OK, voters, what's the message here? Are you angry? In a throw-the-rascals-out mood? With Tim Eyman riding high again on passage of another of his perpetual monkey-wrench initiatives, maybe you're just taxed to the max and not going to pay for it any more?
Reading the electorate's collective mind is risky. While roads-and-transit Proposition 1 failed in metro Puget Sound, it did so in part because a makeshift coalition for the anti-roads left and anti-tax right came together. There are obvious other reasons - the package was too big, the conversation leading up to the vote was too narrow, large portions of the tri-county Regional Transportation Investment District felt there wasn't enough for them. And then there are all those folks who didn't vote, given a turnout estimated at 28 percent.
And if national pollster John Zogby is right, you can blame the negative mood on Hurricane Katrina. Zogby, in the state recently to address the Association of Washington Business, said his polling post-Katrina shows a marked disillusionment with all of government. The haphazard, callous response to Katrina by government at all levels was witnessed throughout the nation day after relentless day. Zogby said the response snapped the fundamental trust relation between the public and government. As if Iraq hadn't done that already.
Traveling around the region, I don't sense a populist anger or a mad electorate. It's more like disillusionment and resignation. There is no compelling issue. We blew off some steam this spring with the waterfront tunnel-vs.-Viaduct vote, and we're all concerned about global warming. But we still sit in our cars in gridlock. To some degree, we've become numb to ever fixing a problem as intractable as congestion. We're disillusioned, doubtful that our region will ever develop a coordinated, multi-modal transportation system like our neighbors, Vancouver and Portland.
If you look at the abysmal voter turnout, you can imagine that the majority of voters cast their ballot for none of the above or simply opted out.
For Democrats looking ahead to 2008, the Age of Disillusionment should be particularly troubling. Dino Rossi will certainly try to capitalize on some of this at the state level with his challenge of Gov. Chris Gregoire. Word from Olympia is neither the governor nor state House Speaker Frank Chopp wants a big transportation measure on the 2008 ballot, fearful that Democrats will be tagged with raising taxes.
Politicians, consultants, and the media have all contributed to the malaise. Elections are supposed to be about choices and contrasts. While no one liked the tone of some of this year's races, compared to California or some states in the South our campaigns remain relatively prissy. Tame as they are, they do little to rouse the voters or build mandates for change.
So how to break the Age of Disillusionment and restore some voter trust? I'd grab a page from Jim Ellis, the legendary father of Forward Thrust. Ellis always figured it was better to under-promise and over-deliver.