Though there are many ballots that remain to be counted, enough votes have been tabulated to predict the likely outcome for this year's crop of ballot measures and key races. With some exceptions, it was a disappointing election night, filled with bad news. So...what happened? Why couldn't Democrats and progressives capitalize on last year's momentum? While there are many possible reasons, here's my take on what happened, boiled down to a single word:Complacency.
You can't help but notice it's a theme tying together so many of the campaigns that came up short (or likely will come up short).
Take Bill Sherman's campaign for prosecutor.
We had an excellent candidate with a knowledgeable campaign team and a good strategy who could have been victorious.
But Bill didn't get the support he needed to be competitive.
The Republicans put huge amounts of money behind Dan Satterberg and they're now reaping the benefits of their cash infusions. The Democratic Party did not respond in kind, even though it couldn't have possibly had a better candidate.
State party leaders and prominent Democratic elected officials seem focused on the future, not the present.
Speeches lately contain endless references to 2008, caucus preparations and the presidential race are dominating discussions at meetings, and the Gregoire reelection effort has been at the forefront of the state party's agenda for months.
The level of enthusiasm needed to propel Bill Sherman to victory just wasn't there. Several influential Democrats, some of whom are well known attorneys, even went out of their way to help Dan Satterberg
at Bill's expense.
Here's an example of what I mean: yesterday, two of us represented NPI at a campaign luncheon for Chris Gregoire featuring Governors Sebelius and Napolitano of Kansas and Arizona, respectively. The luncheon, which drew a thousand plus people, was held to raise money for the Governor's war chest for next year.
You wouldn't have known there was an election going on during the whole event except that Gregoire paused briefly during her speech to remind attendees to vote.
After the three governors had spoken, Jenny Durkan came to the podium to give the fundraising pitch. Durkan, who is a personal friend of Gregoire's and a member of the victorious legal team that won the gubernatorial election challenge, exhorted attendees to donate to Gregoire and spoke of building the party
Yet Jenny has been a strong supporter of Republican Dan Satterberg's campaign, and according to what we've heard, actively worked to persuade the Governor not
to endorse Bill Sherman or give him any help.
That's building the party!?
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders failed to pull out all the stops to help get Bill elected. The state party's technology director did set up an emergency virtual phonebanking system for Bill, but it was last minute and there wasn't much of an effort to get activists to participate in it. The sophisticated advance planning needed to turn out votes for Sherman didn't occur.
The real excitement that should have surrounded our candidate for prosecutor as he approached the finish line never materialized.
The party failed to substantially invest in Bill's campaign... and then it didn't put together the resources to build a powerful get out the vote effort that could have potentially neutralized the Republican cash infusions.
In the weeks and days leading up to last night, our party has held event after event to raise money for next year.
For example, the Eastside Dinner...which featured Darcy Burner, the Magnuson Awards...which featured Hillary Clinton (and brought in a record haul for the state party), or the KCDCCC Honors Banquet...which featured Governor Gregoire.
Why were all these events in October? The Maggies are usually in August...the 2006 King County Honors Banquet was held in the winter.
It's like this whole season our party and its leadership has been joyously looking forward, celebrating the past (2006) and anticipating a great future (2008), instead of getting down to business and working to win in the present: 2007.
Complacency didn't just hurt Bill Sherman.
If Democrats had been motivated to win this year, a challenger to Jane Hague would have been found. But potential candidates didn't see the possibilities, didn't realize the importance of competing everywhere.
No prominent Democrat stepped forward to run, and then...the King County organization didn't identify and get behind a candidate until after the filing period had closed
and Richard Pope had locked up the nomination.
An assumption was made that the county committee would get to pick a candidate by default after the filing period closed.
And so, the opportunity to beat Jane Hague was lost.
Proposition 1, the Roads & Transit proposal, which is likely headed for defeat, never recaptured the momentum that was lost as soon as opponents began attacking the plan. The support it enjoyed months ago was a mile wide and an inch deep. And it dried up as those who did not appreciate the ambitious, pragmatic approach to regional transportation for various reasons banded together and did everything they could to distort and manipulate the facts.
