Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: elections


Our choices in the 26th and 29th legislative races

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The 26th Legislative District, west of the Narrows, is rural and suburban. The 29th, dominated by Tacoma’s southern neighborhoods, is working class and gritty.
What they have common are lively Democratic primary races for the state House of Representatives.

In the 26th – which encompasses the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas, as well as Port Orchard – Republican Rep. Jan Angel has no challenger from within her own party. But two Democrats, Stephen Greer and Karin Ashabraner, are after her seat.

Greer of Wauna is an attorney and former deputy prosecutor. He cites community service as a volunteer mentor at Kitsap County Youth Services, as a member of Pierce Olympic College’s human services advisory committee and as a representative of crime victims.

Ashabraner is a Gig Harbor teacher, former assistant city administrator and Army veteran. For the last four years, she has served as president of the Peninsula School District’s teachers union.

Both are smart and capable. We prefer Greer; we believe that, if elected, he would demonstrate more independence from his party’s leadership and from public unions.
In the district’s Position 2, a contest between Republican Doug Richards and Democrat Larry Seaquist will be decided in November.

• The Democratic face-off for Position 1 in the 29th District pits the very liberal David Sawyer against the very liberal Ben Lawver; both are Tacomans.
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Our primary endorsements for the U.S. House

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The U.S. House of Representatives may be the most partisan room in the Western Hemisphere, yet Washington voters pick their candidates for it with a nonpartisan primary. It’s one of the state’s many political incongruities.

The top two vote-getters in August – regardless of party – will proceed to the November election. But despite the top two system, most Washingtonians align with either the Republican or Democratic Party, and they’re looking for candidates who reflect their views and have a fighting chance in the general election.

That’s why, except in the 9th Congressional District, we endorse a candidate from each party for the South Sound’s House seats.

• 6th District (Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Olympic Peninsula)

A rush of candidates is seeking to replace Norm Dicks, who is resigning from this seat after a long and distinguished congressional career.
His anointed successor – broadly supported by the Democratic establishment – is state Sen. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor. The Democrats know who they want, and we won’t second-guess them.

On the other side is a slew of Republicans. The strongest among them are Bill Driscoll, Doug Cloud and Jesse Young. Cloud and Young are principled, determined candidates who’ve hungered for this seat for a long time.
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About these endorsements

Is voter turnout an end in itself? History tells us otherwise.

Personally, I’d rather have 20 percent of the citizens casting educated votes than 80 percent of them picking candidates on the basis of Anglo-Saxon names, misleading slogans or photogenic looks.

Uneducated ballots can be dangerous. Ignorant voters, for example, once used to elect Klansmen to state legislatures. In Pierce County in 2008, voters elected Michael Hecht to the Superior Court; he was soon convicted of patronizing a prostitute and felony harassment, and kicked off the bench.

The same year, voters elected a veritable loon as assessor-treasurer. Dale Washam has been busy ever since wrecking his office and the county treasury.

We don’t like to see train wrecks in government. That’s one of the reasons The News Tribune’s editorial board makes endorsements and recommendations in local and state elections.

The five of us – Publisher David Zeeck, Executive Editor Karen Peterson, Managing Editor Dale Phelps, editorial writer Cheryl Tucker and myself – have been closely following and covering the South Sound and Washington state for more than 100 years, collectively.

We’re a long way from infallible, but we’ve been around the block. We know many of the major candidates personally and have interviewed most of the others. We can generally spot a disaster in the making.

We’ve just begun printing our endorsements for the Aug. 7 primary. On Friday we endorsed Republican Kim Wyman and Democrat Jim Kastama for secretary of state. On Sunday, we endorsed Steve Gonzalez, John Ladenburg and Susan Owens for the three contested Washington Supreme Court seats. Today we endorse Tim Farrell and Billie O’Brien in the primary contest for assessor-treasurer.

Why do we pick two candidates in some races?

Although Washington’s primary is now officially a nonpartisan affair, many Democrats and Republicans still vote on the basis of political affiliation. We try to identify the best candidate from each party.

We do not endorse unaffiliated candidates, candidates who’ve invented their own parties, candidates from microscopic parties or candidates who put their names on the ballot but don’t actively campaign.
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For the Washington Supreme Court: Gonzalez, Owens, Ladenburg

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The judiciary is the quietest branch of government. That can make it tough for voters to size up candidates for crucially important positions on the bench.

In Washington, D.C., most people probably wouldn’t recognize Chief Justice John Roberts walking by on the sidewalk. That’s doubly or triply true of members of Washington’s Supreme Court, whose doings are little noticed except when rare landmark decisions – like the January ruling on public school funding – hit the news.

Voters face three choices for the high court in the Aug. 7 election. It’s a little misleading to call this a primary, because primaries lead to runoffs – yet any one of these three contests could be decided in August.

Under judicial election laws, a Supreme Court candidate who wins a majority in the primary takes home the gold. The “primary” then amounts to the final. Serious voters will want to look at these races closely.

We hope they’ll look particularly closely at the contest for Position 8, which pits Justice Steve Gonzalez against Bruce Danielson.

Gonzalez, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year by Gov. Chris Gregoire, is superbly qualified. A graduate of Berkeley School of Law, he has been a prosecutor for the City of Seattle and the U.S. Justice Department. He served on the King County Superior Court for 10 years before his appointment.

Danielson is not remotely a match.

