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Election reflections

A veteran political insider remembers good statesmen of the past and shares his choices for today's primary.
The Wash. state House of Representatives chamber. (Wash. state Republicans)

The Wash. state House of Representatives chamber. (Wash. state Republicans) None

Election days, for me, are like religious holidays for others — something precious to be faithfully observed and taken seriously.

Today's state and local elections are not of momentous importance. But my ballot, nonetheless, was mailed well in advance to the King County Elections office.

My earliest childhood memories, as a Depression-born kid, were of elections and politics. They were the way to create change, to lift ordinary people, and to overpower the specially-interested by votes on behalf of candidates who were, in the phrase of the time, "for the people."

I cast my first vote in 1940, at age six, when my father, a sawmill worker and union activist, lifted me to a voting machine in the Bellingham High School library so I could pull the lever on his behalf for President Franklin Roosevelt and a straight Democratic ticket. Later, as a high-school sophomore, I would in 1948 join my friend Sterling Munro (later chief of staff to Sen. Henry Jackson) in posting "Truman for President" handbills in storefronts and on telephone poles throughout the city. Just south of the city limits, on Highway 99, stood a huge billboard containing the visages of Sen. Warren Magnuson and Rep. Henry Jackson — both portrayed as approximately age 25 — with the message that they, indeed, were For the People and that we should Vote Democratic. In 1960, while living in Boston, I cast an absentee ballot in Washington, where I had not lived for several years. One of those votes was for Rep. Don Magnuson, who ended up winning narrowly. I lived in fear for several months that a recount, and examination of individual ballots, would expose my illegal vote.

Later, as an adult, I would come to know both Magnuson and Jackson, then Washington's senators, as I worked in national government and politics. They exemplified the best qualities I always associated with my home state. They were practical men who were on the right side of big issues but who, also, took care of the home folks.

It was easy to know the enemy in those days. There was Republican senate candidate Harry Cain, a McCarthyist of the first order who was easy to dislike (later, he underwent a metamorphosis, as if to atone for his early, reactionary sins). There were others who were not enemies but simply candidates of the other party: people such as Art Langlie, Dan Evans, and John Spellman, who were honest and public-spirited people even if they kept wrongheaded company.

Politics, in all, was about big things and about the public interest — nationally, yes, but especially here at home.

The environment, needless to say, has changed. Politics, now, is more about being elected and reelected than pursuing a positive, publicly-interested agenda. Here in Washington, and especially in the Puget Sound area, it has become difficult to distinguish those candidates who are "for the people" from those who are simply for themselves.

Our nominally progressive state, with a Democratic governor and Legislature, has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. Burdens are heaped most heavily on those least able to pay. The same leaders have eroded the state income base with loopholes and tax breaks benefiting favored industries and sectors. When there are revenue shortfalls, they habitually return to regressive solutions to meet them. Ballot measures are used to raise funds for projects and activities which could never be approved through a deliberative legislative process. We will have our say on these in the November general election. Mayor Greg Nickels, and a majority of the Seattle City Council (Nick Licata being a notable exception), seem completely unable to distinguish the general public interest from that of the developers who give them campaign money and, in return, get huge public subsidies. County Executive Ron Sims in recent months has lifted himself out of that money-for-favors morass.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

This is rich: First you say "today's state and local elections are not of momentous importance" and then go on to say "our nominally progressive state, with a Democratic governor and Legislature, has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. Burdens are heaped most heavily on those least able to pay. The same leaders have eroded the state income base with loopholes and tax breaks benefiting favored industries and sectors. When there are revenue shortfalls, they habitually return to regressive solutions to meet them. Ballot measures are used to raise funds for projects and activities which could never be approved through a deliberative legislative process."

Don't you see anything wrong with your statements? It isn't IMPORTANT that the Democrat majority and governor are breaking the backs of Washingtonians and businesses with their "regressive solutions"? And yet, you will continue to vote these imbeciles into office! What hypocrisy.

The only way to end the burden these tax and spend liberals place on those least able to afford to pay for their grandiose failed programs and huge, inefficient, ineffective, corrupt bureaucry is to send them home. Yet you will support them. Why? Because you are a life long Democrat it seems and will support a party that is destroying the state and the country. Amazing.
Lainie

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Van Dyk Response: Thanks for your spirited response. Primary elections today are less important than those in November, when vital ballot measures will be decided as well as
the ultimate winners for key public office. It is still important to vote today, however, so that the final November choices will be those we want.

