Post-Election Analysis Heresy

Only one year after Barack Obama’s “change we can believe in” election, and in the midst of a crushing economic recession that has caused home prices to plummet, unemployment to spike, and state and local budgets to plunge into nearly unprecedented crisis, you might have expected incumbents to face more than a little pressure in our recent local elections.

Well… not so much.

In countywide races the sheriff, the one port commissioner seeking reelection and four of five county council incumbents faced no opposition at all, while Councilmember Reagan Dunn easily trounced his unfunded challenger 77-23. In Seattle, City Council President Richard Conlin easily waltzed to victory, while fellow incumbent Nick Licata beat highly touted Jesse Israel by a more than comfortable margin.

And of course in the marquee matchup this election season, longtime county councilmember Dow Constantine ran on experience in walloping putative reformer Susan Hutchison by a better than 18-point margin in the King County Executive race.

So what happened?

While most of the post-election punditry, including my own, has thus far focused on the horse race usuals of fundraising, messaging, strategy, and candidate performance, I think it fair to offer a suggestion that some may find somewhat heretical, and which is sure to disappoint those who feel themselves on the political outside:  perhaps incumbents did so well in our recent elections because voters are largely satisfied with the status quo?

Perhaps voters are generally okay with the level and quality of services provided by local government, and the level of taxes levied to pay for them? Perhaps voters appreciate the near total lack of public corruption our region has enjoyed since… well… at least since I moved here in 1992. Perhaps, despite the current economic downturn and our much publicized fits of paralysis when it comes to making a decision on important infrastructure projects, voters generally feel that our region is moving in the right direction?

Yes, much has been made in the news about the huge budget shortfalls hitting both the city and the county, and there has been much effort to blame this crisis on the overspending and mismanagement of the incumbents in charge, but perhaps local voters understand that with a few exceptions, both Seattle and King County have been pretty well managed in recent years, as evidenced by some of the highest municipal bond ratings in nation?

Perhaps voters are smart enough to look around and see that nearly every local government in every state is facing equal or worse financial difficulties, and thus it would be foolish to blame local budget writers for the inevitable consequences of the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression?

And with the one Seattle levy on the ballot passing by a two to one margin, while Tim Eyman’s tax slashing I-1033 failed countywide with an overwhelming 69% no vote, perhaps the majority of local voters have even come to accept that it is a structural revenue deficit that threatens city and county budgets long term, not the out-of-control government spending that is the favored boogeyman of Republicans and Seattle Times editorialists alike?


Yes, I know, two-term Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels came in an embarrassing third in the August primary, but that was really the exception this election, not the rule, and considering the buyer’s remorse expressed in the weeks following, it’s not hard to imagine him having beaten either Joe Mallahan or Mike McGinn in the general. But regardless, beyond that and the disastrously run campaign of ousted City Attorney Tom Carr, there really wasn’t much anti-incumbent/anti-government mood to speak of.

While I have my own well founded criticism of the general lack of passion, creativity and, well, balls of our state’s elected officials as a whole, voters here enjoy some of the cleanest, most transparent, scandal free local government in the nation. And while the Seattle metropolitan area certainly faces its own problems, they ain’t nothing like those confronting most other big cities.

Let’s face it, relatively speaking, things around here don’t suck, and perhaps, in rewarding incumbents, voters are giving credit where at least a little bit of credit is due?

In fact, as much as I might have a reputation with some as being a cheerleader for local Democrats, I’m arguably less sanguine about the direction in which our region is headed than the vast majority of voters. I know that the long term structural revenue deficit afflicting both state and local budgets threatens the quality of life and economic prosperity we’ve come to expect here in the Puget Sound region, and I have little faith in the current Democratic leadership to adequately address our present and looming fiscal crisis headlong. And without even a hint of a viable, reasonable, pro-government Republican faction to challenge it, I fear for the ability and willingness of our Democratic majority to challenge its leaders from within.

That said, at least for the moment, it’s pretty hard to run around these parts on a throw the bums out platform, when voters for the most part seem somewhat satisfied with the local government their getting. And all the usual horse race bullshit notwithstanding, that perhaps explains the woeful performance of challengers and self-proclaimed outsiders in this November’s election.