In this case, the endorsements say it all. Roughly 250 judges across the state support Gonzalez, including current and retired Supreme Court justices, superior and district court judges, magistrates and court commissioners.

Tellingly, at least 10 Kitsap County judges have lent their names to Gonzalez’s campaign. Danielson practices law in Kitsap County and has unsuccessfully run for the bench there. The county’s judges presumably know him well. Enough said.

In the race for Position 2, 12-year incumbent Susan Owens faces challenges from Douglas McQuaid and Scott Stafne, who practice in Seattle and Arlington, respectively.
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The dirty little secret of the top two primary

Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians share a gripe about Washington’s top two primary: The system lets a candidate claim the party label even if the party itself has endorsed his opponent.

In constitutional terms, this is “forced association.” It’s a no-no. Big time.

Does Washington’s primary do this?

The law tries to evade the problem by not letting a candidate simply put “Republican” or “Democrat” behind his name on the ballot. Instead, he or she “prefers Republican Party” or “prefers Democratic Party.”

In the latest challenge to the law, the Democratic Party cites evidence that the “prefers” business doesn’t clarify anything.

Washington ballots carry a disclaimer informing voters that a candidate preferring a party isn’t the same thing as a party preferring a candidate. If everybody got this, there’d be no constitutional problem.

But there’s no reason to assume every voter does get it. If every voter were that educated, you wouldn’t get people like Dale Washam or Michael Hecht elected to important positions.

The Democrats’ new petition to the Supreme Court recounts experiments by Mathew Manweller, a political scientist at Central Washington University.

Testing active voters’ reaction to ballot replicas – complete with disclaimers – Manweller found that 35 percent of them perceived that the candidates who “preferred” a party were actual nominees of the party.
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Democracy has suffered under top two primary

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The Democratic and Libertarian parties are taking another hard legal swing – maybe their last – at the state’s top two primary. We hope it connects.

The primary, which has nuked Washington’s smaller parties, has been upheld in principle by the U.S. Supreme Court. The remaining quarrel is over whether it violates the First Amendment right of association as it is being applied in Washington state.

Top two is popular largely because it successfully counterfeits the state’s cherished blanket primary, which was killed by federal courts a decade ago. The old primary allowed voters to pick any candidate from any party up in any contest.

Party leaders couldn’t leave well enough alone. They argued – correctly – that the system allowed Democrats to choose Republican candidates and vice versa, forcing them to accept nominees their political opponents may have helped select.

It was a slam-dunk Bill of Rights argument. But their victory in the Supreme Court led voters to adopt the top two system, a supposed replica of the blanket primary. Under top two, citizens can still vote for anyone in the state primary regardless of party. The top two candidates – only the top two – move on to the general election in November.

The high court says this passes muster, and who are we to argue? But the fact that a law is constitutional – or popular – doesn’t make it a good law.
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KISS principle prevailed in Washington’s elections

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

In the middle of the hardest economy most of us have known, the citizens of Pierce County on Tuesday approved a new tax. A sales tax, no less, to pay for better 911 system.

OK, it wasn’t a big tax – just an extra penny on a $10 purchase. But it wouldn’t have had a meatball’s chance in a pack of Rottweilers if citizens hadn’t been persuaded they were getting value for their money.

In this case, the value was considerable:

A unified countywide dispatch system to replace the balkanized hodgepodge of agencies that now handle emergency calls. A 21st-century digital radio system to replace aging and obsolete technology. Police, firefighters and dispatchers who can locate and talk to each other across Pierce County in a seamless communications system.

Proponents were selling something easy to understand – public safety – and voters bought it.

Like the election results or lump them – and we lump some of them – Washingtonians were persuaded by clarity when they filled out their ballots.
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Our choices for Puyallup City Council

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

In the past few years, Puyallup City Council meetings have become notorious for contention and disruption. Some of the candidates running for election this year go so far as to call it “embarrassing.”

After the Nov. 8 election there will be at least three new faces on the council. “Works well with others” isn’t usually at the top of the list of candidate qualifications, but it should be a consideration in this case. Policymaking bodies can’t do their best work without a modicum of civility and decorum.

Here are our choices for the contested positions:

At-large: Steve Vermillion is, hands down, the best qualified of the candidates for this seat.

His opponent, Nicole Martineau, was appointed to the council early last year, and she’s done a reasonably good job. Much of her involvement in city affairs has come recently. Vermillion has formidable credentials, including a career as a highly decorated retired military officer.

The tone of Vermillion’s campaign has disappointed us; it’s been nasty at times. But there’s no denying his leadership qualities and impressive qualifications for the council.

District 1, Position 2: We endorsed downtown businessman and Puyallup Mainstreet director John Hopkins in the primary, and he still has our support. A gracious, intelligent chap (he’s a naturalized citizen from Great Britain), he likely would contribute to a more temperate atmosphere.

That wouldn’t be the case with his opponent, retired railroad employee Tom Smillie. At a notorious 2009 council meeting, he was one of the citizens who began shouting at council members so angrily that the police were called in.

According to the videotaped recording of the meeting, Smillie said, “You people want to be un-elected? You just signed your death warrant as far as that goes . . . I will march until the soles of my shoes have holes and blood runs out the bottom, and you won’t get elected again.”

Smillie later stormed out of the meeting while pointing at four members of the council and said, “You’re done, you’re done, you’re done, and you’re done.”

Scary guy. Smillie is temperamentally unfit for any public office. Voters should elect the affable and well-informed Hopkins.
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