You know it was a bad night for the Republicans when the best spin they could muster over on (un)Sound Politics was this feeble flip of the political dreidle from the site’s soundest contributor, Matt Rosenberg:
A bit of good news tonight… For the first time in quite a while, an out-of-the closet Republican has been elected in a Seattle-wide contest, albeit a non-partisan race.
Um… yeah… elected to a seat on a board that Seattlites also voted to dissolve. That’s some consolation prize Matt.
But of course, the blow was even worse than the righties are letting on, for they didn’t just lose a couple of high profile initiatives and a coveted county executive race… they lost their entire campaign strategy for 2006 and beyond. Initiative 912 was cleverly launched last May as the election contest controversy came to a head, and from day one it was always pitched as an opportunity to send a message to “Queen Christine” and the Democrats who they accuse of stealing last year’s excruciatingly close gubernatorial election.
Likewise, the focus of the Republicans’ campaign against Ron Sims was always the so-called “mess” in King County Records & Elections, with our good friend Stefan, the Pied Piper of GOP paranoids, focusing his relentless efforts on proving a conspiracy theory that seems to flow from the premise that Republicans would actually dominate state and county politics if not for the widespread fraud and corruption in KCRE.
Way back during the election contest trial, during a debate with Stefan on the John Carlson Show, I argued that the GOP’s lawsuit had long since ceased to be about who really won the 2004 election, that it was now focused mainly on defeating Sims in 2005. And this strategy was never clearer than in Stefan’s own election-day call to action:
The choice between David Irons and Ron Sims could not be more clear. A vote for Irons is a vote for integrity and accountability. A vote for Sims is a vote for corruption, fraudulent elections, ridiculous boondoggles and a culture of secrecy and retaliation. … If you want more of Dean Logan and his fraud, dishonesty, disregard for the law and refusal to take responsibility for his work, then by all means vote for Ron Sims. If you’re as sick and tired of reading about Dean Logan as I am sick and tired of writing about him and you want to restore clean elections, then vote for David Irons.
I’m not sure who followed whose lead, but Stefan, Carlson, Kirby Wilbur, Chris Vance and the rest of the GOP leadership seemed to share the same delusion… they confused their own anger and disappointment over Dino Rossi’s loss with that of rank and file voters. How else to explain the arrogant overreaching blunder of the GOP’s fraudulent voter challenge stunt just days before the election?
The framing was clear. An Irons victory would be payback for Gregoire’s disputed win last November, and I-912 was always about sending a bold message that would weaken her administration, paving the way towards big Republican wins in 2006 and beyond.
Well… voters did send a message last night, and it wasn’t exactly the message the R’s had intended: policy trumps politics. In reelecting Sims by a margin that anywhere else in our fractured political terrain would be considered a crushing landslide, King County voters resoundingly rejected the GOP’s year-long smear campaign. And in refusing I-912’s tax cut — not in a squeaker, but by a surprisingly comfortable spread — voters sent a clear message to both the governor and Democratic and Republican legislators alike, that they will not punish elected officials for governing responsibly, even if it means enduring a little financial pain.
It’s hard to blame Irons and the KC GOP for adopting the kind of “anybody but Sims” strategy they ran; what else could they do with such a deeply flawed, totally unqualified candidate running against an experienced, competent and likable incumbent? But John and Kirby should be kicking themselves for jumping the gun on a long term political strategy that has clearly backfired.
Back in May, Kirby told me that one of his main reasons for sponsoring I-912 was so that we could have a public debate over transportation issues… a debate that he felt the Legislature had short circuited. Well, thanks to I-912, we’ve had that debate, and Kirby and his cohorts have lost. The KVI crowd had attempted to wield an incipient gas tax revolt over the heads of elected officials, but their election-contest-forged Sword of Damocles has proven to be little more than a rubber dagger. On this issue at least, voters have given their stamp of approval to Olympia, and rather than weakening Gregoire, I-912 has only enhanced her stature as a leader who is willing and able to take controversial positions on tough issues… and come out on top.
I-912, born out of the ratings spike that accompanied the election contest trial, was intended to be a continuation of the GOP’s relentless propaganda campaign to undermine Gov. Gregoire’s legitimacy, and yet another step down the road towards Rossi’s eventual succession. If the initiative had passed, there is no doubt it would have been politically damaging, but its failure not only leaves Gregoire one of last night’s biggest winners, it leaves Rossi one of its biggest losers… not just by default, but by his total unwillingness to step out in front on the most contentious issue on the state ballot.
As one political wag put it, “when Rossi was asked to lead, he ran away,” whereas Gregoire personally championed the transportation package from the day she brokered the bill out of legislative deadlock, to the moment the last ballot was cast. Gregoire spent her political capital and was rewarded handsomely, whereas Rossi refused to even speak his mind.
Last night was a huge win for both Sims and Gregoire, the two former primary rivals having their political fortunes oddly intertwined in yet another election. So it was especially gratifying to watch the two, side-by-side before the cameras, jointly proclaiming victory.
The coming year promises more bruising campaigns, over land use restrictions, control of the Legislature, Sen. Maria Cantwell’s re-election and other races… and everything we saw last night suggests that Matt, Stefan and their unsound comrades will have at least as much trouble spinning next year’s election night as they did this year’s.