NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

April King County special election results: LWSD levy passing, Evergreen bond failing

Today was an elec­tion day for vot­ers in a num­ber of juris­dic­tions across Wash­ing­ton State, although you could be for­giv­en for not know­ing that because scant atten­tion was paid to the elec­tion in the mass media and on social media.

In King Coun­ty, six juris­dic­tions placed mea­sures on the bal­lot for con­sid­er­a­tion by vot­ers. The Lake Wash­ing­ton School Dis­trict pro­posed a cap­i­tal levy, Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal Dis­trict #2 (Ever­green­Health) pro­posed a bond mea­sure, and two fire dis­tricts asked vot­ers to approve con­tin­u­a­tion of ben­e­fit charges. A third fire dis­trict asked its con­stituents if they want­ed to merge into anoth­er fire dis­trict.

Final­ly, the Vashon-Mau­ry Island Park and Recre­ation Dis­trict asked vot­ers in the coun­ty’s west­ern­most juris­dic­tion to extend an expir­ing prop­er­ty tax levy to fund oper­a­tions and main­te­nance costs from 2020 through 2023.

The ini­tial returns are now in, and here’s how each mea­sure is far­ing.

The Lake Wash­ing­ton School Dis­trict cap­i­tal levy is pass­ing by a com­fort­able mar­gin. 53.95% of vot­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing were back­ing the mea­sure, while 46.05% were opposed. The thresh­old for pas­sage is a sim­ple major­i­ty, thanks to the 2007 con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment that low­ered the bar for pas­sage of school levies.

The levy is for six years. If ulti­mate­ly approved, $120 mil­lion would be raised and the dis­trict says it would be spent on the fol­low­ing projects:

Per­ma­nent class­room addi­tions (capac­i­ty for 1,052 stu­dents):

  • Lake Wash­ing­ton High School (20 class­rooms)
  • Rachel Car­son Ele­men­tary (4 class­rooms)
  • Ben­jamin Franklin Ele­men­tary (8 class­rooms)
  • Rose Hill Ele­men­tary (8 class­rooms)
  • Mark Twain Ele­men­tary (4 class­rooms)

Core facil­i­ties and com­mon spaces

  • Addi­tion­al aux­il­iary gym­na­si­um and com­mons space at Lake Wash­ing­ton High School
  • Addi­tion­al core facil­i­ties* at:
    • Rachel Car­son Ele­men­tary
    • Ben­jamin Franklin Ele­men­tary
    • Rose Hill Ele­men­tary
    • Mark Twain Ele­men­tary

*pend­ing fea­si­bil­i­ty

Safe­ty enhance­ments

  • Exte­ri­or secu­ri­ty cam­eras at ele­men­tary schools.
  • Mod­i­fi­ca­tions to entrances of:
    • East­lake High School
    • Lake Wash­ing­ton High School
    • Red­mond High School

Also pass­ing are the two ben­e­fit charge propo­si­tions.

Wood­inville Fire & Res­cue’s ben­e­fit charge has the sup­port of 83.42% of vot­ers in its juris­dic­tion, with only 16.58% opposed. King Coun­ty Fire Pro­tec­tion Dis­trict #40 is doing even bet­ter, with 87.67% approval.

Mean­while, the pro­pos­al to merge Fire Pro­tec­tion Dis­trict #10 (which is locat­ed in the Fall City area) into the larg­er near­by Fire Pro­tec­tion Dis­trict #27 (East­side Fire and Res­cue) is fail­ing. 54.7% of vot­ers there are say­ing no, while 45.3% are say­ing yes. Based on these ear­ly results, it looks like a merg­er isn’t going to hap­pen.

The Ever­green­Health bond is also fail­ing. 57.38% of vot­ers in Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal Dis­trict #2 are back­ing the propo­si­tion, which is a robust major­i­ty, but the mea­sure actu­al­ly needs a 60% yes vote and a min­i­mum turnout of 40% to pass under the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion because it is a bond mea­sure.

