The Moderate Washingtonian

Outlook on politics and elections in the state of Washington from an overall centrist viewpoint. My views tend to be libertarian in nature, but at the same time are largely nonpartisan.

25 November 2008

Justice Sanders hijinx

Turns out he was loudly heckling AG Mukasey at a banquet last week before being asked to leave. How this traditionalist faux-libertarian gets elected in Washington is beyond me.


22 November 2008

Profile: King Co. Elections Director race

Last Thursday the Times had a pretty good article about potential candidates for this February's special election to elect King County's elections director for the first time. The short campaign season means that we should see candidates entering the race all at once here in the coming couple weeks, and a crowded field could mean a winner elected with a small plurality of the vote. The winner will probably depend on the parties getting behind a single candidate in hope of keeping their base from splitting their way to victory for another candidate. While it's clearly Democrats worrying about this scenario the bulk of the speculated candidates in the Times piece were Republicans. The seat is nonpartisan, for an office that should be run in a very nonpartisan manner, but I think we're going to see a lot of partisan posturing for this office.

Potential candidates:
Sherril Huff [D] - appointed incumbent, not considered likely to run but possible
Ross Baker [D] - County Council chief of staff, ex-aide to Larry Gossett
Chris Clifford [R] - high school teacher and Pat Davis recall advocate
Joe Fain [R] - chief of staff for Pete von Reichbauer
Lloyd Hara [D] - Port Commissioner, considering running but may focus on reelection
Anthony Hemstad [R] - elected Valley Medical Center Commissioner, ex-Maple Valley city manager
David Irons Jr. [R] - ex-County Councilman, failed 2005 County Exec candidate
Jason Osgood [D] - failed 2008 Secretary of State candidate, election reform advocate and blogger
Pam Roach [R] - State Senator and carpetbagger from Pierce County

A few brief comments here, since this thing is going to get moving quick and I'm sure will be discussed at length soon enough. I don't think the Sims establishment will back Osgood and if he is to win it's going to be in a crowded race. His support in the Seattle blogs could be enough to earn him a win if there are several credible candidates and the winning margin is brought down. I think Hara will pass and Baker will be the establishment candidate due to his close ties to Gossett and Sims. Republicans are going to have to pick a candidate and get behind them, because it's going to be hard to win if their vote is split. Roach is a no-go and Irons will have a tough time winning outside of a packed field. I don't think Clifford's claim to fame will be enough to earn him a solid base of support even if a lot of people don't like Pat Davis. Hemstad might be the smart pick for the GOP as he is harder to paint as a GOP partisan and has a lot of local experience. Fain could prove to be an attractive candidate for the party but given his youth it seems unlikely.


18 November 2008

A Proposal for Democratic Election Reform

Throughout our history as Washingtonians we have held and honoured a reputation as a progressive society, and hold a rich tradition of open and democratic elections. We continue to cling to the classic blanket primary system and its populist successor, the Top Two primary, in spite of the fact that both major parties stridently oppose them. These election systems hold their popularity through each generation because the citizenry believes they allow the voter to more accurately choose the candidate that best represents them. These systems are noble and more democratic than most other states' comparable systems, but the time is ripe to take election reform to the next level and cement the state's progressive reputation in the future.

The way to do this is to implement Proportional Representation. Proportional Representation systems have the ability to better match voter sentiment because it allows the seats of a legislative body to be distributed at the same or a similar weight as the votes were tallied. Whereas in our current single-member "First Past the Post" system, one candidate is elected per district and this leaves citizens who voted for other candidates without suitable representation. It also skews the representation of a legislative body towards a dominant regional group, and leaves open the potential for unfair district gerrymandering.

We can see evidence of the First Past the Post distribution skew everywhere. Take, for example, the seats of the state House of Representatives for Eastern Washington in the 2004 election. This region has a reputation as very Republican and the results bear that out, as Republicans captured 19 of 22 Eastern Washington seats that cycle. It is also worth noting that, being a presidential year where patriotism and activism runs high, Democrats were able to run candidates in 21 of those 22 races. In the 21 races where there were both Democratic and Republican candidates, Republicans captured 61.7% of the combined vote versus 38.1% for Democrats. When you consider that Republicans hold 86% of these contested seats despite only earning 62% of the vote, the First Past the Post skew becomes apparent. It's a similar story in the 2006 elections, where many of these districts were won by unopposed candidates. Twelve of the 22 districts were contested by both parties in 2006, and Republicans won 57.7% against 42.3% for Democrats. One could argue the Proportional Representation-First Past the Post split is even more egregious in this scenario, where Republicans won 75% of these twelve seats while only taking 58% of the combined vote. This with a very close Democratic pickup in Spokane's 6th district in a Democratic year. It's the same story in other areas, too.

