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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

LIVE from the Crosscut Festival: Bridging the Cascade Divide

The first ses­sion I attend­ed today was “Bridg­ing the Cas­cade Divide” dis­cussing the polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, but also the com­mon­al­i­ties, between East­ern and West­ern Wash­ing­ton. Mod­er­at­ed by jour­nal­ist Ted McGre­gor, pan­elists include high­ly-rat­ed, non-par­ti­san poll­ster Stu­art Elway, Grant Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court Judge David Estudil­lo, Kel­li Scott of The Wenatchee World, and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive J.T. Wilcox of Wash­ing­ton’s 2nd Dis­trict includ­ing south­east Pierce and Thurston Counties.

McGre­gor, pub­lish­er of The Inlan­der and Spokane Week­ly, start­ed off with some jokes and fun com­men­tary using the stereo­types both that West­side folks have of East­ern WA, and vice versa.

Elway start­ed with a bunch of sta­tis­tics, only a hand­ful of which I was able to cap­ture. Of note was the fact that 25 of the Wash­ing­ton coun­ties that vot­ed for Trump in 2016 were among the least eco­nom­i­cal­ly pros­per­ous in the state. He not­ed that part of where the Cas­cade Divide comes from is that fact that “pol­i­tics is orga­nized by inter­est, but gov­ern­ment is orga­nized by geography.”

He also not­ed that his polls show that a lot of resent­ment for West­ern WA on the part of peo­ple in East­ern WA is based on the (false) assump­tion that their tax­es pay for things in West­ern WA, which they don’t ben­e­fit from. In real­i­ty, there are six “donor coun­ties” in Wash­ing­ton that pay more in tax­es than they get back in ser­vices from the state, and those are five Puget Sound coun­ties plus Kit­ti­tas. Only 12% of poll respon­dents cor­rect­ly answer that their coun­ty receives more than they give.

Wilcox, who describes him­self as a “mid­dle-of-the-road­er” in the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture, not­ed that he has noticed a change over the years, in that there has always been an ide­o­log­i­cal divide to some extent, but there used to be a lot more moderates.

He points out that most Repub­li­cans, in Wash­ing­ton and across the coun­try, rep­re­sent the least wealthy coun­ties. The old adage that “he who has the gold makes the rules” is true to some extent in Wash­ing­ton, he said, and that is at the root of a lot of the resent­ment from East­ern and rur­al Wash­ing­ton towards West­ern and urban Washington.

Scott lives in East­ern WA and is the edi­tor of a news­pa­per in Wenatchee, but lived for many years in Taco­ma, so she feels like she sees both sides of the divide. She sees a lot of false nar­ra­tives that play out in East­ern WA, with folks believ­ing in the stereo­types of “lazy urban peo­ple vs. hard­work­ing rur­al folks.” This is con­nect­ed to the eco­nom­ic resent­ments and inac­cu­rate beliefs about tax­es that Elway and Wilcox mentioned.

She also not­ed that there is resent­ment in the Leav­en­worth and Chelan areas around avail­abil­i­ty and afford­abil­i­ty of hous­ing. There are many peo­ple from the West who buy sec­ond hous­es in those areas, and use them pri­mar­i­ly as short-term rentals, reduc­ing the amount of hous­ing avail­able for peo­ple who work in those communities.

Scott also made a pre­dic­tion about this fal­l’s Con­gres­sion­al elec­tions, say­ing she would be sur­prised if Dino Rossi, the Repub­li­can can­di­date in the 8th Dis­trict, did­n’t get at least 60% of the vote in Cen­tral Washington.

Judge Estudil­lo agrees a lot of the divide comes down to socioe­co­nom­ic issues. He said that it seems like a lot of peo­ple in Grant Coun­ty see King Coun­ty, and Seat­tle specif­i­cal­ly, as elit­ist. They have resent­ment over tax­a­tion and reg­u­la­tions that the feel hin­ders small busi­ness, and don’t see the ben­e­fits that their com­mu­ni­ty receives from the more pop­u­lat­ed counties.

He sees the biggest chal­lenge to bridg­ing the divide is the lack of inter­ac­tion across the lines. This makes peo­ple unable to see the com­mon ground they share. He finds that if peo­ple have the chance to sit down face to face and have real con­ver­sa­tions, they come to under­stand each oth­er more.

When asked by McGre­gor how the state leg­is­la­ture could help to bridge the divide, Rep. Wilcox not­ed that the leg­is­la­ture is prob­a­bly not well suit­ed for the best kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion because it is set up to have oppo­si­tion. How­ev­er he said that elect­ed offi­cials on both sides of the aisle do have social rela­tion­ships and get along, but that more often hap­pens in pri­vate, not in public.

Wilcox also men­tioned that this pan­el was the third one he had been asked to par­tic­i­pate in on the same top­ic in the last few months, so it is clear that peo­ple are con­cerned about this issue.

Elway then talked about how he used to say that Wash­ing­ton state was “one-third Demo­c­rat, one-third Repub­li­can, and one-third Inde­pen­dent, with the largest third being Inde­pen­dent.” But he says that is not real­ly the case any­more. Since 2010, Repub­li­cans are down to about 25%, and that Democ­rats and Inde­pen­dents go back and forth of who has the largest portion.

McGre­gor next point­ed out some indus­tries that have moved to East­ern WA in recent years, includ­ing serv­er farms in Quin­cy and car­bon fiber being made in Moses Lake. He then asked if there was any mod­er­a­tion in resent­ment for West­ern WA because of the jobs brought to the area by indus­tries sup­ply­ing the West.

Judge Estudil­lo thought yes, to some extent. He not­ed that when out­side com­pa­nies come in to the com­mu­ni­ty and invest, they also send employ­ees from out­side the area who move in. They then are work­ing and liv­ing along­side locals, and through these inter­ac­tions peo­ple begin to see the com­mon ground they share. He said this shows that change is possible.


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