A New Republican-Made Bugaboo

Railing against manufactured threat

It is now the standard trick of the Republican playbook: Take a set of words out of context (and out of their original meaning in that context), purposefully re-define their meaning and intent into something that sounds sinister and threatening, then blast out the scary sounding re-definition on all available Republican propaganda channels in order to rally the base around the imagined threat. 

Humans react viscerally to any perceived threat to children, a visceral emotion ripe for exploitation. The more a manufactured threat is untethered from reality the better. The now classic example (even though it was only five years ago) is the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, the assertion that Democrats were running a child-sex-trafficking ring out of the basement of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. For the believer and self-styled defender of children, basic facts (like Comet Ping Pong does not have a basement) are easily tossed aside as distractions from “the truth”.

The more untethered the assertion or re-definition the better to insulate against any challenge from rational discussion. Once adopted by a true believer, no amount of evidence to the contrary is sufficient to quell the suspicion that sex-trafficking is linked a whole group of evil people, in this case, Democrats. 

The Trumpian majority wing of the Republican Party is exploiting similar, but less obviously false, contrived threats to children in the current election: evil forces are trying to take over your children’s minds or threatening your children’s health. “Critical Race Theory” and “Equity,” for example, are re-defined and made fearsome by asserting (falsely) that they are vehicles for sowing divisiveness, racism, and indoctrination with “liberal ideology”. 

Education is no proof against these visceral fears. A friend reports that his brother, a well educated retired engineer, lies awake at night worrying over “all the children committing suicide because they are forced to wear masks in school by evil Democrats.” (This man is a devoted listener to right wing media.) Of course, this is claimed association of mask mandates and child suicide is total hogwash—but so was Pizzagate…

The new Republican fear for children, following on “Critical Race Theory” and “Equity” is “Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).” Never mind that SEL has been used as a framework in education for decades, makes perfect sense, and has been endorsed for years by Republican legislators. SEL has been proven to improve children’s social and academic lives—and saves society money. That makes no difference. Tucker Carlson and other extremists have seized on it as the new Republican child-threatening bugaboo. 

I’ve copied below Judd Legum’s excellent summary below. I heartily encourage you to sign up for his email blog, Popular Information (small fee). 

Keep to the high ground,


The new bugaboo

Judd Legum

October 25, 2021

Across the country, conservatives are mobilizing against the inclusion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in K-12 education. There is just one problem: CRT is a complex theory developed by law professors and included postgraduate education. It is not taught in K-12 schools

So the same activists have switched their focus to something that is included in schools’ curricula: Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). Right-wing critics have called SEL “racist garbage,” “anti-white,” and “a vehicle for introducing leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The argument is that SEL is a vehicle for CRT and should be eliminated. 

What is SEL? Broadly, SEL helps develop skills “not necessarily measured by tests,” including “critical thinking, emotion management, conflict resolution, decision making, [and] teamwork.” The SEL framework focuses on developing skills “across five areas of social and emotional competence” — “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.” 

The term SEL was popularized in a 1997 book. But the concept is rooted in the idea of character assessment and development that dates back at least to Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1700s.

Maurice Elias, professor of psychology at Rutgers University and Director of Rutgers’ Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, explained to Popular Information that SEL is based on “neuroscience and other research” that shows “the role of emotions in learning.” He stressed that “these factors are color blind” because all kids “do not learn well when they are scared, hungry, threatened, depressed, drug-involved, or unhealthy.” SEL education can benefit all children “regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, [or] political affiliation of their parents.” 

Elias emphasized that SEL does not instruct students to adopt a political ideology. Rather, students learn skills like problem-solving, organization, focus, preparation, collaboration, and emotional awareness. Removing SEL from schools, Elias says, will harm all children — including those with parents that oppose CRT.

SEL does not seek to enforce uniformity; it encourages respectful disagreement. One SEL technique that Elias helped develop is called “Respectful Debate.” In that exercise “students have to take both sides of an issue and in doing so, must listen carefully to the views of the other side and be able to replicate them” to demonstrate full understanding. SEL, Elias notes, is “about the process, not the outcome.”

