A great big dose of antiestablishmentarianism

Updated through the day: In an evolving thread, Crosscut's writers analyze Washington's general election. They see an electorate distrustful of the people in charge.
Crosscut archive image.
Updated through the day: In an evolving thread, Crosscut's writers analyze Washington's general election. They see an electorate distrustful of the people in charge.
Can we restrain ourselves next time?

Chasan: Proposition 1 was toast the minute King County Executive Ron Sims broke ranks and opposed it. The measure was just too expensive and too complex to pass without a united front, at least among those regional leaders who would normally have been expected to support it.

But "no" on Proposition 1 doesn't translate into "yes" on anything else. Opponents argued that passing the roads-and-transit measure would be worse than nothing. At this point, nothing seems like a real alternative.

The non-solution to the Alaskan Way Viaduct problem might have made sitting on one's hands and hoping for the best seem like a viable course of action. It isn't. Sooner or later, the region's leaders will have to lead, and the region's voters will have to say yes to something. Ideally, that something will include solutions to the Viaduct and 520 bridge problems and recognition of the fact that, by itself, building more infrastructure will just add to the backlog of deferred maintenance. The next campaign should also acknowledge that congestion is here to stay, and that rail transit makes sense primarily as a way of shaping development. Clearing up a few bottlenecks on Highway 167 and elsewhere could be part of the package, too. And while they're at it, why not a few local road projects and a new bypass or two, and an extra lane on the arterial nearest me? Pretty soon we'll be back to something-for-everyone-and another big zero at the polls.

Less can be more, and it will have to be

Berger: I think Danny Westneat makes an important point about thinking small, which used to be the hallmark of environmentalists and conservationism. New Dealism and Big Dealism appear to be dead for now – no surprise since the feds aren't picking up the tab for projects like they used to. So what about a return to Small Deal liberalism?

The electorate has embraced positive incrementalism: the first phase of Sound Transit, expanding Metro bus service, fixing Seattle's roads and sidewalks, making the city more bike-friendly. We the taxpayers are spending – and are willing to spend – if it seems like a good, sensible deal. The Prop 1 boosters like John Landenburg and Julia Patterson would be making a huge mistake to think they can win by pouting for a while, then start putting lipstick on a Prop 2 pig. Pushing for pork packages that please no one by trying to buy off everyone isn't going to work.

Global warming, of course, is a global problem, but the solutions will also be local, regionally unique in some cases, and will involve us adapting to do more with less: Westneat suggests road rationing or tolling as options. Another is to stick with the reality of direct democracy and put on the ballot a steady stream of smaller, smarter, more-targeted improvements, such as infrastructure repair. The voters like being part of the process. The Seattle Monorail Project was a great example of the electorate having a say in every step in the process, including pulling the plug when it didn't pencil out. An expensive lesson, but not as expensive as taxes that never end or trying to build your way out of a congestion problem.

Small might be a good model for the replacement of the 520 bridge. Instead of massively increasing its footprint, find ways to keep it limited. Like a four-lane bridge with one lane devoted to buses, carpools or eventually rail? Same with the Viaduct, where, since the no-no vote, what amounts to a stealth rebuild is already under way. Well, for safety's sake, that's probably a good idea.

Puget Sound's Big Dealers should stop trying to find and fund a Great Leap Forward and focus on small, innovative, practical stuff that will make a difference.

David Brewster has begun a discussion with readers about small ideas.

A demand for pragmatism more than rejection of the Establishment

David Brewster: I come down more on Casey Corr's side than with the populist interpretation of yesterday's election put forth by Knute Berger and Chris Vance (all below). It's not so much the Establishment that was in play, except maybe on Prop 1. More apparent to my view was a longing for pragmatism and experience, to get things done better (with or without the elusive Establishment).

