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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Unions urge voters to take a pass on Ross Hunter for county executive over state budget

The race for King County Executive is starting to heat up a bit.

A coalition of unions, represented by local consulting firm Moxie Media, announced this morning that they are launching an independent expenditure campaign against 48th District Representative Ross Hunter, whose brisk fundraising has eclipsed that of his Eastside rival, Senator Fred Jarrett.

Typical of independent expenditures, the campaign pretends that the the contest is a referendum on one candidate's qualifications for the job, and urges voters to "vote no on Ross Hunter for King County Executive".

The ad campaign rests its case on Hunter's support for the awful state budget passed by the Legislature this year, which made deep cuts to public services and used federal money as a crutch to avoid completely eviscerating state government. In fairness to Hunter, he wasn't the only one who voted for the budget. Pretty much every other Democratic legislator voted for it too, including all three of mine.

But Hunter is the chairman of the House Finance Committee. Could he have done more to craft a more responsible budget? We believe the answer is yes.

This organization, long ago, reached the point where we became sick and tired of the excuse making that emanates from the statehouse. The distinguished Washingtonians who serve there have gotten rather good at it over the years and, especially in the wake of the most recent session, it's gotten really old.

The phenomenon can be readily observed at town halls hosted by legislators; I've been to a fair share of them, and witnessed it firsthand. The excuses that are typically offered in response to constituent questions about "Why is [fill in the blank] still a problem?" or "What about trying [fill in the blank] to solve [fill in the blank]?" are so common they could even be sorted by category.

For example, one of my favorites is blame the leadership. A representative or senator, or a group of them, assures a constituent, Well, I/we wanted to do this, but leadership nixed it. Constituents have even been the recipients of a common refrain from the executive sector That's above my pay grade. Say what?

The Legislature punts so often, on almost everything, that it's a miracle when something good is achieved - like deciding to make the fee used to support our state parks opt-out instead of opt-in, to save parks from closing.

On virtually every issue, the Legislature has dithered rather than taking action. The climate crisis? Now is the time for bold action, but the House and Senate haven't taken any; they even ignored the governor's plea to act.

Helping homeowners? Efforts to give victims of contractor negligence a recourse have had defeat snatched from the jaws of victory repeatedly.

Transportation? Legislators have tried to dump the responsibility for urban highways onto local leaders in Puget Sound where it doesn't belong (remember RTID? And the shotgun marriage with Sound Transit which failed miserably?)

Public financing? The most we've gotten is a "local option" that allows clean elections to be implemented at the local level. The excuse for inaction on public financing is that there isn't any money. Uh huh.

Tax reform? The Legislature has done nothing of consequence. Taxes are regressive as ever. The Legislature, in late November 2007, stupidly reinstated Tim Eyman's Initiative 747, squandering a huge opportunity to fix our property tax mess. Ross Hunter voted for reinstatement of I-747. So did Fred Jarrett. We have not forgotten that vote. We remain as disgusted today as we were then with all the parties involved in that utter failure of leadership.

The larger issue of tax reform is something voters should be asking Ross Hunter about, because again, as mentioned earlier, he is the chair of the House Finance Committee. The issue is under his jurisdiction. Virtually no progress has been made, and he is now asking voters to trust him to run King County.

King County would benefit fiscally from tax reform. Why, when Ross Hunter was in a position to do something, was so little done? Why?

Now, it would be unfair to say that Ross has done nothing. He'll say that he has tried to help the county. And that's true. But he hasn't done enough. Voting for reinstatement of Initiative 747 certainly did not help King County or its thirty nine cities. (Readers, if you get the impression that that vote is an awfully sore point of contention with us, that's because it is.)

Although we might not like the way these independent expenditures have been worded, we think the concerns they highlight are valid.

The no-good budget produced by the Legislature was constructed out of a patchwork of bandages and a big infusion of federal money. No long term salve was applied to the state's fiscal problems. We have not heard Ross Hunter offer a good explanation for his budget vote, and that's because it's indefensible.

The budget the governor and Legislature put together was irresponsible.

Republicans are correct when they allege the state has deep-rooted fiscal problems; Republican dishonesty kicks in when they say spending is out of control and imply the situation would have been different had they been in charge. Not so.

The 2007 surplus would not have been invested or saved, it would have been wasted by them in the form of tax cuts. The state's fiscal problems stem from its broken tax structure, which no one (save for a few progressive legislators, like Senator Jeanine Kohl-Welles or Representative Bob Hasegawa) is willing to fix.

Were Ross Hunter among the small number of progressive legislators who have been working for years to fix our tax system, had he voted "no" on reinstatement of I-747, had he defended Sound Transit when it came under attack, and had he decided that in good conscience he simply could not vote for this year's budget, the independent campaign that was just launched against him would not exist. Period. Instead, he would be considered a progressive champion.

Furthermore, many of the endorsements that Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips have secured would probably have gone to him, in a flash. He's a smart, likable guy. He would have been able to campaign as a progressive candidate of change. A real progressive from outside of Seattle willing to tackle the county's problems.

Unfortunately, that's not his record, despite our fervent wishes to the contrary.


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