(Proud of your tight alliance with Kemper Freeman, Jr., Mike O'Brien?)
The measure was backed by a strong coalition. Significant energy was spent on outreach to different communities. Campaign operations were managed by a smart, competent team. Yet the measure is being rejected everywhere.
I don't know how many people I've heard in the last month tell me that they thought Proposition 1 would win, narrowly, but it's been a lot. Assumptions were made about the outcome; valuable lessons learned in past battles were forgotten. Too much was made of optimistic internal polls that forecasted victory.
The campaign didn't push back forcefully and defend the investment when it needed to. The television advertising was unimaginative and predictable. The theme was: if we don't pass this, we're in trouble. We can't wait. It will cost more later - we have to do something now. This is what we've got.
The first ads weren't too bad. But they never got better after that.
Instead of concisely explaining the benefits of building a rapid transit network, addressing dangerous choke points, and painting a vision of a better transportation system that offered choices, the ads almost talked down to voters.
People were told what was good for them.
The message could have been stronger, sharper, and more innovative. It failed to incorporate key qualities that would make it resonate with the electorate: qualities that are the hallmarks of winning political advertising.
Complacency also hurt the effort against Tim Eyman's Initiative 960.
Instead of looking at the significant challenges involved in convincing the people to vote no as opportunities, those in charge of spending the money adopted an attitude of defeatism. Instead of creatively reframing, the campaign ceded ground to Eyman and the right wing from the very beginning.
The undemocratic aspects of the initiative weren't emphasized; the message was not well refined. The campaign didn't build a strong presence in the "swing" counties where these kinds of measures are won and lost: Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston, Whatcom, Skagit, Clallam, Jefferson, Spokane, Clark.
A diverse coalition was assembled but its potential never harnessed.
The ballot measure with the best field effort (SJR 4204: simple majority) is falling short in part because it wasn't embraced more broadly and eagerly.
Like Bill Sherman's campaign, it could have used a badly needed burst of enthusiasm to put it over the top. While devoted education advocates worked tirelessly and quietly on SJR 4204, their efforts didn't get enough notice and reinforcement from the larger progressive community.
Thankfully, complacency didn't sink everything.
Where we were victorious there was hard work, an aggressive campaign strategy, strong outreach, and a solid message.
Look at Referendum 67 as an example. The Approve 67 team was organized and on the ball from Day One of the fight: they never stopped shoring up their support or hammering away at the insurance industry. When attacked, they fought back. They used meaningful stories to prove their points.
The industry put in a record amount of money and tried to buy the election. They failed. Referendum 67 is winning.
In the nonpartisan Seattle Port Commission races, despite enduring attacks from their well funded and desperate Republican opponents, Alec Fisken and Gael Tarleton are still in the game. They ran together on a strong platform of port reform and took absolutely nothing for granted.
They hoped for the best and expected the worst. This morning, Gael's out in front while Alec is about even with his opponent.
In Snohomish County, Mike Cooper and Brian Sullivan approached their county council races with spirit and cheer.
They saw the possibilities, put together a plan to win, and acted on that plan. They communicated their values effectively and authentically. And the first Snohomish County returns show them winning by healthy margins.
Two years ago, following a lousy presidential election (2004) we managed to have an impressive string of victories that set the stage for the huge wins we racked up in last year's midterms. Major highlights included the defeat of Initiative 912, the reelection of Ron Sims as county executive, knocking Jeff Sax off the Snohomish County Council, and stopping Initiative 330.
This year was like a mirror opposite of 2005, dominated by disappointing losses instead of key victories. It's not the way we should be heading into 2008.
Tonight is a reminder that much work remains ahead for the Democratic Party, the progressive movement, and the netroots community.
That includes the development of permanent infrastructure that can help counter the right wing's array of think tanks, media outlets, leadership pipelines, and civic engagement machinery - infrastructure that can help ensure we don't fall victim to complacency again so easily.