Importantly, research has shown that incorporating SEL into school curriculum “bolsters academic performance.” An analysis of 270,000 students in 2011 found that “SEL interventions that address the five core competencies increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not participate.” The same study found that students participating in SEL programs “showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.” Another study, published in July 2021, found that SEL is effective at “enhancing young people’s social and emotional skills and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in the short term.” 

The impact of SEL education, research shows, is long-lasting. A 2015 study “found significant associations between social-emotional skills in kindergarten and young adult outcomes across education, employment, criminal activity, and mental health.” As a result, “every dollar invested in SEL programming yields $11 in long-term benefits.” These benefits “include reduced juvenile crime, higher lifetime earnings, and better mental and physical health.”  

Now, these benefits are at risk. Conservative activists, as part of a political strategy, are trying to stigmatize SEL and purge it from schools. 

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The consequences of politicizing SEL

SEL only recently became politically controversial. That’s why all 50 states have SEL standards for Pre-K students and nearly 30 have established SEL standards for K-12 education. 

In Idaho, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra, an elected Republican, has “advocated the need for social-emotional learning in Idaho schools.” Establishing SEL standards was a key recommendation from a 2019 education task force established by Idaho Governor Brad Little (R).

But this month, the Idaho State Department of Education decided not to act on the recommendation because SEL has become a political football:

The work plan is missing one of the recommendations from the state group: Adopting a common framework for discussing social-emotional learning in Idaho’s classrooms.

The SDE leadership team decided not to pursue that recommendation in light of a national poll suggesting the term “social-emotional learning” is unpopular with parents, and the divisive political rhetoric around the term, Studebaker said. Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been drawn into partisan debates around whether schools are teaching critical race theory, or trying to “indoctrinate” youth with liberal ideology.

While a Fordham survey found that the term SEL was mildly unpopular with parents, there was overwhelming support for schools to teach the skills that are at the core of an SEL curriculum.

This month, the Idaho State Department of Education announced that it would continue to pursue SEL education, but stop using the term. “We are not distancing ourselves from the concept of SEL, and the important work of supporting students,” Idaho State Department of Education spokeswoman Kris Rodine said. “But the term ‘social-emotional learning’ has recently been co-opted to become a point of controversy.”

North Dakota, which Trump won by 35 points in 2020, established SEL standards for K-12 students in 2018.

Virginia, Tucker Carlson, dark money, and SEL

Parents Defending Education (PDE), the dark money group connected to the Koch political network established in March 2021, is at the forefront of politicizing SEL. The group is particularly active in Virginia, where much of its leadership is based.

In 2020, the Virginia legislature passed legislation to establish SEL standards. It cleared the legislature with large bipartisan majorities in the House (72-26) and the Senate (27-11). PDE recast this as a leftist plot to “indoctrinate” Virginia students with Critical Race Theory.

PDE took issue with the draft standards produced by the Virginia Department of Education, which provides guidance, not requirements, for schools. For 5th and 6th graders, it includes standards such as: “I can identify the importance of setting academic goals for personal growth.” PDE objects to a handful of standards, including this one for 11th and 12th graders: “I can make ethical decisions about when and how to take a stand against bias and injustice in my everyday life or community.” The idea that bias and injustice exist in the world, and that people should respond to those issues ethically, is not a radical theory. 

Later, PDE objected to Fairfax County Schools contracting with a consultant to conduct an ongoing survey of students about SEL issues. The questions included in the screener undercut the idea that SEL education is about political indoctrination. Instead, students are encouraged to consider a variety of viewpoints and have respectful disagreements. The questions include:

If you fail at an important goal, how likely are you to try again?

When things go wrong for you, how calm are you able to stay?

During the past 30 days, how carefully did you listen to other people’s points of view?

During the past 30 days, to what extent were you able to disagree with others without starting an argument?

There are only two questions related to race and, again, the questions are centered around considering other people’s perspectives and productive dialogue:

How often do you think about what someone of a different race, ethnicity, or culture experiences?

How confident are you that students at your school can have honest conversations with each other about race?