Proportional Representation most certainly better represents the will of voters and electing legislators from statewide party lists allows even the most disaffected regional minority party voter to feel as if their vote counted and they have representation in the legislature. Using a Proportional Representation model for Washington would also have the potential to elect third party legislators, which is nearly impossible in the First Past the Post model. The system would clearly be a boon to a group like the Libertarian Party, who has historically earned mid-single digits in statewide elections. If a Libertarian legislator were elected proportionally, it would finally give thousands of voters across Washington the voice they deserve in Olympia. In this way, Proportional Representation usually broadens the political spectrum in jurisdictions in which it is used. In foreign governments like Norway's, they have seven different parties that surpassed the minimum vote percentage to elect Storting members. These parties then had to form coalitions representing a centre-left governing bloc and a centre-right opposition bloc. In a country with a two-party system like the United States, it gives these minor parties a shot at electing someone at the state level, a near impossibility otherwise. In that scenario, these parties would have a mouthpiece in government to push forth their agenda and allow voters to better acquaint themselves with their proposals. They would then have the potential to grow their ranks, and while that is unlikely, it still gives these voters the chance to be properly represented.

The downside to a solely proportional system is that it rids citizens of electing officials who are locally-accountable. This is why most international countries that utilize Proportional Representation use a combination of the latter and First Past the Post systems. One can see examples of this in the national governments of Australia, France, Germany, Mexico, and Japan to name a few. Britain has also begun implementing a form of Proportional Representation in its devolved parliaments for Scotland and Wales. Electing, say, half of a legislative body proportionally and half in single-member districts is truly a best of both worlds approach. It gives voters in a region a voice in government who is accountable to voters of that area as well as utilizing the Proportional system to more fairly distribute the other half of the body. Required vote percentages to earn proportional seats varies by country, from Japan's meager 2% hurdle for seats in its upper house to the Russian Federation's high bar of 7%, raised by President Putin as a means to stifle opposition. The latter example shows that Proportional Representation isn't always fairly implemented, but a more modest requirement like Japan's allows for a fair seat distribution.

Switching to a partially-proportional system is easier than one might think. The way the state House of Representatives is currently elected is ideal for a half-and-half setup, as each district elects two representatives. This proposal would require no alteration of legislative district boundaries to implement. The state Senate retains 100% First Past the Post voting in its current districts, but each district would elect one representative instead of two, with the other seat in each district being elected via statewide party lists. This would make the state House of Representatives, the "people's house," half proportionally-elected. The statewide party lists allow each party on the ballot to list all their candidates seeking proportional seats. A voter would then choose which party to give his or her proportional vote by selecting which candidate in their preferred party they most desire to be elected. For example, if a voter supports the Democratic Party list and prefers Lynn Kessler above all others on the list, that voter would vote for Kessler in the Democratic list and vote in no other lists. Then if the Democratic Party earns 50% of the statewide vote, or about 24 of the 49 proportional seats, the top 24 vote getters in the Democratic list would be elected. If Kessler were in the top 24, the voter would have helped elect her on the proportional list, while if she failed to make the top 24, the voter would still have 24 Democratic representatives elected on their preferred list even if the voter's home district went Republican in its single-member districts. As for the required threshold to earn proportional seats, it would be most prudent to set it at two to three percent of the vote in the Japanese mold. This modest bar maximizes the opportunity for minor party candidates to compete, and thereby give a typically-disaffected minority of voters a reason to participate.

There's little doubt both major parties would oppose such a radical idea. They have little reason to support it. The current system favours them and with their best interests at heart would not want anyone to crash their party. This is not important, though. The parties have always resisted election reform, whether it was to bring about primary elections instead of conventions or to implement open primary systems instead of closed partisan primaries. Washington has been on the cutting edge of progressive election reform against the parties' wishes multiple times and will continue to be in the future. Being as such an idea would likely be dead long before reaching a floor vote in the legislature the obvious way to further this proposal is through the initiative process. This is not to say that I necessarily intend to do this, but in this post-election downtime I thought this was as good a time as any to put the idea out in the public sphere. If you believe in building a more fair and democratic government, it starts with how we elect our representatives. Tell your friends.


