MAYOR ED MURRAY told supporters that last night's apparent victory for Prop 1 means that when it comes to parks, "we will turn back years of Tim Eyman destabilizing our funding."
After way more shoving and shouting than anyone would expect from a civic debate about, essentially, grass and trees, the proposal for a new Metropolitan Parks District in Seattle appeared to be passing last night, 52 to 48. Heading into the primary, even the measure's boosters were thinking they might not come out ahead after the first ballot drop, so there was surprise at their party at the Five Point—and then, one beat after the surprise, elation. Because all the seasoned political minds in the place seemed to agree on one thing: the pro-parks-district numbers will only go up as more ballots are counted in the coming days.
The initial doubt about the chances for Prop 1 and its proposed parks district was, at bottom, a doubt about Seattle. Would voters in a city that's long been happy to pay for public goods like parks get spooked by the anti-Prop-1 campaign's loud warnings of an unaccountable, un-dissolvable parks district that was likely to go crazy raising taxes and stealthily funnel public money toward non-park purposes?
The answer, as it turned out, was no. A majority of voters simply did not buy into this doomsday scenario. Even as the recession grinds on, even as public trust in government remains low, even as all kinds of other new taxes ready themselves for the November ballot, Seattleites remain willing to empower a new taxing authority to make them pay more in property taxes to fund trees and grass, perhaps understanding—as Mayor Ed Murray suggested at the Prop 1 victory party—that this is a great way to permanently rid our parks system of the hobbling funding restraints imposed by Tim Eyman and his tax-panic-baiting statewide initiatives. (Or, maybe voters weren't thinking quite that deeply. Maybe it's all as simple as the old line about Seattleites voting "yes" as soon as anyone says the word parks.)
In the race between State House Speaker Frank Chopp and Socialist challenger Jess Spear, a different question about the city. Is outrage at economic inequality and stale political ideas as potent an electoral force as it was two years ago? In 2012, Occupy activist Kshama Sawant won 29 percent of the general election vote running as a Socialist against Chopp, one of the most powerful people in the state. She then went on to win a spot on the Seattle City Council the next year with a campaign that promised to enact a $15 minimum wage. (A promise Sawant can now say she kept.) Yes, last night's vote involved a primary election in the middle of the summer—not a general election—but Spear, running in part on a call for rent control amid spiraling Seattle housing prices, only received 19 percent of the vote (so far).
Perhaps the outrage and openness to radical change that Sawant tapped into two years ago is ebbing. Perhaps Spear is a flawed candidate. Or, perhaps we'll see a startling reversal of fortune for her in November. But that last one seems unlikely. The total number of votes Spear has received so far: 4,192.
Which doesn't mean her frustration at a state legislature that can't get anything done is off point. Chopp himself would probably share that frustration, but the two of them would depart on where the blame lies. He points to the long list of progressive bills he's moved to passage in the state house and says the problem is really in the Republican-controlled state senate, which keeps killing those bills. Since 80 percent of Seattle primary voters seem to have accepted Chopp's analysis of the problem: What of the effort to flip the state senate into Democratic hands?
The crowded race in Seattle's 37th District—the one that, after last night, is set to feature Pramila Jayapal and Louis Watanabe in the general election—will do nothing to change the overall state senate math. This is a senate seat that was held by a Democrat who retired (Adam Kline), and both Jayapal and Watanabe are solid Democrats. In two other races that could change the state senate math, things don't look great for Demorats. In Federal Way's 30th District, the woman running to hold retiring Democrat Tracey Eide's senate seat, Democrat Shari Song, came in almost 15 points behind Republican Mark Miloscia. And in the eastside's 45th District, well-funded Democrat Matt Isenhower came in about seven points behind incumbent Republican Andy Hill.
But, to balance that out, two bright spots: Democrat Cyrus Habib came in 26 points ahead of Republican Michelle Darnell in his quest to take over Republican Rodney Tom's old state senate seat. You may recall that Tom, a Democrat-turned-Republican, is the one who flipped the senate into Republican control. You may also recall that he did it with the help of another Democrat-turned-Republican, Tim Sheldon of the 35th District (parts of the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas). Well, things are still too close to call down in the 35th, but it could be that Sheldon doesn't even make it through the primary when all the counting's done. Maybe.
Even so, it's still long odds for the Democrats to retake the state senate. Which is too bad, because a change in state senate leadership this fall—although tricky to pull off, and involving un-sexy places like Kitsap—would actually be the fastest route to lasting progressive change in this state.