Rural and suburban Pierce County voters were feeling cranky in this week’s special election. Now policy makers in Eatonville, Spanaway and University Place, plus some in county government, are feeling blue after the barrage of “no” votes.
It would be unwise to read too much into the results of an April special election whose turnout will be lucky to exceed 30 percent. Short ballots in spring-fever elections tend to draw conservative voters. Most everyone else is either suffering voter fatigue – this was the third election in six months, after all – or else saving their ink for an epic November ballot.
This was a middle-brother election, easy to ignore but still worth a few takeaways:
▪ Marijuana NIMBYs make noise: Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, loaded the dice by pushing for Tuesday’s advisory vote challenging an ordinance that will finally allow recreational pot businesses in limited zones. Only voters in unincorporated areas got to participate in this $425,000 plebiscite. City folk, despite paying county taxes, weren’t allowed to vote.
Not surprisingly, the dice rolled McDonald’s way with early counts showing a 52-percent “no” response. But this is hardly a mandate. It falls well short of the plus-61-percent anti-marijuana vote held in Federal Way last year, which McDonald and her allies have cited as their bellwether.
More than 184,000 Pierce County voters supported legal marijuana under state Initiative 502. Around 30,000 voters now say they don’t want legalized weed anywhere within a country mile.
Looking at those numbers, no clear-thinking politician would reverse a regulated county system that will generate considerable tax revenue, plus enforcement money to shut down the bad actors.
That ordinance is set to go into effect in July. The County Council should stick with it.
▪ Strike one for Eatonville school bond: Bond boosters had an unenviable task in this sprawling district near Mount Rainier where some students travel 60 to 90 minutes by school bus. Sharing coherent information and building strong community across all those miles can be tough, and both are essential to pass a $19.5 million measure.
Better luck next year. The school district showed good stewardship with its last bond 10 years ago, and should be trusted to do so again.
▪ Strike two for Bethel school bond: The most stunning part of Tuesday’s vote in the Spanaway-based district is not that the $236.7 million proposal failed again; it’s the fact that the percentage of favorable votes dropped by more than 3 points compared to February.
The most controversial element was a $29 million aquatics center. Bethel officials plausibly argued that the district has no pool, student swimmers have to travel to practice, and a full-fledged aquatic facility would be a community asset.
They gave it a valiant effort, twice. Before coming back for a third vote, officials should consider scaling back or eliminating the swim complex.
Don’t look at Tuesday’s results as a sign that residents won’t support good schools. They just might not support splash pools, lazy rivers and water slides.
Bethel educators have been served notice to focus on their core duties: providing a stimulating learning environment, making schools more secure and less crowded, and upgrading old campuses that have leaky roofs, failing electrical systems and rodents.
Surely voters will respond in kind.
▪ UP parks district strikes out: The least ambiguous message on Election Day was delivered in University Place, where only 35 percent of voters supported a metropolitan parks district. The majority decided to call the city’s bluff and test whether officials will really cut off all funds for the senior center, youth sports and other recreation programs.
Combined with the rejection of a utility-tax increase in 2014 to help pay for police, it raises hard questions. The hardest one: What was the point of incorporating two decades ago if University Place can’t afford to be a full-service city?
Some deep soul-searching is due at City Hall.