On my side of the argument that the voters were rejecting the amateurishness of the past four years in favor of more moderation and experience are the following races:

  • Seattle School Board. The Naderite and radical reformers of the Class of 2003 were all purged. The insurgent group this time had lots of backing by businesses, centrist organizations like PTSA, and middle class parents.
  • Seattle City Council. The two winners, Harrell and Burgess, were clearly the more centrist, business-friendly candidates. It marks a shift from the politics of the council, representing various splinter interests, to something more like the public interest. That's not anti-Establishment.
  • Port of Seattle. Mixed bag, since the races are up in the air. The main test is how well the "blue-green alliance" of labor and environmentalists can hold together against the coalition of the usual economic forces (shippers, economic development interests, longshoremen) that has run the Port. Alec Fisken and Gael Tarleton both have support from the alliance, and both might win, but Tarleton is a complex mixture of that reform group (worried about the lack of openness on the commission) and the coalition of economic development interests such as the University of Washington.
  • King County Council. No signs of populist unrest here, as nearly all the incumbents had either no opponent or only token ones. Jane Hague would have cruised to victory had she not stumbled in her handling of the DUI arrest, but still won easily.

Put these factors against the anti-spending, don't-trust-em votes in the ballot measures, and you get a mixed message. I like Casey's point (below) that people are feeling hard-pressed by the high cost of living around here and are therefore prone to vote to save money where they can, for example against billion-dollar ballot issues (especially when groups such as the Sierra Club give liberals permission to oppose them). Voting one's wallet is not the same as distrusting government.

Is there a new power broker in Seattle politics?

Corr: With the defeat of Prop 1, keep an eye on the Sierra Club and its prominence in civic affairs.

By opposing Prop 1, the club broke with the coalition supporting the roads-and-transit measure, a group that included environmentalists who wanted funding for more transit.

In recent years, the club has gained power as a much-desired endorsement in Seattle campaigns. Now the club may be viewed as a power broker as more and more issues are played in the context of climate change (example: a proposed garage at Woodland Park Zoo).

It could go the other way, too. Enviros who worked for Prop 1 may try to push the club to the sidelines.

The school-levy issue is dead for the foreseeable future

Vance: The biggest loser last night was the education community. For decades, they tried to persuade the Legislature to give voters a shot at eliminating the supermajority and turnout requirements on school levies. They finally muster the necessary two-thirds vote in both houses for a constitutional amendment, face no significant campaign opposition - and lose.

Transportation will be addressed in some fashion. Tim Eyman's initiative will be thrown out in court or amended by the Legislature. Insurance companies and trial lawyers will continue their battles. But it might be a generation before we vote on changing school levies again. The Democrats are unlikely to hold onto their jumbo majorities forever, and legislators will be extremely reluctant to revisit this issue anytime soon. In the meantime, our patchwork school funding will continue to limp along.

The defeat of costly Proposition 1: Was it the economy, stupid?

Corr: Isn't it possible that all the headlines about falling home prices, turmoil in the mortgage industry, a jittery stock market, a delay in delivery of the Boeing 787, still-rising gas prices, the possibility of another war against Iran, predictions of a coming recession – that voters were just nervous about buying anything expensive?

Maybe Prop 1 went down for reasons besides the last-minute opposition of King County Executive Ron Sims or criticism by the Sierra Club.

Opponents pushed a simple message: The package could cost $157 billion, which State Treasurer Mike Murphy called an inflated, bogus number. Proponents used a figure of $18 billion. Either way, the number was big, and scary, and voters weren't in the mood for supersized measures.

Prop 1's demise might undo a Viaduct-free waterfront

Brewster: One of the unintended victims of the defeat of Proposition 1 last night could be the hopes for a surface-only solution to the Alaskan Way Viaduct. That's because $323 million in regional money was tucked into Prop 1 for Seattle to finance improvements to Mercer Street, the Spokane Street Viaduct, and a new railroad overpass at South Lander Street.

