Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Electoral Storm

I haven't been doing local politics here for a while, and I must admit it's for two reasons.

First is my disappointment with the fact we have abandoned the Open Primary system. Previously a voter walked in and voted in a Primary. Democrat for this position, Republican for that. Mix and match. But our political parties, fearful of mischief-makers crossing the lines to vote for weak candidates in the opposing camps, sued to change that process. The 9th Circuit Court agreed, and now you have to pick your political affiliation when voting. One side or the other. Independent? See you in the general election.

Now the net result of this, to my mind, is fewer choices = fewer voters. Most local offices have settled on one party candidate well in advance, so a vote to just confirm them is more trouble than most people want to take. In addition, the hard-core voters who will vote regardless for how many people are on the ballot tend to be more to the extremes. So you may be getting the weaker candidate anyway, but now you just can't blame the other guys.

I see primaries as promotional tools for both the party and for civics in general. This decision is going to turn around and bite the very parties that sought it out on the butt. But my frustration is just one part of the story.

The other reason for my lack of reportage is the huge amount of stuff to wade through this election cycle. We've got the Big Show with the Presidency, of course, but Washington State is also electing a Governor, a US Senator, and most of the state's executive branch. Our particular neck of the woods, we have a US Representitive and two positions in the State House. And then there are the initiatives.

To say that this is a target-rich environment is a bit of an understatement. So buckle in and put on a pot of coffee, this is going to be a long one.


OK, everyone is aware of this one. Here are the short versions of the campaign messages so far.
Democrat Heck of a hole you've got there.
Republican It's not a hole, and if re-elected, I promise to stop digging.

This morning, Kerry surprised the world (well, surprised the New York Post) by choosing Edwards as his running mate. What's been impressive is the amount of mileage that the candidate has gotten out of the choice, whipping the media into a frenzy over second-guessing him for what (to me as a part-time Edwards delegate) was an obvious and logical choice.


So Gary Locke is stepping down, to the surprise of many. The Dems have two candidates in the fight, and the Republicans, seeking a unified front, have one.

The Dem candidates are State's Attorney General Christine Gregoire and Seattle Commisioner Ron Sims. Gregoire is the establishment choice, and has done a pretty good job as AG, but has a serious black eye from a major screwup in her office (a failure to file an appeal on time) that cost the state $18 million. That's a big number. Despite this, the Dem establishment has lined up behind her. Ron Sims is running on a more liberal platform that includes a State Income Tax. Not a vote-getter, but given the weakness of the new primary system, he may actually get the nod because he is popular with the hard-core. There was a third candidate who looked pretty good, Phil Tamadge, but he dropped out for health reasons.

The State Reps, after screwing up in earlier elections by running hardcore conservatives against Locke, have been pushing hard for more moderate candidates. They have found one in Dean Rossi, who has the advantage of no one knows who he is. So he gets an easy run while Gregoire and Sims dig up bad things to use against each other. I really thought well of Tamadge, but I think Rossi is in the best position of the three at the moment.

US Senator

The Republican candidate for Senator on the other hand, only wishes he could be as unknown as Rossi. George Nethercutt ran for US House on a term-limits platform, which he discarded as soon as it was going to apply to him. Then he made a foolish quote about how the media is not reporting on the good things in Iraq and concentrating on the little stuff, like combat deaths ("which, heaven forbid, is awful"). Then he got mad at the media for quoting him ("which, heaven forbid, is awful"). But most recently he benefitted from the President coming out to shill for him (and to the rest of the US that paid for the gas for Air Force One - thanks for picking up the check!).

Now, as if his party didn't think he looked odious enough, the State GOP is publicly putting the kibosh on his intermural opponent (whaddaya think this is, a democracy?). Reed Davis is a hard-core, old-school conservative who was banned from speaking at the State Convention because he refused to sign a document enforcing the 11th Commandment ("Thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans"). Davis is suspiciously absent for the GOP web site as well.

