Will Rogers once said: “I don’t belong to any organized party. I’m a Democrat.” Democrats practice big-tent inclusion and individualism, while frequently outnumbered Republicans tend to be more disciplined and stay on message.
One year ago, the political world of state Democrats looked bright for years to come. They appeared on the cusp of controlling the Legislature and the governor’s office for at least the next decade. They held the governorship with Jay Inslee, and had two of their strongest candidates in Attorney General Bob Ferguson and King County Executive Dow Constantine to compete to follow Inslee as governor. They held the state House of Representatives by a slim margin, but with strategic thinker in Speaker Frank Chopp closing in on 20 years at the helm and firmly in control, they expected to add several more seats. And in what was expected to be the year of the women, several good candidates appeared to give them a good shot at taking the Senate.
The plan started out well as several leaders encouraged Inslee to run for president of the United States. There were two schools of thought. One was Inslee seemed more interested in national politics and he could be vulnerable to a good Republican candidate. Also, in Ferguson and Constantine, the Democrats had two good candidates waiting in the wings who appeared to be getting impatient to change their address.
In this blue state where President Donald Trump is unpopular, Ferguson was particularly hot property with court victories over Trump.
Then the pieces started to fit together. The Democrats took the House easily and the Senate by a slim margin, and Inslee announced for president.
But since then, events have been less predictable and Republicans see some openings they may be able to exploit.
In his run for president, Inslee has not gotten above 1% and needs to show some strength soon. But a bigger problem has arisen for Inslee — money. His issue has been climate change and an urgency to take action. Tom Steyer has spent millions on the issue and wants Trump impeached or defeated. He was expected to be a big money donor to Inslee. Not only hasn’t that happened, but Steyer has now announced his own presidential bid. That’s a blow to Inslee, who has to reconsider his options.
And another clue that the script might be changing is that both Inslee and Ferguson’s public comments have made references to Inslee’s never having ruled out a third term. Recent disclosures about expensive employee settlements at King County have not looked good for Constantine, although some wonder how the information got to the press. The damage is likely temporary, but Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has been keeping her options open.
Unless he shows really well in the next round of debates, watch for Inslee to drop his presidential bid and take steps to run for a third term. That does not rule out his being available for a cabinet position, but it does get real awkward.
If Inslee does run for a third term, Ferguson, Constantine and Franz will stay where they are and wait four more years.
The House has become unsettled as Chopp gave way to the newcomers who want action now, not long-term strategic thinking, and a new speaker-designate will be announced by the time you read this. In 2020 Chopp’s skills may be missed.
The election year policy needs of 2020, combined with a slim margin in the Senate, make teamwork crucial to the Democrats passing their programs and maintaining a majority. But two new senators stirred the pot.
New Sen. Mona Das (D-Kent), in a speech to the Kent Chamber of Commerce, raised the issue of racism, sexism and misogyny in the Democratic caucus. She initially blamed a reporter for mischaracterization of her comments, but then retreated from that line.
None of the issues she raised should ever be tolerated, and certainly not from our elected leaders.
But in trying to be honest and forthcoming with her views, combined with Olympia partisanship and power politics, Das may find her comments will be used against the people she needs to help make change — her Democratic colleagues. Also, Das’s comments could be used to rebut President Trump’s racially charged comments about four congresswomen. Her comments were made about a group, not an individual, and she did not file a complaint that could be investigated, so the political damage done to her Democratic seatmates may be significant.
Wisely the caucus staff will review the matter and likely recommend some action, most likely training. Next session Das will likely sponsor a well-intended bill to help correct inappropriate behavior in the areas she mentioned.
Earlier, new Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Federal Way) had two issues that Republican political operatives will be tracking. Rather then step down and concentrate on her new legislative position, Wilson retained her seat on the Federal Way School Board as she wanted to finish out her last year and help two new board members. Nice idea, but this is hardball politics.
As a legislator, she signed on to supporting a bill on sexuality in schools that became very controversial, even though parents had the option for their child not to attend. Over a hundred people showed up at a school board meeting to oppose the bill, placing the district in a position that legislators should have handled in Olympia. Wilson then stepped down from her school board seat.
That was followed by an organized crowd of 400 wearing green ribbons attending a district day hosted by the three Democratic legislators, demanding to speak on the controversial sex bill. A typical crowd for a district day might be less than 100. Wilson also received a complaint about use of state property, but the state Legislative Board dismissed the complaint because the meeting was canceled.
Das and Wilson have promise, and three years left on their term, but in the partisan world of Olympia someone is always taking notes and will use them. They need to be mindful of how their actions impact others next year and them in three years.
Rather than President Inslee, Governor Ferguson or Governor Constantine, Speaker Chopp, and smooth sailing into next year’s state races, the script looks a little different.
What a difference a year makes.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.