Ranked Choice Voting makes legislative and media inroads
Ballots will appear in mailboxes late this week in Washington State for the August 3 Primary election for many local offices. The two top vote getters for each office will advance to the general election in November. Primary elections (especially in mid summer) are often plagued by low voter interest. Low ballot return may result in advancing candidates to the November general election with the support of an enthusiastic minority but unacceptable to an unmotivated majority. Consider, for example, a field of five candidates from whom a given voter is allowed to cast just one vote. As an extreme example, the two top vote getters could each receive, say, only 21 percent of the vote, propelled by a devoted extremist following. How about a system that demands that the advancing candidates have wider support?
Ranked choice voting (RCV) offers that alternative. Depending on the particulars of enabling legislation, RCV would require to have some support from a minimum of fifty percent of the participating voters. One method would winnow the candidates down to five in a conventional primary (if there were more than five contenders) and use RCV in a general election. With RCV the voter casts votes in order of preference for as many candidates as the voter finds palatable. If one candidate receives 50% or more of the votes among the first choice votes, that candidate wins. But, in a field of candidates in which no candidate garners 50 percent, second choice support is considered: the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated and the second choice votes on those ballots are distributed among the remaining candidates. That process is repeated in additional rounds until one of the candidates demonstrates some support from 50% of the voters.
Recently the New York City mayoral and city council races were conducted using ranked choice voting and gained favorable media attention from both conservative and liberal outlets. For example:
In this NYC case of RCV we are looking at a Democratic Primary result that is also the presumptive result of the November general election. (NYC highly favors Democratic candidates in the general election.)
New York City is pretty far off, so what does this NYC coverage have to do with us in Washington State? The King County Council will soon vote on placing ranked choice voting on the November ballot for the voters to consider adopting. King County government, which includes Seattle, operates under a home rule charter (unlike thirty-two of the other thirty-eight Washington counties). Under that charter King County can choose to modify its voting pattern on its own. Thirty-two of the other thirty-eight counties in Washington State are “non-charter” counties (including Spokane County). Non-charter counties operate under the State Constitution (Article XI, Section 5) and the laws passed by the legislature that make up the Revised Code of Washington, instead of “home rule.” For any of these counties or their municipal governments in the state to make a change to RCV first requires the legislature to change the Revised Code to allow it. A bill to make that change narrowly missed advancing to a vote in the Washington State legislature this last session—and may well be considered in the upcoming session.
Ranked choice voting is catching on. The State of Maine went to statewide RCV in 2020 through a multi-step process that stretched over several years. Alaska goes to statewide RCV in 2022 in response to statewide ballot measure 2 passed in 2020. A wikipedia article, Ranked Choice Voting in the United States, details the growth of RCV. The article describes the duration and complexity of efforts necessary to institute positive change in our democratic system—and it suggests, that, as with other movements (like final adoption of women’s suffrage, for example), ranked choice voting is reaching a tipping point.
Educate yourself. Check out Fairvotewa.org. Talk over RCV with friends and acquaintances. This is one of many steps that will help the people take back democracy.
U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (CD5, eastern Washington) wants all moderate and independent voters to believe that she is a thoughtful protector of the environment, that she understands the threat of climate change and is working hard to ameliorate its effects in our region. Just ask her. She will pivot to her support of hydroelectric power so swiftly your head will spin. On her website she posts statements like her plan to “Expand domestic energy supplies and explore alternative energy sources.” Wildfires fueled by climate change? She is quick with statements about the need for forest cleanup, but not a peep about climate change. To be fair, McMorris Rodgers might acknowledge that the climate is warming, but, if pressed hard for an answer as to the cause, she will tell you the “science is unsettled”.
Once upon a time I believed that the folks we send to represent us at all levels of government were privy to information I was not, that they would use that information to vote wisely on the issues before them. In short, I trusted them, once elected to office, whether Republican or Democrat, to represent my interests and the best interests of the country.
