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Initiative 26 aims to zap partisanship from King County elections

Federal Way City Council member Linda Kochmar and Joe Fain, head of Citizens for Independent Government, get the first signature on a petition for Initiative 26 on Wednesday from Federal Way resident Jamin Neppl, right. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Federal Way City Council member Linda Kochmar and Joe Fain, head of Citizens for Independent Government, get the first signature on a petition for Initiative 26 on Wednesday from Federal Way resident Jamin Neppl, right.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

King County officials and volunteers launched an effort to eliminate primary election partisanship and make government more accountable to the people.

Citizens for Independent Government, an organization endorsed by King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer, R-7th District, is circulating a petition to include Initiative 26 on the August 2008 primary election ballot. The organization is headed by Joe Fain, von Reichbauer’s chief of staff.

On Jan. 2, Fain and Federal Way City Council member Linda Kochmar visited The Commons mall in Federal Way to begin gathering signatures from people who support the initiative.

The initiative would eliminate the “pick-a-party” primary and allow voters to elect King County Council, executive and assessor officials without having to take partisanship into account. The measure has the ability to increase competition among candidates as well as make candidates accountable for their actions, strengthen partnerships with local governments and return county government to its intended non-partisan nature, according to the initiative.

Pick-a-party:

In its current state, the primary election requires King County voters to limit their choices in candidates by picking a political party and voting within that party, Fain said.

This means, for example, a person identifying as a Republican voter cannot vote for a Democratic King County Council member, executive or assessor. This limits competition between candidates. Voters are forced to vote on a candidate within their designated political party, rather than the candidate who would be best for the job overall.

“Really (voters) need to be informed and vote for the person, not the political ideology,” Federal Way City Council member and initiative supporter Linda Kochmar said.

Failed system:

The need for an initiative exists because King County government is not working as well as it could be, Fain said.

Some county officials have a tendency to vote a certain way to stay in good favor with the political party that elected them, Kochmar said.

“It’s really better for (candidates) to think independently and make decisions based on facts rather than pressure,” she said.

As is, the partisanship sometimes leads to rocky relationships with local governments, such as city councils, utility districts and fire departments, Kochmar said.

“I think (partisanship) creates a disconnect that separates those levels of government in how they approach different issues,” Fain said.

Federal Way City Council members are not required to align themselves with a political party when running for office. The council attempts to be remain neutral in its political identification and addresses the issues that matter to residents, Kochmar said. However, this is not always true at the county level, she said.

“Everything is colored by the party they belong to,” she said. “It seems like it’s an ‘us-and-them’ kind of thing.”

Focus on the issues:

The initiative could make it easier for non-partisan local governments to maintain productive partnerships with King County divisions. It could pull officials’ attention back to county issues that affect everyone — regardless of political party association, Fain said.

Problems addressed at a county level (for example, the delivery of services) do not require a partisan county government, he said.

“There are no Democratic or Republican potholes; local government deals with the meat and potatoes of government services,” said von Reichbauer in a press release.

Working together:

However, before citizens are allowed to vote based on which candidate is most qualified for a county government position, more than 52,000 registered King County voters must sign the petition before March 31.

If Citizens for Independent Government succeeds in collecting these, the initiative will appear on the August 2008 primary election ballot. If it gets voter approval there, it will proceed to the November general election. King County residents could see the pick-a-party primary requirement eliminated in King County by 2009.

“We don’t think responsible government will be a hard sell,” Fain said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Past efforts to change

Government officials introducing an initiative is rare, but the need to take the issue to the voters, instead of relying on internal measures, was apparent, said Joe Fain, head of Citizens for Independent Government.

“Reform from within is sometimes difficult,” he said.

In the past decade, several King County Council members, both Republican and Democratic, have attempted to introduce proposals and pass legislation that would have given voters expanded choices in who they vote into office.

The non-partisan issue was introduced to the King County Council twice in the 1990s, but was never put before voters, according to a Dec. 9 Citizens for Independent Government press release. Most recently, on April 2, von Reichbauer proposed an amendment of the King County Charter to the King County Council. This failed to proceed as well.

“There has really never been the political will to push this kind of reform,” Fain said.

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Check it out

To get involved with Citizens for Independent Government and Initiative 26, e-mail Joe Fain at contact@bettercounty.org or call (800) 920-KING.

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