By John Carlson
When Jennifer Dunn first ran for public office, many people scoffed. Yes she was attractive, even a bit glamorous. Yes she was articulate. But her previous job was running a political party, which made her too partisan to effectively work together and govern. Oh, and she was also too conservative.
Today, she’s remembered as one of the better lawmakers we’ve ever sent to Congress.
When Susan Hutchison announced her candidacy for King County executive, we heard the same song, different verse. Yes she’s attractive, even a touch glamorous. Yes she’s articulate, as one would expect from a former TV news anchor. But talking on TV and running a charitable foundation are no substitutes for the nuts and bolts experience required to run a large county government. Oh, and she’s also too conservative.
This anti-Hutchison riff ignores the glaring reality that it was the experienced political veterans – namely Ron Sims and Dow Constantine — who are largely responsible for the condition King County government is in today. If this is how the pros perform, then please bring on the outsiders. King County is in the financial ditch today because county priorities were driven by the politically powerful public employee unions. The county’s priorities are being shaped more by those who get a paycheck from the county than for the public that pays the county’s bills.
But back to Hutchison. It was assumed by many political insiders that she would fold like a flour tortilla when Constantine and the “third party” ads (financed mostly by, you guessed it, the labor unions), began to ramp up their attacks. I’ve known Susie for 23 years and even I was surprised when she absorbed the attacks without shrinking or shrieking back. It made her look classy and the attacks look increasingly petty. She’s rumored to be pro-life? Why would that matter? The county executive has nothing to do with abortion law. She supports the conservative Discovery Institute? Yes, and so has Microsoft. And again, what has that to do with the problems facing King County?
What King County needs can be summed up in one word: Change. Who is best equipped to deliver it? As The Seattle Times wrote when it endorsed Hutchison last week, she “brings a host of fresh ideas of how to tackle the budget.” Dow has offered some ideas, too. But he’s made it clear that he will not try to revisit or change any union concessions or health benefits until their contracts expire. This, while the government is cutting public services and announcing the closure of parks.
As Hutchison continues to lead in the polls, the campaign against her is getting nastier. But her biggest challenge isn’t the Constantine campaign or the unions. It’s voter turnout.
Back in January, 1981, a popular eastside legislator, Ron Dunlap, was appointed to serve out John Spellman’s term as county executive when Spellman was elected governor. Dunlap ran that fall for a full four-year term and was predicted to win. Election Day polls showed him up by about 6 percentage points, which was probably accurate. But not many voters outside Seattle bothered to vote, while the Seattle turnout was closer to 40 percent. Dunlap lost, thus verifying one of the oldest lessons of politics. It’s not whether the majority favors you or not, it’s whether you get your people to vote. Let us hope that Hutchison has a strong Get Out The Vote drive.