December 2004
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Day December 26, 2004

The Washington governor’s race

The nation’s press seem to have noticed that we in Washington still don’t have a governor. Moreover, they seem to have picked up on the fact that most of us seem disconnected, ambivalent, and disgusted by the whole thing. Even politically motivated people such as myself appear to have lost steam through the process of count, recount, recount again, lawsuit, counter suit.

I’ve been trying to work out why this is. If there was a good reason to prefer Gregoire (for example) over Dino Rossi on November 2nd, then why isn’t there a good reason to continue preferring Gregoire on December 26th?

Well, at some level I continue to prefer Gregoire for governor, but my lack of fervor in that opinion seems to originate in a profound lack of interest in state politics. Throughout my lifetime, Washington governors have been fairly lackluster, and governance has increasingly shifted from elected officials to the poisonous over-reliance on initative and referendum which seem to plague California as well as my own state. Increasingly, revenue issues are impossible for elected officials to decide in their capacity as the people’s representatives, and are either passed back to referendum or initiated by citizen groups themselves.

Anti-tax rebellion continues full force, despite the fact that Washington sits in median ranks of states in terms of total tax burden. And despite daily evidence that funding our children’s education through a combination of liquor taxes, Lotto, property taxes, and unsustainable timber sales on impoverished fourth-growth forest plantations is not working. Relatively “rich” districts have some of the best teachers and schools around, while districts in areas with little wealth and sluggish local economies suffer through large class sizes and a general lack of quality. And even in the best districts, teacher salaries are ridiculous compared to what individuals with Master’s degree-level education make in the private sector. And the dominance of Democrats in the legislature and in the governor’s office hasn’t changed any of this a damned bit. Nor do the Republicans offer a real alternative — the need to pander to anti-tax fanatics virtually guarantees that.

And so, as the governor’s race in Washington winds down to a virtual draw and we prepare for the Inauguration Day of whichever candidate wins the last round of legal challenges, I find that I identify completely with the fatigue and ennui chronicled in the Times. Which is sad, because breaking the deadlock in state politics will be impossible without the committed effort and checkbooks of those, like me, who found themselves energized and passionate about electoral politics at the national level as recently as last month.