Parents have the option to opt out their children from the survey. Nevertheless, this screener was reframed as a “scandal” when, earlier this month, Asra Nomani, PDE’s Vice President for Strategy and Investigations, reported that the company developing the screener, Panorama Education, was co-founded by Xan Tanner, who is married to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s daughter. 

Nomani asserted that this was a “conflict of interest.” She claimed the Department of Justice announced on October 4 that it will address “violent threats against school board officials and teachers” to benefit Garland’s son-in-law. 

This all makes very little sense. Neither Garland nor his son-in-law financially benefits from addressing violent threats against school boards. But Garland was questioned about the alleged conflict on October 21 by Congressman Mike Johnson (R-LA). Here is the exchange:

JOHNSON: Did you have the appropriate agency ethic official look into this? Did you seek guidance as the Federal regulation requires?

GARLAND: This memorandum is aimed at violence and threats of violence.

JOHNSON: I understand that, but did you — excuse me — did you seek ethics counsel before you issued a letter that directly relates to the financial interest of your family, yes or no?

GARLAND: This memorandum does not relate to the financial interests of anyone. 

Nevertheless, the controversy landed Nomani an invitation on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. Carlson began the segment by claiming that “Garland’s son-in-law [is] profiting from racist theories taught to your children.” He added that Garland was a “repulsive little sleazeball” who “sicced the F.B.I. on people who criticize his family’s business.” 

During her appearance, Nomani claimed there is “no evidence” that SEL education is “effective” for students. Rather, it was a “Trojan Horse” for “consultants that bring in the very divisive ideas of critical race theory.” 

Peddling Anger and Fear

The Perennial Republican GOTV Strategy

Municipal elections, like next week’s (the one for which you’ve received your ballot), typically demonstrate low ballot turn-in (aka “voter turnout”) numbers. Four years ago, in the November 2017 elections, when, like this year, the highest profile contests were for seats on the Spokane City Council, only 34 of 100 ballots were returned. (In 2019 when the positions of Spokane City Council and Spokane Mayor were at stake, the numbers were a little higher, 47 of 100. For perspective, last year’s high profile presidential election ballot turn-in was 81 of 100.)

Winning low profile elections is all about motivating your voters. For most people there is no greater motivator than fear and anger. The Republican unified propaganda machine lives off this concept. “Mexican immigrants are dark-skinned rapists and murderers—and they’re going to replace you at the voting booth and then take your job.” In each election there are a few well-organized Republican themes designed to gin up fear and anger so as to turn out the base vote. Republican campaigns in “non-partisan,” off-year local elections follow the same prescription. 

In the 2019 municipal elections a west-side Republican operative’s propaganda video, “Seattle is Dying” set the fear-based theme for the election season. Pushed on social media, “Seattle is Dying” depicted Seattle as completely overrun by criminal homeless people. The message of fear for Spokane voters: “Spokane will look like this video of homeless camps unless you elect the Republican slate of candidates—people who will be ‘tough on crime’ and save us from this menace.” Financing the campaign of fear were realtors and developers hoping to maximize profit margins—by changing rules around sprawl, infill, and housing types.

This year Republican fear mongering is more transparent—and wildly twisted. First, instead of concentrating on a community effort to conquer the Covid pandemic, Republicans are concentrating on fear that the efforts to control the pandemic will curtail their individual freedom to infect their friends and neighbors. This manifests as boisterous, threatening opposition to mask and vaccination mandates (and careful avoidance of acknowledging that many of the fear mongers chose vaccination for themselves). Certainly such twisted opposition will motivate the most rabid don’t-tread-on-me Republican extremists to vote—but, properly understood, voiced opposition to mask and vaccine mandates should motivate rational people to reject such candidates. Rhetoric around “freedom” in this election cycle is code for opposing efforts to control the pandemic that has killed three quarters of a million Americans. 

