Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Washington's suburbs have turned blue

Much to the dismay of state Republicans almost three weeks ago, Democrats overnight chalked up wins in legislative district after legislative district all up and down the Puget Sound as the national blue tidal wave extended into the Evergreen State.

They won especially on the Eastside, in the central Sound, as Seattle Times reporter Andrew Garber points out this morning in an intriguing article.

The headline was "Region's suburbs may see benefit from one-party rule in Olympia". The only quibble we have with it is the word "may". "Will" should have been used instead, because this and future legislative sessions are going to prove that issues important to suburban communities are going to be at or near the top of the legislative agenda.

(Democratic leaders have of course been quick to point out that they will not ignore rural constituents, even though most of those communities are still going to be represented by Republicans. That's the proper approach.)

For years Democrats have been making inroads in the suburbs, but it wasn't until this year that a transformation has really been felt. Democratic candidates won all over - by sizable margins. Voters like the leadership they're seeing from the Governor and the state Legislature. They understandably want more.

Republicans have long claimed that they are the party that best represents suburban interests - the WSRP has previously had a graphic on its website with such a boast. (That image is now nowhere to be found).

But voters are convinced otherwise.

On a side note, it's actually surprising how many Republicans and conservatives believe Democrats are strictly an urban party. Oftentimes when we have talked about the suburbs, we have received comments and emails telling us we Seattle liberals don't know what we're talking about.

NPI, however, is not based in Seattle. It is actually headquartered in the suburbs - in Redmond, Washington. So while we are a statewide and regional organization, the Eastside is where a sizable number of our staff live. We have been at the forefront of the effort to make our representation in Olympia more Democratic.

Indeed, our home legislative district, the 45th, has gone from being represented by two Republicans and a Democrat to three Democrats - Representative Larry Springer, Representative-elect Roger Goodman, and Senator-elect Eric Oemig.

To the south, the 48th is also all Democratic now. Ross Hunter is returning to the state House and he's bringing Deb Eddy with him. Rodney Tom, meanwhile, is headed to the state Senate.

The shift leaves Republicans in a lousy position. As more and more legislative districts have turned blue, their minority has gotten smaller and smaller. Democrats now have supermajorities and the ability to confidently ignore demagogues like Tim Eyman, who has essentially been reduced to an irrelevant failure.

Republicans have predicted that the Democratic caucuses will go wild and hand out a lot of favors to interest groups. We strongly disagree with such sour cynicism.

Democrats are not in Olympia to make a mess or reward friends...unlike the Republicans in Washington, D.C., many of whom are now departing Congress.

Democrats are in Olympia to govern and to make progress. There is going to be a serious focus on solving problems over these next two years. That's what the voters expect and that is what we in the progressive movement expect.

Already my new state Senator, who represents our home legislative district, is talking about his plans:
Senator-elect Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland, today laid out his priorities for his first term in the Washington Senate, saying he is excited to take on the challenge of performance-tuning the state budget.

Among the first bills Oemig plans to sponsor is one calling for “smart metering” for utilities:

"By moving utility meters inside of the home, people see exactly how much money they are spending, as they are spending it. Smart meters change the way people think about and consume energy. When people see exactly how much money they save by switching off an extra light, they tend to turn off the light."
Eric has also clearly laid out his top priorities, which he put together after listening to constituents. They are:
  • Improving public education by investing in early learning,
  • Reducing health care costs and improving access by requiring large companies to provide a basic health care plan and ensuring every Washington child has access to high-quality health care,
  • Saving taxpayers time and money by strengthening Washington’s roads and transit system.
In last week's podcast I talked about legislation that Democrats are planning to introduce. That episode highlighted the need for actual governance, delving into how Democrats can link proposals to simple, widely held progressive values that the electorate already understands and appreciates.

With Republican roadblocks out of the way, Democrats are poised to move forward again, this time with greater ease. Even some Republicans recognize that:
"As much as it pains me to say so, it may actually be beneficial that all of the responsibility for either solving the public's problem ... or being solely responsible for doing nothing about it falls right at the feet of only one party," said Bob Wallace, a Bellevue developer and longtime Republican.

"There shouldn't be as much arguing about what we're going to do and how we're going to pay for it," he said.


Many of the Republicans in the Legislature had campaigned on various no-tax-increase themes over the years and had made commitments to not raise taxes ... even though their constituents were strangling in traffic and even though some taxation was the only way to pay for solving those problems," said Wallace, the Bellevue developer. "The Democrats generally aren't in that bind."

[The 41st's Republican Representative Fred] Jarrett agreed, saying, "I think it will be easier to move the transportation debate forward because people who are just anti-government are much less important in the discussion. Getting rid of that roadblock of no new taxes, for example, I think makes progress easier."
In the podcast I noted that Republicans have actually helped Americans lose faith in government. Voters are acutely realizing that government can make a positive difference and they want to see the tough problems get tackled.

They can't turn to the Republicans, because the GOP's answer is to axe revenue, repeal regulations, and destroy programs. That's not fixing what's broken, it's making the situation worse.

But Democrats understand the importance of public investment. Democrats are keen to listen and figure out solutions that work. We'll concede that Republicans and conservatives have identified some problems with how government works. But their answers to those problems have been wrong.

Democrats want government to be more efficient. Democrats know that tax cuts do not make government more efficient. They exacerbate existing difficulties.

And thanks to voter education efforts, taxpayers are figuring out the same thing. In the last two years the people of the Evergreen State have rejected two tax cut initiatives and sanctioned the Legislature's decision to increase or save existing revenue.

Washington is becoming more progressive and more Democratic. Its suburbs have turned a deep shade of blue. In the coming months our state's political leaders will have the opportunity to demonstrate that tough problems can be addressed. Rarely has the future ever looked so good for the Evergreen State.

<< Home