The south downtown improvements are critical to avoid building (or rebuilding) an Alaskan Way Viaduct. After the high-profile media wars over the Viaduct last year, resulting in voters defeating both a tunnel option and a rebuild plan, the bruised politicians agreed to go undercover and try to find a new solution. Quiet meetings, convened by the Seattle Department of Transportation and including the county and the state, have been making progress on Plan C, called the transit-and-surface option. Under the surface option, so much traffic from Highway 99 would be diverted by transit and other routes through Seattle that you would not have to build a tunnel or a viaduct. New bus rapid transit routes would serve the corridors from Ballard and Aurora Avenue North to West Seattle and Highway 99 to the south. More would go on downtown Seattle avenues. The remaining through traffic would go on a four-lane boulevard along Alaskan Way on the central waterfront.

One key to this is diverting northbound traffic and West Seattle commuters south of downtown, steering them around the stadiums and rail yards, and onto downtown streets. The same applies for bus routes and proposed bus rapid transit corridors. It's a tangle down there, but the new overpasses and busways hold out the hope for diverting lots of the traffic. Now much of the money for that is gone, probably for many years. With the overall idea that you can do without a new viaduct still questionable, the loss of this money and the momentum for a surface-only solution is a serious blow. With the Viaduct crumbling and politicians fearful of not acting, the surface option was in a race for time. Hence, the loss of the Prop 1 money could be a fatal blow.

The other serious blow in Seattle circles is the Mercer Street corridor. Planners hope to turn eastbound-only Mercer into a two-way street to ease the traffic on the westbound part of the couplet, now bedeviling development prospects near the new Lake Union Park. The burgeoning area badly needs more ways to get traffic flowing east-west across Aurora, particularly with Amazon moving to the South Lake Union neighborhood and other computer giants locating new offices there. Takes money and momentum, both now gone.

Don't expect a roads plan B in 2008

Vance: Declaring winners and losers makes me a little nervous with so many King County ballots still to be counted, but at this point I agree with Knute Berger (below) 100 percent. There was a definite populist, anti-establishment feel to these election results.

At every opportunity, voters said no. No to the first comprehensive roads-and-transit plan developed in the Puget Sound region. No to more taxes and spending, approving a mandatory rainy day fund, and Tim Eyman's complicated spending limitation initiative. No to incumbents on the Port of Seattle Commission, the Seattle School Board, and the Seattle City Council. No to trusting King County's elections system. And, in the biggest surprise, no to making it easier to pass school levies.

Tim Eyman is winning, while schools and light rail are losing. Not exactly what our leaders had in mind, which, I believe, was the message. Voters are angry, and they don't trust Washington, D.C., Olympia, or King County.

What now? I'm guessing Sound Transit and it's supporters will move to get back on the ballot next year, or the year after. They are convinced that on their own they can pass a Phase II plan. As for major road projects, the Legislature is going to have to revisit the entire RTID concept. Can we wait for several more years of process and another public vote before getting started on replacing the Evergreen Point floating bridge? Will there be the stomach for that debate next year - an election year? I doubt it.

The 2008 election season opens with voters in a populist, anti-status-quo mood, but it's a long way to election day.

The quiet takeover of the Seattle School Board

Corr: Though you can debate just who might belong to the Seattle Establishment, or what its overall goals might be, there's little debate that the establishment scored a major victory in campaigns for the Seattle School Board.

Early vote counting showed that the entire slate of candidates backed by the city's political elite won handily, a sweep that includes the ouster of two incumbents, Sally Soriano and Darlene Flynn. Beating them, respectively, were Peter Maier and Sherry Carr. Also winning in races for open seats were Harium Martin-Morris over David Blomstrom and Steve Sundquist over Maria Ramirez.

Of all the losers, Flynn ran the strongest campaign, placing yard signs all over town and getting the endorsement of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The winners basically ran on their endorsements, a backing of many of the city's elected leadership, especially Mayor Greg Nickels, and community leaders and groups who do good for schools. But on particular issues? I can't remember a single thing any of them said. The underlying message of all these campaigns, though, was blunt: It's time for grownups to run our school system.

Doubtless that might strike some as unfair to the incumbents, who can argue they balanced the district's books and brought in a new take-charge superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson.

Though the challengers drew support from many of the same donors and helpers, they wisely chose to not run as a slate, which would have given the incumbents a cudgel ("fight the 'takeover' of our schools"). Instead, challengers kept their messages straight and bland, not promising much, other than a professed competence (a message once tried without success by Michael Dukakis).

