Elections matter.  

That fact has become urgently apparent during this time of crisis scaffolded on top of crisis, whether nationally or locally. COVID-19 lurks, menaces and kills; the pandemic stalls careers, ruins businesses and forces parents, who can’t work remotely, to calculate the virus risk of jobs to feed their families. It devastates family budgets, isolates the vulnerable and breaks grandparents’ hearts; it spoils senior years and kindergartner’s first days, and threatens the education of everyone in between, especially those in lower-income households.

But the pandemic and financial crises also are revealing the mettle, or the failings, of individuals, families and leaders, in government and without.  

Sitting behind the Resolute desk in the White House is a man who was a dark horse to win the presidency, until he wasn’t, on election night in 2016. He was the beneficiary of voters hungry for change and uninspired by their choices — and Electoral College math. President Donald Trump has utterly botched the federal handling of the pandemic, undermining, sometimes benching and even Twitter-attacking highly respected health experts. The list of his other failings — on the environment, immigration, driving deeper divisions among Americans — goes on.

The good news is that former Vice President Joe Biden, whom The Seattle Times editorial board endorsed, presents a formidable challenge to Trump’s reelection. His selection last week of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate also bodes well for restoring credibility, competence and leadership to the White House. This election matters, to be sure.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, Gov. Jay Inslee continues stubbornly to resist calling a special legislative session to begin the urgent work of grappling with the pandemic-caused budget crisis. That is despite growing pressure from legislators of both parties. In today’s editorial, we discuss why he should relent and do so.

Elections matter, also, to tune up incumbents with worthy challengers who present an authentic choice for voters. Unfortunately, the state Republican party could not produce such a challenger for Inslee, who is running for his third term after spending much of 2019 running for president. His announcement deterred several prominent Democrats who had been exploring a gubernatorial campaign. Because of Inslee’s leadership on pandemic response, the Times editorial board endorsed Inslee over the challengers, the most credible of whom was a physician who hadn’t voted in most elections in the last several years.

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Closer to home, Seattle City Council members Zoomed in from their district’s home offices last week to wreak their own kind of havoc, beginning their march to deeply cutting police funding. Though several campaigned on adding more police last year, the protests spawned by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis reset views of policing for many.

Change is needed, to be sure, though the council went too far. Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Carmen Best were willing partners to reinvent policing and reallocate resources for civilian response. Mind you, this is on top of progress the department has made under a federal consent decree.

But the council didn’t care even to develop their plans with the city’s duly elected executive, its chief or the federal court monitor, voting unanimously to barrel ahead with their cuts, promising more to come. A drastic failure of leadership.

The result: Best, the city’s first Black police chief, had enough. She announced she was retiring, saying these layoffs would affect the newest, most ethnically diverse officers her team worked hard to recruit and because the council members did not even consult her on the changes.

Talk about elections that matter. The current council was largely shaped in last fall’s election. Five members are new and two reelected to represent the city’s seven districts. Two slates of candidates emerged — nearly all with progressive credentials. One group was more business friendly and backed by the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The other group, supported by unions and advocates for taxing businesses, was most successful.

(Incidentally, The Times editorial board did not endorse six of the seven candidates elected last year. We did support Council Member Alex Pedersen.)

This next year will be illuminating as the council-that-knows-best continues its agenda. Will members become more collaborative? Will they slow down and talk to policing experts? Will they endanger the department’s progress under federal oversight? Will they take steps to help businesses in Seattle recover during the pandemic?

Seattle voters should watch the council actions closely. The council’s two at-large members, President M. Lorena González and Teresa Mosqueda, were elected citywide in 2017 and will face reelection in 2021.

Elections matter.