Friday, October 10, 2008

Election '08: Tragedy or Farce?

by Geov Parrish

A presidential election represents the peak time, every four years, in which the largest number of Americans are paying attention to politics. And with the United States embroiled in too many crises to count (economic meltdown, climate change, two losing wars, and a shredded constitution, just for starters)--a direct result of not enough people paying careful attention the last two times around, resulting in the Worst President Ever--one would hope that this would be the moment when political leadership and a sober electorate engaged in serious discussions about the future of our country.


With few exceptions, political candidates this year have been Campaigning As Usual, save a notable effort by Republicans to campaign on anything but issues, lest they be held responsible for the train wreck that we are now in the midst of. As the schism between popular sentiment and elite political, financial, and media desires on this month's bailout showed all too clearly, never in modern times has there been as clear a divide between the agendas of ordinary Americans and those purporting to "lead" us. A proper response would be a revolution. Saving that (which doesn't look likely--this month, anyway), voting will have to do.

Here, as usual, are the ETS! recommendations for the Nov. 4 general election. The usual caveats apply: Voting is no substitute for activism. These picks are just our opinion, from the perspective that informs our eclectic mix of news, opinions, and ideology. Do your own research, make up your own mind.

President/Vice President: In many respects, Barack Obama is the best mainstream presidential nominee to come along in memory. He's smart, even-tempered, has the capacity to inspire and lead, and would put a starkly different (and far more amenable) face on America as viewed by the rest of the world. There's no question that he and Joe Biden would be better than the disaster-in-waiting that is McCain/Palin. We'd rather see him win than not.

There's only one tiny problem, which far too many progressive fans of Obama seem too willing to overlook: he is a corporate centrist to the core. He's voted that way in the Senate, he has surrounded himself with like-minded advisors, he has campaigned and fundraised for similarly conservative colleagues (including Joe Lieberman and Maria Cantwell), and there's every reason to believe that's how he'll govern. He does have a potential upside few previous Democratic nominees have possessed, and we hope he realizes it, but we're not holding our breaths. President Obama will be more rational, more thoughtful, and less reckless than the current president (admittedly, a low bar). That doesn't mean we can or will endorse him.

This is made easier by the fact that Washington state's electoral votes will almost certainly go to Obama (and if they don't, it means McCain has won 35 or 40 other states as well). There's no reason to not vote one's conscience in this race.

Two good but also flawed progressives are also on the ballot: independent Ralph Nader and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney. Nader has the advantage of being right on most of the issues and the disadvantage of being the wrong messenger, i.e., he's Ralph Nader. His hard-earned reputation as a fearless consumer champion has been transformed into an apparently ego-driven need to keep running for president, even though, in 2004, he did so poorly that in a tightly contested race between Kerry and Bush nobody even called him a spoiler. This time, again, he's running as an independent, for his own sake rather than in the service of building any sort of movement, and he's dangerously close to becoming the Harold Stassen of our time. Voting for him would only encourage another run in 2012.

(Ditto for socialist permacandidates James Harris (SWP) and Gloria La Riva (SLP). Can't these cult-parties even find some new faces from time to time?)

Nader's candidacy is particularly inexcusable since another good, qualified progressive candidate is also running: former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. McKinney is also right on most of the issues; her flaw is that she's, well, erratic, never more so than in her recent claim of mass graves in Louisiana filled by Katrina survivors executed by the Army. Since one of the main purposes of third party and independent candidacies is to get your ideas into the national dialogue, it's kinda hopeless when some of your conspiracy-prone utterings are so nutty that nobody takes any of the rest of them seriously, either.

Where does that leave us? It's tempting to hope for a McCain/Palin win just for the sheer potential entertainment value, but we're not nihilists. And if you want farce, it's better to go all-out. So we're going to go for real entertainers, ones who seem to have a clearer understanding of the nation's problems and potential solutions (not to mention the absurdity of it all) than all of the above candidates combined. You read it here first: Jon Stewart and Tina Fey for President/Vice President.

US Representative: In Seattle, Congressman-for-Life Jim McDermott votes and talks right on all the issues but does virtually nothing for his district and has zero influence (especially given his seniority in one of the country's safest seats) in his party or Congress. On his two signature issues, health care and bad foreign wars, his rhetoric is great but he's accomplished nothing for nearly 20 years. He has no other real accomplishments (other than party hackery), either; contrasting McDermott's record with the state delegation's only other genuine progressive, the newer but far more accomplished Jay Inslee, is truly instructive. McDermott needs to go.

Alas, in his safe seat, that will only happen when he retires. He's guaranteed re-election this year, but maybe he'll retire in 2010 if his sole opponent, Republican nut Steve Beren, gets an unusual number of votes this time. We'll help. Steve Beren.

On the Eastside, voters have a chance to add another progressive to the state's delegation. Darcy Burner is in her second bid against the truly creepy Dave Reichert ("How's my hair? Hey, did I mention in the last five minutes that I used to be a sheriff?") Burner's principled, super-smart, and pragmatic--our favorite combination in an elected official. Darcy Burner.

