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    The missing party in our local politics

    The Party of No and the Party of Government are snuffing out the needed third party, the Party of Reform. The past election shows again the stranglehold incumbents have on our political debate.

    Tim Eyman

    Tim Eyman

    Fred Jarrett: time for a real debate about King County

    Fred Jarrett: time for a real debate about King County Jarrett campaign

    How to explain the disconnect between all the populist anger out there and what Publicola cleverly calls a "send the bums back" election? Pause before the storm? Caution and hunkering down? So little trust in government that few believe electing folks with new ideas would change much?

    In politics you can't beat somebody with nobody, just as you can't elect reformers if you don't have good candidates or some kind of compelling message, as for example New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels do. Absent a broad, convincing case for reform, voters will just reelect incumbents. And so it was that all Seattle City Council incumbents, all King County Council incumbents, all Bellevue City Council incumbents, all Port of Seattle incumbents were reelected, mostly quite easily over feeble opponents.

    I'd describe our current politics as divided among three parties. One is the Party of No, exemplified by Tim Eyman, rolling back taxes and spending, and Kemper Freeman, rolling back activist government and big-dollar transit schemes. The state Republican Party, which foolishly endorsed Eyman's I-1125 (anti tolling and anti Sound Transit), is torn between its Eyman wing, dug in against modernity, and its suburban wing, trying to figure out lean governance. The legislative caucuses of the GOP, at least, are firmly in the Party of No.

    It's not just Eyman and the GOP. The main challengers of the Seattle School Board, for instance, were fighting against modern math instruction or "heresies" such as Teach for America or the Gates Foundation. The Party of No also rallied against the liquor initiative, somewhat reviving anti-saloon arguments and, joining here with the Party of Government, trying to preserve government jobs.

    The second party is the Party of Government, hoping to "keep the governmental family together" until it can enjoy full funding again after the recession. And so, in the past election we had the unified Seattle mayor and city council pushing for ways to find new funding for two kitchen-sink measures to help schools and transportation. Sound Transit, which showed itself in the likely defeat of Eyman's initiative as one of the strongest players in the Party of Government, is a good example of how politicians, consultants, large-business interests, developers, and inside-game environmentalists can rally when threatened. Next rounds for this coalition will be getting Boeing to build its new 737 in the area and passing a statewide roads-and-transit measure. The theme of the Party of Government is clear: give us more money in exchange for a veneer or reform. And why do they need to do more, when the reformers make such a weak case against the status quo. and the Party of No is so naive and extreme?

    Seattle, which talks a populist and even leftist game, is now pretty much a one-party town, that being the Party of Government. As such, it strongly protects members of the club, such as the Seattle City Council, the Port, the (relatively harmless) County Council, centrists on the Bellevue City Council, and the slow-and-steady education-reform bloc on the School Board. The current chair of the Party of Government is King County Executive Dow Constantine, the go-to person in big matters now that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has been effectively sent to the rubber room.

    The third party, weakest of the three, is the Party of Reform — unhappy with the pointless reactionary stances of the Party of No and impatient with the governmental protectionism of the Party of Government. This party has only a few visible proponents. Some are non-union Democrats in the Legislature like Ross Hunter from Medina or Reuven Carlyle of Queen Anne. It is likely that others will appear, mostly from the urban perimeters of greater Seattle.

    The Reform Party has trouble being taken seriously in a city dominated by a kind of reactionary and defensive liberalism. Reform ideas quickly get debunked as heresies or slippery slopes. (An example: Gov. Gregoire's idea of pushing some ferry funding down to the Puget Sound counties, trading autonomy and getting out from under the veto of Eastern Washington legislators. The idea was quickly torpedoed by special interests and outraged taxpayers. Same with her idea for a unified Department of Education, which poked some sleeping dogs in the bureaucracies.)

