With a handful of exceptions, this month’s primary election was anti-climactic. Seattle’s 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 the races without an incumbent almost across the board were dominated by progressive newcomers who would be an upgrade on their predecessors. All that is good news, with the potential to become great news come November.
Chief among those open seat races is the election to succeed retiring Rep. Jim McDermott as Seattle’s congressional representative. McDermott, honestly, should have retired years ago. He’s a great example of an all-too-common problem with local Democrats who have an apparent lifetime sinecure, to no apparent purpose. In Sunny Jim’s case, strongly progressive rhetoric masked his utter ineffectiveness – he got almost no meaningful legislation passed in three decades on the other Capitol Hill, and seniority that should have given him influence was wasted because he was frequently treated as a pariah in his own caucus. For the last 20 years, when civic Seattle wanted something done in DC, they went to Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell – not Jim McDermott.
Happily, regardless of who wins in November, that’s going to 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, has pulled ahead and will likely face Jayapal in November. Both Jayapal and Walkinshaw won election for the first time 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 have to be able to work constructively with those colleagues – Jim McDermott’s downfall.
Elsewhere, the big November electoral races will be statewide, and November’s electorate will be younger, less affluent, more liberal, and much larger than the relatively low August turnout. That normal presidential year dynamic will be even more pronounced this year. The prospect of a man like Donald Trump gaining the most powerful job in the world is likely in our state to benefit Democrats and hurt Republicans up and down the ballot.
With Democrats having won every statewide office in the primary – including Secretary of State, where former Seattle City Councilwoman Tina Podlodowski won convincingly over 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 won narrowly over Democratic challenger Lisa Wellman in the primary. Come November, there will be an all-out effort to flip that and several other seats.
The other story of an unusually progressive electorate in November will be its impact on a number of important ballot measures. With Olympia paralyzed and Tim Eyman failing to qualify any initiatives this year, November’s roster of six ballot measures includes several truly groundbreaking ones:
I-1464, the Government Accountability Act, would create a statewide campaign finance system, allowing residents to direct state funds to qualifying candidates, and would also repeal the non-resident sales-tax exemption, restrict employment of former public employees and lobbying, 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 fossil-fuel-generated electricity.
And, I-735 would put the state on record as urging a federal constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United decision by limiting constitutional rights to people, not corporations.
If any or all of those pass, it will be a big deal. While Donald Trump continues to consume all of the political media 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.