Politicians work hard to promote trust that they are wiser than we are, deep thinkers who consider all the facts. Words are carefully chosen. “Clean energy” and “alternative energy sources” glide off their tongues so freely you could almost imagine they understood the origin of climate change and were acting accordingly. You will not hear McMorris Rodgers say that global warming is a hoax. That would be too direct. Instead, she will sidestep in the same manner as she did a direct question about geologic time, hiding her lack of scientific literacy.
There is no more glaring example of McMorris Rodgers’ (or the Republican Party’s) denial of science than a recent vote concerning methane. Yes, methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, the carbon-based gas mined by the petroleum industry and shipped around the globe in huge tankers as LNG, liquified natural gas. Right wing pundits like the late Rush Limbaugh tried hard to convince their listeners that methane only comes from the intestines of cows and other ruminants—thereby making a serious subject laughable, a useful pivot from the facts.
Methane is a major greenhouse gas. Its release into the atmosphere is responsible for about a third of the global warming we now experience. Roughly a quarter of methane release occurs in the process of petroleum and gas extraction. (Some of that methane, instead of escaping into the atmosphere, gets burned and goes into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and water. That is the “flaring” one sees at oil refineries and in some petroleum and gas fields.)
For decades the petroleum industry has touted natural gas (methane) as a “clean” alternative to other carbon fuels, while conveniently ignoring the methane escape into the atmosphere that occurs during petroleum fuel extraction. If methane can be sold as a fuel and it is harmful to the atmosphere, why, one might ask, why isn’t the industry diligent in capturing methane and selling it? Money and profits is the answer. Releasing methane into the atmosphere at oil well heads is cheaper than the infrastructure necessary to capture and sell it at current prices. It is also cheaper to abandon a low producing well that continues to emit methane than it is to properly cap it. Even a far right news source like Newsmax Finance acknowledges this.
Under the Obama administration the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listened to the science and set common sense rules for the petroleum industry to require monitoring and reduction of methane emissions. Under the Trump administration’s pro-fossil fuel, anti-climate science regime, the EPA finalized a rule change in August of 2020 reversing the Obama era rules.
Up to last August McMorris Rodgers faced no vote concerning methane. The rules and the reversal were all undertaken under the power of the executive branch of government, specifically the EPA. McMorris Rodgers could go on murmuring about clean hydropower and “exploring alternative energy sources” and ducking questions about the science of global warming, always trying to leave the impression of studied concern.
S.J.Res.14 – A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Review”.
McMorris Rodgers, along with 190 other Republicans, voted “Nay.” (Eight Republicans did not vote.) Every Democrat who voted (two did not vote) and 12 Republicans voted “Yea.” The bill passed the House 229 to 191. McMorris Rodgers even gave an impassioned speech on the House floor in which she argued against methane regulations as unnecessary. She totally ignored climate science, railing instead on consumer prices and energy independence.
S.J.Res. 14 had already passed the Senate on April 28, 2021 by a vote of 52 to 46. (CRA rules in the Senate avoided the filibuster that Republicans most certainly would have raised if, under the rules, they could have. See P.S.) President Biden signed S.J.Res. 14 into law on June 30, 2021, re-instating the methane emission regulations of the Obama EPA.
McMorris Rodgers is a creature of big business in general and the fossil fuel companies in particular. Her vote on S.J.Res. 14 is a clear denial of the science of global warming. Lacking any science background, she has no basis from which to comprehend even the basic physics of greenhouse gases. She is opposed to all regulation imposed by government even if it is clearly in the best interest of the country and world. All regulation is a threat to progress (unless it benefits her or her offspring—see The ADA…).
McMorris Rodgers is incapable of considering climate change as an issue that must be addressed. Re-electing this woman in 2022 is a threat to our children, our grandchildren, and the world we live in.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Bills brought to the Senate under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) cannot be filibustered. That is the rule passed passed by Congress as part of the Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996 pushed by Newt Gingrich. The CRA lay like a landmine for 16 years (with one exception) until Republicans under the Trump administration, lacking a 60 vote majority in the Senate, used it fourteen times to roll back late Obama era regulations (see the list above). The Biden administration has used it three times.
