Fear and gloating on the campaign-party trail
I decided to start party-hopping last night in true progressive fashion: at a “Progressive Election pre-Funk Party” hosted by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and City Councilmember Nick Licata at the Warwick Hotel. Yeah, I know, pre-funking merely means getting an early buzz on before the main festivities, but the phrase was accidentally apt in another way. Only progressives approach a big showdown expecting to be in a funk afterward — even when the odds are in their ticket’s favor.
Left-leaning types, especially those of us of a certain age, have imbibed the lessons of losing only too well. The trail of tears, of short terms and botched campaigns, is long: two Kennedys, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy and George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and that tank, Al Gore and John Kerry and his Swift Boat. In between, Bill Clinton showed that a Democratic president could win two terms — but only by triangulating to the right, pushing welfare rather than health care reform, and beating the Republicans at their own game.
Obama’s 2008 victory seemed to break the spell — for about a month. Then four years of disappointment, and not just at the unemployment rate. The losing feeling was back. What, us win?
Ever since the first debate, when the president checked out early, I’ve been telling anxious Obamites not to worry: He’s going to take Ohio, and that’s all she’ll write. But even one of the smartest people I know argued the election would be tied up for weeks in after-hours wrangling, just as in 2000.
Nursing their funk, the progressive partiers at the Warwick seem to be talking about everything except American politics. I run into two old pals I haven’t seen in years. Larry Dohrs is a long-time campaigner for democracy and human rights in Burma/Myanmar, Rajaa Gharbi an artist and writer from Tunisia who’s been spending most of her time back there, trying to help protect the gains from last year’s Arab Spring revolution. We talk about the heady changes in those countries. Such talk only seems to point up the difficulty of deep, rejuvenating change in this one.
Hardly anyone is watching the early national returns. What, us excited?
We head down the street to see if another party’s lighting up — the one for State Initiative 502, to legalize and regulate marijuana sales. What’s it say about our times, that the pro-pot party was held in the chic-est hotel (the Andra) and offered the best food (from Tom Douglas’s Lola downstairs) and the only free booze I’ll see all night? “There was a lot of money for this party,” one I-502 volunteer confides, and no, it didn’t come from “medical” marijuana vendors, who will likely lose their gray-area market post-legalization. “A representative for [billionaire, Progressive Insurance chairman, and drug-law reform crusader] Peter Lewis is here.” Glad to eat on his nickel.
In case you wondered: No, no one tokes at the pro-pot party, not even on the sidewalk. But that begs another question: Will Washington’s ban on smoking in public establishments extend to legal pot smoking?
And what does it say that I run into even more long-lost friends at the pro-pot party? Not to mention prominent supporters basking in the glow of imminent victory; Holmes and Licata have come here from their own party. Doug Honig, the state ACLU’s communications director, marvels at how fast the legalization cause has gone from outré to mainstream: “In 2008 we did a campaign with Rick Steves called ‘Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation.’ An infomercial. We tried to pay the local TV stations to run it. They wouldn’t take it, or they ran it at 1 a.m.”
At 7:58 a voice thunders from the floor below: “Colorado just got called!” A similar initiative is passing there. So, by a few minutes, Washington won’t be the first state ever to just say yes, period. Still, Steve DeAngelo, a prominent California cannabis booster and star of the Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars, is here to salute his Washington counterparts’ triumph. “The real significance,” he explains, “is that people who don’t smoke, who may not particularly like marijuana, realized it’s time to take it out of the hands of the cartels.”
With the weed trade in good hands, we head off to the big party, the biggest at least on the left side of Lake Washington—the state Democratic Party’s multi-candidate blowout at the Westin Hotel. In the first room inside the lobby Service Employees International Union is holding its party, with more fist-pumping, cheering, and Obama T-shirts per capita than any other crowd. Obama has taken Pennsylvania, and Florida and Ohio are trending his way. Game all but over.
We head up the congested escalator toward the main event. The Westin’s sprawling Cascade Ballroom is packed with hundreds — thousands? — of cheering enthusiasts, most young, some hugging deliriously. And this is only the party for Referendum 74, approving same-sex marriage, which is also passing.
Up another crowded escalator, the even larger Grand Ballroom is likewise packed and raucous. Rick Steves strolls past, beaming and intoning “Obama!” CNN calls the presidential race for Steves’s fellow ex-shoomer. A cheer, and then attention turns to the Washington races. A dozen or two smiling campaign workers stand in tiered rows on the main stage, like a church choir, holding “Maria Cantwell” signs. “This is all very religious,” Rajaa observes.
State Democratic chair Dwight Pelz and Cantwell herself take the stage, delivering their own pep-rally exhortations. Easy for her to cheer; Cantwell, who used to squeak through by paper-thin margins, is crushing her latest challenger. Bob Ferguson, newly elected attorney general, sheds his aloof, brainy demeanor to roar, “I have one message for Karl Rove, after the millions of dollars his super pac spent in this state…. The office of attorney general of Washington is not for sale!”
State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark delivers another stemwinder. “I love you, Pete!” a dapper young man standing behind me hollers. “I have a serious man crush on Peter Goldmark,” he explains to his female companion. “Do you know he has a PhD in microbiology from the University of California at Berkeley and a farm in Okanogan? Can you believe he’s more than 60 years old?”
It looks like a Democratic sweep of every statewide office save secretary of state (that last refuge of moderate Republicans) and governor, with Jay Inslee leading for the latter but with the race as usual too close to call. That’s what Rob McKenna gets for stepping into Dino Rossi’s shoes.
But where are the angst and disappointment we’ve come to expect from elections? Obviously we must head to the other side to find it — across Lake Washington to Bellevue's Grand Hyatt, where the Republicans are holding their party.
I buy a suitable beer at the lobby bar — Hale’s Mongoose, the bitterest of IPAs — and try to get in the mood. The Republicans milling about their ballroom are suitably somber in attire, with a far higher share of dark suits, and suits period, than the Democrats. The wearers seem more desultory than despondent. Only one is ebullient: Tim Eyman, standing out like a, well, red flag in a red sweatshirt and curiously bright blue jeans, still youthful after nearly two decades rocking the state and making his living promoting tax-limiting and other anti-government ballot measures. His latest, I-1185, the fifth to require a legislative supermajority to raise taxes, is passing handily.
I say that otherwise, the votes seem to be going to candidates and initiatives on the other side of the spectrum and Eyman agrees cheerily: “This is the exception.” I take his picture and he waves me over to pose for one together. John Hamer, the executive character of the Washington News Council, happens by and notes what a scurrilous character one of us is posing with, but Eyman doesn’t seem to mind.
Afterward, we share an elevator with a distinguished-looking gent and his wife. How do you like the night’s results? I ask.
“I hope I don’t have another nightmare tonight,” he growls. We nod sympathetically.
Now that’s what election night is all about.