The second Republican message this election cycle appeals to an even more basic fear: fear of a challenge to one’s worldview, one’s place in the world, specifically, fear of losing our belief in the white-washed myth of our founding by acknowledging the messy and sometimes sordid details of U.S. history. A well-funded national Republican narrative around the claimed evil and inaccuracy of Critical Race Theory, The 1619 Project, and the teaching of Equity in schools is meant to heighten the sense of threat while suppressing the complicated story of our founding and our struggles. Pre-emptive Republican rhetoric motivates the base to cast ballots for candidates who declare they will banish these imagined, Trumped-up (pun intended) evils from our schools and our discourse—and serves to suppress the teaching of the full history of our founding fathers, of the Jim Crow era, of lynchings, of the Tulsa Race Massacre, of segregation, of red-lining and race-based housing exclusion. Republican operatives understanding that acknowledging that history would eventually challenge the simmering racist narrative of much of the far right Republican voting base. 

Before you fill out your ballot look for the statements with the code words that identify the candidates who are pushing these contrived narratives—and push back with your vote. Then contact everyone you know and encourage them to cast a similar ballot. This election, like all of these off-year municipal elections, will be about which side’s supporters are motivated to vote. 

Keep to the high ground,


A School Board Disqualification

“Critical Race Theory” fear as a negative marker

Question 8 on the WeBelieveWeVote.com Survey Questionnaire reads [the italics are mine]:

Even though Gov. Inslee recently signed the “Equity Bill” into law (SB 5044), most parents oppose Critical Race Theory, The 1619 Project, and other similar types of programs, because they are historically inaccurate, divisive and they actually promote racism….School boards should not allow these programs to be implemented in schools.

Every one of the school board candidates who responded to the Questionnaire checked off a high level of agreement (either 10 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10) with that question. That checkmark should disqualify them from serious consideration for a seat on any school board. Kata Dean and Daryl Geffken (District 81, Spokane Public Schools), and Bret Howell, Pam Orebaugh, and Rob Linebarger (Central Valley Schools) all indicated their strong agreement. 

The WeBelieveWeVote folk have no basis to assert that most parents are opposed to CRT or the 1619 Project. That contention may be true among those in the media rathole these candidates inhabit, but not among the broader populace.

Blind opposition to “Critical Race Theory, The 1619 Project, and other similar types of programs” is Republican propaganda coding for, “I have not read the 1619 Project. I do not know what Critical Race Theory is—but I’ve heard that both are bad. I have my mythic, nationalistic, American exceptionalist view of the world, and I don’t want anyone to discuss anything different with me or my child or any student in this country.” 

Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a cause célèbre was promoted by Christopher Rufo, amplified by Tucker Carlson, taken up by Donald Trump, and rapidly spread by Republican media. Rufo knew full well that CRT is not taught in K-12 schools, but he recognized that each of these three words, critical, race, and theory, already carried negative connotations for a certain audience and therefore could be used to generate suspicion and fear. 

Woody Holton, Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, put the flap about CRT in proper perspective, noting that this “mythical thing called critical race theory…should be defined in the dictionary as ‘whatever aspect of Black history I wish to ban.’” (This quote is part of an excellent podcast and transcript, Ezra Klein Interviews Woody Holton, on The Ezra Klein Show, a podcast that is also widely available beyond the NYTimes.) 

The local school board candidates indicating their agreement with WeBelieveWeVote’s statement that CRT and the 1619 Project are historically inaccurate, divisive and they actually promote racism are simply parroting Mr. Rufo, using a convenient set of buzzwords to signal their desire to censor the teaching of historic details that don’t fit their prejudices.

Vote Riley Smith and Melissa Bedford for the Spokane School District’s Board. For Central Valley School District be sure to fill in the oval for Teresa Landa for Position 2 (lest Bret Howell win as a write-in). For Position 5 write in Stan Chalich on the line provided AND fill in the oval. Neither of the printed candidates (Pam or Rob) for Position 5 is suitable for a public school board:

Keep to the high ground,



A Useful Inverse Voter Guide

The folks behind WeBelieveWeVote.com (WBWV) want you to trust that, if you consider yourself a Christian, only candidates highly rated by their selection process are worthy of your vote, whereas, a close look at that selection process suggests precisely the opposite. For example, check out the “Survey” responses of Kata Dean, one of the candidates for Spokane Public Schools posted at this link.¹ The third “Core Belief” on the Survey equates commitment to “Limited Government” as a Christian tenet of faith.

