One of the things that’s always bothered me about Democrats in general and progressives in particular is our tendency to be, well… a bunch of pussies. While Republican tacticians routinely pay tribute to Machiavelli (which is a helluva lot easier than actually reading him,) my fellow Democrats often seem more inspired by The Little Prince. Politics is about seizing, maintaining and exercising power, and in a Democracy that means winning elections. Republicans seem to get this. Democrats… not so much.
Take for example the race to replace the late Norm Maleng as King County Prosecuting Attorney, where two smart, dedicated, qualified, and by all accounts decent men are running for office. Were this a primary, the decision might be tougher, but in a general election in a county with a two-to-one Democratic advantage, this race is a no-brainer: the guy with “D” next to his name on the ballot should win. And yet a fair number of Democrats have come out in support of Republican Dan Satterberg over Democrat Bill Sherman.
Yeah, sure… no doubt Dan is a nice guy and all that, and I can certainly understand the legal establishment’s instinctive urge to preserve the status quo. But this is about politics, and politics is about winning… and if Democrats ignore this basic tenet it will surely come back and bite us in the ass.
There is this myth that has been perpetuated by Satterberg supporters that the PAO is a magically nonpartisan office, but as Alex Fryer points out in yesterday’s Seattle Times, that is not always the case. The prosecutor controls a seat on the county’s three-member canvassing board, and as Maleng’s delegate on the board, Satterberg took some disturbingly partisan positions.
Satterberg’s tenure on the canvassing board highlights the intense political pressure on those who count the votes, and how almost every decision the board makes can be cast as partisan.
[…] During the initial vote counting, with Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi clinging to a 1,920-vote lead over Democrat Christine Gregoire, the King County Elections Division — on advice from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office — ruled that it would not give the Democratic Party a list of voters whose provisional ballots had been rejected because of missing or mismatched signatures.
Democrats wanted to use the list to contact voters to try to resolve the questioned signatures and count the ballots.
The issue went to King County Superior Court, and a judge ordered the names released.
[…] A few weeks later, with Rossi’s margin hovering around 100 votes after a recount, the canvassing board made what many consider a pivotal decision.
Canvassing-board members Dwight Pelz, a Metropolitan King County Council member, and Election Director Dean Logan outvoted Satterberg to direct election workers to reconsider 573 absentee ballots that county officials said had been erroneously disqualified.
In fact it was the court order releasing the list of voters with missing or mismatched signatures that likely proved more decisive, as it enabled Democrats to canvass for updated signature cards, resulting in a far larger number of qualified voters having their ballots counted. But it was Satterberg’s vote to exclude the
573 566 “Phillips ballots” that Democrats should find most disturbing.
These were ballots that were legally cast, but for which signatures could not be found in KCRE’s computer system. Standard procedure called for these ballots to be put aside until the signature cards could be pulled for comparison, but instead these ballots were forgotten… tucked away in a couple of trays inside “the cage.” Forgotten that is, until King County Council President Larry Phillips discovered that his ballot had not been counted, and inquired as to why. That led KCRE to discover 735 misfiled ballots, of which 566 were eventually verified and counted.
Understand that these were ballots of known provenance, legally cast by registered voters, and safely secured in the cage throughout the entire process, and that the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the canvassing board had the right to add these ballots to the count. And yet Satterberg voted to exclude these ballots and deny these 566 citizens their most basic democratic right.
When push came to shove, that was the kind of nonpartisan office we got from Norm Maleng. And that is the kind of nonpartisan tradition Satterberg promises to continue.
Had Republicans controlled the canvassing board in 2004, just enough legally cast ballots might have been suppressed to give Dino Rossi the governor’s mansion, and don’t believe for a moment that isn’t the primary motivation behind a GOP-backed ballot measure to make the elections director an elected office. How else to explain the bizarre February special election called for in the proposed charter amendment, perfectly designed to permit a Republican to squeak through a crowded field in a low-turnout, nominally nonpartisan race? And if they succeed in taking the PAO and the elections director, Republicans would seize a two-thirds majority on the canvassing board that oversees elections in a two-thirds Democratic district encompassing one-third of the state’s electorate.
The PAO is a partisan office that plays a major role in the administration of our elections, serving as both KCRE’s attorney, and controlling one of three seats on the canvassing board. This is a partisan political race, and Democrats need to wake up to what is at stake. This is not about whether Satterberg is a good lawyer or an experienced administrator or decent guy. It’s about whether or not he is a Republican.
And in this race, facing a qualified Democratic opponent, that should be all we need to know.