Opinion

2017 election reflections - congrats and mixed feelings

Before all the concession phone calls are made, the official results certified, the political yard signs removed (or blown down in the next windstorm), here are a handful of our Editorial Board takeaways from Election 2017.

Then let’s all enjoy the off-season, brief as it may be. Election 2018 filing week is less than six months away.

▪ Woodards gets her chance: We join the reception line of people offering congratulations to Tacoma mayor-elect Victoria Woodards.

She won our endorsement because of her steady, grind-it-out climb through local government ranks; solid credentials as a coalition-builder among Tacoma’s diverse subcultures; and effusive love for her hometown.

There’s reason to believe the former city councilwoman and Tacoma Urban League president can grow to be a superb, no-nonsense mayor in the tradition of her term-limited predecessor, Marilyn Strickland.

Like all politicians, Woodards will be measured in part by her follow-through on campaign pledges. Will she initiate a dialogue with the anti-fossil-fuel hardliners who tried to take her down? Will she silence those who’ve criticized her education background by becoming the first Tacoma mayor to complete her college degree in office, as she told us she aspired to do?

Some of Woodards’ doubters are concerned that instead of serving as an independent voice, she will march lockstep with the City Council majority progressives with whom she frequently aligned before resigning and running for mayor a year ago. Woodards should waste no time establishing a distinct identity and agenda.

The 52-year-old South End resident also must prove to some that she can lead from the head as much as the heart. To that end, it’s time to ditch the overcooked rhetoric of her victory speech on election night. “Tonight, Tacoma chose hope over hatred,” Woodards declaimed. “Tonight, Tacoma chose opportunity over oppression. Tonight, Tacoma chose faith over fear.”

While this election grew heated at times, mostly due to the meddling of PACs and fringe players, Woodards and her opponent, Jim Merritt, both managed to remain above the fray. If there was hatred and oppression, it didn’t come from Merritt, a mild-mannered and civic minded architect.

Merritt, who lost narrowly to Strickland in 2009, deserves his own congratulations for another race valiantly fought.

▪  State Dems get big eyes: These are heady days for Washington Democrats after regaining full control of the state lawmaking apparatus. But we have mixed feelings about their big win this week in the 45th Legislative District, which should swing the Senate back to their column in 2018.

On the one hand, having Dems in charge of the Senate, House and governor’s office might loosen the gridlock that routinely leads to overtime sessions. It also might reduce bad outcomes, like the failure to approve a $4 billion construction budget this year, and stop pointless show trials, like the Senate GOP’s recent prosecution of Sound Transit.

On the other hand, there’s a risk of arrogance and overreach. In last Sunday’s New York Times, Washington Senate Democratic leader Sharon Nelson was quoted saying she envisions a “blue wall from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.”

Whoa, senator. How about if the new power generation stays focused on our state’s complex mix of interests and stakeholders, blue, red and in between?

If we’ve learned anything from watching “the other Washington” this year, it’s that governing with one-party control has weaknesses and is no walk in the park.

And the White House already provides more than enough bombast about walls.

▪  Mayors get the boot: What should we make of the trend of incumbent mayors being shown the door all over Pierce County — including elected mayors (Gig Harbor, Milton, Orting, maybe Buckley) and appointed mayors (Puyallup, Fircrest)?

Some might read the tea leaves and see a second wave of populist backlash, first manifested in last year’s election of President Trump, against government as usual. Some might see it as a repudiation of growth and development, especially in Gig Harbor, where Mayor Jill Guernsey won less than 30 percent of the vote.

The perception that city leaders aren’t adequately fighting crime also could be a factor in some contests. “It no longer feels safe walking in our neighborhoods at night,” Puyallup candidate Jim Kastama wrote in his voter pamphlet statement. Kastama handily beat Mayor John Hopkins and will take his seat on the Puyallup council.

Playing the public safety card can be effective. “Crime is one of the few things that’s associated with mayors losing, in part because it’s a core responsibility of cities and also because it’s an emotional issue,” Eric Heberlig, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, recently told Governing magazine.

Whatever the reasons for the mayoral purge, it represents a major shift in direction for some cities, and constituents will know within the next four years whether the winds blow fair or foul. But in 2017, as in all other elections, we trust the collective will of voters to set the course.

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