ended Spanish claims of exclusivity and opened the Northwest Coast to explorers and traders from other nations, most notably Britain and Russia as well as the fledgling United States. American captain Robert Gray (for whom Grays Harbor County is named) then discovered the mouth of the Columbia River. He named the river after his ship, the Columbia. Beginning in 1792, Gray established trade in sea otter pelts. The Lewis and Clark Expedition entered the state on October 10, 1805.
Explorer David Thompson, on his voyage down the Columbia River camped at the confluence with the Snake River on July 9, 1811, and erected a pole and a notice claiming the country for Great Britain and stating the intention of the North West Company to build a trading post at the site.
Britain and the United States agreed to what has since been described as "joint occupancy" of lands west of the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean as part of the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, which established the 49th Parallel as the international boundary west from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains. Resolution of the territorial and treaty issues, west to the Pacific, were deferred until a later time. Spain, in 1819, ceded their rights north of the 42nd Parallel to the United States, although these rights did not include possession.
Negotiations with Great Britain over the next few decades failed to settle upon a compromise boundary and the Oregon boundary dispute was highly contested between Britain and the United States. Disputed joint-occupancy by Britain and the U.S. lasted for several decades. With American settlers pouring into Oregon Country, Hudson's Bay Company, which had previously discouraged settlement because it conflicted with the fur trade, reversed its position in an attempt to maintain British control of the Columbia District.
In 1836, a group of missionaries including Marcus Whitman established several missions and Whitman's own settlement Waiilatpu, in what is now southeastern Washington state, near present day Walla Walla County, in territory of both the Cayuse and the Nez Perce Indian tribes. Whitman's settlement would in 1843 help the Oregon Trail, the overland emigration route to the west, get established for thousands of emigrants in following decades. Marcus provided medical care for the Native Americans, but when Indian patients – lacking immunity to new, 'European' diseases – died in striking numbers, while at the same time many white patients recovered, they held 'medicine man' Marcus Whitman personally responsible, and murdered Whitman and twelve other white settlers in the Whitman massacre in 1847. This event triggered the Cayuse War between settlers and Indians.
Fort Nisqually, a farm and trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company and the first European settlement in the Puget Sound area, was founded in 1833. Black pioneer George Washington Bush and his caucasian wife, Isabella James Bush, from Missouri and Tennessee, respectively, led four white families into the territory and founded New Market, now Tumwater, in 1846. They settled in Washington to avoid Oregon's discriminatory settlement laws. After them, many more settlers, migrating overland along the Oregon trail, wandered north to settle in the Puget Sound area.
The growing populace of Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River formally requested a new territory, which was granted by the U.S. government in 1853. The boundary of Washington Territory initially extended farther east than the present state's, including what is now the Idaho Panhandle and parts of western Montana, and picked up more land to the southeast that was left behind when Oregon was admitted as a state. The creation of Idaho Territory in 1863 established the final eastern border. A Washington State constitution was drafted and ratified in 1878, but it was never officially adopted. Although never approved by Congress, the 1878 constitution is an important historical document which shows the political thinking of the time. It was used extensively during the drafting of Washington State's 1889 constitution, the one and only official Constitution of the State of Washington. Washington became the 42nd state in the United States on November 11, 1889.
Early prominent industries in the state included agriculture and lumber. In eastern Washington, the Yakima River Valley became known for its apple orchards, while the growth of wheat using dry-farming techniques became particularly productive. Heavy rainfall to the west of the Cascade Range produced dense forests, and the ports along Puget Sound prospered from the manufacturing and shipping of lumber products, particularly the Douglas-fir. Other industries that developed in the state included fishing, salmon canning and mining.
For a long period, Tacoma was noted for its large smelters where gold, silver, copper and lead ores were treated. Seattle was the primary port for trade with Alaska and the rest of the country, and for a time it possessed a large shipbuilding industry. The region around eastern Puget Sound developed heavy industry during the period including World War I and World War II, and the Boeing company became an established icon in the area.
During the Great Depression, a series of hydroelectric dams were constructed along the Columbia river as part of a project to increase the production of electricity. This culminated in 1941 with the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete structure in the United States.