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    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 5:32 a.m. Inappropriate

    I think there is a permanent rupture in this state that hinges on social issues, a point missing in this piece. A "reform" party could never be viable in this state unless it could earn the trust of Washingtonians that its agenda did not include an undercurrent of hostility against women, gay people, racial and ethnic minorities, and non-Christians. In fact, a "reform" party could be viable here only with a socially liberal agenda. (That's also why no Republicans can win in Seattle: Seattle understands that electing even a socially liberal Republican gives power to socially reactionary Republicans statewide, and Seattleites who might otherwise trend conservative on numerous economic issues cannot bring themselves to do that. Period.)

    The fact is that "reform" has too often been used to hide an agenda of hostility to these and other groups, and traditionally conservative stances on economic issues (like "smaller government") arouse the deep mistrust of voters in terms of social issues like these. Only the person who can bridge this can lead a "reform" movement in this state. And that person does not currently exist.


    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 5:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    It seems like you are using the word reform the same way militant groups like stand for children use reform. To make it seem like their opponents are not for reform, while keeping their agenda out of the political sphere. (I.e. privatizing the school system through charter schools, tying teqcher pay to test scores which automatically makes the least experienced worst teachers go to the worst schools). You talk so much about reform, and yet your only actual idea is to tax local neighborhoods to pay for community colleges? I've seen smarter ideas in both existing parties. Until you can provide an actual concrete alternative, I'm sticking with the parties we have now.


    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    David, we really have to get you out of Seattle more frequently.

    Last year, a group of Senate Democrats from suburban districts rallied around a reform agenda, against the Party of Government forces that you identify here and with the assistance of a few outlier members of the Party of No. They, together with the Governor and some assistance from a few of us in the House, did manage to get some serious reforms through the legislature. These included changes to the unemployment insurance and workmen's compensation programs and the consolidation of several state agencies into one Department of Enterprise Services. So let's give kudos to Hobbs, Hatfield, Tom, Pridemore, Haugen, Kastama, Shin and others in the Senate for actually delivering some of that reform work and for holding firm in their resolve until the House had to agree.

    While certain elements of the Olympia culture remain the same, the increasingly dire budget outlook may change some minds. The Party of No and the Party of Government will strongly resist reforms, yes, but the more thoughtful stakeholder groups with new ideas are gaining traction. Stand for Children is militant only in the minds of the Party of Government stalwarts. Natehc's simplistic rendition of what it will take to bring Washington into the mainstream of education reform proves the accuracy of your description of this group.

    If you'd like, I have a few suburban Democrats, socially liberal but reformist types, from both the House and Senate, who'd love to come talk to you about what reform ideas may get traction this year.

    Rep. Deb Eddy

    Deb Eddy

    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 7:53 a.m. Inappropriate

    Urban legislators face a new challenge: they face cuts in things that are vital because freeloading conservatives from more rural places - like Yakima - refuse to pay the bills for the things people in those places rely on.

    If urban Puget Sound got back what it pays the state in taxes, you probably wouldn't need to make deep cuts to state support for the University of Washington, which drives much of the future of the state's economy.

    There's an opening for a successful urban reform movement, if only to to balance the scale and prevent the know nothings in the various corners of the state from holding us back.

    Tough love is required. There's no better time to make the move. And there's no choice. The election results on 1125 are just the latest evidence underscoring the divide that exists. The next legislature had better exploit it.


    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 8:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    The sense that the existing political conversation is not as dynamic or creative as it should be comes, in part, from the ideological constraints that stifle new thinking in both the “party of government” and the “party of no.”

    Contrast this tired stand-off with the dynamism and creativity of private sector philanthropists and entrepreneurs in this region. The economic and social benefits landscape is being shaped by extraordinary thinkers who have little interest in traditional public service because it is not a realm where the necessary big solutions are contemplated, or meaningful change is tolerated.

    Advocating for public sector reform is great but isn’t “fixing” government just a strategy to address the real problem we are trying to solve? The conversation we should be having in Seattle (and across the country) is: How do we deliver public benefit in a political, cultural, and economic landscape that is fundamentally altered from what is was even a decade ago?

