The Gristle

Less Wave Than Slosh

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

LESS WAVE THAN SLOSH: Election 2017 was not so much a referendum than a barometer for state and federal midterms next year. And for the struggling progressive Left—consuming itself in a nonproductive generational holy war—the forecast is mixed.

Remarking on the sluggish early returns and the attendant probability of a low-turnout election, the Everett Herald editorial board last week observed, “The irony is that off-year elections, where the races are local, often have the greatest impact on communities and residents, determining the local officials who will be making decisions regarding public safety, transportation, zoning, businesses, schools, fire protection, local taxes and more.”

Voting counts; and elections carry consequences. But there are also consequences in not voting.

The most expensive and most watched legislative race in state history ended in little better than a stalemate and continued paralysis of the upper chamber of the Legislature; and unresolved issues likely set the stage for the takeover of the lower chamber by Republicans next year.

Democrats seized their slim one-seat majority in the state Senate, with Manka Dhingra in a 55.4 percent win over Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund in Redmond’s 45th Legislative District race. The candidates and their supporters spent a record $9 million in an effort to capture the district to control the Senate. The campaign was only a portion of the more than $40 million that candidates and political committees participating in the 2017 election reported spending to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, called independent spending in the 45th District a “painfully, horrifically unprecedented assault on common sense and a healthy democracy.”

Democrats—now with a single vote margin—will require extreme discipline within their caucus to thread their needle and achieve limited advances.

The affluent and urban Redmond district is one Democrats should be able to easily win, and they did, but the fact that they battled mightily in an all-out, all-in race foretells the struggle for anyone anticipating an easy tidal shift in midterms next year.

Locally, tepid early turnout threatened the coalition fighting against the expansion of fossil fuel exports at Cherry Point. Whatcom County Council remains empowered to replace Todd Donovan in his current district when the decision comes in front of Council early next year. A tidal shift and paralysis in membership might have allowed the County Executive to appoint a replacement for that position until a special election next November. Instead, with the reelection of Barry Buchanan, Council will control its own membership.

Council wins spell continued action on criminal justice reform; water and resource issues; and efforts to bring the county in compliance with state law. Council’s discussion of a special purpose taxing district to help pay for the restoration of Lake Whatcom will continue as a result of Tuesday’s election.

In her race against Council President Buchanan, challenger Mary Kay Robinson in particular racked up more than $164,000 in contributions and independent expenditures, much of it from realtors, land speculators, and gas and oil interests—eight times what the incumbent Buchanan received in independent expenditure support.

A more perilous outcome threatens the Bellingham waterfront.

A plurality had already formed on the current Port of Bellingham commission to turn the site immediately over to Harcourt Developments, the Irish firm still struggling to complete its overdue contract on the Granary Building, and declare the responsibilities of the port discharged. The election of Ken Bell—who will otherwise be a perfectly fine representative of an agency whose primary mission is economic development—perhaps cements the port’s deference to a remote developer with sketchy finances and spotty, mercurial performance on development goals. If he’s a smart businessman, Bell will consider carefully and cautiously the partner he’s asked to empower.

Overall, the unease of this election was based on a worrisome phenomenon: “Democrats do not tend to turn out like Republicans do in non-presidential elections, mostly because the two parties are now polarized between demographic groups that do (old white folks) and don’t (minority voters and millennials) proportionately participate in down-ballot contests,” political analyst Ed Kilgore noted in a recent column.

The Ds have lost their powers to dazzle a new generation, but what replaces their powers of GOTV?

One can admire the fervor of young progressives to seek new and better avenues of representation than the tired party lines that have served their demographic so poorly. But they’ve decided elections don’t work at a moment where we need elections very badly. And—much like Neville Chamberlain’s commitment to peace in 1938—their dissolution arrives at a moment of supreme risk for progressive outcomes, with nearly two-thirds of state legislatures and the national Congress in the hands of one of the most determined and well-funded political machines in world history—an increasingly authoritarian and unhinged Republican Party.

We can decry political parties and wish them gone, but what replaces their organizing power and their sustained ability to subordinate competing goals and build coalitions?

“If you don’t vote, your hostility to Trump—or to Republicans—doesn’t much matter electorally,” Kilgore comments dryly. “And to be frank about it, if you are a progressive voter who doesn’t consider President Trump to be a sufficient motivator to show up, whether he’s on the ballot or not, then Democrats do have a big challenge next year.”

Democracy is a venture that suffers under boycott. Know hope.

Past Columns
Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Cashing Out, Cashing In

October 25, 2017

A Creeping Paralysis

October 18, 2017

Fire and Water

October 11, 2017


September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

The Missing Middle

August 16, 2017

The Last, Best Solution

August 9, 2017

Fire and Water III

August 2, 2017

Fire and Water II

July 26, 2017

Fire and Water

July 19, 2017

Some Assembly Required

July 12, 2017

Good, Bad, Ugly

July 5, 2017

Zero Hour

June 28, 2017


June 21, 2017

An Existential Triangle

June 14, 2017

Home for the Holidays

5:00pm|Ferndale Events Center

The 39 Steps

7:00pm|Sehome High School Little Theatre

Little Women

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Romeo, You Idiot!

7:30pm|Heiner Theater


7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Craft Bazaar

9:00am|American Legion Post #43

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Used Book Sale

10:00am|Everson Library

Red Barn Handpicked Holiday Market

12:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

3:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

It's Where the Sidewalk Ends

6:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

New Music, New Dance

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Big Short One-Act Festival

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Pancake Feed

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Holiday Bazaar

9:00am|Hillcrest Chapel

Christmas in the Woods

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Acme Elementary School

Turkey Trot

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Climate Reality

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

South Fork Winterfest

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Fall Gardening

10:00am|Lynden Library

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Lynden Book Club

10:30am|Everson Library

Salmon Sighting

12:00pm|Haynie Creek

Conquering Writer's Block

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fishboy Holiday Show

2:00pm|FishBoy Gallery

NaNoWriMo and Indie Publishing

3:00pm|Everson Library

Skagit Wine & Beer Festival


Homeless Summit and Cold Weather Giveaway

3:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

i.e. artists talk

3:30pm|i.e. gallery

Small Works Opening

4:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Smith & Vallee Artist Talk

4:00pm| Smith & Vallee Gallery

WA 129 Poetry Reading

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Giving from the Heart

7:00pm|Depot Art Center

A Light in the Darkness

7:00pm|Church of the Assumption

Welcome Home Celebration

7:00pm|Village Books

Ruach Consort

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Eagles Hall

Michael Kaeshammer

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Legends of the Blues V

7:30pm|Byrnes Performing Arts Center

Village Books
Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School


7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Getting in on the act


Sound of Music Singalong

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Musical Thanksgiving

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Harmony from Discord with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The 25th Hour

4:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Rutie Dornfeld, John Miller

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

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Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Wander + Camber Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Camber Cafe

Rocks & Gems

7:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building


9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

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