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

Could Washington see a November election with no statewide ballot measures? Possibly

We are now one third of the way through 2017, and politically speaking, it’s already turning out to be a very unusual year, thanks to the continued, destructive ascendancy of Donald Trump. As Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat explains in today’s edition of his semiweekly column, all politics seemingly now revolves around Trump, which was particularly true this past week with the politically-motivated dismissal of FBI Director James Comey.

That’s not to say that Trump permeates every discussion about every issue, just that it feels that way. Life is now imitating art; the daily happenings in the White House could pass for scenes from Netflix’s House of Cards or ABC’s Scandal.

In the wake of last year’s elections, America’s ratings-driven big media continue to cover and analyze Trump’s every move, now having the excuse that Trump is the president of the country, so everything he does is arguably “newsworthy”.

(Since Trump now dominates media coverage, the only escape is to shut off one’s screens and unplug… something I strongly recommend to every reader of this blog. The weather is warming up, and our public lands are beckoning to us. I highly recommend planning at least a few backpacking trips for this summer. Even if all you can manage are some day hikes, you won’t regret spending time in our region’s beautiful subalpine meadows, temperate rainforests, or sandy beaches.)

The unusual political landscape has produced equally unusual side effects. As Danny Westneat discovered, it looks like 2017 might be the first year in decades that Washington winds up with a November ballot with no statewide measures on it. Meaning, no initiatives, no referenda, no constitutional amendments. Nothing.

Noted Westneat:

Perennial initiative pusher Tim Eyman has a property-tax-cutting measure, but it appears stalled with very little money. Another measure, Initiative 1552, the bathroom bill to mandate separate restrooms by gender, had only raised $87,000 by the end of April. Both campaigns have until July to turn in more than 300,000 signatures. But at this late date it would likely take a sudden infusion of major cash, upward of half a million dollars or more, for that to happen.

“We are going to be Eyman-free for the second year in a row,” crowed Andrew Villeneuve, 30, a Redmond-based activist who has been opposing Eyman’s anti-tax and anti-transit efforts for 15 years (yes, since he was 15 years old).

Villeneuve, who as director of the Northwest Progressive Institute also tracks lefty causes, said there’s a strange void right now in state politics. The overwhelming spectacle and ongoing shock of the Trump presidency has distracted everybody.

“There just isn’t anything progressive in the works,” he said. “There’s a desire to take advantage of the anti-Trump momentum out there, but it’s directed more toward 2018.”

As I mentioned to Westneat during our conversation last week, another reason why there’s nothing progressive in the works for 2017 is that we just had a bumper crop of progressive initiatives on the ballot last year.

Voters approved initiatives to increase the minimum wage and require paid leave (I-1433, which recently survived a constitutional challenge), provide for extreme risk protection orders (I-1491), put Washington State on record in support of a federal constitutional amendment declaring that corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech (I-735), and exempt some information about in-home caregivers from being harvested by right wing stink tanks (I-1501).

Voters in Puget Sound also approved Sound Transit 3, which Republicans like Dino Rossi and Steve O’Ban are absolutely obsessed with undermining. (They’d rather attack Sound Transit than do the jobs they were elected to do — sad!)

Considering what’s happening at the federal level though, this is a year when there really should be progressive ideas on the ballot in Washington. Progressivism, after all, is about forward movement, and the only way to achieve progressive change is to stay on offense. But running successful statewide initiatives isn’t easy. It takes a lot of resources and a lot of organizing. It requires focus.

And it’s tough to focus right now, with all the uncertainty in the air.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, the other side is trying to reach the ballot, but is having grave difficulty. Tim Eyman’s initiative factory is idle, brought low by self-inflicted wounds. And the religious right can’t seem to muster the money to force unnecessary votes on the civil rights of other Washingtonians.

So here we are, looking at a 2017 ballot that could be devoid of any ballot measures… statewide ballot measures, that is. There will still be local propositions to vote on in jurisdictions around the state. But unless the Legislature puts some question before the people to decide, or adopts a budget that triggers an unconstitutional Eyman advisory vote push poll, this could be the first odd-year election since 1985 that is truly a local election, with no statewide ballot measures.