The Divisions Between Us
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
THE DIVISIONS BETWEEN US: With margins continuing to narrow and automatic recounts in last week’s election assured as supporters for all candidates chase remaining ballots that were unsigned or improperly submitted or otherwise spoiled, the takeaway lesson for Whatcom County is (once again) every vote matters. Voter turnout in this county in this nonpresidential election year was a whopping 76 percent, one of the highest in the state and certainly the highest among the most populous counties in the Puget Sound region. Despite that turnout (or more likely because of it), just 72 votes separate incumbent Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen from his challenger, Democrat Pinky Vargas in recent counts. Outcomes in the lower House races are only slightly more firm, with remaining uncounted ballots unlikely to flip those results.
While it was certainly a partisan election, results tantalizingly suggest other forces at work as well.
In an election characterized as the Year of the Woman—with record numbers of women and women of color filing for office—some portion of local voters responded to that, marking down their ballot with that preference, without regard for affiliation by political party. Sharon Shewmake was an excellent candidate in every aspect and campaigned powerfully against incumbent Rep. Vincent Buys. But something else in parallel was at work to explain the performance of the senior House member Buys in comparison to that of his colleague, Rep. Luanne Van Werven. Republican Buys received about 500 votes fewer overall than Republican Van Werven against her opponent, Justin Boneau, while Buys’ race generated more votes overall than Van Werven’s.
Differences in preference across the chasm of the rural/urban divide were also tremendous, as they’ve been in every recent election.
Bellingham voters strongly preferred Pinky Vargas over Doug Ericksen in the 42nd Legislative District. She gathered nearly 73 percent of the vote in those precincts. Sharon Shewmake performed similarly well, earning 74 percent and a majority in all but one of Bellingham’s 31 precincts that fall in the division of the 42nd LD.
“It’s nice to finally have a representative of Whatcom County’s largest population center back representing Bellingham in Olympia,” Mayor Kelli Linville commented on Shewmake’s apparent victory over Buys. Buys had defeated Linville when she was a state representative in the ferment of Tea Party upset in the midterm elections of 2010, bringing the revolution full circle.
Bellingham voters also had fewer problems overall in comparison to county voters and those across the state on the notion of taxing themselves to achieve beneficial policy results.
The Bellingham Low-Income Housing Levy, an extension of the 2012 Home Fund, passed powerfully at nearly 67 percent. The fund to address issues of housing insecurity for lower incomes passed in all but four of Bellingham precincts.
The city bucked state trends as well.
While a citizen’s initiative to price carbon pollution failed by 56.4 percent in statewide totals, Bellingham voters supported the carbon tax Initiative 1631 by an aggregate of 67 percent in all but a handful of precincts.
Bellingham voters rejected what was easily the most cynical measure on the Washington ballot, a saccharine effort financed by the sugary drink industry to forestall a soda tax. Initiative 1634 does nothing to unwind a current tax on soft drinks in Seattle, but prevents other cities in Washington from considering similar economic incentives against the consumption of unhealthy foods. The soda industry spent more than $22.1 million to crush an effort that no other city in Washington was even contemplating or proposing.
While their scheme worked and Washington voters supported I-1634 by 55.4 percent, Bellingham voters held a different view and rejected the measure by 60 percent.
Bellingham voters did find themselves in alignment with county voters and those across the state on other non-pocketbook initiatives to curb gun violence and hold police accountable in shooting events.
The latter measure, Initiative 940, passed by a sizable margin across the state. In Bellingham, I-940 saw overwhelming support, where city police already undergo de-escalation training and trauma counseling similar to that proposed in the measure.
Undoubtedly, legislators in Olympia will have sufficient support next session to perform a supermajority override on certain known deficiencies of I-940 that were addressed in their own bill—ESHB 3003—that was placed on hold by the courts pending the outcome of the election. The changes approved and memorialized in ESHB 3003 last spring have met the approval of both law enforcement professionals and the original sponsors of Initiative 940.
As the Gristle alluded to earlier, Bellingham voters seem to have fewer issues overall with the challenges and demands of life within populated urban areas than (understandably) do their rural counterparts, who more strenuously resist matters of regulation and taxation. The urban/rural divide is very likely a more durable, measurable division than even party affiliation—particularly as more and more independent voters reject the dysfunctional squabbling of organized Democrats and Republicans as insufficient to address the real problems at center of American life.
There’s another facet of the urban/rural divide that deserves recognition, however, and that is it is simply easier to canvass and knock on doors neighborhood-by-neighborhood in a city than is possible mile-by-mile in the county.
While candidates and activists did an extraordinary job in this election of “getting out the vote” in remote areas that typically don’t see canvassing efforts, the simple fact is doors get knocked on more often in Bellingham and voters hear appeals in a much more personal way. GOTV is cited as the single most effective instrument in an election, and the dividend it pays is a more progressive outlook where every vote matters.