March 6, 2005 in City

This would really reform elections

Jim Camden The Spokesman-Review
 

With all the atten- tion to election reform this year – more than 100 bills introduced in the Legislature and a task force running around the state for hearings, then releasing its recommendations – one might think that elections were just peachy in Washington until last Nov. 2, then suddenly slid into a vat at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Not so, grasshopper. Last year’s vote count for governor had problems, to be sure, but they’re on the order of someone shorting Bill Gates a buck making change for a latte. True, you don’t want the barrista to keep doing that, but you also don’t need a task force to discuss whether mongers need remedial math or cash registers that automatically figure the change.

And the conduct of candidates, campaigns and political action committees in previous elections have hardly been above reproach. But we didn’t see the Legislature jumping in then, or now, to address some of those egregious practices.

Not that anyone asked, but here are a few other ideas the honorables in Olympia might want to consider to make campaigns and elections better.

Limits on debating about debate

Every year, some candidate who wants headlines starts whining that an opponent who’s had more coverage won’t debate. It’s gotten to the point that a candidate announces a campaign the last day in January, and on Groundhog Day is accusing an opponent of ducking debates. Bill 12345 would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by being listed last on the ballot, to make a no-debate complaint against an opponent until the end of filing week, which is the first time one can legitimately know all of one’s opponents for an office.

Section B of that bill would make it a gross misdemeanor, punishable by having a really bad photo of the offending candidate published in the state Voters Pamphlet, for a candidate for a partisan office to complain about an opponent from the other party not debating until after the primary.

Them what gets, pays

Speaking of Voters Pamphlets, the state has proposed issuing pamphlets for statewide primaries as well as general elections. While these would provide a valuable public service to voters, they also would provide a valuable service to the parties, who have been united in only one thing in recent years, that they should control the primaries.

So any Voters Pamphlet bill should be amended to say that the parties shall split the cost of printing primary pamphlets on a pro-rated basis. If this region’s pamphlet has 24 Democrats, 22 Republicans and 4 Libertarians, the cost of printing and mailing would be split 48 percent for the Ds, 44 percent for Rs and 8 percent for Ls.

The state could pick up the cost for anyone running as an independent, because it would be too hard to collect from them.

Truth in labeling

Ever year, some business groups based in Olympia and Seattle create “independent expenditure” campaigns that spend money late in the campaign to trash an opponent they don’t like.

It’s OK that they use their money to trash Democrats or liberals 99 percent of the time. (Actually, it’s more than OK, it’s constitutional.)

But what’s not right is that they give their hit committees these wholesome sounding names like Citizens for Super Government and People for Wonderful Legislatures. A new law should require the committees be named for what they are, like Businesses Intent on Liberal Evisceration or Fatcats United to Assassinate Opponents.

Failure to do so would require the organizations to match the amount they spend on attack pieces with contributions to a list of charities selected by a panel made up of their targets. Only legitimate 501(c)3 charities would be eligible.

Push it way back

Secretary of State Sam Reed would like the primary moved back to June. Some of the county auditors would like it moved to August. Members of the Legislature, however, are balking at a move any earlier than the third week of August.

Yes, that’s right, in the middle of summer vacation and trying to get the kids ready to go back to school, “Let’s have an election!” The reason for this kind of silly scheduling is simple: Incumbent legislators can’t raise money during the session. The farther back we move the primary, the less time between Election Day and Sine E Die for Show Me the Money.

Some of them might be persuaded to go earlier if the ban was removed. Bad idea.

How about this: Move the primary to March, in the middle of the session, and don’t lift the ban. Here’s the debate point: Any incumbent who can’t make it through a primary without a big campaign blitz must be doing such a poor job they shouldn’t be re-elected, anyway.

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