Point #5 states that:

School districts must develop policies according to local community standards, and not force students to adhere to controversial state and federal mandates…

Point #8 suggests that a true Christian, as a matter of faith, must oppose the teaching of “Equity”—and condemn the teaching of the history of racism and slavery in our country as “inaccurate”. This runs entirely opposite to my Christian upbringing in the Methodist Church, a Christian upbringing that included vivid experiences with racism in American south in the 1960’s. For WBWV to make the contrary assertion I find despicable and distorted.

Point #8 requires, as a tenet of Christianity, fealty to a voucher system for education that would redirect tax dollars to private schools and homeschooling. One must presume that the WBWV folk have in mind teaching the religio-political doctrines expressed in this Survey at such schools.

Point #10 under “American Sovereignty” is the statement that “Cultural Competency advocates claim that these programs promote appreciation for a diversity of cultures.” and the conclusion that “Cultural Competency programs should be eliminated from schools.”

Point #11 under “The Environment” challenges the scientific consensus on climate change and global warming by blanking stating that “students should be exposed to different theories of climate change while focusing on universally agreed upon stewardship measures, such as not littering, conserving resources, etc.”

Point #12 under “The Poor and Needy” opens with “Providing a safety net for the poor and needy is the responsibility of individuals, families, churches, and local
communities.” It goes on to assert “Public schools have added too many social services such as health care, meals, day care, etc.”

Kata Dean, candidate for Spokane Public Schools School Board is in complete agreement with all of these statements. Daryl Geffken, Kata’s ally (they share the same campaign treasurer—and both are supported by the Republican Party), is in substantial agreement (74%). The two religio-political extremists vying for positions on the Central Valley School Board, Pam Orebaugh running for Position 5 and Bret Howell running as a write-in for Position 2, are ranked by WBWV at 96 and 97% agreement, respectively, based on their responses to the same Survey. (Rob Linebarger, Pam’s supposed opponent—but her actual devoted ally—on the ballot for CVSD Position 5 has strategically declined to turn in a Survey in order to throw votes toward Pam.)

Candidates for Spokane City Council Jonathan Bingle (100%!) and Mike Lish (88%) filled out Survey Questionnaires WBWV tailored to city councils that lay bare their ideological underpinnings as well. The same is true for candidates in seven other Spokane County communities with city council races this November. Visit the WBWV website and check out their Survey responses and ratings before you vote. Note the contrast between their positions laid bare by their Survey responses and their more guarded public comments.

When you do your research to fill out your ballot (which you should have received) I encourage you to visit WeBelieveWeVote.com, spend a little time clicking around—and be sure to study the candidate Surveys. In general, responding to WBWV’s Survey confirms the candidate’s religio-political extremism. I am hard-pressed to find a Christian value I recognize on this site. Christians using this site, and those unaware of its existence, need to apprised of what it contains.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. You may have seen WBWV’s updated logo on yard signs, often immediately adjacent to (and, rarely, right on) church properties:

The folks who run WBWV have toned down their logon a bit this one on a 4X8 yard sign in 2018:

P.P.S. Over four years I have watched WBWV grow, presenting itself online more and more slickly. The only example I can recall of a candidate for whom I voted who also filled out the WBWV Survey was Breean Beggs’ in his campaign for Spokane City Council President. Instead of submitting a 1-10 rating, Breean wrote out a detailed, reasoned response to each question—and garnered a dismally low overall rating. No doubt few who visited WBWV bothered to read the Survey. (Unfortunately, I did not then know that I could download and preserve the Survey responses—and WBWV no longer displays Breean’s response. It is a shame because his responses were, in my opinion, those of a man with true Christian values.) 1

For any candidate rated on the WBWV website, their responses to this same survey can be seen with the following click pattern: Voter Guide / Select a City, Town, or School District Races / scroll to the candidates name and click “More” / scroll to the bottom of that page and click “Survey Responses”.

Realtors & Developers

A fat thumb on the campaign finance scale

First : Ballots for the November 2 election should arrive in your mailbox as soon as this weekend. The Progressive Voters Guide for Washington is available by clicking that link. This off-off year general election is exclusively for local offices (except for Tim Eyman’s publicly-funded political state wide “Advisory Votes”). As a result, for those who follow mostly national a state sources, news coverage of the races can be sketchy. The Progressive Votes Guide provides reasoned analysis (even on the “Advisory Votes”!) broken down by city council and school board elections. 