Vot­ers were asked to sign off on $345 mil­lion in gen­er­al oblig­a­tion bonds for seis­mic safe­ty and oth­er cap­i­tal improve­ments, as stat­ed in the bal­lot title:

The Board of Com­mis­sion­ers of King Coun­ty Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal Dis­trict No. 2 adopt­ed Res­o­lu­tion No. 895–19 con­cern­ing a propo­si­tion to finance improve­ments to its health care facil­i­ties.

The improve­ments include Seis­mic and Infra­struc­ture upgrades; a new Crit­i­cal Care Unit; updat­ing the Fam­i­ly Mater­ni­ty Cen­ter; new Med­ical Office Build­ings for Spe­cial­ty Care Expan­sion; Tech­nol­o­gy Sys­tems Improve­ments; and oth­er improve­ments. Approval of the bal­lot propo­si­tion would autho­rize issuance of up to $345,000,000 of gen­er­al oblig­a­tion bonds matur­ing with­in thir­ty years to pay for such improve­ments and the levy of annu­al excess prop­er­ty tax­es to pay the bonds, all as pro­vid­ed in Res­o­lu­tion No. 895–19.

The Ever­green­Health Foun­da­tion —  a 501(c)(3) char­i­ty affil­i­at­ed with the peo­ple who run the hos­pi­tal dis­trict — poured more than three hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars into a cam­paign to con­vince vot­ers in the Kirk­land and Red­mond area to vote yes. Curi­ous­ly, the hos­pi­tal dis­tric­t’s board opt­ed against par­tic­i­pat­ing in the voter’s pam­phlet, caus­ing King Coun­ty Elec­tions to issue the fol­low­ing notice:

Why are there mea­sures on my bal­lot that are not in my pam­phlet?

Pam­phlets are only print­ed for a spe­cial elec­tion when request­ed by a dis­trict. For this elec­tion, Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal Dis­trict No. 2 did not request to par­tic­i­pate in the voter’s pam­phlet.

The above dis­claimer appeared on the back of the fold-out voter’s pam­phlet tucked into each bal­lot pack­et mailed to vot­ers in the Red­mond-Kirk­land area.

The Approve Ever­green­Health effort turned to well known right wing oper­a­tives to try to pitch the hefty bond mea­sures to vot­ers, includ­ing Matthew Lundh and Josh Ama­to’s Mer­cer Island-based Ser­mo Dig­i­tal, which has done work for Rob McKen­na, McKen­na’s strate­gist Randy Pep­ple, Steve Lit­zow, for­mer Ohio gov­er­nor John Kasich, and Shift­WA, a right wing web­site that con­sists almost exclu­sive­ly of blog posts denounc­ing pro­gres­sive elect­ed offi­cials and orga­ni­za­tions.

Addi­tion­al­ly, an out­fit called Ele­phant Grass­roots was hired to do phonebank­ing, and GMA Research of Belle­vue was com­mis­sioned to sur­vey vot­ers.

(If you’re won­der­ing why right wing oper­a­tives would be hired to pitch a bond mea­sure to vot­ers, the answer is that there are sev­er­al Repub­li­cans on the board that gov­erns King Coun­ty’s Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal Dis­trict #2.)

Ser­mo Dig­i­tal cre­at­ed and mailed at least three direct mail pieces to vot­ers in an attempt to per­suade them to vote yes. Each heav­i­ly empha­sized seis­mic safe­ty, with one ask­ing: “Is your hos­pi­tal ready for the ‘big one’?” and not­ing: “Sci­en­tists say a 9.0 earth­quake is com­ing, we just don’t know when.”

Emer­gency pre­pared­ness is not a theme we usu­al­ly see in cam­paign ads. Ser­mo Dig­i­tal was work­ing with a premise that had a lot of poten­tial.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for their client, their exe­cu­tion was bad.