07 November 2008

The legislative picture

After another two days I think we can start to call some of these closer leg races. I'm not terribly interested in whether the media has called them or not because I think in a lot of cases the media makes poor judgments. Statewide, the only race that I think could possibly change still is the lands commissioner race, which was called for Goldmark yesterday. The others should stay where they are, which puts me on the wrong end of a few close races from my pre-election predictions. C'est la vie...

The Senate appears to have experienced a one-seat gain by the Republicans should trends hold. Randi Becker took the lead from Senator Rasmussen in the 2nd district yesterday and has extended that lead today. I always thought Rasmussen would hold on for one last term but this was certainly the #1 GOP opportunity in the Senate and I'd have judged it the most likely for either party as well. On the Democratic side, District 17 leapfrogged Districts 28 and 18 on my list, the latter two looking to be fairly easy retentions by incumbent Republicans. Senator Benton had a surprisingly close call against David Carrier, who led him in early returns, but now looks to be en route to another term. Here's the recent numbers:

LD2 - Randi Becker [R] leads Senator Rasmussen 50.4-49.6
LD10 - Senator Haugen [D] defeats Linda Haddon 54-46
LD17 - Senator Benton [R] leads David Carrier 51-49
LD18 - Senator Zarelli [R] defeats Jon Haugen 55-45
LD28 - Senator Carrell [R] defeats Debi Srail 54-46

The House has a lot more close races that aren't yet certain. Democrats look to have picked up the 17th and 41st districts and Republicans look to have picked up seats in the 6th and 26th districts. Democrats currently lead in the 6th and 10th districts but trends are running against them. A breakdown:

LD5 - Rep. Anderson [R] leads David Spring 51-49
LD6 - Kevin Parker [R] defeats Rep. Barlow 53-47, John Driscoll [D] leads Rep. Ahern 50.07-49.93
LD8 - Brad Klippert [R] leads Carol Moser 52-48
LD10 - Tim Knue [D] leads Rep. Smith 50.06-49.94
LD14 - Norm Johnson [R] leads Vickie Ybarra 52.5-47.5
LD16 - Rep. Grant [D] defeats Terry Nealey 53-47
LD17 - Tim Probst [D] defeats Joseph James 56-44
LD25 - Bruce Dammeier [R] leads Rob Cerqui 52-48
LD26 - Jan Angel [R] leads Kim Abel 52-48
LD30 - Rep. Priest [R] defeats Carol Gregory 53-47
LD39 - Rep. Kristiansen [R] defeats Scott Olson 54-46
LD41 - Marcie Maxwell [D] leads Steve Litzow 52-48
LD44 - Rep. Loomis [D] leads Mike Hope 51-49
LD45 - Rep. Goodman [D] defeats Toby Nixon 55-45
LD47 - Rep. Simpson [D] defeats Mark Hargrove 53-47

A few notes:
1. I almost want to call the 6th for Ahern based on how much he's been gaining in late counts. Driscoll has a very narrow lead but I don't think it's likely he's going to keep it, even with such huge turnout in Spokane. Similar story in the 10th, as Norma Smith has closed the gap to such a small margin with the trends going so heavily to her.
2. Benton County has about 10000 ballots left to count. Klippert holds a lead of just under 2000, and is the likely victor but I won't call it until some of those ballots are counted.
3. Yakima County has about 20000 ballots left to count, so I hesitate to call that race for Johnson. He's had a steady lead and will probably win, but like the 8th I'm waiting a little longer.
4. Pierce County is taking a long time to count its ballots because of having separate ballots for state and county offices, with the ranked choice voting going on and all. Since we don't really know how many ballots are left or from which parts of the county, I'm not going to call the 25th or 26th for a while yet.
5. I hesitate to call the 41st because Litzow has tightened the race in recent returns. Like Pierce, it's hard to know where the remaining 230000 King ballots are coming from, but I think it's best to wait on this one as well.
6. In the 44th, Hope has been closing the gap hardcore. Snohomish County has 70000 ballots left to count and I really think that one could go either way.