The realtors and developers are at it again, this time in the current Spokane municipal elections—but this time with less media coverage. 

In 2019 a firehose of “independent expenditure” money totaling more than a million dollars was directed at municipal elections, breaking the record for independent Political Action Committee spending in Spokane municipal elections by a factor of at least five. Of course, in 2019 both the Spokane Mayor’s and City Council President’s seats as well as those of several City Council seats were in contention. Nearly all of the money was traceable to realtors, developers, and builders. In 2019 there were a number of local newspaper articles detailing this attempt to buy local government. 

This year realtor and developer money from these independent PACs is still eye popping, but these elections—and these expenditures—are much less covered. Adam Shanks wrote an article in the July 22, 2021, Spokesmanabout the realtors weighing in on the August primary election—and that’s all I can find so far. 

Spokane’s City Council six person City Council is elected two each from three districts, essentially NE, South Hill, and NW. (See map.) Betsy Wilkerson is now running unopposed in District 2 (South Hill) after Tyler LeMasters failed the residency requirements (so much for “law-abiding” Republicans). (It is still important to pay attention, fill in the circle, and cast you ballot if you’re in District 2.) 

The realtors and developers have weighed in massively on the other two races, Districts 1 (NE) and 3 (NW)—which should be a red flag. All four candidates on the ballot in those districts, Naghmana Sherazi and Jonathan Bingle in District 1 (NE) and Zack Zappone and Michael Lish in District 3 (NW) are currently reporting to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC.wa.gov) having raised similar amounts in campaign funds, between $69,074 (Bingle) and $87,000 (Sherazi). That’s what is displayed on the PDC’s website. Click deeper, though, and one finds a realtor/developer fat thumb on the scales. The National Association of Realtors Fund, Washington Realtors Political Action Committee, and Spokane Good Governance Alliance (all realtor and developer money) have added, in “independent” expenditures, $105,000 to support Bingle and $154,000 to support Lish, dwarfing the money sent by all other contributors to the campaign of any of the four candidates.

“Independent” expenditures reported to the PDC for Sherazi or Zappone? Less than $2000 each. 

The money in the realtor PACs is amassed from scads of $35 donations from members and a few larger donations, but this firehose of money is directed by realtor/political operatives like the Spokane area’s Tom Hormel. (Who’s website name, “tomscastles.com”, offers some idea of his lean toward the high end of the housing market. Low income or affordable housing is rarely conceived of as a “castle”)

“Independent” is relative—and depends mostly on self-policing. Who will be able prove there was a commitment verbally in a hallway made to, for example, buy TV commercials, a quiet commitment that would amount to coordination? 

Years ago I was fed the idea that when it came to politics and political campaigns PACs and corporations tended to sprinkle money among viable candidates so as to have the ear of whomever ultimately won. That is not what is happening here. The Tom Hormels directing small donation PAC money and the big money developers are playing the long game. They ultimately want control of the levers of Spokane City government so they can dictate the rules that determine what they can build and where they can build it so as to maximize profit. Mini McMansions on bare tracts of farm land are far more lucrative than infill. Their fat thumb on the electoral scales should be a red flag for the voters.

Contribute money, campaign for, and vote for Zack Zappone and Naghmana Sherazi.

Keep to the high ground,



Nuts, Bolts, and Advisory Votes

Last week most of the readers of this email (the majority of whom live in eastern Washington State) probably received an 8 1/2 by 11 booklet in the mail entitled “Voters’ Pamphlet, Washington State Elections,” and labelled “2021”. Low on the front page there is a note that says, “Official Publication, Washington Secretary of State, Kim Wyman.” If you opened it and were puzzled by a lack of photos of and statements from the candidates, you were not alone. The only issues covered in the pamphlet are three “Advisory Votes”. Each vote allows you to express your opinion on whether your do or do not “favor” a bill that was passed by the Washington State House and Senate and signed into law by the governor during the last year. The pamphlet states, “Advisory votes are non-binding. The results will not change the law.”

