In political chess, the game never ends

Somewhere I read, “All the world’s a stage.”

Somewhere I read, “All the world’s a stage.”

In politics, it’s a chess board with thoughtful strategy, feints to draw your opponent’s attention one direction while your target is another, and well-considered moves and countermoves that sacrifice a pawn to take out a bishop.

In chess, the goal is checkmate — game over.

In politics, the game never really ends. Republicans or Democrats temporarily gain enough power to control the policy agenda for a few years, then the other side maneuvers itself back into position and the game goes on. But make no mistake, the moves are there and the game is real.

In King County, Democrats have held most of the reins of power for several years.

Even the solid conservative Eastside is showing a steady movement toward more and more blue patches. But Republicans continue to maneuver for position.

Into this moment come two initiatives that could have long-term effects on what a major Republican player describes as “determining the very relevancy of the Republican party” in this county. The first is a charter amendment that would make the county executive, county council and county assessor non-partisan positions.

This is an idea that has been discussed by leading politicians of both parties and good government groups for decades.

Most of the issues county officials deal with are non-partisan, so the logic of converting the decision makers seems consistent to most.

Politically speaking, the argument “let’s take politics out of county government” makes a great sound bite and resonates with most voters — as the 60 percent primary vote illustrates.

Many good government groups, non-partisan suburban officials and some partisan officials signed on as supporters. Opposition comes primarily from Democrats. Why? Because they are in power, and all county positions would become immediately more competitive if changed.

The way the council districts are arranged as 5-4 Democratic won’t change much for a few years other than inter-party skirmishes, but the real prize, the executive’s office, could be in play for Republicans either next year or the cycle four years later.

Seattle votes overwhelming Democratic, but a well-known moderate Republican becomes more electable if he or she doesn’t have to run as a Republican.

This is a major move on the chess board. A few years ago when the Republicans controlled the executive’s office, the positions were reversed.

The second issue is electing the director of elections, which is currently an appointed position. Although the Elections Department in King County has performed admirably the past several elections, the 2004 governor’s race was very controversial.

With a huge majority in King County, Christine Gregoire was elected by a razor-thin margin. Republicans claimed foul and went to court. They lost, but shrewdly kept the issue alive for four years.

Overall, the goal was to help Dino Rossi in the 2008 rematch by creating public doubt about the legitimacy of Gregoire’s victory.

But the sustained attacks on the department also undermined the credibility of county government and created an environment where a former Republican legislator and others could circulate a citizens’ petition to move the position from being appointed by the executive — currently Democrat Ron Sims — to being elected by the public. The public has shown strong support for this change and the position would be, you guessed it, non-partisan.

If both these issues are passed by the public, which seems a foregone conclusion, the face of King County politics will start to change.

Will it be better? That largely depends on your perspective, but it will be different.

Either way, the chess game in which we are all pawns will continue.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at

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