Voters have a rare opportunity to improve transportation in this election. Our biggest chance to make progress is at the top of the ticket, where environmentalists, labor, and business agree that investing $5.5 billion in much-needed transportation projects—from mega-projects like Seattle's crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct to small ones like Winthrop's bike and pedestrian path—makes sense. This will counterintuitively require a "no" vote on Initiative 912, stopping the rollback of a gas-tax increase. Way down at the bottom of the Nov. 8 general election ballot, meanwhile, another "no" vote will free Seattle of the disastrous monorail project—an albatross that threatens to sink other mass transit alternatives. In the middle are incumbents and challengers who deserve support. In most races, the choice is clear. When it's not, we offer help with every contested race on the Seattle ballot.
State of Washington
Today, our elected, independent state auditor shines a bright light on government bookkeeping at the state and local levels. He has no authority to do anything but inform the people of the facts, but his staff's public reports are widely disseminated. It's a terrific example of how simple scrutiny can keep politicians and bureaucrats in line.
This measure would provide more authority and money—an estimated $17 mil-lion from sales-tax revenue during the 2005–07 biennium—so the state auditor can evaluate performance as well, examining not only how public money was spent but how effectively. Opponents say that judging performance in this way is problematic; that this law would duplicate oversight already exercised by the Legislature; and that it could lead to politically motivated abuse. Inasmuch as the auditor would still only have the power to inform, we think it's worth trying. Ignore the driving force behind this measure— indiscriminately tax-slashing, initiative-obsessed Tim Eyman—and vote yes.
Expanded smoking ban
There are few places where smokers can light up. They can smoke only in designated areas of public places, including privately owned public places, and the locations where smoking is completely prohibited, such as airports, buses, and building lobbies, are numerous. This law would essentially ban indoor smoking entirely, except in private homes. Moreover, smoking would be prohibited outdoors within 25 feet of a doorway or ventilation intake. In other words, it will be perfectly legal to smoke as long as you do it in the middle of the street. The 25-foot rule is overreaching. Vote no.
Repeal of the gas-tax increase
This measure would gut the $8.5 billion bipartisan transportation package passed by the Legislature by repealing a gradual 9.5-cent increase in the gasoline tax. At today's prices, that's about a 3 percent increase to pay for 274 projects in 32 of our 39 counties. Many of those plans involve public safety, and all address transportation efficiency, which affects the economy. Backers seem to want to wait for a world in which government and private contractors are 100 percent efficient, accountable, cheap, and Republican before fixing or building anything. But even many Republicans and big-time capitalists, no fans of taxes, oppose this rollback. (It would be nice, by the way, if more of them had the courage to say so.)
Supporters also don't like the fact that the two biggest projects funded by the new gas tax are replacement of the decrepit elevated freeway downtown called the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the aging Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington. Both are earthquake-vulnerable, and it could be argued that the viaduct ought to be closed immediately for safety. Closure or failure of those highways would cause a cascade of congestion from Elliott Bay to, well, the Cascades. These highways are crucial to the prosperity and security of the entire state. This measure is idiocy. Vote no.
Monetary limit for medical errors
What is the reason for this onerous initiative? It would set a $350,000 cap on malpractice awards for noneconomic damages and supposedly is aimed at stemming outrageously high payouts in "frivolous" lawsuits. And yet the initiative's backers can't point to a single credible local example of such an outrageous award.
Probe any multimillion-dollar case and you are likely to find a heartbreaking tale of egregious medical error. And over-the-top awards aren't even responsible for the skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums that doctors understandably hate. A study by the state insurance commissioner found that lawsuit awards, from trials and settlements, have risen roughly according to the rate of medical-care inflation. While this initiative wouldn't solve any problems, it would place new restrictions on patients by allowing doctors and health care organizations to require that they sign away their right to sue. It's an unacceptable demand to make of sick and vulnerable people who need to see a doctor. Vote no.