Since the newcomers didn't run on a specific platform, it's risky to make too many predictions, so let's call them hopes: a renewed emphasis on steadiness and focus on academic goals; an effort to avoid distractions; and fewer fireworks.

More power to the people

Berger: The results of the Nov. 6 election should be sobering to Seattle. Not only did mass transit – and the largest transportation tax increase in state history – get voted down with the defeat of Proposition 1 in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, Seattle nemesis Tim Eyman is baaaaaack with an anti-tax measure designed to tie Olympia, and perhaps the courts, in knots.

In the meantime, the Democrats, who have turned Seattle into a one-party town and have been making inroads in the suburbs, have failed to capture the King County prosecutor's office yet again with the apparent election of Dan Satterberg, the GOP successor to the late Norm Maleng. The Prosecuting Attorney's office remains the Alamo of local Republicans who have been holding that fort for the past 50 years. And in spite of the opposition of local Ds, the passage of King County Initiative 25 moves us one step closer to making the county's director of elections an elected office.

Somewhere out there, Dino Rossi is smiling and the Dinocrats are voting. State voters want to keep a leash on taxes – even the proposal to remove the supermajority for school levies failed – and central Pugetopolis is shy about big spending on transportation. Prop 1 not only failed in King County but by even bigger margins in Snohomish and Pierce counties, the other partners in the Regional Transportation Improvement District and Sound Transit District. Remember, that's where Rossi's swing votes came from in 2004 – the Kerry/Rossi voters. Rossi himself said he was "leaning no" on Prop 1, but its rejection has the double satisfaction of giving him a nice stick with which to beat Gov. Chris Gregoire, who supported it.

And if revenge is a dish best served cold, Rossi must be getting goosebumps over the prospect of an elected elections chief. The idea was hatched after the gubernatorial election debacle in 2004 and Democrats have tried to paint the measure as a GOP assault on the elections process. But its passage suggests that while the pundit class thinks voters have too much say with all those initiatives and tax measures, the people are happy to take on more responsibility when they lose confidence in the professionals. The I-25 vote is also a rebuke to Executive Ron Sims, who is blamed by both election reformers and Republican conspiracy theorists. The former think he botched the 2004 election process and the latter insist he stole the governorship for Gregoire. In any case, after 2008, elections may be taken out of his hands.

The election results also suggest that Rossi-style populism might have some legs, if by populist you mean people who are suspicious of big projects, tax increases, and funny elections. In Seattle, that may not play. But don't be so sure about the rest of the state.

Around the country: Good night for incumbents

Brewster: While change was the mantra in Washington, the rest of the country was mostly staying the course on election night. Typical was Boise, where Mayor Dave Bieter was reelected, along with all incumbents on the City Council. As for national trends, it was a good night for Democrats in two key states: Kentucky, where veteran Democrat Steve Beshear defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher (crippled by a hiring scandal), and Virginia, where Democrats gained control of the state Senate.

Here are some other results worth pondering:

  • Oregon: Measure 50, which would have tacked 85 cents per pack on the price of cigarettes to fund children's health care and other things, lost. Measure 49, which rolls back some of the property-rights protections of an earlier land-use initiative, passed.
  • Pittsburgh: Voters kept in office the nation's youngest mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, 27, appointed last year to fill a vacancy.
  • Philadelphia: Michael Nutter was elected mayor. He ran on a platform of ending gun violence and cleaning up the city.
  • Mississippi: Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, was re-elected easily, defeating Democrat John Arthur Eaves Jr., who ran by clutching his Bible and attacking big business.
  • Utah: A school vouchers measure was defeated.
  • San Francisco: Despite (or is it because of) his personal scandals in the past year, Mayor Gavin Newsom defeated a crowd of eccentric opponents. The big fight over Props A and H, dealing with more money for Municipal Transit and curtailing parking, resulted in a defeat for Prop H, which would have allowed more off-street parking, and a cliffhanger for Prop A (more transit money, freezing the tough parking restrictions).

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