Before discussing these irritating and seemingly pointless “Advisory Votes” and how they came to be, take note that this Washington State pamphlet actually contains a lot of information worth reviewing. Right on the front it says, “Ballots mailed out October 15”. That’s this coming Friday. The ballots need to be voted and turned in by the date of the General Election, November 2, just three weeks from now. On page 3 the pamphlet lays out the deadlines for registering online or by mail to vote in this election (October 25) or in person at your county’s elections office (November 2 by 8PM), explains that a “Local Voters’ Pamphlet” should arrive in your mailbox from the county elections office before or at the same time as your ballot, and directs you to VoteWA.gov for more specific information. Pages 4 to 8 and 18 to 23 of the pamphlet offer other voting background information that is worth paying attention.

You might wonder why the Secretary of State spends our state tax money to send out a state “Voters’ Pamphlet” at all when there are no candidates up for election at the state level in this off-off year election. (The election in our state in off-off, i.e. odd numbered years, are all for local offices and [theoretically] non-partisan.) The answer is that, as with every state in the union, such things are spelled out in state law. RCW (Revised Code of Washington) 29A.32.010 specifies, “The secretary of state shall, whenever at least one statewide measure or office is scheduled to appear on the general election ballot, print and distribute a voters’ pamphlet.” That brings us around to “Advisory Votes” again. 

According to that state law, if there were no “Advisory Votes” the Secretary of State would not have to spend our tax dollars to send every registered voter in the state a “Voters’ Pamphlet” this year. 

“Advisory Votes” trace back to a Republican operative, Tim Eyman, a man recognized by the far right “Conservative Political Action Conference” (CPAC) with the “Ronald Reagan Award” for his persistent efforts to promote anti-tax sentiment in Washington State by leveraging (and many would say perverting) the initiative process. In 2021 he was convicted of multiple violations of campaign finance law and fined 2.6 million dollars, but his pernicious legacy lives on in state laws modified by his efforts. 

To be honest, I was probably among those who voted for I-960 in 2007 (which passed with 51% of the vote), deceived by a vague distrust of government supported by endless Republican rhetoric. As you can read at that link, parts of I-960 were later declared unconstitutional, but I-960’s was constructed so that its remnants live on in the State Voters’ Pamphlet you just received. I-960 is enshrined in state law in RCW 29A.72.283where even the slanted language of the Advisory Votes is specified: 

The description must be formulated and displayed on the ballot substantially as follows:

“The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, (identification of tax and description of increase), costing (most up-to-date ten-year cost projection, expressed in dollars and rounded to the nearest million) in its first ten years, for government spending. This tax increase should be:

Repealed . . . .

[ ]

Maintained . . . .

[ ]”

“Without a vote of the people”? That is pure Republican anti-tax propaganda paid for with our tax dollars. Of course, “the people” didn’t vote on these bills. We vote for officials to represent us in state government, people we expect to study and vote on both sides of the budget equation, people we can vote out of office if we get disgusted with them. “Should be—Repealed, Maintained” rather than “in favor of or against” plays to idea that the legislature might have done something reprehensible by voting for a tax and to the illusion that the Advisory Vote is binding. 

Here we are fourteen years later still living with Eyman’s CPAC endorsed Republican propaganda enshrined in our election system. No legislature is likely to attempt changing the law that requires this nonsense for simple reason that it would surely ignite another round of bluster and anti-government rhetoric. The legislature has more important issues to which to attend. 

As you page through the ten pages of “Advisory Votes” in this year’s state-law-mandated Voters’ Pamphlet and review the clutter of useless Advisory Votes on your ballot, review once more the reason for our affliction: this is state-sponsored Republican partisan propaganda brought to you by Tim Eyman and CPAC. Then get past bit of irritation and do your homework: study the candidates, figure out where they are coming from, and vote accordingly.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Civics can certainly be confusing, but with enough time and diligence the reasons for the way things are can usually be worked out. I’m still puzzling how it came to be that at the state level (at least in Washington State) it is the Secretary of State’s office that oversees elections, but at the county level all the nuts and bolts of elections are administered by the County Auditor’s Office.