    If there is a dearth of creative public realm leadership it is a function of the inability or unwillingness of most public officials to ask that question in any way that might alter the status quo.

    There is a big opening for your reform party, especially if its vision extends across sectors, geographies, and ideologies and if it is willing to work collaboratively and at true scale to address the problems we face.


    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    Representative Eddy has the respect and friendship of many on both sides of the aisle for her interest in doing the right thing for the state without regard for position or accolades. She's right when she says that there were steps towards reform and she named some of the legislators that did stand up as she often does. Although all the steps together fall short of the major structural reforms that are necessary, its important to note that all the reforms she mentions were passed with the help of the majority of Republicans in both houses. As noted int he main article, there are some areas of concern in the Puget Sound area that invite bipartisan action. Some of us on the Republican side voted yes on the TDR bill and Carlyle's higher ed bill. I was most impressed with the bipartisan group that voted NO on the fake-reform liquor bill that passed late in the session, but when I examine the list of no's that list might serve as the beginnings of a centrist reform group. I'd be happy to be teamed up on projects with many of them including Hans Zeiger, Cary Condotta, Bruce Dammaier, Rueven Carlyle, Ross Hunter and others.

    Most of us are going to continue to vote on reforms when they're right, regardless. Noticing when that happens will encourage others to do so.

    Representing rural Pierce and Thurston Counties,
    Representative JT Wilcox-2nd District republican


    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you, JT! I hesitate to "out" those centrist Republicans, coming as I do from the other side of the aisle. But you know that I have enjoyed the collaborations that we've pulled off, to date ... and look forward to many more.

    Deb Eddy

    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 9:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    Sign me up for your Reform Party, David!

    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    The only problem with a "reform" party is when you start getting into the details -- exactly what to reform and how.

    It sounds very nice -- who can be against reform? -- but once you start talking about what it is -- specific proposals -- then normal (and healthy) self-interest emerges and everyone has a different idea of "reform."

    If you want to convince anyone to even consider it, put together a spreadsheet to show a whole range of initiatives and see how they are spread among different parties.

    But I'll bet you that an awful lot of such reform initiatives are already found in the Government Party.

    Moreover, when you look at the naysayers, I bet you can easily and truthfully characterize the No Party as simply setting forth the idea that people should pay a la carte -- pay for only those services which they want. That's a "reformist" idea with some great appeal, though obviously mis-used.

    So my advice, not that you want it, is to figure out what reform means first and then maybe you can convince us.

    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 9:42 a.m. Inappropriate

    The writer of this piece has fallen into a trap that is commonplace today. Democrats are the party of big government he says. Republicans are the party of no. And those magical centrists are the panacea.
    One only has to look to the recent health care debate in the halls of congress to see that two out of three statements are incorrect. In that instance, the party of reform, who held the ideas and made the proposals most likely to bend the cost curve down (according to non-partisan estimates) while actually improving medical outcomes, was the Democratic party. If you want further refinement, the left-wing of the Democratic party would have us convert to a single payer model, proven to spend half as much while achieving better outcomes. The Republicans were the party of no – their ideas are disastrous. The “centrists”, who by necessity try to walk a fine line between getting re-elected in a schizophrenic district (or state) and actually voting for progress, stymied the reforms necessary to make new law something Americans could really rally behind. I suggest Mr. Brewster try to break free from the group-think that got him into this trap, and open his eyes to the realities as described above.


    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    What David Brewster calls the "Party of Reform" is really just the "party of rich people who dislike the fact that government isn't rigged on their behalf." What he calls the "Party of Government" is really just the "party of people who understand that the New Deal built the middle class and that a strong, effective, activist government is necessary to rebuild prosperity."

    Seattle rejects the Party of Reform because Seattle rejects the notion that we should abandon our democracy and destroy our public sector just to suit the whims of a few rich people.

