By definition, the news is morally neutral. With its "Person of the Year," Time magazine has honored the honorable (Corazon Aquino in 1986) and the despotic (Joseph Stalin in 1939.) Crosscut's Midday Scan is more subjective, although how do editors settle on a Northwest Person of the Year when the region's political leadership is largely A.W.O.L? Gov. Gregoire in stop-me-before-I-slash-support-for-widows-and-orphans mode? Bill and Melinda Gates for being, well, Bill and Melinda Gates?
In the solitary, passive-aggressive tradition of the Pacific Northwest (and inspired by Time's 1982 pick of the computer) this year's "Evergreen" person of the year is a blend of process and engineering: the vote and animated debate over an inanimate behemoth, the Alaskan Way Viaduct. "Voters finally made a choice. We're digging a tunnel, for better or worse. It took 10-½ years, more than 700 community meetings and three, count 'em, three, advisory votes — this latest one brought in rebellious style by the mayor himself against the rest of the political establishment," the Seattle Times' Danny Westneat wrote back in August.
"Why did voters suddenly come around to backing the tunnel? It's not like the idea has ever been popular before. The context is that no plan to replace the viaduct — with an elevated rebuild, a surface boulevard, a tunnel under the city or a soaring bridge over the bay — has ever gotten majority support in previous elections or in polls."
Less colorful but equally promising, was the unanticipated love-in between Boeing and the Machinists union, ably covered by the Herald's Michele Dunlop. How is this for a through-the-looking-glass lede? "A potential union strike averted. Production work on Boeing's 737 MAX secured. An ugly labor lawsuit likely resolved," Dunlop wrote. "Any one of those alone would be considered a huge feat."
Midday Scan's equally incredulous writer noted, "On Wednesday, cognitive dissonance found expression as the 99 percent Boeing machinists made common cause with the 1 percent Boeing elite. (In anticipation, God noted in Isaiah 11:6, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.")" Over the long-term, few stories better inform the region's economic future than the Boeing-Machinists' canoodle.
One great news/awful news item was the appointment of Washington's senior U.S. senator, Patty Murray, to co-chair the Supercommittee on debt reduction. It was exciting, inspiring and, ultimately, disheartening. The Seattlepi.com's Joel Connelly managed a post-mortem interview in which Murray said that she was game to put "some blood on the table" if Republicans yielded on taxes. Alas, no go. "And, after years of rote Democratic defenses of Social Security and Medicare, Murray acknowledged that changes must be made in the great social programs of the New Deal and Great Society. She offered up cuts to entitlement programs before the talks failed," Connelly wrote.
Midday Scan's author played the grumpy, Norse depressive. "Names with "super" connote headstrong, exceptional, all-American. Superhighway, supercomputer, supersize this. "Even Superfund radiates wonder and scale," he wrote just after the committee was announced. "The new Super Committee, charged with whipping together a legislative solution to the debt crisis, has its name going for it at least. After that, well..."
The Northwest version of the Supercommittee was the legislature's special session to plug the budget hole. It was neither a boondoggle nor a profile in political courage. "The Legislature adjourned a 17-day special session Wednesday after voting to close $480 million of the state’s $2 billion budget gap," Brad Shannon wrote on December 15. "The action, which passed by lopsided and bipartisan votes in the House and Senate, left the tougher budget decisions until lawmakers return Jan. 9 for a regular 60-day session."
Midday Scan's author noted, "Does the special session represent mission un-accomplished or incremental progress? It looks to be a mix of both." In fact, the legislure has $1.5 billion to go, along with a seemingly inevitable 2012 public vote on a sales-tax increase.
Lastly, the University of Washington is the Northwest's most valuable (and potentially most endangered) institution. It's a jobs generator, an incubator of medical and social-science research, and a pipeline for Northwest students to train and prosper in the 21st century. In the counterintuitive world of Olympia, this success is often viewed as fat. Hence, leadership at the UW is a sine qua non (a Latin term Midday Scan's author picked up at the UW). As the UW Daily reported, the appointment of Michael Young as the UW's new president came just in time.
Midday Scan's take: "Young's background harmonizes well with the UW. He's a Westerner, a scholar of Japanese law, and an advocate of international human rights. At Utah, he learned how to schmooze lawmakers and manage the urban-rural resentment divide." Good luck, President Young.
The Seattle Times, "Dig it, Mr. Mayor: Voter say Viaduct talk is over"
The News Tribune, "Legislature adjourns 17-day special session in Olympia"