Spokane County Redistricting

Crunch Time

Redistricting is a process that is fundamental to our democracy. Redistricting has been happening (slowly and mostly quietly) for the last several months. I laid out the background, importance, and process of the Spokane County Redistricting Commission in this post back in March. Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 12, is the deadline to submit comments on the Spokane County Redistricting Committee’s draft maps.

Perhaps fifty to a hundred people in Spokane County seem pay much attention to the process of the county Redistricting. I think I understand why. Watching two people chosen by Republicans (Jim McDevitt and Robin Ball) and two chosen by Democrats (Natasha Hill and Brian McClatchey) figure out how to get three to one or four to zero agreement on the boundaries of five new Spokane County Commissioner districts seems an arcane exercise. What follows is my attempt to make sense out of what I saw. The opinions expressed are mine. 

The commissioners got off to a slow start, unable to agree on the selection of a non-voting chair person, a disagreement that, by law, gave the choice to the existing county commissioners. That seemed like a bit of a conflict of interest, since the current county commissioners fought hard against the entire process. Finally, after the process dragged on, the current county commissioners chose Elaine Couture as the non-voting chairperson of the theoretically independent redistricting commission. 

Early on, several people from county government attended the meetings, and it seemed the people from county government, perhaps with non-partisan intent, put forward a company, FLO Analytics, expert in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and data analysis. The choice seemed logical at first, but friction between FLO and the four members of the Commission over timelines, budgets, and lack of responsiveness developed early and persisted. In the end it seemed that FLO wasn’t really up to the task, even though their fees consumed something like three quarters of the budget. The impression I acquired as an onlooker was that FLO possessed a lot of data but little or no data on election patterns—patterns which, after all, are the bedrock of this process. The back and forth with FLO and the Commission took up a lot of time that, in retrospect, might have been better spent.

The state law requiring this new redistricting process is detailed in RCW 36.32.053 and RCW 36.32.054, but some of the criteria for drawing the districts are set forth in RCW 29A.76.010one part of which reads:

(4) The plan shall be consistent with the following criteria:

…(d) Population data may not be used for purposes of favoring or disfavoring any racial group or political party.

That is essentially a mandate against gerrymandering. One cannot avoid gerrymandering or the suspicion of gerrymandering by ignoring prior voting patterns—and it seemed that FLO was ill-equipped to provide or discuss that data. 

Enter Dave’s Redistricting App, a free web-based application that substantially demystifies the process of redistricting by providing the data and tools to draw district lines and assess the level of fairness in the districts drawn. Read the wikipedia article for background. In contrast to the struggle the commissioners seemed to have with learning to work with FLO’s mapping program and expensive consulting, at least two of the commissioners mastered Dave’s Redistricting App on their own and used it in their own homework.

A friend of mine, Bill Siems, attended all or nearly all of the meetings and undertook to learn how to use Dave’s Redistricting App and used it rank the maps the commissioners and others proposed in terms of gerrymandering. The underlying assertion is based on the publicly available precinct voting patterns for the last many years. County records show that within Spokane County that of the votes cast those cast for Republicans average in the neighborhood of 52-55% of the total. That implies that, on average, any non-gerrymandered redistricting should yield 3Rs and 2Ds. That is the starting point for Bill’s explanation copied below with permission. 

If, after digesting this, if you wish to lodge your input to the commissioners before the Tuesday deadline you can use the comment box at the bottom of this webpage:


On that webpage you can also see (with some study), the two D and two C maps. The best I can tell, the two D maps were submitted by the Republican appointees and the two C maps by the Democratic appointees. The two maps designated F were designed by Mr. Siems. The Community Map is presented here.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. On a national basis Republican pioneered computerized gerrymandering with their REDMAP in 2010, succeeding in adjusting boundaries in several states that gave Republicans a House majority while garnering fewer votes. It seems entirely fair that Dave’s Redistricting App now empowers computer savvy citizens to assess, shed light, and counteract the potential for computerized gerrymandering. [That’s true at least in states where redistricting is either a non-partisan or a balanced partisan process (the latter is the case in Washington)]