Post-traumatic election fatigue. Symptoms include flashbacks of an alabaster Rob McKenna and hard-hatted Jay Inslee wrestling to Wagner’s Ring cycle. Malaise and a fear of electronic devices last for weeks, or at least until the marathon of Thanksgiving football.
While elections recharge civic life, hyper-partisanship has a moldering effect. There is little we can do to change human nature or the I-must-win-or-else impulse that propels vicious television and radio ads. We might, however, tamp down some of the partisan clamor with a modest amendment to the Snohomish County Charter. It’s time to make the county prosecutor, county executive, and county council nonpartisan offices.
Washington’s top-two primary already mitigates partisanship by ensuring that the two politicos who wrack up the most votes move on to the general election, irrespective of party. A nonpartisan election has the added appeal of attracting the sensible center, those candidates more interested in leadership and a what’s-best-for-the-people ethic than passing a Democratic or Republican litmus test.
In 2008, King County voters tried to defang the partisan beast, passing Charter Amendment 8 to designate the county executive, council, and assessor nonpartisan offices. Party pashas objected, but the move was popular. The designation doesn’t preclude partisanship — County Executive Dow Constantine is an outspoken Democrat — but it curtails the less-savory aspects of campaigns and, by extension, governing. Does exhibiting an independent streak alienate fellow Republicans or Democrats? Should partisanship trump the greater good?
During the 2005 Snohomish County charter review process, a Charter 8-style brainstorm was discussed but never pursued. Instead, offices such as sheriff have gone nonpartisan, which is a positive step. Most municipal elections in Snohomish County are already nonpartisan, which opens the door to farsighted leaders more concerned with community than party. In Democratic strongholds, those who identify as mostly Republican can (gasp) get elected and serve (and vice-versa.)
An electoral switch is no panacea, but it can be more than cosmetic. Democratic Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe weathered a nasty election fight, forced to prove party bona fides to serve in an arguably nonpartisan position. Roe never compromised his principles, and voters exercised good judgment. Republican Dave Earling, an outstanding mayor of Edmonds, was likely hampered in his run for county executive with an R next to his name. There voter judgment fell away.
Nonpartisan offices can’t cloak a candidate’s political persuasion, but they can draw to the political sphere those nonpartisan few focused on outcomes more than polemics. That alone is reason for Snohomish voters to support a charter amendment. In matters of public service, the best politics is no politics.