05 November 2008

Next day numbers

A lot has changed since last night's post, with the networks calling it for Gregoire while Rossi is keeping the faith. The 8th is a nailbiter again, as is the race for lands commissioner and OSPI, and to a lesser extent the open treasurer's seat. If we see ballots cast later trending towards Rossi at the top of the ticket then I could see the treasurer's race changing hands, but I'm thinking the spread is too much for Rossi to make a comeback. There are a lot of legislative seats still up in the air, so this post is primarily meant as an update on those. Turns out I left off a couple more House seats from the prediction sheet aside from the 25th district one I caught in time. The 17th and 10th district had races that should have been factored in and I missed them, so depending on how future counts end up it could mean the difference in one or two seats changing hands.

Key Senate races:
LD2 - Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen [D] leads Randi Becker 51-49
LD10 - Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen [D] leads Linda Haddon 53-47
LD17 - David Carrier [D] leads Sen. Don Benton 50.1-49.9
LD18 - Sen. Joe Zarelli [R] leads Jon Haugen 53.5-46.5

Key House races:
LD5 - Rep. Glenn Anderson [R] leads David Spring 50.5-49.5
LD6 - Kevin Parker [R] leads Rep. Don Barlow 51-49, John Driscoll [D] leads Rep. John Ahern 51-49
LD8 - Brad Klippert [R] leads Carol Moser 51.5-48.5
LD10 - Tim Knue [D] leads Rep. Norma Smith 51-49
LD14 - Norm Johnson [R] leads Vickie Ybarra 53-47
LD16 - Rep. Bill Grant [D] leads Terry Nealey 54-46
LD17 - Tim Probst [D] leads Joseph James 57-43
LD25 - Bruce Dammeier [R] leads Rob Cerqui 50.5-49.5
LD26 - Jan Angel [R] leads Kim Abel 51-49
LD30 - Rep. Skip Priest [R] leads Carol Gregory 51-49
LD39 - Rep. Dan Kristiansen [R] leads Scott Olson 52.5-47.5
LD41 - Marcie Maxwell [D] leads Steve Litzow 54-46
LD42 - Rep. Doug Ericksen [R] leads Mark Flanders 53-47
LD44 - Rep. Liz Loomis [D] leads Mike Hope 53-47
LD45 - Rep. Roger Goodman [D] leads Toby Nixon 55-45
LD47 - Rep. Geoff Simpson [D] leads Mark Hargrove 54-46


04 November 2008

Early returns - 9pm

So, yeah, Obama won. My state by state map I did for Eli at The Stranger's little contest is looking promising so far, with no mistakes yet. Should MT, NC, and IN fall to McCain and Obama takes MO then it'll be flawless, but at this point I'm feeling doubtful about MT and IN. So far on the statewide front we've got ridiculously close races for governor (as expected) and treasurer, with slightly larger leads for Doug Sutherland for lands commissioner and Randy Dorn for OSPI. I love the interface is using for statewide contests but it's a bitch to load, and it's even harder to load the legislative races. From what I've seen in so far the 6th district is very close with both challengers narrowly leading incumbents, which if it holds would mean parties would trade seats with new Reps. John Driscoll [D] and Kevin Parker [R].

As of right now, here's what's going on in the close statewide races:

Rossi 51.4
Gregoire 48.6

Martin 51.4
McIntire 48.6

Sutherland 53.3
Goldmark 46.7

Dorn 51.3
Bergeson 48.7

EDIT: Just looked at new legislative races, close races going on in the 8th with nutty Klippert currently leading 51.5-48.5, Tim Knue up 50.7-49.3 in the 10th, Vickie Ybarra doing better than expected but still down to Norm Johnson 52.7-47.3 in the 14th, Bill Grant edging Terry Nealey 50.6-49.4 in my own backyard of the 16th in a close one I didn't see coming, David Carrier beating Don Benton 50.1-49.9 in the 17th, Jan Angel leading in the 26th 50.8-49.2, Doug Ericksen leading a surprisingly close one in the 42nd 51.8-48.2, and Liz Loomis up 53.1-46.9 in the 44th. More to come.

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03 November 2008

Statewide elections predictions, part 2

Now for the last round of predictions, the closer statewide contests. I fear they may open me up to the charge of bias towards Republicans, but it seems to me that for the second cycle in a row their statewide candidates are going to outperform their party counterparts at the top of the ticket as well as downballot. It certainly seems that the only offices the GOP can seem to recruit well is statewide, as of late. Anyway, on to the calls:

Attorney General:
I held off on posting this in the prior predictions list on the off chance that the John Ladenburg campaign could start to close the 57-43 gap from the primary, but if recent polling is to be believed the end result might be even wider. The last SurveyUSA poll from October 27 tracked Rob McKenna at 57% while Ladenburg fell to a meager 36%. It looks to me like the Democratic Party's attempt to derail McKenna's promising career before it starts is officially over.

