Charter vote came down to party politics

First, last and always, the defeat of the Home Rule effort in Kitsap County last week came down to partisanship.

For anyone to have suggested it wouldn’t was either naive or disingenuous.

If you look at the numbers, the measure won in the traditionally conservative South Kitsap district 55 percent to 45 percent. But it lost 80-20 on Bainbridge Island, whose residents are about 75 percent registered Democrats.

Elsewhere in the county, the margin of defeat averaged around 52-48, which pretty closely reflects the ratio of Democrats to Republicans.

The freeholders themselves, who wrote the charter, were elected without indicating a party preference — which isn’t to say they had no party loyalties, because nearly all were experienced political operatives for one party or the other.

Still, the document they created, at least on paper, was remarkable for its clarity and common sense. And, everything else being equal, there’s nothing in it most people could have opposed.

By-district elections? That’s the way representatives are elected at every other level of government. Why should Kitsap County be the exception?

A five-member council instead of a three-member board of commissioners? Polls showed that’s what the overwhelming majority of county residents favored.

Nonpartisan office holders? A utopian ideal, perhaps, but again, it’s what most voters said they wanted.

The rights of referendum and initiative? Only career politicians oppose measures that limit the amount of influence they wield.

In a vacuum, it’s likely such a proposal would have passed with little opposition. But elections aren’t held in a vacuum. They’re held in the real world, where people have real political agendas.

In this case, Democrats — who hold a modest but distinct majority throughout Kitsap County — recognized the by-district voting provision in the charter could potentially weaken their stranglehold on local politics. And the numbers bear out their concern. If Kitsap County already elected its representatives by district instead of countywide, for example, Carl Johnson and not Tim Botkin would have won the Central Kitsap seat three years ago and Republicans would hold a two-to-one edge over Democrats on the current board of commissioners.

No one could have expected them to sit still for this possibility, and so the Democrats asserted their prerogative as the county’s majority party to make sure it didn’t happen.

End of story.

We don’t accept the argument put forward by many charter supporters in the aftermath of last week’s defeat that voters simply didn’t understand the issues. They understood perfectly, just as they do when the same voters overwhelmingly support Tim Eyman’s tax initiatives. You can’t have it both ways.

We also don’t lament the low voter turnout, where it appears only about 50,000 Kitsap residents took the time to fill out their ballots and mail them back. It’s disappointing only about a third of those eligible to vote on this important issue chose to do so. On the other hand, we’d prefer to see the matter decided by a handful of informed citizens than by an artificially large turnout in which half of the voters have no clue what they’re doing. And that appears to have been the case.

Finally, we’re gratified charter supporters are apparently trying to resuscitate the effort. We supported the charter because we believe its passage would have been the best outcome for South Kitsap and the rest of the county, and we wish them luck in the future.

But at this point, we’re not optimistic about its prospects, given that the most necessary plank in the entire document — by-district voting — appears to be the main reason it failed this time and will continue to fail as long as there are politicians more interested in holding power than doing what’s right.

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