Friday, July 18, 2014

Political Desk: Primary Education

So the ballot for the August 5th Primary has reached Grubb Street, and to be frank, things are pretty quiet. Deathly so. There is only one race that has more than two candidates in it, and that pretty much is going to be a walk-away (spoilers). So this is a chance to summarize the nature of politics at the moment in Washington State, for those who wander into this site who are not from around here.

1) Washington State has Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, like you learned in civics class (Do they still HAVE civics class, or do they let kids pick up politics on the playground? For that matter, do they still HAVE playground?) Anyway, we have a couple major differences. In Wash State the ENTIRE Executive goes up for election in one go - none of this appointing stuff, so we choose from governor down to insurance commissioner, and can have a mix of the two parties in power, all elected in one fell swoop. In reality, this means we tend to have a Democratic Party executive branch, with occasional GOPs, usually in positions like attorney general. But since we do this in one swell foop, and this is not the swell year, nothing is on the ballot for them.

2) We also elect the bulk of our judges. There are a smattering this year, but none of them in our neck of the woods as far as the primary is concerned.

3) In part, as a result of this direct election of what would be appointed positions in other states, the governor doesn't have as much power as elsewhere. The real heart of lawmaking lies within our legislature. This is a part-time operation, and while various committees meet throughout the year, the bulk of lawmaking occurs in a three-month session from January to March, after the ice breaks but before everyone has to be back home for spring planting.

4) As with Executive, the Legislature- House and Senate - are usually in the hands of the Democratic Party, though that edge is often narrow. This most recent session, after convincing two Dems to switch parties and welcoming back a GOP senator previously banned from caucusing for attitude problems, the Republican have gained control. And as so often happens when a party that believes governing is bad has to actually govern, things came to a complete halt. The big things left undone from this last session included a coherent transportation package, infrastructure, mass transit in the Seattle area, and most importantly, finding funding for a Supreme Court mandated reduction to classroom size. Note that, regardless of party, the legislature had no trouble coughing up several billion in bennies to get Boeing to build the Triple-7 X here, though the company then turned around and shipped 1000 engineering jobs out of the state.

5) I did get a sponsored Facebook post from the State Republicans, however, bragging that the Legislature did not have go into a special session this year (the governing equivalent of extra time). This is sort of like your contractor not finishing the house addition, but sending a note saying that at least they remembered to take their tools with them when they abandoned the job.

6) One thing I am noticing that is different this year is that I am getting sponsored Facebook posts from the State Republicans. One edge that the Dems have held has been a technological one, but the GOP is finding out how to use it. Yeah, yeah, I know that social media is often a "live mic" situation for conservatives, where unfortunate truths are inadvertently revealed, but they are getting BETTER at it. And that's a good thing, even if it means the Dems will have to work harder.

7) Further, I've seen more Republican ads on cable this year, primarily for incumbents, so they are running and running hard this far out. Even Mark Hargrove, whose district (The fighting 47th) I have been redistricted out of, is running ads on local block of the Food Network. They are taking this election very seriously.

8) Now, the primary is top-two, a recent development which pretty much excludes minor parties from the entire deal. What this means usually is that we are looking at a Dem versus a Rep, but there are cases of two Dems or two Reps squaring off. Most often there are only two candidates period, which makes the Primary sort of an early straw poll. And there are places where there is only one candidate on the ballot, and the other side couldn't even muster up the energy to get a sacrificial lamb onto the ballot (and if either party is interested, I know people who could be available for such a position, and would be unelectable but not embarrassing, at a reasonable fee).

9) In addition to the three major branches of the government, we have an initiative process in this state. The process allows the citizenry to propose laws with sufficient signatures, which are put on the ballot, as well as allow referendums, where the legislature passes laws that are subject to approval by the citizenry. Sounds good, but it is a place where hot-button issues are usually kicked out to the populace to decide, and where deep pockets to hire signature-gatherers tend to carry the field. There are no initiatives and referendums in the primary, as they are still sorting out who qualifies for the fall ballot.

10) And finally, speaking of bouncing the decision-making back down to the citizenry, raises in school taxes or park levies are put onto the ballot as well. To me this always smacks of save-the-cute-animals, in that every x number of years the schools have to get out their sackcloth and begging bowls to pony up the funds for a few more microscopes. The city of Seattle is seeking this time out to get around that by creating an honest-to-gosh Park's District, which doesn't sound like a bad idea, but, situated in the upper right corner of Kent, one I don't get to vote on.

And that's the basics on the ground in Washington State.  Oh yeah, one more:

11) Washington State is an all-mail balloting state, and while I miss the semi-yearly visit to the polls, I have to say that mail balloting has worked out pretty well. And that you have no reason to put off voting.

Recommendations next time. More later.