During World War II, the state became a focus for war industries. While the Boeing Company produced many of the nation's heavy bombers, ports in Seattle, Bremerton, Vancouver, and Tacoma were available for the manufacture of warships. Seattle was the point of departure for many soldiers in the Pacific, a number of whom were quartered at Golden Gardens Park. In eastern Washington, the Hanford Worksatomic energy plant was opened in 1943 and played a major role in the construction of the nation's atomic bombs.
On May 18, 1980, following a period of heavy tremors and eruptions, the northeast face of Mount St. Helens erupted violently, destroying a large part of the top of the volcano. The eruption flattened the forests, killed 57 people, flooded the Columbia River and its tributaries with ash and mud, and blanketed large parts of Washington eastward and other surrounding states in ash, making day look like night.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Washington was 7,170,351 on July 1, 2015, a 6.63% increase since the 2010 United States Census. The state ranks 13th overall in population, and the third most populous (after California and Texas) west of the Mississippi River.
According to the United States Census, in 2010, Washington had an estimated population of 6,724,540, which was an increase of 445,811 or 6.63 percent from the year 2010. This includes a natural increase of 380,400 people, and an increase from net migration of 450,019 people into the state. Washington ranks first in the Pacific Northwest region in terms of population, followed by Oregon, and Idaho. In 1980, the Census Bureau reported Washington's population as 90% non-Hispanic white.
In 2011, 44.3% of Washington's population younger than age 1 were minorities.
At the 2010 U.S. census, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Metropolitan Area's population was 3,439,809, approximately half the state's total population.
6.7 percent of Washington's population was reported as under five years of age, 25.7 percent under 18 years of age, and 11.2 percent were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 50.2 percent of the population.
The largest ancestry groups (which the Census defines as not including racial terms) in the state are:
The Hispanic/Latino population can belong to any of the racial groups and consists of people of mainly Mexican (8.9%), Spanish (0.4%), Cuban (0.4%), Salvadoran (0.2%), Guatemalan (0.1%), Colombian (0.1%) heritage. According to 2010 United States Census estimates, 77% of Washingtonians are white or European American, although this is ambiguous as it includes not only caucasians, such as those who are born in Western Europe, Canada, Australasia, and the former USSR, but people from countries in the Middle East and North Africa (the number of Arab American nationalities rose dramatically in the 1990s and 2000s).
While the population of African Americans in the Pacific Northwest is scarce overall, they mostly concentrate in South End and Central District areas of Seattle, and in inner Tacoma. The black community of Seattle developed after World War II when wartime industries and the U.S. Armed Forces employed and recruited tens of thousands of African Americans from the Southeastern United States. They left a high influence in west coast rock music and R&B and soul in the 1960s, including Seattle native Jimi Hendrix, a pioneer in hard rock, who was of African American and Cherokee Indian descent.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are mostly concentrated in the Seattle−Tacoma metropolitan area. Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond, which are all located within King County, have sizable Chinese communities (including Taiwanese), as well as significant Indian and Japanese communities that are present there. The Chinatown-International District in Seattle has a historical Chinese population dating back to the 1850s, who mainly emigrated from Guangdong Province in southern China, and is currently home to a diverse East and Southeast Asian community. Koreans are heavily concentrated in the suburban cities of Federal Way and Auburn to the south and in Lynnwood to the north. Tacoma is home to thousands of Cambodians, and has one of the largest Cambodian American communities in the United States, along with Long Beach, California and Lowell, Massachusetts. The Vietnamese and Filipino populations of Washington are mostly concentrated within the Seattle metropolitan area. Washington state has the second highest percentage of Pacific Islander people in the mainland U.S. (behind Utah); the Seattle-Tacoma area is home to over 15,000 people of Samoan ancestry, who mainly reside in southeast Seattle, Tacoma, Federal Way, and in SeaTac.
The most numerous (ethnic, not racial, group) are Latinos at 11%, as Mexican Americans formed a large ethnic group in the Chehalis Valley, farming areas of Yakima Valley and Eastern Washington. In the late 20th century, large-scale Mexican immigration and other Latinos settled in the southern suburbs of Seattle with limited concentrations in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties during the region's real estate construction booms in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 2010, 82.51% (5,060,313) of Washington residents age 5 and older spoke English at home as a primary language, while 7.79% (477,566) spoke Spanish, 1.19% (72,552) Chinese (which includes Cantonese and Mandarin), 0.94% (57,895) Vietnamese, 0.84% (51,301) Tagalog, 0.83% (50,757) Korean, 0.80% (49,282) Russian, and German was spoken as a main language by 0.55% (33,744) of the population over the age of five. In total, 17.49% (1,073,002) of Washington's population age 5 and older spoke a mother language other than English.
As with many other Western states, the percentage of Washington's population identifying themselves as "non-religious" is higher than the national average. The percentage of non-religious people in Washington is the highest of any state other than Colorado.
Washington's state base sales tax is 6.5 percent which is combined with a local rate. As of April 2014[update], the rate is 9.5 percent in Seattle and other cities. These taxes apply to services as well as products. Most foods are exempt from sales tax; however, prepared foods, dietary supplements and soft drinks remain taxable. The combined state and local retail sales tax rates increase the taxes paid by consumers, depending on the variable local sales tax rates, generally between 8 and 9 percent.
An excise tax applies to certain select products such as gasoline, cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages. Property tax was the first tax levied in the state of Washington and its collection accounts for about 30 percent of Washington's total state and local revenue. It continues to be the most important revenue source for public schools, fire protection, libraries, parks and recreation, and other special purpose districts.
All real property and personal property is subject to tax unless specifically exempted by law. Personal property also is taxed, although most personal property owned by individuals is exempt. Personal property tax applies to personal property used when conducting business or to other personal property not exempt by law. All property taxes are paid to the county treasurer's office where the property is located. Washington does not impose a tax on intangible assets such as bank accounts, stocks or bonds. Neither does the state assess any tax on retirement income earned and received from another state. Washington does not collect inheritance taxes; however, the estate tax is decoupled from the federal estate tax laws, and therefore the state imposes its own estate tax.
Washington is a leading agricultural state. (The following figures are from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Washington Field Office.) For 2013, the total value of Washington's agricultural products was $10.2 billion. In 2013, Washington ranked first in the nation in production of red raspberries (92.7 percent of total U.S. production), hops (79.2 percent), spearmint oil (72.9 percent), wrinkled seed peas (60 percent), apples (57 percent), sweet cherries (50.9 percent), pears (49.5 percent), Concord grapes (36.5 percent), carrots for processing (36.5 percent), green peas for processing (34.4 percent), and peppermint oil (31.4 percent).
Washington also ranked second in the nation in production of fall potatoes (a quarter of the nation's production), nectarines, apricots, grapes (all varieties taken together), sweet corn for processing (a quarter of the nation's production), and summer onions (a fifth of the nation's production).
The apple industry is of particular importance to Washington. Because of the favorable climate of dry, warm summers and cold winters of central Washington, the state has led the U.S. in apple production since the 1920s. Two areas account for the vast majority of the state's apple crop: the Wenatchee–Okanogan region (comprising Chelan, Okanogan, Douglas, and Grant counties), and the Yakima region (comprising Yakima, Benton and Kittitas counties).
Washington ranks second in the United States in the production of wine, behind only California. By 2006, the state had over 31,000 acres (130 km2) of vineyards, a harvest of 120,000 short tons (109,000 t) of grapes, and exports going to over 40 countries around the world from the 600 wineries located in the state. While there are some viticultural activities in the cooler, wetter western half of the state, the majority (99%) of wine grape production takes place in the desert-like eastern half. The rain shadow of the Cascade Range leaves the Columbia River Basin with around 8 inches (200 mm) of annual rain fall, making irrigation and water rights of paramount interest to the Washington wine industry. Viticulture in the state is also influenced by long sunlight hours (on average, two more hours a day than in California during the growing season) and consistent temperatures.
As of December 2014, there are 124 broadband providers that offer service to Washington state with 93% of consumers having access to broadband speeds of 25/3mpbs or more. Additionally, there are 406,000 people who live in Washington who live in an area served by only 1 broadband provider leaving them without a competitive market.
From 2009–2014 the Washington State Broadband Project was awarded $7.3M in federal grants but program was discontinued in 2014. For infrastructure another $166M was award to broadband infrastructure projects in Washington state since 2011.
The Cascade Mountain Range also provides unique transportation challenges. Washington operates and maintains roads over seven major mountain passes and eight minor passes. During winter months some of these passes are plowed, sanded, and kept safe with avalanche control. Not all are able to stay open through the winter. The North Cascades Highway, State Route 20, closes every year. This is because the extraordinary amount of snowfall and frequency of avalanches in the area of Washington Pass make it unsafe in the winter months. Cayuse & Chinook Passes east of Mount Rainier also close in winter.