McKenna [R] 59
Ladenburg [D] 41

Insurance Commissioner:
I wanted to start off with this one since it was an office I accidentally left off the previous statewide post. This is a rematch between incumbent Mike Kreidler and Republican candidate John Adams. Kreidler won by 13 points in 2004 and the primary by 17, though the losing candidate was a Republican running unaffiliated and Adams will probably get most of those votes. I don't really see how Adams could close the gap when Kreidler seems to have a solid base of around 53% of the vote.

Kreidler [D] 56
Adams [R] 44

Superintendent of Public Instruction:
In the primary I went against polling in picking incumbent Terry Bergeson and was right, as she won with 39% over Randy Dorn's 34%. Just as in the primary, polling consistently shows Dorn with a lead, though he's never been anywhere close to 43%. I'm sticking with a Bergeson win as she always does far better than polling suggests and with such a high number of undecideds I think a big chunk of voters are going to go with the familiar name.

Bergeson 54
Dorn 46

Commissioner of Public Lands:
This was the only statewide race I called wrong in the primary, as incumbent Doug Sutherland edged out challenger Peter Goldmark 51-49. Polling since the primary shows Sutherland retains a slight lead:

SurveyUSA 10/27: Sutherland 45 Goldmark 43
Elway 10/19: Sutherland 38 Goldmark 33
SurveyUSA 10/13: Sutherland 47 Goldmark 38

Being that I don't put much stock into Elway polls one can deduce a slight movement towards Goldmark from SurveyUSA polling, though it's a tough call if it's enough to put him over the top. I do think that Goldmark is the toughest challenger Sutherland has had in his three statewide elections, and highly doubt the end margin will be larger than his win last time over Mike Cooper.

Sutherland [R] 51
Goldmark [D] 49

I've been really disappointed that so little coverage has been focused on this sole open statewide seat. The only polls I've seen on it have been unreliable Elways, and the media has said so little about it that there isn't much to go on aside from newspaper endorsements, fundraising, and the primary finish. Allan Martin won the primary with 45% against two Democrats, with state Rep. Jim McIntire in 2nd place at 39%. Normally the conventional wisdom would be that the 15% that went to Democrat Chang Mook Sohn would naturally flow to McIntire, but when you consider that Sohn is a moderate and McIntire has a very liberal record and represents the left-wing 46th district, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sohn vote split roughly 50-50 (in full disclosure, the bf and I were both Sohn voters now supporting Martin). Martin won virtually all the big newspaper endorsements, and with the support of incumbent Democrat Mike Murphy I'm giving him a slight edge despite that open seats typically lean Democratic here and that a Republican hasn't held this office for eons. If nothing else, the ghost of Vic Meyers will be pleased that we'll finally have another moustache in statewide office.

Martin [R] 51
McIntire [D] 49

I think we all have our own opinions on the candidates, so I'm not going to go into that. Virtually all the reputable polls show it's a statistical tie and while it's unlikely we'll have a situation as close as 2004 this could really go either way, and my guess is as good as any of yours. Much has been made of Rossi's ballot listing as GOP, and how it has the potential to give him more votes than if he ran as Republican. The problem with the vast majority of polls is that they label him Republican, so there's the potential that he'll do better than they predict, but since this is a new situation for all of us and it hasn't been specifically proven that GOP does better than Republican (aside from what Elway tells us), we'll just have to wait and see how things turn out. The only poll that I've seen that accurately describes him in their poll wording is the Washington Poll, which tracked the race at 50-48 in Gregoire's favour in last Saturday's release. Casting aside all misgivings about the Washington Poll, and Lord knows I have them, that still shows the race in a statistical tie, which is probably where the race is and has been for a long while.

One thing that came out today was a Seattle P-I analysis that shows higher turnout in Rossi counties than Gregoire counties, Jefferson and Pacific aside. While the primary proved that Gregoire could win with poor turnout in King, I've decided to give Rossi the edge. I think a simple comparison of the two campaigns shows that he's been dictating the big issues and been much better in ads, and in a neutral year he'd probably win by a couple points. We'll just have to see if there are enough Obama-Rossi voters to put him in the governor's mansion.

Rossi [R] 50.3
Gregoire [D] 49.7