The August primary may have seemed a little sleepy. But a closer look shows it may be signaling a tidal wave of gains in female political power, at least around here.
We temporarily interrupt the insanity sweeping the nation to bring you a bulletin about the future.
Now that the primary-election votes finally have been tabulated and we’ve had a chance to take a deep dive into the results, we feel confident quoting the great Buffalo Springfield: There’s something happening here.
By here, I mean around Western Washington. And by something, I mean: We’re on our way to this being an unprecedented “year of the woman” in local politics.
It’s been well-publicized that in Seattle, the city is going to elect its first female mayor in 91 years this November.
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But that’s only one of the major gains for women in local politics up and down the I-5 corridor, most of which have been overlooked with all the obsessing on Trump.
Most dramatic is Everett. The 124-year-old city has never elected a woman to be mayor. This year looked to be no different, as the favorite for the job was Snohomish County councilmember and former state legislator Brian Sullivan.
Though he outspent his lesser-known opponents two to one and was endorsed by the Democratic Party and all the big city unions, he didn’t even make it to the general election. Two new city councilmembers — Cassie Franklin and Judy Tuohy — together racked up 61 percent of the vote.
“Odd man out,” quipped The Herald of Everett.
Similar voting patterns happened around the region. In Tacoma, two women got 61 percent of the vote for mayor. Though she finished second, Victoria Woodards now is considered the favorite to win in November.
Women dominated mayoral races in Issaquah, Auburn and, most impressively, in Vancouver, Wash. City Councilmember Anne McEnerny-Ogle beat a field of four men there by 42 percentage points. It’s one of the state’s oldest cities, and it’s been headed solely by men going back to before the Civil War (an astonishing 160 consecutive years).
It’s likely that after November most of the I-5 power corridor will be run by women. Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Everett, Lynnwood, Kirkland, Seattle, Bremerton, Burien, Auburn, Olympia and probably Tacoma and Vancouver all will have female mayors. (Some already do. But only 20 percent of mayors nationally are women.)
This surge is probably due mostly to more women running, and then simply being the best candidates standing. Lucinda Guinn, of the women’s political group EMILY’s List, says they have been contacted by 17,000 women interested in running for office this year — up from only 900 last year.
“We haven’t seen anything approaching this level of activity with women in politics in 30 years,” she said.
The group’s motto since the Women’s March in January has been “You marched. Now run.”
But there were also hints that local voters might have proactively favored women on the ballot.
In Burien, women candidates won every City Council race they entered — in one case, ousting a male incumbent. In Seattle, women won 75 percent of the votes cast for mayor, and 74 percent combined in the two City Council races. Only one man survived to the general election in Seattle (prediction: that poor guy, Jon Grant, will be another “odd man out”).
Studies have mostly concluded that voters no longer show much bias against the idea of female leaders, especially at the local level. Two recentstudies suggested that being a woman may be a net plus among liberal voters. The reason, according to the Pew Research Center, is that women stereotypically are seen as more compassionate, organized and ethical than men.
That was before Donald Trump, who has laid waste to all three of those concepts.
“We do see in some surveys that when voters are upset, women can be seen as disruptive to the status quo,” says Kelly Ditmar, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. “They’re seen by definition to be a change to political norms, because politics has been dominated by masculinity for so long.”
Could the real story of our little local races for mayors and city councils be that we’re seeing the first risings of a tide against our toxic, testosterone-fueled national politics?
Ain’t exactly clear, as Buffalo Springfield also said. But something’s happening. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a start to getting us out of this mess.