P.P.S. We will all be pardoned if we missed the significance of McMorris Rodgers vote and missed her speech on the topic. The issue was poorly covered in the media probably because story was so complicated. A rule by the Obama EPA regarding a gas (methane) some had never heard of (even if they burn it daily in their stoves and furnaces), a Trump EPA rule overturning the Obama EPA rule, and a law under the Biden administration using the CRA that overturned the overturning. That is the sometimes arcane manner in which government works—and the reason that Representatives like McMorris Rodgers can pretend she is paying attention to science and working in our best interest.
City council, school board, fire district, and judgeship positions are up for election this year in November. In preparation for November we have the top-two primary election coming right up on August 4th for most voters in Washington State. Ballots will be mailed out next week. Democracy only works if we do our homework and vote.
Our civic duty is not fully discharged by voting. Every ten years, in a process mandated in the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and governed by law, we adjust the voting basics by “redistricting”. When redistricting is properly and equitably done, it insures that people (that’s everybody, not just those who vote) have equal representation in national, state, and local governments. Voting district boundaries are adjusted or redrawn to account for changes in population documented by the decennial census (recently completed).
Redistricting sets the voting boundaries we live by for the next ten years. Each state sets its own rules for the process. In many states it is simply up to the state legislature. In 2010 such states with a Republican majority legislature used computerized gerrymandering (REDMAP) to solidify Republican control.
Since passage of a 1983 initiative, redistricting in Washington State is done by a balanced bi-partisan commission, so, at least theoretically, no single party has the upper hand regardless of what party is in the majority in the legislature.
For residents of Spokane County this year are two similarly structured, but entirely distinct redistricting committees. One committee at the State level is responsible for redistricting of Congressional Districts and State legislative districts (see map) and another, at the County level, is responsible for establishing the five new county commissioner districts where there have been only three, a change mandated by State law. The newly mandated and formed Spokane country redistricting commission is closely modeled on the Washington State redistricting commission.
All of which brings me to this: We owe it to ourselves to take an interest in this process. This opportunity to learn about and take part in redistricting is the bedrock of our governance. The more of us attend, learn, and provide input the more likely we will achieve an equitable outcome. It is the observers as well as the participants that make transparency in government worth having.
Plan to attend the information session tomorrow and the public hearing on July 19—for details see the notification below from the Spokane League of Women Voters.
Keep to the high ground,
Spokane County Redistricting
Spokane County Redistricting Committee Meetings: Public Information Session #1 Saturday, July 10, 2021 West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt Street, Spokane 11:00 am – 1:00 pm Virtual connection: 1-877-853-5257 (Audio only. No Zoom available.) Meeting ID: 899 6873 2955 Participant Code: 616859
Public Hearing #1 Monday, July 19, 2021 Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, 720 W. Mallon Avenue, Spokane. 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Public Information Session #2 is scheduled for Thursday, August 5, 2021. (Details TBA.)
For more information about Spokane County’s redistricting process, public meetings, committee meetings and more, visit www.RedistrictSpokaneCo.com
LWVWA is hosting more listening sessions to help you understand the maps in certain areas and help build a comprehensive state solution. LWVWA will plan to submit mapping solutions for congressional and legislative districts to the commission. See current input to LWVWA.
Click the links below to register. You will be sent a unique link to enter each meeting. All are welcome.
The fires are starting again. Evacuation orders issued to households between Cheney and Spokane. Precipitation is nowhere in the forecast, the landscape is parched. The hay crop is a quarter of the usual. Hay prices are soaring. We take shelter in our homes trying to avoid the blazing sun and the highest temperatures ever locally recorded in an outdoor environment considered mortally dangerous.
Something is wrong. It is wrong where we live. It is not just some faraway glaciers melting. The problem has come home to roost. Politicians who ignore this reality ought to pay attention. (More on that in a later post.)
When it’s 116 in Portland and 108 in Seattle, something is wrong.
For a long time, you could only see global warming if you knew what you were looking for. It wasn’t something that announced itself in your everyday experience.
Wherever you might live, it continued to be warmer in the day and cooler at night, hotter in summer and colder in winter — the same as it ever was. Whether summers had been hotter or winters colder years ago was a topic for old people’s boring stories about the Blizzard of ’78 or the Drought of ’54.
