Even in the best of times, odd-year elections rarely stir images of fireworks, brass bands and Yankee Doodle. But before people filed for local office last week, some observers wondered whether this year would yield an especially poor harvest of candidates — a worse drought than what usually follows a presidential election.
According to this theory, the vortex of national news, largely swirling around the misadventures of President Donald Trump, has sucked the political oxygen out of 2017. Rather than local affairs, people are already fixated on state and congressional elections in 2018, or the next shot to take back the White House in 2020.
Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote last week that history would reflect on the first year of Trump as a “lost period” when Americans were distracted by the Dumpster fire in Washington, D.C. and “nothing, absolutely nothing, got done.”
Remember the old chestnut that all politics is local? Westneat surmised it “has never been more passe, more irrelevant, than right now.”
Well, so much for that theory.
In Pierce County last week, an impressive 292 candidates signed up through the auditor’s office during filing week. That compares to the 278 who filed in 2013, the year after Barack Obama coasted to reelection.
They signed up because they know the decisions most directly impacting people’s daily lives — how much tax they pay, how quickly potholes are filled, school books ordered, firefighters hired and property rezoned — are rendered by those who will be elected this year.
They signed up because they believe leadership can prove most effective at the grassroots level, not by having 30 million followers on Twitter.
Some highlights from filing week:
▪ Tacoma elections will be every bit as dynamic as we hoped. Growth, Tideflats development and other issues will get a thorough airing thanks to competitive City Council and Port Commission races. All three port seats on the ballot are opposed; in 2013, only one was.
Tacoma also will have its first mayoral primary since 2001. Each of the three candidates, Evelyn Lopez, Jim Merritt and Victoria Woodards, will make an appeal to the city’s urban liberal-progressive base. Traditional conservatives may rightly feel unrepresented.
But a primary election in August means mayor hopefuls will have to engage with voters of all stripes much earlier than if the election had gone straight to the November ballot.
▪ Suburban democracy is mostly alive and well. Small communities such as Orting and Gig Harbor fielded more candidates than in the past. Big-city Lakewood and Puyallup voters also have choices, which hasn’t always been true in Lakewood.
On the other hand, there’s not a race to be found in Eatonville or Ruston, and the mayors of Bonney Lake and Steilacoom were given free passes to another four-year term. And while we wish godspeed to 12-year Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow, his departure is a missed opportunity in the valley city; only one candidate filed to replace him.
Likewise, it’s a shame that incumbents on the Tacoma School Board face no challengers in the two seats on the ballot this year.
▪ Local office is a place to reorient ambitions. A handful of candidates who lost legislative bids in 2016 are hoping for better outcomes this year — a great way to build a political resume while serving closer to home.
Pablo Monroy, a military veteran who owns a small business and ran for state House in 2016, is now vying for Bonney Lake City Council. Marisa Peloquin, a colonel in the Army Reserve who ran for state Senate last year, is making a pitch for University Place School Board.
We commend their adaptability, and look forward to the lively local election season ahead.
Who knows, it just might divert the public’s morbid fascination with the other Washington.