"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Two initiatives on our statewide ballot had national import, I think. The first of these was I-330, which would have placed draconian limits on civil tort awards and severely restricted the rights of injured people to sue negligent doctors and hospitals. The I-330 campaign was the most expensive initiative contest in state history, with "doctors, hospitals, insurers, pharmaceutical companies and big business" spending almost $7 million to grease the electorate on behalf of this bad joke. Unofficial returns show I-330 losing, 54% to 46%. Given the primacy of so-called "tort reform" among the planks of the national Republican platform, this embarrassment at the polls cannot be good news for the Corporate Party.
But even the pinstripe suit set knew that Washington's other bellweather initiative, I-912, was a really bad idea. I-912 would have rolled back the legislature's recent 9.5 cent per gallon gas tax increase - necessary to keep gas tax revenues flat in inflation-adjusted dollars - and thereby strangled funding for roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. The silk stocking Republicans joined with progressives and other reality-based groups in opposing I-912; among the leaders in the campaign against the initiative was John Stanton, a Craig McCaw protegé and multi-zillionaire often mentioned as a potential Republican nominee for governor and/or senator. Despite this business community opposition, however, I-912 was vigorously pimped by such paleo-conservative firebrands as John Carlson (former gubernatorial überloser) and Kirby Wilbur.
It is not merely I-912's defeat that strikes me as significant, but the manner in which it was defeated. First, it was beaten by an unexpectedly large margin (53% to 47%), but more importantly, it was rejected even by voters from such rural counties as Kitsap, Jefferson, Clark, and Walla Walla.
(An aside - what the hell is up with Chris McGann, reporter for the allegedly liberal Seattle Post-Intelligencer, beginning an article with this shameful paragraph:
Big city big shots who bankrolled the $3 million campaign to defend the new gas tax celebrated Tuesday night as they defeated Initiative 912.
It's too bad that McGann's article was accompanied by a map showing the county-by-county returns - which contradict the inflammatory drivel written here - and not by the caricature of cigar-chomping fixers which the author clearly envisioned. Shame on you!)
The biggest news of the night, however, and the worst harbinger for Republicans, was the shellacking endured by David Irons, GOP candidate for King County Executive. Now, it is certainly not news when a Democrat wins election in King County, but Irons' defeat was humiliating - he received only 40% of the vote, allowing incumbent Ron Sims to win by a 15-point margin even after Green party candidate Gentry Lange siphoned off 5%. Also, Sims' candidacy was hamstrung by a number of factors, including intense rural opposition to the Critical Areas Ordinance limiting farmland development in the county, and lingering (albeit mostly trumped-up) questions about the county elections office. Sims was perceived as vulnerable, and the Republicans were smelling blood. Indeed, the scent continued to rise even after their own candidate got into a spot of trouble over having once beat up his own mother. But while the Irons family dirty laundry probably did not help Little Davy's candidacy, I suspect that the greater harm was done by the unlovely exercise in voter intimidation through perjury that the GOP got caught in on the eve of the election. That's significant, I think, because while assaulting one's own mother is not a core Republican value (so far as I know), assaults on voter rights are something which Republicans enjoy on a national scale (see: Ohio, Florida, et al.). Maybe they ought to rethink that idea.
But in any case, the takeaway lesson for me is that the Republican party is looking more and more like it's on the ropes, both locally and nationally. Frankly, I don't think it could happen to a nicer bunch of folks.