It's not just the Rev. Jeramiah Wright who speaks in the "prophetic voice." When the region's politicians get frustrated, they use provocative language to declare they are going to save the people by leading them on a journey to the promised land.
When Eastern Washington legislators tire of being bullied in Olympia by big-city know-nothings, they rattle the sabers of secession and assert their right to split the state in two. When property rights activists get frustrated at the Growth Management Act, they seek to carve new counties from old, such as the sometime Cedar County rebellion of east King County. When greens freak out over environmental degradation, they point to that eco-Eden on the hill, Ecotopia, a fantasy land that takes more tangible form in the idea of a new nation named Cascadia made up of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Like a squabbling family, sometimes the only solution is getting away from each other.
The proposals are sometimes serious (here's a rundown). Commonly, however, they're overstatements that get at a prickly political conundrum. Usually, they are made by people who feel oppressed – a David struggling against a Goliath. But recently, we had the unusual spectacle of Washington's Goliath whining.
A couple of weeks ago, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels let loose at a panel of mayors speaking at CityClub. "Venting Nickels Suggests Secession" was the headline in The Seattle Times. Nickels criticized the Legislature and regional governance. He said he was tired of rural legislators weighing in on issues like the Alaskan Way Viaduct and gun control. He was frustrated that Seattle was being held back by the rest of the state and said that it was time to consider secession. According to the Times:
The Puget Sound regional economy makes up 67 percent of the state's economic activity, [Nickels] said. "If we were a country, [our economy] would be just a little smaller than Thailand. We would be larger than Colombia, Venezuela. We are held back because our state and federal government[s] still believe our economies are driven by wheat farms and timber logging."
Part of Nickels' frustration is local governance. The Puget Sound Regional Council, which guides planning and development in Pugetopolis, is both too weak and unwieldy, Nickels says. It needs fewer members and more power to get things done. Seattle is held back not only by rural rubes but by too much process and too much – what would you call it, democracy? – in its own backyard.
During the CityClub panel's Q&A session (you can see the event here), the mayor allowed as how he was born in Chicago, and that just may have influenced how he looks at effective governance. Which is no surprise to Nickels-watchers. His love of the strongman is well known and felt. And it's not lost on people in other parts of the state, either. In response to Nickels' comments, the conservative Palousitics blog in Eastern Washington saw a connection when Nickels cited Venezuela: If Nickels can't run the city, why not get a real socialist strongman to manage things – Hugo Chavez, perhaps?
If Nickels' neo-Confederate howl made headlines in Seattle, it was heard even more loudly all around the state. Newspaper editorial pages weighed in and the reviews haven't been flattering. Nickels hadn't exactly called on God to damn Eastern Washington, but he singlehandedly confirmed their worst fears about the arrogant "bittergate" wetsiders.
The Tri-City Herald wondered what the heck Nickels was complaining about, since his fellow Democrats run the state. "You don't need to be a political analyst to figure out Republicans aren't calling the shots," they wrote.
The Yakima Herald-Republic called Nickels' secession call "absurd" and wondered where Seattle would get its food if it lopped off its agricultural arm. Looking on the bright side, they opined that at least "we'll get out of our share of the billions needed to fix Puget Sound's traffic problems."
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