You had to be a statistician — or trust statisticians whose work you couldn’t check — to get any coherent view of the trends in global temperature. Think of the millions of measurements, and thousands of adjustments to those measurements, necessary to produce a graph like the one below. Who made those measurements? Who compiled those statistics? Why should you trust them? If you had the resources and the will, you could find your own way to parse the data so that it said something different. Why shouldn’t you do that, or decide to trust somebody who did, rather than trust NASA or NOAA or some international consortium of scientists?
The situation was even worse if you tried to look to the future, because then you were dealing with computer models. What were they assuming? Who did the programming? Again, the graphs looked very impressive and scary. But if you didn’t want to believe them — and who did, really? — nobody could make you.
And without predictions decades into the future, climate change was no big deal. Maybe it was already a degree or two hotter than in your grandparents’ day, but so what? Life went on, people adjusted. The climate was always changing.
What it came down to, for a lot of Americans, was one more example of people with advanced degrees telling them what to do. And that might be fine if they were telling you to do something you want to do — like get a good night’s sleep, or spend more time in the sunlight. And it’s even OK if their advice is unpleasant, but matches your common sense — compound interest means you should start saving for retirement when you’re young, smoking isn’t good for you. But here the eggheads were telling you to stop driving and flying and running the air conditioner, or even to close down the mines your town depended on, the one that had employed your family for generations. And the evidence was all stuff you couldn’t touch: Look at this graph and don’t ask too many questions about how I made it, or else the world will be a hellscape after we’re all dead.
Americans already had religions based on things they couldn’t see that made threats and promises after death. They didn’t need another one.
And then visible things started to happen, maybe, sort of.
Right around the time Hurricane Katrina mauled New Orleans in 2005, you might think you were starting to see climate change in anomalous weather events. But what is “anomalous”, really? When Superstorm Sandy hit New York City in 2012, we all had a gut feeling that hurricanes aren’t supposed to go that far north. But weird weather events have been happening forever. What about the Great New England Hurricane of 1938?
The Midwestern floods of 2019 were so intense, and so close to previous major floods, that they drove the phrase “hundred-year flood” out of our vocabulary. Nobody knows what a hundred-year flood is any more. And sure, that’s strange, but is it proof? Maybe we’re just in some kind of weird flood cycle.
We got used to these kinds of arguments, to the point that they became almost ritualized: The weather would do something incredible — a big wildfire, an intense hurricane season, or a heat wave in Siberia — and somebody would immediately say: “See? Climate change.” But then somebody else would say, “You can’t really say that about one event. It could just be bad luck.” Then either people would start yelling at each other, or the conversation would bog down in the technicalities of probability — neither of which accomplished anything. Everybody continued to believe whatever they had started out believing.
The series of weird weather events should have chipped away at climate-change-deniers’ skepticism, but in fact it did the opposite. Once you’ve explained away Katrina and Sandy, it gets easier, not harder, to shrug off Harvey and Irma and Maria all happening the same year. The weather gets weird sometimes; that doesn’t mean the world is ending.
Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, pressed Mr. Trump more bluntly. “If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians,” he told the president.
This time, Mr. Trump rejected the premise. “It’ll start getting cooler,” he insisted. “You just watch.”
“I wish science agreed with you,” Mr. Crowfoot replied.
“Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” Mr. Trump retorted, maintaining a tense grin.
Well, it’s a year later now, and guess what? It’s not getting cooler.
Monday, it was 116 in Portland, Oregon, beating the previous all-time record (set in 1965 and 1981) by nine degrees. The heat wave covered the entire Northwest: 108 in Seattle, 109 in Spokane, 116 in Walla Walla, and 117 in Pendleton. Strangest of all was the small town of Lytton, British Columbia, where the heat wave peaked at 121 degrees, an all-time record for the nation of Canada.
It’s happening. Global warming is here. It’s not just statistics and computer models any more. You can see it. You have to work not to see it.
That doesn’t mean things go straight to hell from here. The western heat wave finally broke. Today’s predicted high in Portland is 86. Next winter, it will get cold in lots of places, and if some oil-financed politician wants to bring a snowball to the floor of the Senate, he’ll be able to find one. “Damn,” one cold person will say to another, “we could use a little of that global warming about now.”
And while the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to go up every single year, not every year will be hotter than the previous one. 2016 and 2020 were the hottest years on record, but so far 2021 isn’t quite so bad, at least not globally. Fossil fuel spokesmen, including the politicians the oil companies pay for, will tell you that means it’s all over. Global warming ended in 2020, they’ll say, just like they said it ended in 1998.
Don’t believe them. Believe what you can see.
For a long time, believing what the scientists said about the climate required trusting in the invisible, and the future horrors they predicted seemed too far away to take seriously.
Not any more. Global warming is here. It’s visible. It was 116 in Portland Monday.
A third to a half of all Americans get all or most of the “news” they absorb each day through social media. Social media like Facebook and Twitter are engaging. They help us keep up with the lives of our friends and relatives. Best of all, unlike traditional print media, social media is “free”. There is no subscription fee. All we need is a connection to the internet. But there is no free lunch. We pay with our attention—and our attention is sold algorithmically to purveyors of merchandise and propaganda, peddlers who may or may not be worthy of our trust. Judd Legum, one of the writers I follow on Substack ($50/year and worth every penny), details the pervasiveness of right wing media sources on Facebook in an article entitled, “How Facebook’s algorithm devalues local reporting” from June 22.
The Daily Wire takes another outlet’s reporting, excerpts it, and gives it an inaccurate or incendiary spin.
For this minimal effort, The Daily Wire is rewarded with massive engagement on Facebook while the source of the journalism, quite often a local media outlet, gets a tiny fraction of engagement.
The key is the sensationalist, incendiary, spin that attracts clicks that feed the algorithm and plants headlines of misinformation in the minds of less than careful readers. News outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and, yes, the Spokesman Review maintain reporters who do original work, e.g. this excellent video documentary dissection of the January 6th insurrection from the New York Times that came out June 30. (The Daily Wire will not be spinning that video on Facebook.) Doing original reporting and publishing a print newspaper is expensive—and print ad revenue is migrating to the internet. It is a financial squeeze of which The Daily Wire, The Daily Caller, and other right wing propaganda sites take advantage by playing the ad algorithms while subscriptions prices for mainstream print media present a barrier to accessing primary reporting.
There is another model. Below I have copied a short essay by Chris Best, one of the founders of Substack, an online platform for writing and publishing newsletters founded in 2017 (and the current platform for this email). My former platform, Mailchimp, founded in 2001, is primarily designed for online marketing. Mailchimp charges a fee based on the number of emails sent. Substack takes 10% of any subscription fees the writer collects. If the writer does not ask for or require a subscription Substack publishes the newsletter (email) without charge.
Substack is growing. There are now a number of authors who make a living from the material they research and publish on the platform. Some have a very wide audience, like Professor Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American, who offers an optional paid subscription, was reaching 350,000 subscribers already in December of 2020 (and likely many, many more people as her work is shared. Judd Legum of Popular Information, whose article is referenced above in the first paragraph, also publishes on Substack, is widely read, and is often quoted in other media.
One sad result of the Trump administration is that many Americans fed on Trump’s call of “Fake News,” find themselves unsure of what is true. Substack offers a platform for writers to gain the trust of a loyal following by consistently providing well-referenced material and perspective often not available elsewhere.
I recommend you read Chris Best’s article reproduced below. Don’t hesitate to check out Substack and the writers I referenced above.
Keep to the high ground,
The ad-peddling model that dominates the internet and hijacks our minds is costing us too much by being “free”
For nearly two decades, social media giants have showered us with content while accepting nothing in return – other than our engagement. Now, with the normalization of online vitriol, the skyrocketing rates of mental distress linked to social media, and the surrender of intimate information to unaccountable corporations, it has become obvious that we are massively overpaying – so obvious that even Big Social is now branding its old offerings in new flavors. But a minty fresh cigarette is still a cigarette.
For a while, it felt like we were getting a great deal. Social media giants gave us rekindled friendships, family photos, even the occasional uplifting story or useful insight. But too much of what we’ve received has been toxic gruel, tube-fed (through aptly named “feeds”) by sophisticated algorithms designed to exploit our worst impulses and keep us agitated, excited, engaged.
The marks of this new and uglier world are everywhere. We have become conditioned to accept that viciously tearing down complete strangers online is normal and admirable, and that it is right and proper for a bad tweet from decades ago to ruin someone’s life. A new vocabulary – “doom-scrolling!” “hate-reading!” – is now necessary to capture how dysfunctional online activity has become. Even worse, these poisonous dynamics have leached into our offline lives, in the form of broken relationships, decreased attention spans, and damaged mental health.
This doesn’t mean that social media cannot be used in productive ways, that ads and algorithms are evil in themselves, or that we users don’t bear responsibility for our own behavior. Rather, all of it shows that we are paying in the wrong currency, with devastating consequences. When platforms make their livings by harvesting and selling our attention, they achieve that by shoving unsolicited junk into our minds, while we obediently scroll down and down and down.
One day, we will look back on this early era as a dark age, when we wrongly assumed that no one would pay for great writing on the internet, that writers could be valued only by how much attention they could command, and that readers could be played for suckers. The good news is that there is finally a clear way out.
It all starts by paying with a currency we can understand and measure: money. This is how we take back control.
With money, you know exactly what you’re paying and to whom, and you can cancel payments when you want. Transactions become transparent, and incentives become properly aligned. While platforms that depend on ad sales must harvest attention any way they can, platforms that depend on people’s willingness to pay must foster trust and satisfaction. Writers succeed only if readers are happy, and in turn platforms succeed only if writers are happy. In this world, users are finally at the table rather than on the menu.
For writers, this means being able to control their relationships with their audience instead of being mediated by fickle corporations whose algorithms decide what gets the most attention. It means independent writers can be well paid by the people who value their work instead of having to play hunger games for a share of an advertising pie where the biggest slices always go to the platforms. And when they answer to their readers instead of to the platform, writers are free to do their best work.
For readers, the effect is just as profound. It means having more control over what you put in your mind. When an engagement-based algorithm isn’t prompting you to scroll just a little further down the feed, you are free to make content consumption decisions thoughtfully and intentionally, based on what you find trustworthy.
We know it can work, because it already does. Creator-focused companies such as Teachable (courses and coaching), Clubhouse (live audio), and Substack are subverting the attention economy by putting people, not platforms, in charge. These companies are all young, but they already account for millions of daily active users and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity, the majority of which accrues to the creators. In fact, this model is working so well that even the social media giants now are dabbling in it – a welcome development, albeit one that evokes Joe Camel offering you a Nicorette.
Still, the ad peddlers will continue to claim that their product is “free,” and that the memes, trolls, and hot takes on their platforms are minor side effects rather than the active ingredients. But we now know that the lower the price, the more we’re paying.
We all thought we had lost our minds, but it turns out we just pawned them. Now it’s time to buy them back.
HOUSEKEEPING: Next week I plan not to publish. A week of summer vacation! I will return to your email box on July 5th.
POST: Primary elections are fundamentally important to our democracy. These mid-summer contests in Washington State are easy to ignore, but don’t make that mistake. Ballots will be mailed July 14 – 16, 2021. The August 3 deadline to turn them in is only six weeks away. Do your homework now. Talk over what you learn with friends and family and influence the result by encouraging others to pay attention and vote. Voter participation in primary elections is typically meager. Consequently, each vote cast in the primary counts for more, proportionately. A committed (or riled) group can limit the choices available on the general election ballot in November.
The August primary often doesn’t draw much attention in the news. The highest profile elections in this off-off year primary are for seats in municipal government, but there are also a slew of candidates for judicial positions and local boards. There are one hundred and ninety-eight candidates who have filed for various elective offices just in Spokane County. It is a daunting, but interesting list. Here’s the link.
You can greatly simplify the choices and see who will appear on your primary ballot by accessing your list through your voter registration at VoteWA.gov(and while you’re there, check and, if necessary, update your registration). Once you access your registration click on the tab “Who Filed?” in the left hand column to see the candidates on your ballot.
