Hot, sweaty & meaningful: Election 2013's raciest contests

This may one of those "off-year" elections, but you wouldn't know it from the Washington state ballot.
Crosscut archive image.

Join Crosscut on Election Night for live, minute-by-minute coverage.

This may one of those "off-year" elections, but you wouldn't know it from the Washington state ballot.

They call it an “off-year election” cause there's no presidential or congressional voting, but tell that to Seattle mayor (for now, at least) Mike McGinn and all the noisy partisans taking sides in council and school board races, and pushing measures to raise the minimum wage and slap GMO labels on food. It’s wild and crazy out there! And Crosscut’s Election 2013 Team will be waist deep in all the parties and palace intrigue come Election Night.

Here are the five races we’ll be watching most closely – and the reasons you should be watching them too.

Mayor of Seattle

What you should know:

Will Seattle toss an incumbent mayor for the third time in a row? Has McGinn really grown in the job? If Sen. Ed Murray wins, will he bring back the old Greg Nickels' crowd and status quo? Murray took advantage of McGinn's rocky start – and penchant for pissing people off –  but McGinn is counting on a last-minute phone-banking effort to rally the young voters who helped put him in office. Still lots of undecided voters out there.

Why you should care:

  • The mayor sets the city's tone, whether it's on police oversight, transportation priorities or the density of development.
  • During the next four years, billions of dollars in new mega-projects will be coming online, from the waterfront makeover to the 520 bridge — not to mention a possible new SoDo arena and a major revision of the city's comprehensive plan. The next mayor will influence how these giant projects work, how they integrate into the city — and how we survive all the construction.
  • Murray and McGinn are liberal Democrats, but their approaches to governing are completely different. McGinn is a pugilist. Murray is a pol. The Bully for Change vs. Mr. Methodical.

GMO Labeling

What you should know:

Like a fleet of crop-dusters, big ag has sprayed the state with dollars in an attempt to prevent labeling of foods made from genetically-modified plants. Labeling supporters, no fundraising slouches either, want to not only win in Washington state, but turn their GMO-labeling campaign into a national model. They failed once before, losing an early lead and then the vote in California last year. If the same thing happens here, the question will be whether an idea rejected by the most left coast states has a future anywhere. 

Why you should care: 

  • The outcome determines whether the food industry has to disclose what's in its products; i.e. your food. There's still no scientific consensus on whether GMOs are harmful. But it's always nice to know what you're eating.
  • Washingtonians get to send a message to the nation, one way or the other — and D.C. is watching.
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy says "yes" to GMO labeling. We get to see if "Dancing with the Stars" has enhanced his political clout.

Kitsap state Senate seat 

What you should know:

We know. A state Senate race on the Kitsap Peninsula: zzzzzzzzz. But wait: This race could shift the balance of power in Olympia for years to come. Democrat Nathan Schlicher holds the 26th District seat, having been appointed to fill the vacancy created when his Democratic predecessor, Derek Kilmer, was elected to the Show (er, the U.S. Congress). But popular Republican state Rep. Jan Angel is mounting a powerful challenge.

Why you should care:

  • As goes the 26th, so goes control of the state Senate. A Republican win expands the GOP's majority coalition margin from one vote to a putsch-proof 26-23, which could doom Gov. Jay Inslee's efforts to push transportation and environmental legislation. A Schlicher (Democratic) victory might send a signal to the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus that it needs to move on transportation or the environment, instead of just standing for no tax increases.

SeaTac Prop 1

What you should know:

Inequity, hard-working folks struggling to get by, arguments over job loss and job creation: Most of the economic themes stirring America have come together ahead in a SeaTac ballot measure. The city's 27,000 residents get to decide whether airport and hotel workers make a minimum wage of $15 per hour. Supporters say Proposition 1 will ensure workers a decent wage; opponents warn of job and hour cuts and a business exodus.  

Why you should care:

  • Labor and business interests across the nation are watching to see if Washington ignores the concerns of local businesses and hands unions a victory — and a recruiting tool — by voting to boost the minimum wage. 
  • If $15 per hour passes, it'll be hard to avoid a similar vote in Seattle. Do we really want to risk losing our "Most Progressive City in America" title to SeaTac?

To coal or not to coal

What you should know:

Voters in Whatcom County are electing a county council — something they regularly do without the least bit of notice 40 miles from Bellingham. But the next council will have a huge say in determining whether the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal will be built north of Bellingham. The terminal would ship a lot of coal to China. Coal, rail and shipping money has poured in, although not quite as fast as the cash from environmental groups worried about the local and global impact of shipping and burning all that coal.  

  • It's a jobs vs. the environment fight at the local level. Supporters of the proposed coal port say it will be great for the economy and the taxes it generates will pay for public services, especially schools. Opponents raise the specter of many, long coal trains spewing diesel exhaust and coal dust and blocking traffic at rail crossings in every community along the way.
  • It's a trade vs. the environment fight at the global level. Do the economic benefits of shipping dirty coal to China trump concerns about global warming?

Also on the watch list: 

Seattle council election changes: A charter amendment will decide whether Seattle will continue to ellect city council members in citywide elections, or switch to a district approach. Opponents of the district system say it will dilute the focus on citywide needs and create a balkanized, NIMBY council. But the appeal of each neighborhood having its own rep on the council might prove irresistible. If Seattle votes yes on districts, it would represent the biggest change to the city council since 1946, when four-year terms were enacted. Another ballot measure seeks to create a system of public financing for council elections.

Bellevue City Council: A changing of the guard is already taking place, although its scope is still to be determined. After ousting a longtime core of the conservative council in the primary, two newcomers — Lynne Robinson and Vandana Slatter — face each other. Robinson had a big primary lead but Slatter, an Asian-American biotechie, could surprise given Bellevue's booming tech sector and increasingly diverse population. In another contest, longtime council member Kevin Wallace has tried to downplay his earlier skepticism about light-rail plans in the face of a stiff challenge from progressive Steve Kasner.

Seattle School Board: Two strong candidates offer radically different ideas about how the School District should be run. Sue Peters, champion of parents and teachers, believes there has to be a better way to improve schools than the reform movement's fixation on standards and metrics. Suzanne Dale Estey's focus on academic rigor and less micromanagement of school administrations has won her considerable support in the business community. Her tireless door-to-door campaigning probably didn't hurt either.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors