Elections bring out coastal differences

By Brian Beckley
Published October 25th 2006 in Enumclaw Courier-Herald

It's no secret that I am not originally from around these parts. Anyone who knows me will tell you I wear my East Coast pedigree and New York attitude like a badge of honor.

But in the few years I have been here, I have really grown to love it in the Puget Sound area and have stayed despite the end of the relationship that brought me here and the near constant protests of my parents, not to mention my constant craving for a decent slice of pizza and/or bagel.

I thoroughly enjoy the culture, the easier-going pace and even the weather, but as an import, there continues to be things about the Sound that amuse ("pop," heh heh.), confuse (what's with putting ranch dressing on everything?) and infuriate (why do you people insist on driving 10 miles an hour below the speed limit in the passing lane?) me.

This is never more clear to me than during election season.

First, there is the insistence of so many Washingtonians to vote by absentee ballot. Is it really that difficult to take time once a year to stop and do your duty as a citizen? I know there is the convenience factor of it all and the ability to review whatever campaign material you've received and/or the voters' pamphlets, but these things can be done ahead of time.

I think voting has lost its luster in this country and I think going to the polls makes it more of an event, an outing, something special. I also hate the initiative process that Washingtonians seem to hold so dear. It seems to me to be completely unnecessary and antithetical to our basic form of government. Contrary to popular belief, we do not live in a democracy. We live in a representative democracy. We elect people to represent us and make laws on our behalf. This is the main point of election day.

In theory, initiatives sound like a great idea, but the fact of the matter is that with enough money, you can get just about any initiative on the ballot, despite the effects it may have on some other aspect of government.

Then, with enough advertising money you can influence and spin the electorate to vote for a bad law.

The system is supposed to work like this: you have an idea for a law, you tell your representative; if they think it is a good law, they propose it, if the people the other lawmakers represent think it is a good law, they either vote for it or lose their seat. Simple.

Because governance is - for the most part - complicated, we have people who work at it full time. And we the people can be easily misled and fooled by a blitz of advertising and a cheery slogan.

But then along comes a guy like Tim Eyman, who doesn't care that car tabs help pay for the horribly deteriorating and overcrowded roads we all use, proposing simply to "lower taxes" with no thought to what that might mean to the state budget. And who's not going to vote for lower taxes?

If Tim Eyman is so filled with good ideas and so tied into what the people want, he should run for office. If he's got time enough to dress up like various superheroes in order to stage press events in Olympia, he's probably got the time to work within the system.

But I guess being a civil servant doesn't pay as well as taking money from the people who donate to your cause.

The initiative process also allows, say, a group of developers and insurance companies to try and sidestep the land use regulations and zoning laws and seek to further drain state coffers with the "Property Fairness Act," also known as I-933.

This initiative looks to punish cities for trying to protect environmentally sensitive areas - among other things - by forcing them to pay land owners for any perceived loss of value a regulation may cause. Along with that, the law is retroactive to 1996, meaning anything a city or state has done in the past 10 years can come back to haunt them.

The Secretary of State's office estimates this will cost Washington taxpayers billions and billions of dollars. A similar measure passed a few years back in Oregon has already cost Beaver State residents an estimated $6 billion, not to mention preventing cities counties and the state from enforcing zoning laws.

As Washingtonians we also vote on our Supreme Court justices, something else I don't understand. Judges, especially those whose job it is to determine the constitutionality of any given law, should not be beholden to the fickle whims of the voting populous, not to mention having to whore themselves out to big money donors.

Those things could affect the decisions, forcing judges to rule the way they think voters want them to rule - in order to keep their job - instead of focusing solely on the Constitution. The recent gay marriage decision, which they punted back to the Legislature, is a prime example.

The majority of justices decided that the legal right to marriage was only entitled to those wanted to procreate, seemingly ignoring the clause in the state constitution that prohibits granting "privileges and immunities" to one class of citizens that are not granted to all.

Personally, I think the justices were thinking ahead to the election instead of applying the Constitution to protect the rights of one class of people from the tyranny of the majority.

This fall, however, voters in Pierce County have a chance to do something truly progressive, changing voting forever in the county and getting as close to the the beloved but unconstitutional "blanket primary" the state was forced to abandon a few years back.

A proposed amendment to the Pierce County Charter is proposing for all county candidates a system known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), a court-tested method that eliminates entirely the need for a primary.

In the IRV method, voters rank their choices for a particular position in order of preference. In each round of ballot counting, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated. If your top choice is no longer in the running, your vote goes to your second choice and so on until only two candidates remain. Then, the one receiving the most votes wins.

It's a little complicated, I'll give you that, but it is a great way to subvert the power of the political parties and may even better open the process to minor parties, which could help crack the Republicrat stranglehold on the process.

And everybody wins then, even the guy driving 45 mph in the passing lane.