Even then some orientation is useful. On my list of elective hopefuls, I see twelve candidates for judicial positions, ten of whom are running unopposed (see the last column, “ballot order”).¹ Then come two candidates for CITY OF SPOKANE C D 2 (i.e. Council District 2, see map). Betsy Wilkerson is the incumbent Council Member in C D 2. She is challenged by Tyler LeMasters. Wilkerson, in my opinion, is doing a great job. She will get my vote. (But see below for the other two races, those in Council Districts 1 and 3. Together these three races will determine the make up of the City Council. Learn and talk about all three.)
But, whoa!, next up on the list are a total of thirteen candidates in the running for two positions on the District 81 (aka “Spokane Public Schools”) school board. Surely, among these candidates there are some folks you will want to appear on your November ballot—and just as surely there are some you’d rather not. Figuring out which is which is going to require some homework.
Washington State requires that campaign contributions be reported to the Public Disclosure Commission. The data presented there is valuable, but it is only of use if one takes a few minutes to learn how to navigate on the PDC website, pdc.wa.gov. To check out contributions to candidates for Spokane City Council or “SCHOOL DIRECTOR, SPOKANE SD 081” (aka Spokane Public Schools School Board) be sure to first set the election year at 2021. You can either click (or add) your voting address or click “Show all Campaigns”. Successive clicks will take you to a list of candidates for those each of those two sets of electoral contests, the Council or the Board. Here are the click sequences: (MUNICIPAL/CITY OF SPOKANE/CITY COUNCIL MEMBER, CITY OF SPOKANE) or (SPECIAL/SPOKANE CO/SCHOOL DIRECTOR, SPOKANE SD 081)
Unfortunately, these PDC listings are not sorted by the individual contests for particular seats, that is, the candidates for the three contested seats on the City of Spokane City Council are all lumped together. To sort that out for yourself visit https://my.spokanecity.org/citycouncil/members/ and find yourself on the map—or find your City Council District under “My Elected Officials” at voter.votewa.gov . Here they are in grouped by District:
District 1 (NE): Luc Jasmin $33,752.78, Naghmana Sherazi $19,739.12, Jonathan D. Bingle $24,249.60.
District 2 (S Hill): Betsy L Wilkerson $43,031.00, Tyler LeMasters $9,378.19
District 3 (NW): Lacrecia “Lu”Hill $22,984.77, Zack Zappone $23,850.70, Mike Lish $18,934.00, Christopher Savage $8,681.00, Karen M Kearney $6,314.28
Click on the name to see the details of contributions and expenditures. Explore. See who is backing whom. Google the candidate websites and check out their Facebook pages. Form an opinion. Donate.
Do the same with the School Director races (SPECIAL/SPOKANE CO/SCHOOL DIRECTOR, SPOKANE SD 081). Note that seven of the twelve filers so far report no campaign funds at all. In the Position 3 race, so far only Melissa Bedford reports receiving contributions. In contrast, Position 4 has attracted six contestants, three of whom have raised money. Riley Smith is in the fundraising lead by a small margin with $5,612.54. Click on names to find out who is offering financial support. Look up the candidates on Facebook or search for a website. Formulate an opinion as to why there are so many vying for Position 4 and so few for Position 3. How is each candidate aligned? Donate. Talk with your friends and neighbors about these races.
Take note that the progressivevotersguide.com for the August Primary elections should be available right around the time ballots are mailed in mid-July. I find the Progressive Voters Guide a very useful reference.
Keep to the high ground,
Some of these judicial candidates, I doubt will actually appear on my ballot since they are candidates for superior court positions in other counties. Computer glitch, programmer error?