  1. 1

    notaboomer spews:

    That said, at least for the moment, it’s pretty hard to run around these parts on a throw the bums out platform, unless and until the well-funded legislators pass public campaign finance laws.


  2. 3

    Troutski spews:

    “you” really should be “us” as in us political junkies sometimes miss the obvious through over analysis.

  3. 4

    X spews:

    I voted for Obama because I think the time has arrived to legalize Marijuana. Obama has announced since his election that Marijuana legalization is off the table. He lost my vote.

  4. 5

    X spews:

    You may remember the episodes where “hackers” attacked and made Marijuana legalization the #1 issue on that site — this was early in the Obama Administration.

    Those weren’t hackers. Those were supporters. FORMER supporters.

  5. 6

    X spews:

    I voted for Obama also to keep McCain out of office. I did not want to see a public option or any sort of health insurance reform. HEALTH CARE reform would be amazing and great, but what is being passed is HEALTH INSURANCE reform. Who cares? All health insurance reform can accomplish is worsening of the care provided while enriching corporations further. It’s stupidity.

    Obama was elected on an anti-McCain, pro-hood swell. He’s tried to turn that into a non-existent mandate for health insurance reform. Totally uninspired.

  6. 7

    Daddy Love spews:

    I agree that by and large we have clean government up here. The port commission has some questionable dealings, but eyond that things look pretty good, and reasonably well run (regardless of the idiots who blame KC government for a revenue shortfall during the worst recession since The Big One).

  7. 8


    Who cares?

    There’s a lot of private health insurance in Europe. Switzerland is 100 percent private health insurance.

    Yet, no one there goes bankrupt because of underinsurance.

    Health insurance reform CAN work but we probably won’t get anything like that for a while.

    Just the way things work in this country. I hope I’m wrong.

  8. 9

    fairness uber alles spews:


    The local races putting Mike McGinn and Mike OBrien in show Seattleites are NOT satisfied with the auto oriented DBT and are FAR more into transit than our current crop of electeds desires.

    Did every incumbent lose? No.

    Did the establishment lose?

    Damn fucking straight. Kind of weird if you missed that one.

    Bottom line: voters trust the Democratic types far more than the Republican morons….and within that, they want more transit; and they don’t trust the establishment solution of an ill conceived highway project that spends billions and doesn’t really add much to in city mobility.

    IOW, voters want more change.

  9. 10

    ratcityreprobate spews:

    @8 All the private medical insurance companies in Switzerland were converted by government mandate to private non-profits a number of years ago and they are all strictly regulated by the government. So no, you don’t buy your medical insurance from the government, but it isn’t what we would call free enterprise either. The government tells them how much they can charge you and what coverage they will provide you.

  10. 11

    Daddy Love spews:


    I don’t think so.

    I voted for Obama because I think the time has arrived to legalize Marijuana. Obama has announced since his election that Marijuana legalization is off the table. He lost my vote.

    Obama is not responsible for your dumbassedness. He has been saying very clearly since at least 2004 that he is not in favor of legalization (video). He does favor a so-called “different approach” and has spoken out in favor of a public health approach to drug use rather than a criminal justice approach, and in favor of drug courts.

    I voted for Obama also to keep McCain out of office. I did not want to see a public option or any sort of health insurance reform…Obama was elected on an anti-McCain, pro-hood swell. He’s tried to turn that into a non-existent mandate for health insurance reform.

    You know, who really cares what you want? Obama ran on a platform of making health insurance affordable and and accessible to all, lowering health care costs, and promoting preventive medicine and other public health measures. Again, Obama is not responsible for your dumbassedness.

    Te bottom line is that health insurance reform and universal health care is a key Democratic issue, the large majorities gained in 2006 and 2008 backed the issue, and the president made it a key issue during his 2008 campaign. Maybe you should have read a newspaper, or better yet, visited the Web site of the candidate you voted for at least once during the campaign.

