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
As Above, So Below

October 16, 2018

As Below, So Above

October 10, 2018

A Civil Disagreement

October 3, 2018

Zombie Pipeline

September 26, 2018

Too Little, Too Late

September 19, 2018

Open Secret Disclosed

September 12, 2018

Consent of the Governed

September 5, 2018

Let the People Decide

August 29, 2018

3-in-1 Oil

August 22, 2018

A Deeper Dive

August 15, 2018

Blue Wave Stalls Offshore

August 8, 2018

Mountains of Our Efforts

August 1, 2018


July 25, 2018

Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

A Supreme Shifting

June 27, 2018

The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Rainbow Reads

3:00pm|Ferndale Library

Cook It and Book It

3:30pm|Lynden Library

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

War Through the Eyes of Women Book Club

6:00pm|Bellingham Vet Center

Peru Novoandina

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Mind-Body-Food Connection

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

WAKE Meeting

6:30pm|Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Center

Beginning Square Dance Lessons

7:00pm|Ten Mile Grange

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Fancy Bingo

7:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Comedy Open Mic


Village Books
Bellingham at Home Informational Meeting

1:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Endangered Species Curator's Tour

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Prosecutors race is a referendum on reform


Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Where the sidewalk ends


Walking to the End of the World

7:00pm|Village Books

Brian Dean Trio

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Climate Change and Forests

7:00pm|Sustainable Living Center

Modified documentary and Panel Discussion

7:30pm|Pickford Film Center

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Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Komo Kulshan Ski Swap

4:00pm|Bloedel Donovan

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Camber Exhcange

5:30pm|1820 Scout Place

Falling Out of the Box Jewelry Challenge

6:00pm|Jansen Art Center

Squash Celebration

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Chuckanut Radio Hour

6:30pm|Whatcom Community College

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Nooksack River Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Duck Variations

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Skriker

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Side Show

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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