Although I am a lifelong and committed Democrat, and believe in a two-party system as the focal point for political activity, I am by no means a rubber-stamp endorser of all Democratic candidates. In the past, I have witthheld my vote from Democatic candidates I thought unworthy and, on a couple occasions, have voted for their Republican opponents.

I believe the present political culture demands change. That can take place through a general rejection of incumbents, in this state largely Democratic, or within the two parties themselves. By all means vote today, vote in November, and be heard in-between on candidates and issues of importance to you.

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Remember to vote: Lannie,
It's the ridiculous tax structure in Washington state that is regressive, and if you've paid any attention to state politics over the last twenty years you know that neither party is ever going to change the minds of the voters in this state and get them to move toward a progressive income tax that could provide stability and be less of a burden to the poor.

I too am a life long Dem. And I too want to see the likes of Nickels get the hell out of office. I've never seen this bunch of miscreants better characterized than in Mr. VanDyk's article. These guys aren't about party (large parts of the party refuse to endorse Nickels, see the 36th dist Dems), they are about profit, aggrandizement, and ego. Kudo's for Van Dyk's honesty.

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 11:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Agreed regarding election days, but not regarding initiatives and parties: Ballot measures are used to raise funds for projects and activities which could never be approved through a deliberative legislative process.

You're absolutely right, but I interpret this to mean you're against the initiative system. I see it more as a sign of frustration with the legislature. Yes, perhaps the denturists' initiative should have gone through Olympia. But medical marijuana and death with dignity? The legislature won't touch these for fear of their jobs — I honestly don't see how else such issues will get resolved. Even the Eyman initiatives are ultimately the result of frustration.

We can get rid of initiatives by electing a more responsive and responsible legislature.

As for our two-party system and attempts by the people to weaken it:

In this Balkanized, everyone-for-himself society, political parties are among those few institutions which still have the capacity to mobilize people behind common goals. They also foster accountability. Our state's party chairs are correct in challenging the top-two system. More power to the parties.

More power? Better PR. I think if there's anything people dislike more than the legislature, it's the major parties. There's a reason the blanket primary was instituted back in the 1930s (yes, by initiative), and why the top-two primary was voted in when the blanket primary was ruled unconstitutional. There's a reason why I-26 (making elections for King County offices non-partisan) is winning, 65% to 35%, and why the council-proposed alternative (a watering-down of the initiative's intentions) is going down to defeat.

The people may be wrong and you may be right, as you are right about so much else in this piece, but if so they are doing a terrible job of selling themselves. As for accountability, if more people believed that, I-26 never would have been filed.

If the parties want to maintain their positions, they'll do all they can to convince us of the truth of what you've written. Otherwise voters will do all they can to at least give themselves the illusion of more choice.

(continues)

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 11:42 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Agreed regarding election days, but not regarding initiatives and parties: (continued)

In 2006, state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles told the Weekly that, while she supported instant-runoff voting on the local level, she didn't on the state level because it would be "hard" for third-party officials to be effective within the current two-party system. As I noted in a letter to the editor, who believes this? "I believe she and other members of both major parties are blocking IRV not because of any concern for the welfare of potential third-party legislators but because it is precisely a way to change the system to give them, and those of us who feel disenfranchised by the current setup, some power. That would come at the Democrats' and Republicans' expense, however, so IRV is only ever likely to be implemented by initiative."

That's tying the partisan and initiative issues together. Frankly, I never would have needed to write the letter if I believed Sen. Kohl-Welles meant what she said about her reasons for opposing IRV on the state level. Not to imply she was deliberately lying, but it's this sort of thing that makes many Washingtonians cynical.

With all the money the government is spending, let them spend some on some good PR. I suggest the Democrats and Republicans do so as well.

All that having been said, excellent piece. I just wish turnout had been higher than 22.5% this time. (Kudos to Columbia County, though, where a full 1,450 of the 2,469 registered voters cast a ballot.) Again, though: better PR --> higher turnout? Worth a thought.

Posted Sat, Aug 23, 10:07 a.m. Inappropriate

classic left wing nonsense: Mr Van Dyk is critical of regressive taxes, and talks about "revenue shortfalls."

I'm not convinced that regressive taxes are any worse than progressive taxes. One can argue that progressive taxes should be avoided at all costs, as they burden the most productive participants in the economy.

Nevertheless, the notion of a "revenue shortfall" is simply big government-speak. Why is the liberal's answer always to increase tax revenue? Why not reduce government expenditures to meet the available revenue? Why don't the liberals actually reduce taxes during economic downturns, and reduce government expenditures accordingly? If the tax system is truly regressive, that will have the effect of increasing available income to those who need it most?
PJS

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