Reform of King County county government is popular but is almost always painted as a Republican plot. Nevertheless, the generally liberal electorate has embraced change. Last night, they gave the nod to I-26, which would allow a vote in November on whether or not to make county elected positions non-partisan. It will join another measure passed last year as I-25, which will ask whether or not to make the superintendent of county elections an elected post.
Partisan Democrats tend to see this tinkering as part of a GOP strategy to find stealth avenues to power in a county increasingly dominated by Blue.
In the current instances, some liberals have objected to making offices non-partisan because it would allow county Republicans to hide their affiliations. Dems are peeved that Dino Rossi appeared on the new "top two" ballot (which both parties hate) as preferring "the GOP party," an attempt to duck the Republican label. Polls show a pretty large number of people — including Democrats — don't know what "GOP" stands for. Voters appear to have rejected a Democratic county council-approved version of the I-25 proposal that would have allowed county candidates to indicate a party preference when running for non-partisan offices.
In the case of the elections office, that comes out of the contentious 2004 gubernatorial debacle where a tiny number of King County votes decided the election — some Republicans say stole it. King is the only county whose election supervisor is not accountable to the voters. Nevertheless, Democrats see it as a way for Republicans to get their hands on the electoral process — to steal it back, perhaps. Plus, the elections issue tends to fire up Republican voters.
Previous reforms have also run into Democratic objection. The reduction in the size of the county council and the making of the sheriff's office into an elected position were also seen as GOP plots to reduce Democratic power and provide a platform for Republican law-and-order candidates who might use the sheriff's position as a springboard to higher office (true enough in the case of Congressman Dave Reichert).
But despite Democratic squirming, the people seem very comfortable with considering and implementing reform. And the fact is, these proposals fall right into mainstream opinion: more accountability, more efficiency, less partisanship. It's part of a desire Northwest voters have long had, and that is to take at least some of the politics out of politics. That, in itself, is a highly political proposition.