With a handful of exceptions, August’s primary election was anti-climactic. The Seattle Housing Levy was the outcome with the greatest future impact. It passed easily — great news for a city rapidly losing what little affordable housing remains. Virtually every incumbent won handily and will be heavily favored in November. And, almost across the board, races without an incumbent were dominated by progressive newcomers with the potential to be a cut above their predecessors. All that is good news, with the potential to become great news come November.
Chief among open-seat races is the election to succeed retiring Rep. Jim McDermott as Seattle’s congressman. To be blunt, McDermott should have retired years ago. He’s a great example of our all-too-common problem with local Democrats who have an apparent lifetime sinecure, providing little-to-no public benefit.
In Sunny Jim’s case, strongly progressive rhetoric masked his utter political impotence — he got almost no meaningful legislation passed in three decades on (the other) Capitol Hill. Seniority that should have given him influence was wasted because he was frequently treated as a pariah in his own caucus. For the past 20 years, when civic Seattle wanted something done in D.C., they went to Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell — not McDermott.
Happily, regardless of who wins in November, that’s will change. State Sen. Pramila Jayapal won convincingly in the primary, and state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, after trailing Joe “No-Relation-But-I-Hope-You’ll-Get-Confused” McDermott on election night, pulled ahead and will face Jayapal in November.
Both Jayapal and Walkinshaw won their first elections only two years ago and each has, in their short time in Olympia, impressed a lot of people. It will be a choice of styles, but both have a combination of skills well-suited to this congressional seat — it’s one of the safest Democratic seats in the country, so its occupant can take risks many of his or her colleagues cannot. At the same time, congresspeople must be able to work constructively with their colleagues — Jim McDermott’s downfall.
Elsewhere, the big electoral races will be run statewide, and November’s electorate will be younger, less affluent, more liberal and will likely come out in greater force, in contrast to the relatively low August turnout. In other words, the normal presidential year dynamic will be even more pronounced this year. The prospect of a man like Donald Trump gaining the most powerful office in the world is likely, in our state, to benefit Democrats and hurt Republicans up and down the ballot.
Outside races for statewide office — such as Secretary of State, a seat where Democratic former Seattle City Councilwoman Tina Podlodowski trailed slightly behind incumbent Kim Wyman, the only current statewide Republican officeholder — the focus will be on a handful of individual legislative districts that could shift control of the state Senate to the Democrats. Republican control of the Senate over the last three sessions has led to much of the gridlock and budgetary crises gripping Olympia, making impossible any efforts to increase revenue or reform Washington’s antiquated, uniquely regressive tax system.
In King County, all eyes will be on Mercer Island, where Republican incumbent Sen. Steve Litzow’s primary numbers were narrowly ahead of Democratic challenger Lisa Wellman. Come November, there will be an all-out effort to flip that seat and several others.
The other story in November will be the impact of an unusually progressive electorate on a number of important ballot measures. With Olympia paralyzed and Tim Eyman failing to qualify any initiatives this year, November’s six ballot measures include truly groundbreaking work:
Initiative 1464, the Government Accountability Act, would create a statewide campaign finance system, allowing residents to direct state funds to qualifying candidates. The Act would also repeal the non-resident sales tax exemption, restrict former public officer holders and senior staff from becoming lobbyists for three years, and revise campaign finance laws.
I-1491, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Initiative, directly takes on the gun lobby by authorizing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders to keep violent and mentally ill individuals from having legal access to firearms.
I-1433, The Washington Minimum Wage Initiative, would increase the state minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020.
I-732 would create a carbon emission tax on fossil fuels and electricity generated by fossil fuels.
I-735 would put the state on record urging a federal constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United decision and limit constitutional rights to people, not corporations.
If any or all of these initiatives pass, it will be a big deal. While Donald Trump continues to consume the media’s political coverage, the lesson of this primary’s strongly progressive results is that these initiatives have a chance — and that Washington, like Seattle, is now deep blue. We’ll find out with these initiatives just how blue we’ve become.
GEOV PARRISH is an activist and founder of Eat the State.