Washington is crossed by a number of freight railroads, and Amtrak's passenger Cascade route between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, BC is the eighth busiest Amtrak service in the USA and one of the few profitable routes in the system. Public transportation has generally lagged, although the much-delayed link light rail system in the greater Seattle region opened its first line in 2002. Residents of Vancouver have resisted proposals to extend Portland's mass transit system into Washington.
In 2007, Washington became the first state in the nation to target all forms of highly toxic brominatedflame retardants known as PBDEs for elimination from the many common household products in which they are used. A 2004 study of 40 mothers from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Montana found PBDEs in the breast milk of every woman tested.
Three recent studies by the Washington Department of Ecology showed that toxic chemicals banned decades ago continue to linger in the environment and concentrate in the food chain. In one of the studies, state government scientists found unacceptable levels of toxic substances in 93 samples of freshwater fish collected from 45 sites. The toxic substances included PCBs; dioxins, two chlorinated pesticides, DDE and dieldrin, and PBDEs. As a result of the study, the department will investigate the sources of PCBs in the Wenatchee River, where unhealthy levels of PCBs were found in mountain whitefish. Based on the 2007 information and a previous 2004 Ecology study, the Washington State Department of Health is advising the public not to eat mountain whitefish from the Wenatchee River from Leavenworth downstream to where the river joins the Columbia, due to unhealthy levels of PCBs. Study results also indicated high levels of contaminants in fish tissue that scientists collected from Lake Washington and the Spokane River, where fish consumption advisories are already in effect.
On March 27, 2006, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law the recently approved House Bill 2322. This bill would limit phosphorus content in dishwashing detergents statewide to 0.5 percent over the next six years. Though the ban would be effective statewide in 2010, it would take place in Whatcom County, Spokane County, and Clark County in 2008. A recent discovery had linked high contents of phosphorus in water to a boom in algae population. An invasive amount of algae in bodies of water would eventually lead to a variety of excess ecological and technological issues.
The state is typically thought of as politically divided by the Cascade Mountains, with Western Washington being liberal (particularly the I-5 Corridor) and Eastern Washington being conservative. Washington has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in every election since 1988.
Due to Western Washington's large population, Democrats usually fare better statewide. The Seattle metropolitan combined statistical area, home to almost two-thirds of Washington's population, generally delivers stronger Democratic margins than most other parts of Western Washington. This is especially true of King County, home to Seattle itself and almost a third of the state's population.
Washington was considered a key swing state in 1968, and it was the only western state to give its electoral votes to Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey over his Republican opponent Richard Nixon. Washington was considered a part of the 1994 Republican Revolution, and had the biggest pickup in the house for Republicans, who picked up seven of Washington's nine House seats. However, this dominance did not last for long as Democrats picked up one seat in the 1996 election and two more in 1998, giving the Democrats a 5–4 majority.
In November 2009, Washington state voters approved full domestic partnerships via Referendum 71, marking the first time voters in any state expanded recognition of same-sex relationships at the ballot box.
Three years later, in November 2012, same-sex marriage was affirmed via Referendum 74, making Washington one of only three states to have approved same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Also In November 2012, Washington state became one of just two states to pass by initiative the legal sale and possession of cannabis for both medical and non-medical use with Initiative 502. The law took effect in December 2012. Although marijuana is still illegal under U.S. Federal law, persons 21 and older in Washington state can possess up to one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form, or any combination of all three, and to legally consume marijuana and marijuana-infused products. Some 334 legal recreational marijuana retail outlets are projected to open by June 2014.
Washington state was the first state in the United States where assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, and recreational cannabis use all became legal. After the 2014 elections, it was joined by Oregon.
High school juniors and seniors in Washington have the option of utilizing the state's Running Start program. Initiated by the state legislature in 1990, the program allows students to attend institutions of higher education at public expense, simultaneously earning high school and college credit.
The state's nickname "Evergreen" was proposed in 1890 by Charles T. Conover of Seattle, Washington. The name proved popular as the forests were full of evergreen trees and the abundance of rain keeps the shrubbery and grasses green throughout the year. Although that nickname is widely used by the state, appearing on vehicle license plates for instance, it has not been officially adopted. The publicly funded Evergreen State College in Olympia also takes its name from this nickname.