Wednesday, May 29, 2019
DO OVERS: Several races in 2019 seem awfully familiar. Vacancies and district shuffling are the reason why.
The early withdrawal last week of Whatcom County Council Chair Rud Browne and Anacortes Republican Michael Petrish from the 40th District Senate race mercifully stalled what appeared to be a cloned repeat of the 2017 primary for the lower House seat.
Anacortes City Council member Liz Lovelett was selected by Democrats in February to replace Kevin Ranker in the Senate for the remainder of 2019 session of the Legislature. She did an outstanding job of bringing the Senate back up to full membership and helping to pass bills for orca recovery, K-12 and higher education investments, mental health programs, and clean energy.
Now, however, Lovelett must run and be elected in this November’s election in order to serve out the remainder of Ranker’s term, which ends in 2020. Then, yes, if she wishes to continue to serve she must run for reelection again next year.
The slate of candidates arrayed against her initially looked eerily similar to those who competed against Rep. Debra Lekanoff in her primary last August.
“This race is to fill a one-year term, requiring an immediate run again in 2020,” Browne noted in a press release that explained why he had clawed back his application after filing for the office on May 16. “I recently ran in 2017 for my second term on the County Council and again in 2018 for the open State House seat. Winning and holding the Senate seat would have amounted to four campaigns over four summers,” he admitted.
Browne decided instead to support and endorse Lovelett in her reelection campaign against a now smaller field of Democrats in the 40th District.
With the withdrawal of Petrish, it appears this district may at last draw a primary the Left has dreamed of—a runoff among a field of superbly qualified liberals who can drive the public debate powerfully into progressive terrain. The state’s dysfunctional top-two primary is perversely insensitive to that goal.
Carol Frazey faces a similar déjà vu in her race for Whatcom County Council in the last clumsy reshuffling following a redistricting in 2015. Frazey was just elected to one of the council’s At-Large positions last November to replace a vacancy created as incumbents shifted into newly redrawn districts. Now she must run again for election to the official four-year term.
Frazey is challenged by a group considerably to the right of her politically. The strongest of these challengers, Brett Bonner, suspended his campaign this week following the disclosure that he had sexually harassed a woman volunteer last February when he was vice chair of the Whatcom County Republican Party.
Bonner briefly served as the public policy director at Whatcom Business Alliance, the front group created by Business Pulse publisher Tony Larson to push an aggressively right-wing agenda including full-throated support for fossil fuel exports at Cherry Point.
Tea Party Tony remains president of Whatcom Business Alliance as he pursues the office of Whatcom County Executive this fall. Larson got kicked in the head in an enforcement action in 2016 by the state’s elections watchdog, the Public Disclosure Commission, for clandestinely running the Clear Ballot Choices campaign on behalf of Pacific International Terminals (proponent of the Cherry Point coal port) while he was serving on Whatcom County Council—so we do have cause to doubt his ability to firewall and separate his private schemes from his public functions.
Clear Ballot Choices represented a sub rosa effort to kneecap the equitable redistricting of county voting districts (Charter Proposition 9) in preference to their mischief to divide-and-conquer and silence Bellingham’s voice in county elections (Charter Proposition 1).
PIT is gone, but their pendulum swings on.
The redistricting shuffle created the complication of the current hour, with Frazey having to run again for a position she was just elected into last November. If elected this time, she can serve the full four-year term.
Finally, we come to an analogous complication for the At-Large position on Bellingham City Council.
Immigration attorney Hannah Stone was appointed to the position to replace the seat vacated by Roxanne Murphy. Stone prefers to shift and run for the Ward 1 seat currently held by April Barker. Barker has chosen not to run for reelection to Council, instead setting her sights on the mayor’s office. At-Large is a two-year term; Ward 1 is a four-year term.
The At-Large seat is open again for another very dynamic primary runoff that will ultimately reshape City Council as a youthful cohort steps into their roles in city government.
These reshufflings and and their attendant primaries carry costs, which is one reason the association of 39 county election officials in April asked the state (without success) to pick up its fair share of election expenses. Currently, the counties pay the tab for the elections of state offices like the 40th District. House Bill 1291 and Senate Bill 5073 would have required the state to pay its share. Unfortunately, the bills were held up in committee and did not pass last session.
A more efficacious solution is House Bill 1722, which would provide an option for local communities to move away from the top-two primary and conduct elections using ranked choice voting. In that system, voters rank the candidates for a particular office in order of preference, including one write-in candidate. The option could eliminate the need for a primary runoff, and would certainly produce less perverse outcomes in races strongly polarized by political parties. Unfortunately, it too died in legislative committee.
To encourage a slate of excellent candidates and greater voter participation, ranked choice could be a godsend.