    The real solution is obvious and has been obvious for nearly 80 years: an income tax. The "Party of Reform" exists largely to forestall that from happening. Rather than properly fund the services that worked well for decades, these wealthy folks want to hog more of the money for themselves. But that means institutions will fail, so they turn to "reform" in a vain hope that it will maintain the same level of services (it won't) while they rake in more money.

    This is a battle that the so-called "Party of Government" will win, I-1098 notwithstanding. The Occupy movements are just one early signal of this. But we're not going to let the rich decide everything for us any more.


    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    I agree with GeoffS that David Brewster is engaging in standard mainstream media false equivalence -- blanketly accusing both Dems and Republicans equally of being the problem -- and the national health care debate is a very good example of that. I also agree that the word reform is a meaningless word in itself. Reform for what purpose and advancing what values? How does the reform affect fairness, justice, and economic equality as well as business and government efficiency? Many of the biggest policy issues involve difficult choices about who's going to benefit and who's going to be hurt, at least in the short term. Reform rhetoric often glosses over this. And who do the reformers represent? If they simply represent technocratic elites like themselves, they have no real constituency and will go nowhere. They have to convince the masses of ordinary Americans that their reform solutions will help ordinary people.

    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    The party of which Mr. Brewster speaks is missing because 1) City of Seattle offices are nonpartisan, 2) City Council is elected at large, and 3) Washington State adopted a primary system in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election.

    In other words, political parties are marginalized. Of course, partisan debate is unseemly and icky to most of the electorate in Seattle and King County, and the legislature is scared to death of Tim Eyman. In light of all this, it should not surprise anyone that our local politics are the way they are...


    Posted Thu, Nov 10, 1:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Government Party, No Party, and Reform Party would all be employers and employees of governmental bodies. They would all demand generous salaries, benefits, and retirement packages. They as a labor force would consume 80-85% of any department budget. They would all be a drag and drain on the private workforce and tax-generating business community. Hence, not really much change for the better. Only a massive downsizing and restructuring of bureaucracy will serve as a cure. The Ohio example of 350,000 unionized public employees winning a continued 'free ride' regarding health insurance and retirement stands as a perfect picture of the declining living standards and political climate for the general welfare and greater good.


    Posted Fri, Nov 11, 6:08 a.m. Inappropriate

    I was just wondering if the former Progressive Representative from Covington, GeoffS is going run again after his community service sentence for his criminal charges in Seattle have been satisfied?


    Posted Fri, Nov 11, 4:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    Washington did have a struggling but viable third party (which even elected the occasional legislator): the Libertarians. The top-two primary killed it, just like it will kill any third party. The only way a third party can hope to survive now is if Washington goes back to an all caucus system for picking candidates. What is so great about having the state in charge of picking the parties' candidates, anyway? Give the people with real skin in the game, the "party faithful", the freedom to do that.


    Posted Fri, Nov 11, 7:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    I expect ObamaCare to be validated by the Supreme Court, GeofS,
    so we will see if the cost curve is indeed "bent down".


    Posted Sat, Nov 12, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Reform Party is an oxymoron, as is the term "non-Union Democrat." Regardless of their party affiliation, these people make excuses for growing inequality and promote it whenever they can under the rubric of efficiency. They come up with stupid ideas like Gov. Gregoire arranging for Washington State penitentiary prisoners to work as apple pickers in eastern Washington, which boomerangs when orchard owners get charged $22 per hour even though inmates pick 10 to 20 percent the number of applies per hour that migrant workers can pick. Why aren't enough migrant workers available? Because "reformers" of both parties pushed for draconian anti-Hispanic deportation sweeps after many years of tolerance of undocumented ag workers on the part of both parties.

    Mud Baby

    Posted Sat, Nov 12, 2:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    Another "Reform" idea is that the über-rich should be entitled to pay lower tax rates than the working and middle classes.

    This is quite a far cry from actual reform in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt. After four years of the Great Depresssion with no end in sight, FDR lead the charge to impose a 90% income tax on members of his own elite social class in order to fund New Deal efforts to pull the economy out of the doldrums.

