Opinion

This time, the Space Needle state won

Unless there’s a last-minute upset in the vote counting, our biennial election day luncheon gathering of current and ex-politicians along with a few fringies like me guessed right on four of the five initiatives.

We said performance audits, the smoking ban and gasoline tax repeal would pass but doctors’ tort reform and trial lawyers tort reform would fail.

We were wrong on gas tax repeal.

Former longtime Secretary of State Ralph Munro was there and I called him after the election to get his reaction to what happened. He’s one of the savviest pols around, popular with Democrats as well as his own Republicans, and the one who originally declared Washington to be not one state but two in its voting habits.

If you stand on top of the Space Needle, says Ralph, everything you can see from there, which is the Seattle metropolis area, is inhabited by liberal, social-oriented Democrats. That’s the Space Needle state. If you stand on the pinnacles of the Goat Rocks, which is a mountain south of there, you can see everything in the state except Seattle, which is hidden from view by Mount Rainier. That’s the Goat Rocks state, inhabited by conservatives, independents and Republicans.

What caused the big turnaround in the gas tax repeal measure, which had been considered a sure shot right up until the last week? “People are finally coming to the conclusion that it is easier to keep the infrastructure up rather than replace it when it falls down,” said Munro.

It was the people in the Space Needle state that did it, I said. “Everybody on the east side of the Sound is stuck in the traffic at least once a day,” he said.

Gas prices coming down must have helped, I said. “That and the hurricanes,” Munro said. “They saw all those people trying to get out of town stuck on the freeway and thought, ‘What the hell happens if that happens here?’ People have gained a little bit of faith in government. This is the first time people have supported the Department of Transportation for quite a while.”

The smoking ban? “Everyone knows somebody who is dying of cancer and finally said we’ve had enough,” he said.

Medical tort reform? “The lawyers and the doctors just confused everybody, so people walked away and said I don’t understand this issue so I am voting no on both of them.”

Performance audits? “I think that is the largest transfer of authority to a lesser elected official in 100 years of state government,” said Munro. “(Auditor) Brian Sonntag’s office will increase by fivefold. It gives him incredible new power over state government. The issue has been around for 50 years. Every governor hates it, but the auditor finally found a friend in Tim Eyman and got in.”

I called Eyman. His faith in his initiative had not flagged from Day 1. “People want some accountability,” he said. “If you’ve got a good idea, you don’t need millions of dollars to sell it and a million dollars won’t make up for a bad idea. Voters are not for sale.”

What did the king of the initiative process think of the outcome on the others?

“Most people don’t smoke,” he said, “and they don’t buy the libertarian argument that private places have a right to regulate their own space.” On tort reform, “The lawyers are smiling. They’re back at status quo. The doctors should have saved a million dollars to try again next year.”

As for the gas tax repeal, “What’s really huge about that is the people forced Olympia to justify the tax increase,” said Eyman. “The initiative gave people a public vote on it which had always been our theme. If you want to increase taxes, let the people vote on it. Those who had been saying get the people out of their cars were arguing for roads. It took I-912 to get greenies to say roads were important. They laid down some markers they’ll have to live up to.”

What’s next for him? Changing the way the motor vehicle excise tax is calculated to ensure that the $30 car tab stays the $30 car tab and the pols quit mucking around trying to up it.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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