Callaghan: Dull election season a reaction to too much past stimulus

May 18, 2014 

There’s something about Washington’s 2014 election that isn’t quite right.

Even after getting its official kickoff with last week’s filing period, it feels a bit off.

Hmmm, what is it that’s missing? Certainly the lack of any statewide races other than some sleepy state Supreme Court “battles” causes a lack of focus. But that happens every 12 years when non-gubernatorial years sync up with the non-U.S. Senate years, caused by staggered, six-year terms.

It means that Washington will not be involved in the biggest national election story of 2014 — control of the U.S. Senate. But we’ve been left out of the national campaign story before.

We do have all 10 congressional districts on the ballot. But thanks in part to how we tend to gather together with like-minded people and, in part, to a state redistricting system that creates safe districts for incumbents, there aren’t any real contests.

The Washington Senate could turn over from the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus to Democratic control. But even that is something of an inside-baseball conversation and one that half of state voters can watch but not play.

Initiatives might provide some entertainment, but so far we have nothing to draw national eyeballs like same-gender marriage, legalized marijuana and genetically modified organisms.

There are the dueling gun regulation initiatives, so the TV stations still will meet their budgets, and the rest of us will have to look elsewhere for real information.

Election 2014 lacks snap, crackle and pop. (Heck, so far it doesn’t have snap, crackle OR pop.) We don’t really have that much to fight about, which might be good for human interaction but is lousy for elections.

Not that there aren’t issues. How to address a state Supreme Court order regarding school funding, how to fill a Bertha-sized hole in transportation funding, and the growing campaign to respond to income inequality.

None, however, were tackled by a divided Legislature. Lawmakers spent much of their time creating ways for the other side to take votes that can be used in campaign brochures.

So no big gasoline tax increase on the ballot because Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree. No backlash over new revenue sources to fund education and meet the orders of the state Supreme Court because they didn’t pass one.

Besides, even if they could have agreed, the issues before the state are nothing compared to what they were just a few years back when politicians dealt with the worst economic crisis in 85 years. Nothing on the agenda now can compare to the crisis caused by the Great Recession.

Each time the Legislature and governor filled a big hole in the budget, an even-bigger one would emerge. Proposed cuts that were considered beyond the pale one year were embraced the next. Quarterly revenue forecasts were met with new anxiety and foreboding. Protests. Agony. Pain. Remorse. Citizens in shock. Politicians in tears.

The economy isn’t exactly humming, but at least we’re over all that.

Then it hits me. The reason everyone seems so blasé, why the election seems so dull and restrained, is that everyone is in the midst of an after-crisis fugue state. That’s right, we’re all suffering from PTSD — post-traumatic session disorder. Even the made-up-party names are uninspiring this year. Not a single candidate, for instance, prefers the Salmon Yoga Party.

Sure, activists on the left and the right will find plenty to get agitated about. But they were born agitated and will likely die agitated. The rest of us are having trouble getting our engines started.

There is a cure, of course. In two years, a new president will be elected, and Republicans will have their first crack at Gov. Jay Inslee. Patty Murray will be up for her fifth term, a race she’s already declared for, giving state voters a chance to play in the next race to control the U.S. Senate.

So a dull Election 2014 might be the calm before the storm. But that doesn’t make it any less dull.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657
peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com
@CallaghanPeter

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