by Geov Parrish
If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal … Oh wait.
And if voting didn’t change anything, they wouldn’t try to slip the primary past people in the middle of their short, glorious summer, when the last thing many of us want to do is pay attention to political candidates. In 2014, the last non-presidential election year with no local offices on the ballot, fewer than 30 percent of registered voters in King County, and less than a quarter of all eligible adults, bothered to vote.
Twenty-fourteen was also the last year Republicans were able to retain control of the state Senate, which cost Olympia two more years of legislative gridlock and Seattleites two more years of (among other things) grossly underfunded schools and social services.
So what under-covered issues and campaigns will we look back on as pivotal—for better or worse—four years from now?
Without question, the most consequential race for Seattleites isn’t even on our ballots this year. It’s in the Eastside and Kent Valley. But we can help the candidate of our choice by volunteering, donating, or helping to mobilize our Eastside friends.
After seven terms, former King County Sheriff Dave Reichert is retiring as a Republican congressman serving eastern King County and Kittitas County (Ellensburg). In 2012, state Republicans protected Reichert from the changing demographics of the Eastside by adding Kittitas County to the district, but this year, even that may not be enough. Ellensburg can’t compete with the many tens of thousands of residents the Eastside has added in recent years, a wave spurred in part by people fleeing Seattle for (somewhat) less-expensive rent.
Democrats need to win a net of 24 seats currently held by Republicans to take back the House of Representatives. To say that having the Democrats win back at least one house of Congress dramatically increases the chance that we can save American democracy is, sadly, not so much hyperbole any longer. Another two years of Republicans running everything in DC, and who knows which of us will be on the official Enemies of the State list by 2020. Vote now, so we can vote later. The stakes in an American election have never been higher than they will be this November.
Why is this a local story? Because every list of possible Democratic pickups includes WA-08. And if Dems cannot take our Eastside district despite its surging urban (and Democrat-leaning) population growth, they likely won’t succeed in November, either. And on a host of issues, from federal funding for social and education priorities to Seattle’s sanctuary city status to ICE depredations and supercharged racism and bigotry in the Era of Trump, what’s going on there has a huge impact on what’s taking place here.
The likely Republican opponent for Reichert’s seat in November is Dino Rossi, who, despite losing three statewide gubernatorial and US Senate campaigns, can still draw on nearly-unlimited funds and the love of fellow Trump fetishists everywhere. So the paramount task for our eastern and southern neighbors between now and August 7, when ballots must be returned, is to pick, among the three significant Democratic candidates, the one with the best chance of beating Rossi and helping neutralize Trump.
Those three candidates include Shannon Hader, a public health director from Auburn; Jason Rittereiser, a former deputy King County prosecutor from Ellensburg; and Kim Schrier, a Sammamish pediatrician. Each candidate has their fans.
Schrier has gotten important endorsements from labor and women’s groups and is the early favorite. However, she’s also the most progressive of the three, in a district that has not elected a Democrat in its 38-year history. In other words, she plays well with the Democratic base, but not necessarily the district at large. The same goes for Hader, who is a thoughtful—maybe too thoughtful—progressive who could fall into the “why don’t my elaborately detailed policy papers beat your glib bumper sticker lies?” trap left-leaning candidates too often fall into in political campaigns. Rittereiser, with roots on both sides of the mountain, would seem to have the best chance of also connecting with rural WA-08 voters sick of Trump’s act. He also showed resourcefulness (and got a lot of national media coverage) by convincing his Seattle law firm to offer pro bono representation to any federal workers who considered refusing to enforce Trump’s horrifying border separation policies. He says the firm received more than 30 such inquiries.
Any of these three candidates would make a fine Congressperson. Only one of them will take on Dino Rossi in November with the whole world, more or less, at stake. Pick one, and help make sure the one you choose wins in November.
Know what you’re voting for. And always read the tiny print.
There’s another suburban race for us to watch as well—the one in WA-09, the state’s only minority-majority congressional district, where long-time Democrat incumbent Adam Smith is facing a significant challenge from his left. Sarah Smith’s campaign is being compared by a lot of observers to that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young Bronx firebrand who last month upset powerful incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley (who is white) in an almost entirely Latino and Black district. The parallels aren’t exact, but Smith’s politics are similar enough to Ocasio-Cortez’s that it will be fascinating, and telling, to see how she does in a district that doesn’t even remotely resemble the one Adam Smith (like Joe Crowley) was first elected in.
Back on the Seattle ballot, it’s a fairly quiet primary, with only one seemingly insignificant measure to consider, no suspense in the federal races, and not much uncertainty among the state legislative campaigns, where in recent years the suburbs have tended to be the important battlegrounds. This year, unseating Republican menace Mark Miloscia in Federal Way is getting the most attention. In Seattle? Not so much.
But—about that seemingly insignificant ballot measure. King County wants to renew an existing levy for an automated law enforcement fingerprinting system. Regardless of what you think of the King County Sheriff’s Office (which includes the transit police) or the county’s willingness to fund programs like this one while refusing to spend more than the absolute minimum on our homelessness crisis, this would normally be a pretty benign measure. Except that tucked into the fine print is funding to upgrade the county’s facial recognition software, which increases the county’s ability to invade the privacy of whomever it likes. Know what you’re voting for. And always read the tiny print.
Voting alone doesn’t solve things. It’s community engagement that gives us the good (or least awful) candidates and measures to consider in the first place. But voting, both in the specifics and on general principle, has never been more important than it is this year.
Return your ballot by Tuesday, August 7. Not registered? You can still register in person until Monday, July 30. And then get out and get organized!
Geov Parrish is a long-time writer and activist who has been featured on KEXP Radio’s “Mind Over Matters” show each week since 1996. He has also served as national political columnist for Working Assets, a contributing editor for In These Times, Alternet.org, and MotherJones.com, and the local political columnist for Seattle Weekly and The Stranger newspapers. He founded and published the community newspaper Eat the State!, which he helped edit for nearly two decades (1996-2014). Currently he writes locally for the South Seattle Emerald, Pacific Publishing newspapers, and for his own blog and social media. He still lives in Seattle.