Governor: Four years ago, Christine Gregoire eked out a narrow victory over Republican Dino Rossi, and they both underwhelmed us; we endorsed the Libertarian candidate, Ruth Bennett, instead. But a strange thing happened: While Rossi is even more repellent than he was four years ago (if that's possible), the centrist Gregoire has turned out to be a pretty good governor, getting the legislature to move forward on a variety of issues that her predecessor, the spineless Gary Locke, did nothing about.

Gregoire's not perfect, but she's been a damned sight better than we expected, and she's earned re-election. We should also note that Rossi's been running a truly repugnant campaign, freely violating campaign laws to collude with his reactionary buddies at the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and dodging mention of not only his own ultra-right stances on issues but even his party affiliation ("prefers G.O.P. Party," a crime against both grammar and openness). If he loses badly enough, maybe he'll just go away this time. Christine Gregoire.

Lieutenant Governor: This useless office has no responsibilities other than to be there should the governor get hit by a bus. Incumbent Democrat Brad Owens, over multiple terms, has thus used his office and copious spare time to propagandize for the war on drugs, a crime for which he himself should be jailed (but won't be). Republican opponent Marcia McCraw, a Ballard attorney who speaks Chinese, wants to use the office to promote interntional trade. That would be an improvement over Owen, but no candidate this year is calling for what this office really needs: abolition. Skip it.

Secretary of State:This was the primary endorsement for which ETS! got the most flack in August. We went with Republican incumbent Sam Reed. He deserves major credit for pissing off his own party by insisting on a scrupulously fair process when Gregoire edged Rossi in 2004 after multiple recounts and a court appeal. Reed's own party, in essence, wanted him to rig the election results, and he refused. Would that his colleagues in Florida and Ohio have shown such grit.

His opponent, Jason Osgood, is an election integrity activist who somehow got the Democratic Party nomination. Osgood is careful to insist that his numerous concerns about Reed involve process and the potential for abuse--not that actual abuse has occurred in our state. We appreciate the distinction. We still feel like Reed should be rewarded for his 2004 performance, but, frankly, he's going to win (he got 60 percent of the vote against three candidates in August). So we're going to reverse ourselves for narrow strategic reasons: we'd like to see the Democrats nominate more activists like Osgood for statewide office. Jason Osgood.

State Treasurer: Republican Allan Martin is currently Assistant State Treasurer and has been endorsed by the Democratic incumbent, the retiring Mike Murphy. It helps that the Democratic opponent, Jim McIntire, yet another Democratic hack who won a safe Seattle seat in the state legislature and then did nothing. McIntire hasn't earned a promotion, but Martin, according to his boss, has. Allan Martin.

State Auditor: Incumbent Brian Sonntag proved his worth all over again with his recent performance audit of the Port of Seattle (coming up: Sound Transit). He's done a fine job for years. Brian Sonntag.

Attorney General: Republican Rob McKenna, seeking a second term, is a slick and likeable guy who wants to become governor in 2012. He's also a tool of the most powerful and reactionary lobby in the state (the Building Industry Association of Washington), and he's more easily stopped now. Happily, his opponent, Democrat John Ladenburg, has done a good job both as Pierce County Executive and as chair of the regional board governing Sound Transit. John Ladenburg.

Commissioner of Public Lands: The incumbent, Republican Doug Sutherland, has never met a clearcut he didn't like. Ditto for attractive young blonde subordinates; he's admitted two separate incidents of sexual harassment in 2005 against a junior employee, who quit as a result. His opponent, Democrat Peter Goldmark, is a progressive Okanogan County rancher with a wealth of relevant experience. Peter Goldmark.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Incumbent Terry "I Love WASL" Bergeson is a disaster. Randy Dorn does not love WASL, and would be far better. Randy Dorn.

Insurance Commissioner: Democratic incumbent Mike Kreidler's opponent, Republican John Adams, works in the insurance industry. (Fox! Henhouse!) Kreidler must be doing something right. He is. Mike Kreidler.

Legislative District No. 11 (Renton/South Seattle), State Senator: Marguerite Prentice is awful. She led the drive to give away taxpayer money to the Sonics (as she has for previous stadiums and arenas); she gets tons of money from and carries water for the racist, predatory payday loan industry; and, thank Gaia, she's getting a progressive challenge this year--something a lot more entrenched Democrats around here need (see below). Juan Martinez is a progressive running an uphill, populist campaign. He needs votes, not only to beat Prentice, but to encourage more of these challenges in the future. Juan Martinez.

Legislative District No. 36 (Magnolia/Queen Anne/Ballard), State Rep., Pos. 1: A fascinating race with two strong progressive Democrats with vastly different styles. John Burbank, union-backed, has been around local Democratic circles forever. Reuven Carlyle is a young, energetic private sector guy. Either would probably be good, but there are enough Seattle Democrats that treat Olympia like a lifetime sinecure that we're going with the outsider. Reuven Carlyle.