For exam­ple, they tried to incor­po­rate pho­tos of the actu­al hos­pi­tal into their mail­ers instead of rely­ing exclu­sive­ly on stock pho­tog­ra­phy. Good idea, but… some of the source images were of an insuf­fi­cient res­o­lu­tion for print pro­duc­tion, result­ing in mail­ers with fuzzy, pix­e­lat­ed pho­to back­grounds. Yikes.

Worse, the firm failed to intro­duce a human ele­ment into the ads. All the pho­tos in the three mail pieces obtained by the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute are of build­ings or hos­pi­tal equip­ment. None are of peo­ple.

Fur­ther­more, the ads do not explain how the whole com­mu­ni­ty ben­e­fits from a hos­pi­tal com­plex that is seis­mi­cal­ly sound. The ads only explain how the hos­pi­tal would ben­e­fit. For exam­ple, here’s a para­graph from one of the mail­ers:

The core areas of the hos­pi­tal con­tain crit­i­cal ser­vices and infra­struc­ture that allow the rest of the cam­pus to oper­ate. They also hap­pen to be housed in our orig­i­nal (and old­est) parts of the hos­pi­tal. Retro­fitting these 1970s build­ings — and not tear­ing them down — will ensure that patients will expe­ri­ence less impact as we improve safe­ty.

This para­graph sounds like it could have come out of a strate­gic plan writ­ten by a hos­pi­tal admin­is­tra­tor. A bet­ter approach would have been to cre­ate mail­ers star­ring peo­ple from Ever­green, like a doc­tor, a nurse, and a patient, with each explain­ing the val­ue and neces­si­ty of the bond mea­sure to the com­mu­ni­ty.

Ordi­nar­i­ly, secur­ing 57% of the vote would be con­sid­ered a smash­ing suc­cess. But the bar for pas­sage of this bond mea­sure is 60%. It seems unlike­ly the hos­pi­tal will be able to secure both the 60% yes vote and the 40% min­i­mum turnout it needs.

Ever­green­Health’s board set itself up for fail­ure from the get-go by sub­mit­ting this bond mea­sure to the April bal­lot instead of the Novem­ber bal­lot and then opt­ing not to par­tic­i­pate in the voter’s pam­phlet for the spe­cial elec­tion.

The Vashon-Mau­ry parks levy also appears head­ed for defeat. Cur­rent­ly, 52.28% of vot­ers on the islands are back­ing the levy, while 47.72% are opposed.

Like the Ever­green­Health bond, the mea­sure needs a 60% yes vote.

“This levy mon­ey will be approx­i­mate­ly a 34% increase, about $450,000 more col­lect­ed,” wrote pro­po­nents Hilary Emmer, Karl Stet­son, David Hat­tery in a state­ment urg­ing a yes vote pub­lished in the voter’s pam­phlet.

“Over the next four years, this will allow us to tack­le essen­tial infra­struc­ture projects and need­ed main­te­nance: to Agren and BARC fields, Lis­abeu­la and Agren park­ing lots, major work on Belle Bald­win house, Inspi­ra­tion Point wall, var­i­ous projects at Point Robin­son, install restrooms at all our parks, and work on inva­sive species reme­di­a­tion,” they explained.

Since Repub­li­cans in the Leg­is­la­ture aren’t inter­est­ed in chang­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion to low­er the thresh­old for pas­sage of school bonds, it seems unlike­ly that the sixty/forty require­ment for bonds of all kinds is going away any­time soon.

How­ev­er, the Leg­is­la­ture could, by major­i­ty vote, embrace the idea of less is more and abol­ish the Feb­ru­ary and April spe­cial elec­tion win­dows, leav­ing local gov­ern­ments with just two high­er turnout options for future bal­lot mea­sures: the Top Two elec­tion or the gen­er­al elec­tion. Get­ting rid of spe­cial elec­tion win­dows would save mon­ey and reduce elec­tion fatigue. It’s a move we need to make.

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