And you wonder why Democrats have a reputation for being indecisive, wishy-washy do-nothings? It's been two months since a duo of forthright conservative radio demagogues announced their opposition to the gas tax, and then took just one month to collect and turn in double the number of required signatures to put a repeal (I-912) onto this November's ballot. And Democratic "leaders" still haven't issued any public statements about the reactionary measure.
Knowing that I-912 will completely botch our ability to restore the state's transportation infrastructure, you probably just assumed that Democrats like Governor Christine Gregoire—who championed the 9.5-cent gas tax as the centerpiece of her first session—have been as outraged and as outspoken as you have about the right-wing attack on transportation funding. You'd be wrong.
Here's all I could get out of a nervous woman named Nancy Jackson in Gregoire's media-relations office when I called earlier this week: "[Gregoire] is not speaking out with regards to I-912 at this time." Will she be speaking out at any time? "As of now Governor Gregoire is not saying anything in relation to I-912."
Similarly, we've heard nothing from Democrat King County Executive Ron Sims (who needs the gas tax to help fix Highways 520 and 405) nor Democrat Mayor Greg Nickels (the gas tax plan included $2 billion for the viaduct). Heck, even Republican County Commission Chair, Ted Hopkins, from super-red Lincoln County says: "I'm not in favor of I-912. Our infrastructure is so bad that we have to bite the bullet." So, why wont Dems speak out?
What I have heard is that behind the scenes in the Democrats' offices there's a serious debate going about how to handle I-912—meetings with consultants blah-di-blah. The polling is real bad, they fret. How do we frame it?
Ironically, while Gregoire is busy wondering how to "frame" it, her indecision is already framing things for her. Her strategy of caution is relegating Democrats to the sidelines. It's the same type of mentality that's recently been weakening Democrats' hold on a once-blue state. The perfect example is Gregoire herself, who barely squeaked by (in a state that John Kerry won 53 to 45) after her meek say-nothing campaign netted a limp 133-vote victory. It's a year later, and it looks like she hasn't learned a thing.
Gregoire's bunker-down problem is compounded by the fact that everyone already knows where she stands on the gas tax—she worked to help pass it last April. So her current reticence reads like a cover for the ridiculous thumb-sucking George Lakoff "framing" session that she and her consultants are evidently having behind the scenes.
This month-long lapse only damages her credibility. If she eventually comes out swinging against I-912, people will rightly wonder why it took her so long to say what they knew she already believed. It would have been more credible for Gregoire to go with her gut and come out swinging right away. Instead, her indecision is "framing" the debate.