Legislative District No. 46 (North Seattle), State Rep., Pos 2: Our friend Gerry Pollet, long the Executive Director of the Hanford watchdog Heart of America Northwest, is running for state legislature. Pollet is a pit bull: obnoxious, relentless, and someone you'd want on your side in a fight. In other words, he has the potential to be a great progressive voice in Olympia. His opponent, Scott White (not the same Scott White accused of murdering former KIRO radio talk host Mike Webb), is another Democratic Party insider. The liberal 46th already has two inert Democratic legislators in Sen. Ken Jacobsen and Rep. Phyllis Kenney; it needs a fighter like Gerry Pollet.

(In all of Seattle, there are no other meaningfully contested state legislative races. Pretty fucking sad. Skip them.)

State Supreme Court: Incumbents Mary Fairhurst, Charles Johnson, and Debra Stephens are all decent justices, but all unopposed. It's bad enough that in so many races, we don't get meaningful choices; in one where there's literally no choice at all, we recommend you skip the coronation.

Court of Appeals, Division 1, District 1: Linda Lao and Anne Schindler are both unopposed. Skip.

King Superior Court, Pos. 1: Suzanne Parisien spent two decades as a corporate lawyer for Nordstrom's. Incumbent Tim Bradshaw has a lot of shiny political endorsements. In the three-way primary, we endorsed a progressive challenger who lost, but on the theory of do-least-harm we'll reluctantly go with Tim Bradshaw.

King Superior Court, Pos. 22: Again, in August, our candidate lost; it was a three-way race in which two progressives split their vote against one conservative. The conservative is Julia Garratt. The surviving progressive is Holly Hill, who has put $70,000 of her own money into an attempt to buy herself a judgeship. We're unexcited by Garrett, but in good conscience we can't support Hill's attempt at checkbook justice, either. Skip it.

King Superior Court, Pos. 37: Once more, in August's three-way race, our guy lost. Neither of the survivors thrills us, but incumbent Jean Rietschel, a former public defender, is a better bet than challenger Barbara Mack, an ambitious Deputy Prosecuting Attorney with a long list of political endorsements. Jean Reitschel.

I-985: Tim Eyman is selling his latest as "congestion relief." (Don't they make meth out of products like that?) But as you may have noticed, Tim Eyman is a bald-faced liar; it's anything but. It would divert money away from Sound Transit and mass transit to road-building at exactly the time we need to be getting people out of their cars. No, No, and No.

I-1000: Religious lobbies are pouring in money and deception to try and defeat this measure, which would allow the terminally ill the legal right to control their own passing. What is it about so many Christians that they don't trust us to make decisions about our own bodies? Yes.

I-1029: Would require certification for long-term care workers for elderly and disabled persons. Yes.

King County Charter Amendment No. 1: Would elect the county's Elections Director. Managing a modern elections office is a job for professionals who know their business, not for partisan political hacks. This is backed by Republicans, still bitter at Dino Rossi's 2004 loss, who would rather make this an obscure elected office and then stack the office with a hack of their choosing. No.

King County Charter Amendment No. 2: Would add "disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression" to the list of the county's banned discriminatory practices in employment and contracting. Yes.

King County Charter Amendment No. 3: Would revise the structure of regional committees, most notably reducing the number of county council members from six to three. Yes.

King County Charter Amendment No. 4: Would establish professional qualifications for the elected offices of Sheriff and Assessor. No other county in the state has such a provision--and the whole point of having elected department heads is that the people decide who serves, not some anonymous committee who vets challengers' resumes first. This "solves" a problem that doesn't need fixing. No.

King County Charter Amendment No. 5: Establishes an economic forecast council and a Office of Economic and Financial Analysis. Yes.

King County Charter Amendment No. 6: Moves budget deadlines 20 days earlier. More time to catch all the hidden surprises. Yes.

King County Charter Amendment No. 7: This has one good provision--it removes the county council approval process for citizen initiatives to make it on the ballot--and one really, really bad one--it doubles the number of signatures required, from a threshold that's already 20 percent higher (by percentage of eligible voters) than the state's requirement. No.

King County Charter Amendment No. 8: Would make the King County Executive, County Council, and County Assessor "nonpartisan." The quote marks are there because this is an initiative backed by local Republicans, who've noticed that their party affiliation, if stated openly, is a liability (ask Dino Rossi). They don't actually want nonpartisanship; they just want to hide their ideology and affiliations. No.

City of Seattle Proposition No. 1: Would raise $73 million in property taxes to renovate Pike Place Market. Ya know what? In bad economic times, households put renovations off. Governments can, too, especially with all the more urgent needs that will have to struggle for funding in the coming year of shrinking budgets. No.

City of Seattle Proposition No. 2: See above, and substitute $145 million for city parks--money intended for a long wish list of projects at a time when wish lists aren't appropriate, and with a Parks Department that has had serious problems in recent years with transparency, accountability, and commercialization. We love parks, but ... not this measure, this year. No.

Sound Transit Proposition No. 1: On the other hand, there is nothing optional about expanding Sound Transit's light rail, bus, and commuter rail operations. We will have to provide alternatives to the automobile in coming years, and the sooner we do it the better for the planet, our pocketbooks, and our sanity. Yes.

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