Top-two is a grim joke

Why emulate one of the most politically corrupt states?
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Why emulate one of the most politically corrupt states?

So we held a top-two primary and opted to put on our fall ballots yet another measure toward non-partisanship hereabouts.

Meanwhile, the principal contested races — most notably for governor and in the 8th congressional district — turned out about as expected. The Gregoire-Rossi and Reichert-Burner contests will, as the last ones, no doubt be close in November. All four candidates will be well funded and organized.

Much will depend on November voter turnout, with blue-state Democrats expected to go to the polls in large numbers to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, thus giving an apparent edge to Gregoire and Burner. I still see both races, however, as too close to call.

Two Democrats will face each other in November in high-visibility Seattle state legislative contests, rather than pitting Democratic and Republican candidates against each other — the first effect of the top-two system.

Washingtonians see non-partisanship and direct democracy as virtues. Folks in most other places see those preferences as quirky and provincial. I tend to agree with them.

Louisiana is perhaps the most politically corrupt of the 50 states. That Washington has adopted its top-two primary is some kind of grim joke. In the Puget Sound area, where Democrats predominate, and in eastern Washington, where Republicans rule, the top-two system is likely to pit candidates of the same party increasingly against each other in the general election. In solidly Democratic or Republican constituencies, we are likely to find candidates of the minority party dropping off the ballot altogether. Why bother to run if there is no chance to reach a November ballot? The top-two system will deepen one-party rule which, over time, almost always results in complacent and even corrupt governance.

I see no virtue in forcing candidates to run without a party label. Who are these people? What is their general political philosophy? Over 40 years, nationally, both major political parties have been displaced in influence by powerful single-issue and single-interest groups whose political money and influence count for more than party platforms or loyalty. Why hasten and deepen this trend?

Direct-democracy ballot measures are ways in which governors, mayors, city-council members and state legislators can evade their reponsibilities for governance. Politically difficult decisions are ducked by the elected officials and bumped to the electorate. We saw this syndrome most ridiculously illustrated recently in the non-binding referendum on an Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. This is a decision which should long since have been made by Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature after consideration of options presented by the state Department of Transportation.

If you examine Washington state and federal practices, you also wonder why we elect so many people — nonpartisan or otherwise — who are appointed at the federal level and in some other states.

A president appoints the U.S. attorney general, interior secretary, education secretary, and other cabinet positions. Federal judges are appointed. Yet, here, we elect statewide officials filling these same functions and force our judges to suck up to the same single-interest and single-issue groups to raise money and support to get elected. So much for an independent judiciary. A recent survey among elected judges, in those states which elect them, disclosed that a majority thought they had been compromised during their campaigns for office.

Parties are good, not bad. Elected officials, especially governors and mayors, should have power to govern and, then, be held accountable. Judges should be independent. Ballot measures allow the powerful and well financed to get their way by by-passing normal legislative channels.

But we have our own quirky ways, just as Louisiana, California, New Hampshire, and others of the 50 states. If a majority want it that way, that is the way it should be. But we need not pretend what we do is wise or effective.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of