First up for most of us when we try to put a face on government in Spokane is Mayor Nadine Woodward.¹ Her twenty-eight year career with regional TV stations makes her visage easily recognizable in eastern Washington. She is quoted and appears regularly in local media. In the City of Spokane’s “strong mayor” form of government Woodward is the head of the city’s executive branch. Her annual salary of $171,360 is among the highest salaries of elected officials in the region, exceeding the salary of all but County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich ($179,707.50), County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Haskell ($199,675.00) and county level judges. For reference, Spokane County Commissioners’ salaries are less at $117,434.22.²
What is the importance of the Spokane County Commissioners (or Washington State county commissioners in general) in the structure of local governance? It is easy to imagine (as I did until the last few years) that county commissioners only govern the parts of the county that are not incorporated as municipalities (like the City of Spokane and the City of Spokane Valley). That is a gross misconception of how it works.
The Spokane County Board of Commissioners (SCBoC) are intertwined and often overarch their municipal counterparts. There are twenty-nine governmental Boards and Commissions within Spokane County. Take the Spokane Regional Health District Board of Health (SRHDBoH) during its recent turmoil around the firing of Health Officer Bob Lutz. That Board, which, in my naïveté, I had imagined was composed of medical professionals, was no such thing. The three Spokane County commissioners and their three appointees make up half of the twelve member SRHDBoH. City of Spokane officials occupy three seats, City of Spokane Valley two, and the Mayor of Millwood (representing smaller municipalities) one. After chronic non-attendance at previous BoH meetings, Commissioner French appeared at the BoH meeting at which Dr. Lutz’ firing was belatedly approved. At that meeting French disappeared for long periods from his Zoom window, was ready with several key motions, and instantly offered up Dr. Velazquez to replace Dr. Lutz once the firing vote was taken, leaving the impression of behind-the-scenes manipulation.
Consider that the three member Spokane County Board of Commissioners functions as the combined executive and legislative body of County government, while in the City of Spokane (roughly half the population of the County) that power is split between the Mayor and the City Council. The City Council, the legislative power, consists of a Council President (Breean Beggs) and six City Council Members elected from three districts. That’s eight elected officials representing half the county population compared to three Commissioners running the whole of county government. One could argue that makes county government more nimble, but there is no denying the concentration of power.
There are generally unrecognized power imbalances between local county and municipal governments. For example, City of Spokane officials are limited to two terms in a given elected office whereas County officials are not term-limited. Mayor Woodward did not come to her position as mayor with a background in executive management. She came from a background in broadcast television and Republican politics. She gets to use her on-the-job training for a maximum of two terms (totaling eight years). In contrast, Al French, a developer by trade with deep ties in government and the business community, has been in office as the senior County Commissioner since 2010. In his position as one third of County Government for the last ten and a half years Al French understands and controls the levers of governance to a degree that most officials limited to two four year terms and functioning at the city level will struggle to achieve.³
County Commissioners are identified on the ballot by the shorthand of partisan affiliation, whereas city officials are nominally non-partisan. One needs to pay attention to the individual candidate in city elections rather than make assumptions (possibly unwarranted) based on party.
When you think of governmental power in the Spokane local region pay at least as much attention to your vote for your Spokane County Commissioner and to the actions of these officials as you do to faces you more commonly see in the news. County government is powerful—and widely underestimated and misunderstood.
Big changes are coming. The Spokane County Re-districting Commission is currently working to divide the county into five districts from the current three. Instead of county-wide general election of Spokane County Commissioners, starting in 2022 a single Commissioner will be elected from each of the five new districts solely by the voters in that district (as mandated by state law and defended in the courts). There is a potential shift in power. We need to pay attention.
Keep to the high ground,
That is likely also true for many who live outside the city limits of the City of Spokane. Areas contiguous with and superficially indistinguishable from the City of Spokane that are not jurisdictionally part of the City include the rough rectangle of homes south of 53rd Street and east of Hatch Road, as well as a peninsula of dense housing around N. Country Homes Blvd up north. Have a look on this map.2
The Spokane City Council President’s salary (as of 2022), by comparison, is only $63,240. City Council Members’ salary (as of 2022) will be $47,624. (Elected officials in the City of Spokane Valley government make less.) For the salaries of Spokane County officials click here.3
Limiting terms in office is always tempting when looking at an entrenched politician, but term limits for one office risk weakening that office in relation to other elected offices (or even in relation to the career bureaucrats that surround these officials