To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.
— Mark Twain
Sam Low is just the kind of candidate you want to see running for legislative office. A former small business owner, the Snohomish County Council member has a credible record of serving the public as a Lake Stevens city council member, on the health district board and a multicounty mental health agency.
But, what is remarkable about Low is his willingness to challenge a fellow Republican, one of Washington state’s handful of incumbent Trumpian disciples, for his 39th state Legislative District House seat. Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, is an election-fraud espouser who was among three state lawmakers who actually billed state taxpayers for a trip to a South Dakota conference on the alleged election fraud, organized by the former president’s pal, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell.
Ten years ago, Low was activated to public service when he didn’t like how Lake Stevens was handling Highway 9’s complex intersection with Highway 204. Recently, while sipping a white-chocolate mocha at the Starbucks on that very corner, the candidate demurred when prodded to dish about his opponent’s, um, political proclivities. Instead, he talked, pointedly, about serving constituents rather than ideology, and giving voters a choice.
“We get so locked into the extremes on both sides,” he said. “People just want some balance.”
Refreshing. Now, simmer down, dear readers! Whatever side you’re on, hear me out.
Ideas need to be tested authentically and not devolve into partisan contests of, “I’m more liberal/conservative than you”; “No, I am.” The result is tall, wobbling Jenga towers of rhetoric in thrall to the far right or the far left — not a stable foundation for solution-seeking and serving the larger community.
Two years ago, in a column, “Election suspense is between left and lefter,” I griped about the dearth of credible Republican candidates running for the Legislature. Of 52 races, The Times editorial board researched, we endorsed only three Republicans.
Granted, many credible Republicans were likely dissuaded by rife speculation that voter backlash to Trump’s presidency would stir a big-blue wave, if not a tsunami.
But in Washington, barely a ripple moved some seats around. The state House margin remained at 41 Republicans and 57 Democrats. In the Senate, the GOP remained at 20 plus rogue Democrat Tim Sheldon, who caucuses with them, and Dems at 29 (minus the rogue).
Clearly, with those margins, the Democrats remained firmly in control and could largely ignore Republican concerns, ideas and philosophies.
These days, Washington households are struggling to absorb gas prices touching $5 a gallon and inflation at 40-year highs. Good thing the Legislature used its $15 billion in surplus revenues and $3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief to ease the tax burden on the working poor and middle class except — record scratch! — Democratic leaders didn’t do any meaningful across-the-board tax relief. One bill was enacted to give a tax break to very small businesses, which no doubt need the help.
Yep, Democrats spent almost all of it.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature flouted a trend among other blue states, including California, to give more meaningful tax relief. Imagine, the difference a 1-point temporary cut to the 6.5% state sales tax could have made to the household struggling to buy soccer cleats for their kids. A bipartisan-sponsored bill to do just that, Senate Bill 5932, did not even get a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee.
This is important: Democratic leaders consistently complain about Washington state’s regressive tax system. This willful neglect of taxpayers’ travails, as residents climb out of the pandemic slowdown only to face escalating prices, makes those Democratic protestations: Ring. Utterly. Hollow.
The Sunday morning news roundtables are full of campfire-worthy horror stories for Democrats this election year. But, closer to home, voters views of their state leaders may be shifting too but not a lot. In January, a Crosscut/Elway Poll found the percentage of participants who identified as Republican jumped by 10 points to 29%. Democratic-identifying voters still led with 36 %, but that had fallen from above 40%.
That reduces the Democratic advantage from 18 points to 7 heading into the midterm elections, pollster Stuart Elway wrote, carefully noting that candidates and campaigns matter.
Which brings me back to Mark Twain’s point. The excesses of a binary political system ensure that elected officials lose touch with the people in the middle. The hubris, the forsaking of all constituents for the agenda of campaign funders and powerful special interests, cuts both ways. The Trumpian right is flexing its muscle in red states curtailing abortion rights and in Florida with its harmful so-called Don’t Say Gay law. And, oh my, the U.S. Supreme Court.
But not all Washington Republicans are like that. Remember, the state produced two out of only 10 Republican congressional votes for Trump’s impeachment after the Jan. 6 insurrection. U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Battle Ground and Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside stepped up for right and principle, as depicted in a new book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future.” That’s leadership!
Meanwhile, frustration with the Legislature has spurred many credible Republicans to step forward and push back.
House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox exudes enough ambition to match a busy garden center on a May Saturday morning. Though he notes the House Republican Organizing Committee is not taking a position on Low’s challenge of an incumbent, he touts a crop of candidates with credible records of public service. Of the 33 on the HROC’s website, about half are women and six are people of color.
“We want to be ready,” Wilcox said.
Now, back to the candidate from Lake Stevens who is challenging a Trump disciple.
Who won the presidential election? I asked him.
“Obviously, Biden did,” Low said, adding a head shake. “I’ve been on the canvassing board every year I’ve been in office. It’s sad what is being said about our election workers.”
Amen to that. Now, if only more moderate Democrats would challenge incumbents on the far left of their caucuses. That’s for another column.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.