    Mud Baby

    Posted Sat, Nov 12, 2:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    An example of real reform would be reducing or eliminating corporate tax breaks so that increasing numbers of people in our state who are living in poverty can subsist. Microsoft is sitting on approximately $50 billion in cash reserves. Real reformers would push to end Microsoft's entitlement to state tax breaks.

    Mud Baby

    Posted Sun, Nov 13, 12:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    I was thinking about this situation the same morning this story was written, a system so obviously broken that even I can see it.
    I'm going to ramble, get over it.

    The problem is in the smaller dynamic, not the larger. Your solution is to introduce a 3rd way without addressing the structure in Seattle that runs its natural course.

    . . . despite the crisis in governmental funding and the loss of public confidence. Rather than waiting for such a savior, then, it might be better to create a new movement to propound such ideas and help launch a new generation of politicians. How about an Urban or Civic Party that encompasses central Puget Sound (and is therefore bipartisan) and pushes for regional solutions to a few major problems — taking the heat for these suggestions when conventional politicians will not. Such a party could back a handful of candidates each year, giving them money and volunteers so long as they push some of the reform planks.

    It is interesting that you say Urban or Civic, it is clear that those two things have come to mean different things within the city limits of Seattle. It is usually the case that a "civic" narrative is used to sell an "Urban (tm)" play at tax money for developer amenities. It's an easy sell in good times, and a failure in bad times (see Prop 1).
    To me, Civic means something that has a broader benefit even if an investment is made in one part of the city or in one piece of infrastructure. The vote on upgrading our libraries is a pretty good example of a Civic vote, something a Civic Party would champion. Everybody and anybody can benefit from that vote and investment.

    To me, Urban now means cutting updates to aging neighborhood plans on one hand while asking for more tax money for streetcar planning in places that already have a multimodal transportation system. The "benefit" is concentrated in the usual places for the developers at the expense of everybody else. There is nothing Civic about transferring wealth from the larger citizenry for the benefit of real estate developers, Seattle's take on the benefit of the corporatist system. The benefit is unbalanced and narrow. If it is such a great benefit to the city for these upzone shrines then they should be able to pay for themselves.

    The idea of walkable communities, the Urban dream, is vertical bedroom communities, absent jobs that would actually sustain these supposedly sustainable neighborhoods. The ten mayors of Seattle champion this cause, giant cubes of people that are funneled in and out of downtown for the benefit of the downtown corporations, paid for by the people living in those giant cubes.
    If it such a benefit to those businesses to get those people downtown in a more efficient manor then those businesses should pay for it.
    And this brings me to the real imbalance that prohibits the diversity of opinion, representation, promotes the Urban at the literal expense of the Civic, that no third Puget Sound party would every form to change.

    Does anybody really think that we would have Prop 1, and the bafoonery of the 10 mayors of Seattle, while the city council of the largest city in the state is staffed with at large positions?
    The intensity of downtown and upzone navel-gazing is so intense that a black hole has formed, and everybody is somehow surprised that is in the form of Mike McGinn.

    David, start smaller, much smaller, when forming groups that are capable of diverse thinking and reform.
    Break up the band, change the dynamic, get structurally different results.
    End the at large city council positions and break the selfish cycle of stupidity.

