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Very stormy weather

In politics this Fall: wide-open battles for high stakes. For the public: a swine flu scare and possibly extensive flooding in the Green River Valley. For the politicians: defining moments.
Green River Valley: warnings on the flood plain

Green River Valley: warnings on the flood plain King County

We are living in the calm before the political storm. The world always seems to speed up after Labor Day, but this year the pace may resemble a hurricane. Wide-open campaigns, policy mega-battles, and possible flooding and flu crises will all impact in the last quarter of 2009. Enjoy the last lazy days of summer while you can!

The nation’s attention is already focused on the battle over health care, but wait until Congress returns to work in September. The news coverage, ads, and internet warfare will triple in intensity. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and the focus is on the public option. Liberals in the House and the blogosphere have made it clear that they believe a health care bill without a public option is not worth passing; while moderate Democrats in the Senate are signaling that such a bill will never get the necessary 60 votes in the upper house. Compromise doesn’t seem possible at this point. Business and conservative groups will face off with unions, liberals, and the Obama administration in a no-holds-barred, winner-take-all, multi-million dollar battle that will probably end, one way or the other, by Christmas.

Almost as momentous and expensive will be the fight over cap-and-trade energy legislation. Again, the Senate is the battleground, and moderates hold the key. Can Democrats from rust belt states, coal mining states, and the South really be persuaded to support a massive back-door tax on energy? In the middle of a recession?

The Obama presidency won’t be doomed if the public option and cap-and-trade fail to pass. If the normal trends of the business cycle prevail and the economy recovers before 2012, Obama will probably be re-elected. But like Bill Clinton before him, Barack Obama will have lost his chance to become the historic liberal change-agent he aspires to be. Republicans will likely eat into the Democrats’ huge congressional majorities in 2010. Obama’s moment is now.

Here at home we are going to be treated to the most wide-open, competitive, and interesting campaigns for the region’s two major offices in a generation. In the King County Executive’s race the question will be, can we get past personalities and stereotypes and actually talk about issues? Susan Hutchison will talk about change, and try to brand King County Councilmember Dow Constantine as a status quo courthouse hack. Constantine will try to pigeonhole Hutchison as a scary Republican extremist. Will we be treated to commercials of Hutchison’s face morphing into the smiling visage of George W. Bush? Here’s hoping the media and the voters force these two to do more than just throw around clichés and call each other names. County government is at a turning point and we need and deserve a debate about real county issues.

With the departure of Mayor Greg Nickels, (not a surprise to those of us who read polls for a living), the exact opposite situation exists in the Seattle mayor's race. Prior to the primary, Greg Nickels was the issue. Now the debate will be between two rookie politicians still introducing themselves to the public. Issues and policy should be front and center as Seattle enters into a dialogue about its future. Joe Mallahan is a business executive; Mike McGinn is an environmental activist. This ought to be interesting.

While all this public-policy warfare will be interesting, what may end up capturing the headlines this fall is a virus and a river.

Remember the swine flu? Experts expect it to come back big time when our kids head back to school. School districts and the state are already discussing protocols for how and when to close schools.

And then there is the ticking time bomb of the Howard Hanson dam and Green River flooding. Damage to the dam may force the Army Corp of Engineers to intentionally release enough water to over-top the valley’s system of dikes and levies. We are not talking about our typical urban flooding nuisance this winter; we’re talking about unprecedented amounts of water filling up a big part of urban King County. City and county official are urging those of us who live in the Green River Valley to purchase flood insurance and make plans to evacuate. Yes, it is that serious, and local officials I have talked to are concerned that not enough people are paying attention.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Chris, methinks that you have contracted the mass hysteria virus. Apocalyptic visions often accompany troubled times, but popular delusions are to be resisted, be they of the negative or wishful kind.

It could just as easily be a fresh wind as the stormy weather you predict. Let's just call it a wind of change.

unter

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

And over which of these issues/events do you detect "mass hysteria?"

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Vince, when you say things like the "Obama presidency won’t be doomed if" that suggests that it might be. Apocalyptic language that undoubtedly comes out of the "Great Recession", the mass hysteria that now grips us in the wake of the mass delusion of unlimited growth.

The Green River situation is no different today than it was a few years ago, or the climate issue for that matter. The difference is that we are more aware of them. You seem to suggest that awareness of problematic issues is somehow tantamount to stormy weather. I see it rather differently: knowing that a storm is ahead allows us to go around it.

unter

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 11:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, at some point presidencies do become politcally doomed, ala George W. Bush for the last two years of his second term. My point was Obama's fate really rests with the economy, not his two signature legislative initiatives.

Regarding the Green River you are just wrong. Damage to the Howard Hanson dam has dramatically changed the situation.

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 12:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Hysteria would be saying that South Park will be overtaken by a 20 foot wall of water. But this dam stuff is pretty crazy in and of itself. For instance, the story from last winter about the dam that was left open because somebody didn't check their voicemail (or some really odd situation like that - I'm pulling from memory) and it flooded a whole neighborhood.

These are the kinds of things that probably won't be that bad, but if they are -- watch out. They will be BAD. And politicians rightfully don't want to take chances like that. Because there's always somebody on the sidelines waiting to criticize. The best way to CYA is to prepare.

Aaron27

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Chris, the structural problem with the Hanson Dam simply moved from the "known unknown" category to the "known known" category, as Donald Rumsfeld would say. It is similar to the problems with some of the dams in New Orleans, we are lucky that it was identified in time. But the fact is that we now know about a structural issue that has been there for many years.

unter

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 2:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Whether the damage existed for years or not is irrelevant. The point is this winter the Corp may intentionally release enough water to overtop the levies and cause major flooding. That has never happened before.

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 4:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Well I'm glad that it is just a practical life-safety matter, Chris, and not partisan. Shame on me for thinking that your article was intended to panic the public at the start of a classic partisan face off in the non-partisan race for KC Exec. I know that would be below you.

unter

Posted Wed, Aug 26, 8:47 p.m. Inappropriate

And does Kurt Triplett have a partisan motive too?

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009748050_webflood26m.html

Posted Thu, Aug 27, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

unter says no problem and Chris V. says there may be a big problem. I think Chris
is right but we shall see. As I understand it the Green river did flood regularly back before the dam was built but that was when the valley was farmland. What has happened in the Skagit valley in the last decade (even without any dicey dams) can give us some idea of the threat.

kieth

Posted Wed, Nov 11, 1:17 p.m. Inappropriate

"I told you so"

Sorry, I had to say that, fellas. The dam was never in any great danger and the fix was nothing special. Routine.

This whole fiasco was a big political stunt.

unter

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