2006 was loaded with big deal events at the local level—nay on gay marriage, nay on the Sonics, the terrifying Capitol Hill murders, the sad Jewish Federation shooting, huge Democratic gains in Olympia, and a liberal slap-down on a batch of conservative ballot initiatives. (Burn on Frank Blethen.)
More important than the events themselves, however, is what political hacks gratingly refer to as the "takeaway," as in: "Gregoire said she wants to have a public vote between the tunnel and the elevated rebuild. But what's the takeaway?" In other words, what does it all mean?
Unfortunately, a number of blockheaded takeaways in 2006 already seem to be misguiding policy for 2007.
The one that bugs me the most is Governor Gregoire's "takeaway" from last year's state supreme court elections. Citing the unprecedented avalanche of cash that poured into the 2006 state supreme court races in the form of independent expenditures, Gregoire called for public financing last week to take partisanship out of the high court.
I am so sick of this "high-minded" reaction. Candidates for our state supreme court run for election. It's a partisan job. Washington voters need to stop living under this pretense of purity, since all it does is cloud things. For years, court candidates have hidden behind the obtuse objectivity of the seat to run vague and meaningless campaigns. As a result, voters hardly know what they're getting. (Try conducting an endorsement interview with a candidate for the supreme court who answers each question by telling you they're not allowed to answer the question.)
This year's partisan cash infusion—$1.4 million from conservatives, $564K from liberals—was refreshing. The piles of cash dumped into the Johnson/Owens race and the Groen/Alexander race forced the candidates out of hiding. As a result, the liberals won handily. Until there's comprehensive campaign-finance reform, let's not single out supreme court judges as a special breed in need of protection. Let's keep who they are out in the open. The real lesson here: State supreme court seats are partisan; let's duke it out.
Another annoying "takeaway" is the one that's guiding the Democrats in the state house. Leadership is warning their members—who now have commanding 32–17 and 62–36 advantages in the state senate and state house, respectively—to tiptoe rather than lead. The fear is that they'll overreach and be tossed out. What they don't understand is that overreach only happens when you act like you have a mandate and you really don't (like George W. Bush). Washington State's Democrats have a bona fide mandate. The way to lose it isn't by overreaching, but rather by not reaching. They could start by passing some progressive legislation. How about gun-control laws—like closing the gun-show loophole and reinstituting the assault-weapons ban? There's also an audit coming out on corporate tax breaks that Democrats should hype and use as a springboard to scale back this state's corporate welfare bill. The real lesson for Democrats: Use your mandate. Don't underreach.
And as to that aforementioned viaduct decision: The takeaway is that there are only two options on the table now. That, sadly, is true. Governor Gregoire ignored seven Seattle City Council members, King County Executive Ron Sims, incoming state senator Ed Murray (D-43), and state house speaker Frank Chopp (D-43), all of whom asked that we study a third option: the surface/transit option. The squabble over how to replace the viaduct was one of the biggest ongoing news stories in Seattle this year. With Gregoire's announcement, which was hotly anticipated for months, the real lesson going into 2007 is that we've blown it again.