Here are a few stabs at political predictions for the coming year. I recognize my poor track record in this sort of thing, but such exercises at least get us thinking about our political scene.
1. City Council races next fall will be an extension of the long-running debate over the tunnel, thanks to the mayor's persistence on using this wedge issue for rallying his troops and the presence of the Sierra Club initiative trying (really only symbolically) to undo the City Council commitment to the waterfront tunnel. At this point it looks like Jean Godden will run again, not pretend to run in order to mute opposition and then withdraw at the last minute to favor an ally such as Jessie Israel. Bruce Harrell, the other somewhat at-risk incumbent, would be hard to defeat because of his minority appeal.
2. The addition of a new Congressional seat will scramble the musical chairs a bit. A pol such as Ron Sims could come dashing back from D.C. if there's a district for him. Jim McDermott might finally retire, unhappy with minority status. Jay Inslee will probably jump from Congress to a governor's race, if polling looks promising for him. Suzan DelBene and Denny Heck would be primed from this year's failed efforts.
3. Cuts in Olympia won't be as deep as they now appear. A certain game has been developed, where Gov. Gregoire produces an all-screams budget and the legislature then finds ways to make it a lot better. The tricks: more "borrowing" by bonding things; wider gambling in bars with attendent taxes; fees and tuition charges; pushing services down to the local level, where taxes and fees can be raised in urban districts as a way around Eyman's latest initiative; shifting money from capital projects; help from Sen. Murray and Congressman Dicks.
4. Pending cuts in Metro service will produce momentum for another comprehensive statewide bill to raise taxes for transit and roads, aiming at a 2012 ballot, when the presidential race will bring out lots of Democratic voters. The struggle between transit folks and roadsters will supplant, at last, the Viaduct wars. One possible dimension of this fight: scaling back Sound Transit's plans in order to divert some of their taxing authority to struggling bus systems.
5. Long-range issues, such as saving Puget Sound, reforming higher education, and pension liabilities, will be swept under the rug for another year. This is because of the great uncertainties in our political order: Who will succeed Gregoire? Who will be the new U.W. President? Will Obama successfully tame the Republican tide of 2010? How much longer can Speaker Frank Chopp hold his majority in the House or even hold his Speakership?
6. Dow Constantine will not make any real moves next year towards a gubernatorial race in 2012, which doesn't mean he's ruling out a last-minute entrance if other Democrats falter.
7. A lot of the political maneuvering next year will be about state attorney general, given the near-certainty of Rob McKenna running for governor (or against Maria Cantwell for Senate). If a Democrat wins (Bob Ferguson of King County Council and Jay Manning, Gregoire's admired chief of staff, are two contenders), he or she becomes the next-in-line for the governorship some day.
8. Mayor Mike McGinn will have a better year and start to shake up his staff of lightly experienced co-religionists, pay more attention to power brokers, and shift to a more populist approach in his politics, away from the green agenda.
9. Filling the political vacuum will be a business agenda, largely driven by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, with allies in labor, minorities, and land-use environmentalists. We will be in a period of shadow governance, with the media struggling to shine its flashlights and many politicians getting co-opted because of the generous campaign contributions from these folks. The recession makes job-creation the urgent issue, further empowering the shadow government. Key is how well the top figures — heads of the Chamber, the Roundtable, Downtown Seattle Association, and Prosperity Partnership, plus Brad Smith of Microsoft — get along and work together.
10. The University of Washington will play it safe in picking a new president, encouraging continuity from the Emmert years by picking an insider, maybe even current interim president Phyllis Wise, who's making a good impression in Olympia. Outsiders get discouraged by the requirement that a new president immediately commence another multi-billion-dollar, multi-year campaign.
11. Seattle arts are thrown into turmoil when at least one of the major institutions teeters on bankruptcy or ruinous cuts. A city bailout is arranged, with others demanding some relief as part of the package. The area wakes up to the fact that it has created an "arts bubble" in the past decade, but the factional fighting is so intense between small groups and large ones that no lasting solution is found.
12. As the recession continues, the scattered voices for the poor, the unemployed, and social justice begin to look for some kind of concerted strategy. Our politics has greatly gentrified during the boomy past two decades, leaving issues of fairness, poverty, and humane welfare programs to fend for themselves. An interesting, charismatic figure emerges to lead this charge, using a mayoral campaign as the vehicle and trying to create a kind of Tea Party on the left. An example, though he won't do it, is former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck. Another: former Department of Neighborhoods director Jim Diers.