The Seattle Times reports today that 39 state legislative candidates — nearly a third of all races — are running unopposed this November, a trend that has been increasing over time.
Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz says it’s nothing to fret over. “I wouldn’t say people should worry,” he said. “I think in Washington state, Democrats and Republicans are competing on the issues and are posing viable alternatives to the people.”
But he speaks from a position of comfort. Most of the unopposed candidates are Democrats, and the party already controls the state House, Senate and governor’s office.
As much as I like and respect Pelz, I can’t entirely agree with him on this one. Don’t get me wrong, I much prefer the status quo — a Democratic majority — over the alternative. But the danger in institutionalizing the current status quo is that we risk creating a party of status quo Democrats more focused on consolidating power than exercising it.
Still, I’m not all that worried, because I fully expect this trend to reverse itself in coming years as the netroots and other people-powered political forces begin to transform the Democratic Party.
This transformation will occur on two fronts. First, I absolutely believe we need to bring the “50-State Strategy” home to Washington state and field candidates in every legislative district in every election. Organizations like Progressive Majority will make this task easier as their efforts start to put progressive electeds into local governments in traditionally red districts. And as the netroots take a greater hold on the Democratic Party, this strategy will gain official support as well.
The second front is the Democratic primary itself. I can think of at least a half dozen Democratic legislators in Seattle alone who deserve a strong primary challenge from a committed progressive determined to fight for the values and interests of their constituents over the current same-old, same-old that tends to dominate Olympia. And as the netroots grow and we become an indispensable part of the Democratic message machine, I fully expect us to harness our power and influence to strategically target incumbent Democrats in safe districts.
It is common for my critics on the right to dismiss me and my fellow bloggers as tools of the Democratic Party, but they’ve got it exactly backwards. The Democratic Party is our tool… the people’s tool — as it should be — and we intend to use it to help elect candidates who are willing and able to enact a truly progressive agenda.
So to those 39 legislative candidates running unopposed, and the many more facing only token opposition in traditionally safe districts… enjoy it while it lasts, because nothing — not even incumbency — lasts forever.