On the Democrat side, we have Patty Murray, who has been comfortably left-of-center, and has made a faux pas or two on her own. In particular, she's known nationally for a statement that sounded vaguely supporting of Bin Laden (actually, she was asking the question "Why do some people like him?" and failed to come up with the answer "Because they are evil!"). Hillary was out here stumping for her (no idea who paid the freight on her trip, but at least she's not in her own plane). The only note I have is that Ms. Murray is rather petite, and tends to get lost behind the microphones at the podium. Get the woman a box to stand on! (And I'm surprised I have to tell this to Democrats, who used to bolt FDR in place for his speeches).

US House, 8th District

Republican Jennifer Dunn is stepping down (what, is EVERYONE leaving government? Is the Private Sector THAT GOOD nowadays?), kicking off a frenzy of activity. Both the Reps and Dems seem equally goofy in this position, and the effects of the "new primary" system will likely be felt here.

On the Dem side, the early going was long-time candidate Heidi Behrens-Benedict and new money Alex Alben. Both struck me as stable, solid candidates (though I lean towards Behrens-Benedict). Not content with that, however, some wise guy in the Dem party wanted someone with more charisma, and sought out radio talk-show host Dave Ross to run. You know, its tough enough running on your record as an elected official - now your opponents get to dig through years worth of daytime radio chatter to look for sound bites and smoking guns.

One of the reasons that the Dems are looking for more star power is that the GOP actually has a headliner in the mix on their side. Dave Reichart is King County Sherrif, oversaw the capture of the Green River Killer, and has recently been awarded Sherrrif of the Year from the National Sherrif's Association (narrowly beating out Andrew Taylor of Mayberry, NC). I actually was on the same plane with Reichart on my last trip to Boston, and the cabin staff were gossipping about how nice he was. Running against him are Luke Esser, Conrad Lee, and Diane Tebelius, all of whom are no doubt good Republicans but whom I know nothing about (sorry folks). If Reichart gets the nod (and again, it's a screwy primary), then he should take the position.

Executive Branch

We don't just get a new governor this year out here, we renovate the entire executive branch - Lt. Gov, Secretary of State, Attorny General, State Treasurer, Insurance Commision, Public Lands, the whole shmear. I'm going to do these guys a major diservice by glossing over all of them except for State Attoney General, and just talk about the Democratic side at that. In a one-round cage match, we pit Deborah Senn, former Insurance Commisioner and a real scrapper, against Mark Sidhran, the former Seattle City Attorney who was responsible for the city's "civility laws". Its sort of pit bull going up against Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants. I'm going with Senn for the moment, but as I've said many times, it's a screwy primary season.

State House, 47th District

I don't know why the fighting 47th District is electing two of its three members of the state house in the same cycle, but it is. Most of the group here you've met before, and each party has One (1) candidate for each slot, so I'll skim.

The boyishly handsome but politically experienced Pat Sullivan is running against Jack Cairnes of the oddly creepy official mailing. Geoff Simpson, who in addition to being a red-meat Democrat has taken the lead on state issues like Canadian Pharmaceuticals, is being challenged by Repub Steve Altick. Altick didn't get the GOP memo for this election cycle - he's a conservative who uses all the required code words on his web site - "Judeo-Christian", "Charter Schools", and "Tort Reform". Oddly enough, there isn't a link between the State GOP site and Altick's home page.

I think Sullivan has a good chance if he gets the message out, and Simpson should be pretty stable.


Washington State has an initiative process, which supposedly reflects the will of the people but is gamed like any other component of the political system. Sometimes intitiatives are passed that are then ignored, undercut, or legislated against by those in charge. And sometimes they are just bad popular ideas.

An anti-smoking initiative (well-meaning, but bad) is not on the ballot, since it did not get the required signatures. An initiative on allowing slot machines in non-tribal casinos, backed by the professional signature-gathering Tim Eyeman organization and a lot of non-tribal gambling intests did make the cut (Short form - lower property taxes through Nickel Slots!). And there are a couple initiatives to reform the reform on the primaries, and by the time we reach the general election, people may be ready for it.

Whew! OK, that's it for the moment. More later,