    Maybe you only care about one issue. But don’t pretend that the president did. And Jesus, crack a fucking search engine before you start to say a lot of stupid and untrue stuff.

  11. 12

    Daddy Love spews:

    10 rcr

    All health insurers are regulated by the government. Our state, for one example, mandates that a certain minimum percentage of collected premiums must be paid out as benefits. It’s a matter of degree.

  12. 13

    X spews:

    Daddy Love — What I am suggesting is that many of us believed the President was lying about his marijuana policy. Consider he’s tried it, we trusted him to get into office and change the law. My belief is that, regardless of the platform on which he ran, this was his electorate.

    Regarding the fact that he did run on health insurance reform, true, and that is not the reason most people voted for him. I’m shocked that we are in danger of this pro-rich-Doctors crap passing.

  13. 14

    X spews:

    In other words, I voted for him thinking “well there is no harm because there’s no real risk of health so-called-care reform passing, but my other choice here is John Effing McCain.” And I am sure many others did, also.

  14. 15

    Quincy spews:

    Incumbency counts for a lot and explains the lack of turnover at least as much, if not more than satisfaction with the status quo.

    I think McGinn and Mallahn both showed that with a little gumption and a little cash, you can break through. But even that formula may not work in, for example, a Seattle city council race. Unless there is some bogus non-issue like “strippergate” (and I hate to even mention that because it seems to have been laregely forgotten) it seems like it is hard to get city voters to devote a lot of attention (relative to what the Exec race got, say) to the council, so the incumbents, for the most part, stay put.

    With the County Council (as with our local state legislative seats) this year, like most years, challengers just don’t even show up. You can’t call that an indication that people are satisfied with their representation. Bob Ferguson showed, though, that it is possible to knock off an incumbent (though maybe that is not a good example because the council district’s borders had recently changed.)

    It can be hard to knock off an incumbent and it can be percieved as being even harder. I think this is a big factor.

  15. 16

    roots spews:

    what? you are talking about King County. Remember, hello, they will vote for anyone who raises taxes, tries to solve societal problems with more and larger government programs, and so so. Why are you acting shocked that these folks got re-elected? Look at McGinn! Come on.

  16. 17

    31st District Voter spews:

    So, Goldy, if the KC Exec race would have been Sims vs. Hutchinson, Sims would have won (as easily?) compared to Constantine?

    Hmmmm…I don’t know about that one.

  17. 18

    nwgal spews:

    @16 – This has been another episode of “I’m too lazy to figure shit out for myself. I’d rather regurgitate the Right’s nonsensical caricature of liberals.”

  18. 19


    Depends what you mean by corruption, I think. It’s not New Jersey, that’s for sure. On the other hand, the road builders practically own the state gummint, and the developers the city (except McGinn–that’s going to be interesting.) There’s an amazing w.q. (wingnut quotient) in the state lege. &, believe me, there’s plenty of poor students as hate the sales tax.

  19. 20

    Michael spews:


    While that voter block does exist, McGinn didn’t win big enough for that to be true. What The Mikes and the election of Jon Snyder to the Spokane city council shows is that the More Transit & Etc. Cotillion is big enough to swing elections. We’ve known this for years, but for some reason the conventional wisdom crowd likes to over look this fact.

  20. 21


    Status quo candidate for Assessor Bob Rosenberger lost. Bob worked for Rich Medved who was the Deputy Assessor. I think it was a vote for change in the assessor’s office.

  21. 22

    RonK, Seattle spews:

    The mayor’s race was a big showing for Change.

    The unopposed Port Commissioner (Creighton) is the point man for Change on the Commission.

    Dow ended up running away with County Exec, but it sure wasn’t a runaway from the start, and he won not on Experience, or on Satisfaction, but on that old conservative stand-by: Fear of Change.

    Assessor-elect Hara represented Change (as did 70% of votes cast in the 5-man race).

    County Council seats don’t change much, in large measure because it takes more time and money every cycle to mount a challenge campaign … and in part because Nobody Cares.

    And at both City and County level, voters have not yet had to pay the piper but he’s knocking on the door.