The old saying that all politics is local has never been more passe, more irrelevant, than right now.
All politics – be it local, national, even international – has instead been sucked into an all-powerful, blinding vortex.
All politics now is Trump.
Ever since he came down that escalator, Donald Trump has consumed all the political oxygen – even 3,000 miles distant, here in Washington state.
Example: I was poking around in the state public-disclosure database and realized it now looks likely there won’t be a single statewide initiative measure on the ballot here this fall.
These are the topical measures that often reflect, and magnify, the political energies of the day. They have been a constant political presence since booming in the 1990s – at first from burgeoning citizen activism, and later as a tool of wealthy interest groups or unions pushing their causes.
During the past two decades, we have averaged 3.5 initiatives or referendums on the statewide ballot per year. Last fall there were six.
There just isn’t anything progressive in the works. There’s a desire to take advantage of the anti-Trump momentum out there, but it’s directed more toward 2018.
Andrew Villeneuve, Redmond-based activist
This year, nothing. It would be the first year since 1985 without a single statewide measure on the November ballot.
Perennial initiative pusher Tim Eyman has a property-tax-cutting measure, but it appears stalled with very little money. Another measure, Initiative 1552, the bathroom bill to mandate separate restrooms by gender, had only raised $87,000 by the end of April. Both campaigns have until July to turn in more than 300,000 signatures. But at this late date it would likely take a sudden infusion of major cash, upward of half a million dollars or more, for that to happen.
“We are going to be Eyman-free for the second year in a row,” crowed Andrew Villeneuve, 30, a Redmond-based activist who has been opposing Eyman’s anti-tax and anti-transit efforts for 15 years (yes, since he was 15 years old).
Villeneuve, who as director of the Northwest Progressive Institute also tracks lefty causes, said there’s a strange void right now in state politics. The overwhelming spectacle and ongoing shock of the Trump presidency has distracted everybody.
“There just isn’t anything progressive in the works,” he said. “There’s a desire to take advantage of the anti-Trump momentum out there, but it’s directed more toward 2018.”
On the other side, former GOP state party Chairman Chris Vance said, “Republicans here are focused desperately on trying to hold onto the state Senate.” Which he predicted, due to fallout from Trump, they would not do.
“He’s the issue, he’s the whole thing in politics right now,” Vance said. “You can’t get anybody to talk about anything else, or to organize around something else.”
Sure enough, the top talking point of the cavalcade of new Seattle mayoral candidates is: “Citizens of Seattle, I am the best candidate to … protect you from Donald Trump!” Candidate Jenny Durkan put it this way, speaking of Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions during her kickoff speech: “I promise you, they do not want to pick a fight with me.”
I went to an all-candidates’ forum recently and even the King County sheriff, John Urquhart, gave a stemwinder of a speech not on fighting crime, but on fighting Trump.
“As long as I am sheriff,” he thundered to the liberal Seattle crowd, “my deputies will never work hand-in-hand with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”
I’m all for the Trump resistance. It’s clear already that the Trump presidency is a four-alarm constitutional fire. So the efforts of, say, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the lawyers at groups like the ACLU are much needed and appreciated.
But it’s also true that life must go on. We still need mayors to pave streets and sheriffs to catch criminals. We still urgently need a statewide politics that’s paying a lick of attention to, say, the schools. Remember how we were supposed to be having our own constitutional crisis over the schools?
What’s that? You didn’t track on that last paragraph because you were checking the news feeds for fresh Trump?
Me, too. Whatever happens with Trump – and it isn’t going to end well – we’re going to look back at this as a lost period. When we collectively went a little insane and also nothing, absolutely nothing, got done.
Danny Westneat is a columnist for the Seattle Times. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.