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Smart Bombs: Top two in the rearview

On Election Day, Arizona voters will choose whether to adopt the top-two primary system, and the arguments mirror those waged in Washington before voters resoundingly declared, “Bring it on!”

Washington voters passed Initiative 872 in 2004, and after four years of court battles the state held its first top-two primary in 2008. Looking back on the pros and cons of the measure, it’s clear that both sides were guilty of exaggeration.

Lowers the kook quotient. Hmm … really? The argument that this system would inject moderation always struck me as begging the question of whether the middle is preferable to the left or right. A list of moderates’ accomplishments is, by definition, modest. Sure, they don’t wreck things as quickly, but progress is also plodding. And yet, the top-two primary was sold as a necessary thumb on the scale for moderate candidates. Has it worked? Depends on your definition of “moderate.”

More sensible policies. As if there were objective measures for “sensible.” A lot has occurred since the top-two primary was adopted, but perilous budget outlooks and statewide initiatives drove those changes. Those who opposed the changes don’t regard them as sensible.

Parties can’t choose their candidates. They could, by holding closed caucuses. Washington voters were warned this might occur. Arizona voters are hearing the same. So far it’s been an empty threat, because the parties would have to pay for those assemblies. Nonetheless, parties still find ways to convey their preferences.

Third parties don’t stand a chance. They haven’t fared well in any system. Their problem is message, not process.

Independents will have more influence. This is true, especially in the primaries. But are they as happy as they thought they would be? My guess is they’re underwhelmed by their electoral pull.

Pits same-party candidates in the general election. This is not the case on the Spokane County ballot this year. It has occurred on occasion around the state, but that just leads us to the ultimate reason for a top-two primary:

The voters want it. This is the only reason that matters. If two candidates from the same party advance, it’s because the voters wanted them. If this aggravates the electorate, it will respond. So far, the system is winning in a landslide.

Who cares? Say, how about that governor’s race? Dead heat! Real barn-burner! Ads overrunning the airwaves!

If the volume of letters to the editor is any indication, the contest between Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee has yielded an extended yawn. We published a grand total of three letters on this race in October. In October 2008, we printed 32 letters on the contest between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi. Yes, that was a rematch of the controversial squeaker from 2004, but the drop-off in interest among letter writers is still astonishing.

Shoot me a line if you can think of a reason. That is, if you care.

Laptops for skeptics. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made national headlines with his endorsement of President Barack Obama, but there was the revelation that he was one of the secret donors to Education Voters of Idaho, a group advocating for the “Luna laws” on the ballot. A total of 10 out-of-state donors contributed $320,000, with Bloomberg forking over $200,000.

In-state donations barely matched the outside money, all in the name of “giving parents a voice.”

I have no idea why a far-flung mayor is interested in a local education fight, and I suspect he has more pressing concerns at the moment. After Hurricane Sandy slammed into his city, he made climate change the centerpiece of his Obama endorsement. In doing so, he has raised the temperature on those who mock the science.

Maybe the mayor can put together an education fund for them.

Thumbs up? As of Friday afternoon, former General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch hadn’t tweeted about the October employment report. He’s either decided the books weren’t cooked, or he’s actually studying the numbers before flapping his thumbs.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.