Life is chock full of trade-offs. When I became New To Seattle last summer, I swapped the (almost) perpetual sunshine of the Los Angeles area for the (almost) perpetual gray of the Puget Sound area. But as part of the deal, I also thought I was leaving behind the famously crazy California system of voter referendums on inane, politically charged topics accompanied by big-money advertising campaigns full of outrageous omissions and deceptions.
Boy, was I wrong!
I just received in the mail (the way elections are conducted in Washington State) the ballot for the November 8 general elections. I’ve also been on the receiving end of various paid advertising pitches. All I can say is this: People in Seattle have no high ground whatsoever from which to make fun of California politics, as a number have done in my presence.
Getting the most attention is Initiative Measure No. 1183. This would close the network of state liquor stores that has a near-monopoly on the sale of hard stuff and allow sales mainly by retail stores above a certain size. The reason this is getting the most attention is the insane amount of spending by those who stand to win or lose.
Think about it. There are only 6 million people in all of Washington State, barely half the population of Los Angeles County alone. Yet Seattle-area-based Costco Wholesale has spent more than $21 million in advertising–$12 for every likely voter–behind its effort to allow the customers of its 29 giant stores in the state the right to buy Jack Daniel’s and Southern Comfort. Out-of-state liquor distributors, who would lose a large amount of their business (Costco tries to buy direct from the source) are pushing back just as vigorously, if not quite as expensively.
A similar ballot measure accompanied by similar spending went down last year, largely because of opposition from the beer and wine industry. Costco returned for another swing this year with a slightly tweaked version and a whole lot more of cash.
As you might imagine, neither side is willing to admit publicly all it really cares about is its own profits. Rather, each is funding TV spots featuring assorted cops, fire-fighters and other law-enforcement types saying that a victory for the other side would unleash unlimited DUI mayhem on the roads, particularly from underage drinkers.
Agreed, DUI already is bad enough, but it’s not just from the kids. A Seattle police detective just got arrested in the suburbs and charged with drunken driving after smashing into a car, which in turn hit two others. Oh, did I mention that at the time he was driving an unmarked Seattle police department vehicle and told arresting officers he was on “undercover” duty? Or that he was convicted and jailed years ago for the same thing?
The pro 1183 forces (that means Costco) sent out a mailing featuring an endorsement by former Gov. Dan Evans. There was no mention of the fact that he is a long-time director of Costco.
Still, the greater insincerity seems to be on the anti-1183 side (the liquor wholesalers). They are shocked–simply shocked–about loopholes in the proposed law that might allow many small rural stores to sell liquor.
Then there is Initiative Measure No. 1125. On its face it would prohibit use of car taxes and highway tolls for non-highway purposes. The proposal also would require that tolls be set only by the Legislature rather than an authority operating the toll facility as is the case everywhere else.
Unstated is that the language would prohibit extension of Seattle’s fledgling light-rail system over the Interstate 90 bridge across Lake Washington into suburban Bellevue. The initiative is being bankrolled by a Bellevue developer who seems upset that the light-rail project would benefit a rival developer.
Even more obscure in its true objectives is Initiative No. 1163, which would require the state to set up and fund a more extensive training program for long-term-care workers. It sounds great; who would vote against those who take care of the elderly? But it’s really just a cynical ploy by the Service Employees International Union to force the legislature to fund training of its members.
I have written previously about a Seattle-only proposition, No. 1, that would raise the annual fee to register a car by $60. The money would go for a variety of transportation endeavors, including bike paths–except that bicyclists don’t have to contribute. The heated measure has highlighted tensions between motorists and bicyclists.
The totality of all the deceptive efforts is nothing new in the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, it follow the playbook laid down right in Seattle more than a century ago by none other than the great humorist Mark Twain. “I want to eliminate facts,” he told the Seattle Star in 1905, “and fill up the gap with charm.”
It’s almost enough to make Prohibition look pretty good. Now that would be some trade-off.