Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll: ‘Tis the season for democracy and a full mailbox

It’s election season!

Which means it’s campaign mailer season …

Pros and cons, I guess.

One thing trips to the mailbox have made clear to me these last few weeks is that I simply don’t host enough multi-generational, racially and ethnically diverse coffee dates. I probably need to get on this if I ever want to seek elected office.

Admittedly, however, I’m not an expert on this stuff. I don’t know everything that goes into a campaign mailer. But if Tacoma does have such an expert, it just might be Brenda Wiest.

Chances are, you’ve seen Wiest in the last few months. She’s shown up on no less than three campaign mailers this season.

Wiest is a candidate for Pierce County Charter Review Commission, and one of the few for that volunteer board who’ve put out a mailer.

But she’s also appeared in a mailer endorsing the Fix Tacoma Streets campaign and one in support of Anders Ibsen, her district’s current City Council member.

Wiest has been everywhere.

“Well, it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with photogenic ability,” the legislative affairs coordinator for Teamsters Local 117 dryly joked when I asked her what it took to become a campaign mailer superstar.

“One day they all came in the mail at once,” she continued. “My son and husband laughed about that one.”

It’s probably an upgrade over 2013, when Wiest tells me she was the voice of a robocall for that year’s failed roads package.

One person you may have also seen recently on an Ibsen mailer is Joe Lopez.

Lopez, as you’ll recall, was appointed to Tacoma’s City Council in 2013, ever so briefly replacing Ibsen in early 2014 during the councilman’s month-long stint pursuing military training with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Everyone seemed to really like the guy. The vote was unanimous when he joined the council. When he left, Lopez said his only regret was, “There wasn’t really a lot of time to do anything.”

The stars seemed to be aligning for a future council run.

But, after entering the race for the at-large seat being vacated by David Boe earlier this year, Lopez dropped out in April, saying at the time that, “It was becoming clear it just wasn’t going to work out.”

Since then, Lopez has apparently had a lot of time to think about council politics. And he hasn’t loved what he’s seen — at least when it comes to the coordinated effort by seven out of his eight former council colleagues to unseat the man he filled in for.

That, he says, is why he recently decided to endorse Ibsen in a mailer sent out last week.

“It’s no secret Anders’ independence has ruffled feathers with some on the City Council,” Lopez’s mailed endorsement read. “Behind the scenes, some of these councilmembers even offered me campaign support if I chose to run against him. I declined.”

Mic dropped. Bridge burned.

“The campaign against Anders has struck me as unusually hot, and even unusually personal,” Lopez said this week. “Frankly, in an odd way, it forced me to sit down and think about Anders and his role on the council. … I found myself thinking, ‘What’s wrong with having a guy on the council that has an independent voice?’”

So, does Lopez expect to be appointed again should another council vacancy arise?

“I would doubt it,” he told me with a chuckle.

One mailer that might also be eliciting chuckles is one sent out recently by the Pierce County Better Government League — the forces behind this year’s controversial strong mayor ballot initiative.

The initiative is controversial in large part because of all the ways it’s flawed, including the accidental removal of the “Powers of the People” section of the city charter.

Still, the Better Government League is sticking behind it, with its most recent mailer including a bulleted list of the ways the current city manager form of government has “failed Tacoma.”

The list: higher taxes, higher crime rates, higher poverty, and too little accountability.

I reached out to Alex Hays, president of the Better Government League, telling him I thought some of these claims were kind of “far out.” After all, how can we say for certain any of these things would be different in Tacoma under a strong mayor?

True to form (and his job), Hays quickly replied with all the ways the mailer was right and I was wrong.

He pointed to a number of cities with strong mayors as well as lower crime rates, lower tax rates, and less poverty, while also acknowledging that “establishing causality or alternate causality is something a political mailing can't do.” Hayes also reiterated that the campaign sincerely believes “the city would have better answers to most — perhaps even all — of these issues if the city had an elected head of government.”

Fair enough.

But if we’re making a list of all the ways having a city manager has failed Tacoma, without being beholden to direct cause and effect, let’s add to the list: an uptick in three-legged dogs, increased cold sores, and an unfortunate lack of decent Chinese food.

Now I’m reconsidering my vote.