As Above, So Below
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW: Election ballots are in the mail—so declare press releases from election officials around the state, including the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office—in what’s being touted as the most important midterm election in a generation. And while every election is important in its own particular way, certainly this election is a critical referendum in numerous and powerful ways.
Something is broken in our representative democracy when Democrats must win nearly everywhere nationally by 8-point majorities to have any hope of clawing back the lower U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate is virtually out of reach, according to recent electoral models. And the political left and center of this country may very soon have to seriously grapple with the reality that they’re everywhere in the majority and winning elections, but nowhere in power and losing more power with every cycle.
For Washington, the situation is less immediately dire; and we’ve noted before a deepening divide as the Western states are moving their own direction, and having their own conversations distinct from the rest of the country about evolving demographics, economics, public policy and direct democracy.
Voters across the country are about to decide whether to adopt a number of ambitious policies in perhaps the biggest test of progressive ideas before the American public this November. Three states are considering Medicaid expansion. Four are considering marijuana legalization. Voting rights expansions, anti-gerrymandering measures and restrictions on campaign spending are on the ballot in 12 states.
Washington has led the way in all of those efforts, and races ahead even further with other ambitious initiatives.
The state could be the first in the nation to enact a carbon tax. If it passes, Initiative 1631 will impose a fee of $15 per ton of carbon emitted by the state’s largest polluters. The revenue, an estimated $1 billion per year, would be spent establishing clean-energy projects and helping low-income communities affected by climate change.
Recent polling suggests support for I-1631.
Even greater public support is indicated for Washington’s gun control measure, Initiative 1639.
“Aspects of I-1639, such as enhanced background checks and raising the purchase age for semi-automatic firearms from 18 to 21, are components that would set Washington state apart from most states,” the Seattle Times noted in its reporting. “The measure would also require firearms training before a semi-automatic rifle can be purchased; a 10-day waiting period after the purchase of a semi-automatic rifle, and add a class C felony to the books for gun owners whose firearm is accessed by a person prohibited from having a firearm. The class C felony would be the most severe in the nation for a violation of storage laws.”
The greatest margin of public support appears directed at Initiative 940, which would change the legal procedure for prosecuting police officers who kill civilians.
Under Washington’s current law, prosecutors must establish that an officer acted with “evil intent”—a standard almost impossible to prove, leaving the state with some of the worst laws on police accountability in the country. Initiative 940 would raise the bar for police accountability, allowing prosecution of officers who employ deadly force without a reasonable expectation that their lives are in danger. The initiative would require an independent investigation whenever a police officer kills or seriously harms a civilian and mandate de-escalation and mental health crisis training for all officers.
Its passage seems likely, and in any event the state Legislature has already adopted laws that embrace the goals of I-940.
Of course, the race for Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney has itself become a referendum on justice reform and reamins continued commentary on the county’s failure to address rates of incarceration in a deteriorated jail facility.
The possibility of a generational shift in the prosecutors office has electrified local politics, and has had the unintended consequence of drawing attention from other races and issues down ballot.
Among these is the race for the unexpired remainder of Whatcom County Council’s At-Large position. The position was vacated by Todd Donovan when he shifted seats as a result of redistricting, and is held by former Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew II in a temporary appointment.
In a quiet campaign, mild Bellingham progressive Carol Frazey squares off against firebreather Mike Peetoom in what could represent a fundamental shift in the balance of the Council. Certainly the election of Peetoom would further polarize and perhaps paralyze County Council next year.
Council’s continued work is critical as they draft public policy and land-use requirements in response to climate change and fossil fuel export projects.
While Washington is having its own dialogue about federal imperatives, federalism is still at work on the state.
This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the agency will reopen the environmental review of a proposed Longview coal-export terminal that already has been rejected by the state departments of Ecology and Natural Resources. Developers want the Trump administration to keep alive the Millennium Bulk Terminals project, which would offer a new outlet to export up to 48 million tons of western coal to Asian markets.
The administration is also considering using West Coast military installations or other federal properties to smash open the way for more U.S. fossil fuel exports to Asia in the name of national security, despite opposition from coastal states. The proposal generated a quick backlash as it seeks an end-run around West Coast permitting processes that have rejected private-sector efforts to build new coal ports in their states, a challenge to our own sovereignty.
Thus does the national impact the state and local, although we’re vitally at work to craft our own path. Vote like it is important, because it is.