Supporters took photos with their banners and signs as polls showed an early lead for the anti-affirmative action group Reject Referendum 88 at their election-watching event at 13 Coins in Bellevue on Nov. 5. (Andy Bao/The Seattle Times via AP)

Supporters took photos with their banners and signs as polls showed an early lead for the anti-affirmative action group Reject Referendum 88 at their election-watching event at 13 Coins in Bellevue on Nov. 5. (Andy Bao/The Seattle Times via AP)

Affirmative action measure fails but could resurface in 2020

Supporters started too late and had too little money to explain the problems R-88 would solve.

OLYMPIA — When talking about Seattleites, it turns out it’s actually okay to call them socialists.

They are. Not every one of them. Based on results of the recent election, enough to run the city.

And while a number of residents of cities in Seattle’s shadow also share such leftward leanings, it turns out much of Washington, on both sides of the Cascades, continues to travel farther to their right.

A solid majority backed initiative salesman Tim Eyman’s latest creation to hack car tab bills.

And a sliver of a majority maintained affirmative action as a public policy state agencies cannot use when hiring workers, awarding contracts and admitting students to public colleges and universities.

Passage of Eyman’s Initiative 976 is not surprising. It is the third time in a generation that voters said yes to less costly tabs. Now, like before, a legal challenge will eventually put the fate of the measure in the hands of justices on the state Supreme Court.

On the other hand, rejection of Referendum 88 stings. It was close. The measure is losing by the minuscule margin of 50.5% to 49.5%, or 20,840 votes out of 1.91 million cast.

How could this effort to allow affirmative action fail? This is a state renowned for its progressive politics. It’s where Democrats control majorities in the House and Senate, and one, a former Democratic presidential candidate, inhabits the governor’s mansion.

One reason is supporters’ campaign. They didn’t so much as have a bad campaign as they had literally no campaign.

On Sept. 12, community, labor, business and advocacy groups announced formation of the Washington Fairness coalition to Approve I-1000/R-88. That was a mere five weeks before the mailing of ballots. Another three weeks passed before a large enough contribution arrived to cover the tab of a couple mailers and television commercials.

Not much time or money to educate the state’s electorate on the problems that affirmative action intended to solve. So they didn’t really try. They focused their energies on voters in King County.

This paid dividends, just not quite enough. R-88 is passing with 63% of the vote in King County. That equates to roughly four of every 10 votes cast for the measure statewide. Put another way, without King County, Referendum 88 is getting walloped 57% to 43% statewide.

And in fact, the coalition might have succeeded had fewer voters not skipped this item on the ballot. As of Wednesday morning, there were 66,483 more votes cast on Initiative 976 than the referendum with King County accounting for roughly 18,449 of those.

Another reason for the outcome was voter confusion. The two-sentence description references the Legislature, an initiative, a referendum petition, affirmative action and remedying discrimination. You needed an app to figure out the correct course of action for your personal politics.

A factor underlying all of this is a quiet tension in the community of political progressives. They very much want affirmative action but they didn’t really want an electoral fight this year.

Many were peeved when Jesse Wineberry, a former Democratic state lawmaker, proceeded with Initiative 1000 mostly on his own.

When Wineberry hired Citizen Solutions, the signature-gathering firm used exclusively by Eyman, it effectively cut off any chance of him raising money for a future campaign.

The firm got the signatures but Wineberry stiffed them, according to a lawsuit. The legal fight clouded the conversation this fall.

The preferred timeline was to put an affirmative action measure on the ballot in 2020 when they confidently believe there will be larger turnout of a more favorable electorate.

Including socialists in Seattle.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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