    I doubt we would have th

    Mr Baker

    Posted Sun, Nov 13, 3:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    The missing party may refer to 'the party of the first part', in other words, us, the voters.
    Nowhere in our Constitution is a party system mentioned as a requirement, yet since the Federalist Papers, two clear sides have been demonstrated; a strong central government versus a distributive republic of states.
    Those do seem to roughly define what we now call parties, although names come and go over time.
    For example, present day Democrats used to be called Republicans. There have been all sorts of parties, often third parties that have espoused certain positions, fractured the current status, become extinct, absorbed or co-opted into an existing party, and often served mainly to disrupt expectations or deny the election of people who might have been superior officials.
    Two parties do seem about right for our type of government, but entrenched control can stifle creativity or reform. Many people prefer a certain predictability and are frightened of change.
    Several other countries have multiple party systems, and it is questionable at best whether that kind of divided and proportional governance is superior to ours, at least in terms of accountability.
    The effort involved in establishing a clear third party would be difficult, even with the involvement of big private money, like Ross Perot; big consumer support, like Ralph Nader; or popular anger, like the Tea Party.
    Should another 'Party' be established it would more likely succeed under the aegis of such things as honesty, sunlight and fairness. Individuals can already decide to offer their candidacy, support or votes on that basis, without the necessity of any organized entity, if they just will do it.
    Maybe a 21st Century, Facebook type of mechanism could serve to ignite and knit together such like-minded people. In the end, it will be up to us, the party of the first part.


    Posted Mon, Nov 14, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

    Maybe we already have a top 2 primary system, but the party apparatus that shuns democracy and ensures party control of elected positions needs to be phased out.
    As tragic as it is that state Senator White died, and as much as I think David Frockt would make a fine state senator, the process is wholly inconsistant with the top two primary system and undemocratic. Mr. White won the position by a free and fair election, the "party" does not own the seat. Mr. White could have just as easily changed political parties the day after he was elected with nothing opposing that change except bitter feelings.

    The parties lost exclusive right to the election, they should lose the exclusive right to the seat should it be vacated for any reason.
    The King County Council should be compelled to hold nominations within 10 days, and elect somebody within 15. If parties want to provide recommendations, great. It shouldn't be too much more difficult than their filling one of their own seats with Jan Drago, just as partisan, but competitive in some way.
    The PCO theater of the absurd needs to end.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Mon, Nov 14, 11:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    An interesting point, Mr. B., but giving the five King County Council Democrats the vote doesn't change the fact that Rep. Frockt is an incumbent 46th House member AND the choice of the District Democrats. The County Council D's would simply elect him.


    Posted Mon, Nov 14, 4:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    I don’t know which is more depressing, David’s diagnosis of the problem, David’s suggestion of a Reform party or David’s specific example proposals, or some of the comments! OK I’ve had 75 years to develop such cynicism. The diagnosis is not wrong, it is just superficial. The underlying problems are structural, not the personalities of the moment—the very structures of governance from the local to the national, and the essential structures of an unbridled economy, bringing us recession and an excessive and immoral inequality.
    A Reform party? Sigh. Today’s reformers are tomorrow’s plutocrats, especially if it cements even further the model of private-public “partnership”. As to specifics, I’ll only weep about the idea of shifting funding for community colleges down to the local level. As a UW prof, of course I’d like to see better state support, but this would not of course happen, rather we would destroy one of the few “structures” which really work to address inequality and help ordinary people instead of just the elite.
    From the comments I feel compelled to say for the umpteenth time that the Seattle area does NOT subsidize the rest of the state, except in respect to state expenditures, a small way to make up for the enormous net balance in the private economy in our favor. I will praise two real reforms – a state income tax and election of the Seattle council by district, Neither of which has a chance significantly above 0. The only ray of hope comes from Rep. Deb Eddy in the examples of specific work by good people.


    Posted Tue, Nov 15, 12:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    jwatts: "The missing party may refer to 'the party of the first part', in other words, us, the voters.

    A thought shared by Naomi Klein who takes up where Zinn left off:

    While at the Nation, take a peak at Stamper's take on dividing issues into black and white:


    Posted Fri, Nov 18, 9:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Reform" - the word Republicans and quasi-republicans (also called "centrists" nowadays)use when they think the solution to everything is reducing social programs. The rest of the industrial world takes care of its citizenry; but we are "reformers" and must be better than that. The "reform" I'd like to see is a return to the non-monarchy that existed during Eisenhower's time when the very really paid their taxes and even Republicans remembered the depression and liked FDR for the social security they enjoyed along with the dems.

    Too simple? I guess. Make it harder, Mr. Reformer.

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