Decertifying bad doctors
This measure actually tries to do something about medical malpractice. It confronts the confounding ability of bad doctors to keep practicing. Neither hospitals nor the state Department of Health seem able to weed them out.
A three-strikes provision would revoke the license of any doctor who has been subject to three jury awards within 10 years—a high bar that few doctors would meet. The initiative would also require the state to investigate doctors who have three sizable settlements within five years. And crucially, it would give patients information they have a right to know about doctors by outlawing secrecy agreements in malpractice settlements. Doctors don't like this initiative, but they have failed to come up with a convincing argument against it. Vote yes.
Senate Joint Resolution 8207
Allow municipal court judges to serve on the Commission on Judicial Conduct
This is a simple housekeeping measure that would allow municipal court judges to join their district court colleagues on the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which disciplines jurists who break the rules. Vote yes.
Veterans and human services levy
This six-year levy would provide much-needed money for human services for the homeless, the mentally ill, the unemployed, and the drug addicted. Its cost is nominal—about $15 for the average household. Vote yes.
At last, King County Executive Ron Sims has some good news. It has been a tough year for the Democrat, with ballot snafus and airport controversies, but two of Sims' most important policy initiatives have borne fruit. First, his effort to get the county's health care spending under control by educating workers about healthy living has succeeded. Second, the King County budget is finally out of crisis due to wise cuts and increased tax revenue. Sims intends to propose legislation to keep it that way. We are witnessing the rebirth of the "New Democrat" Sims as a fiscal moderate, which makes a lot of sense given the state of the county's finances. In addition, Sims remains a leader on the environment, civil rights, workers' rights, and ballot access. We look forward to his third term. The other candidates in the races are Republican King County Council member David Irons and the Green Party's Gentry Lange.
Appointed King County sheriff last January, sheriff's office veteran Sue Rahr inherited a mess and has created a mess or two. Most prominent among her mistakes was cutting a sweet retirement deal with an intelligence detective who ought to have been fired. But Rahr clearly has the smarts to learn from her errors and knows changes must be made, especially when it comes to personnel management and officer discipline. She also has the necessary backbone to get that done. She's already addressed inappropriate Taser use by deputies. Her biggest challenge will be restoring morale among King County Sheriff's Office street cops. She deserves a chance to do that. Her opponent is Seattle police Lt. Greg Schmidt.
County Council, District 1
(Northeast Seattle, Shoreline, Bothell)
Council member Bob Ferguson is willing to buck his own party. Some of his proposals are useful—he championed an audit of the Department of Records and Elections that brought to light important information about ballot security—and some go astray, such as his ill-advised idea for a veterans-only social-services levy. But we appreciate his independence and hope it will be tempered with maturity. Vote for Ferguson. Republican Steven Pyeatt is the challenger.
County Council, District 2
(Central Area, University District, Madrona)
Incumbent Larry Gossett has a proud history of community organizing and civil rights activism. He has long believed we should invest in alternatives to incarceration—it saves government money and rebuilds lives. The county's budget crisis forced such an experiment, and the results have validated Gossett's views. He deserves another term. He's opposed by Republican Brian Thomas and Libertarian Morgan Catha.
County Council, District 4
(Queen Anne, Ballard, Magnolia)
We're endorsing Larry Phillips, the Democratic incumbent. Phillips has done a good job as chair of the council, demonstrating independence and bipartisanship. His opposition to Southwest Airlines' move to King County International Airport and his work holding the troubled elections department to account are just two recent accomplishments. His long-standing commitment to preserving rural areas will be needed in coming growth battles. Opponent Ed Pottharst, an independent candidate who is deaf, has the personal courage to campaign despite his disability and a clear commitment to public service, but he fails to make a case for replacing Phillips. Vote for Phillips.
County Council, District 5
(SeaTac, Kent, Renton)
Julia Patterson is a dogged advocate for her swing district, and that makes her an atypical Democrat on the council. She prides herself on taking tough stands against Seattle Dems, often to get a bigger piece of the transportation funding pie. She has fought to get expanded bus service and more funding for road improvements in an area notorious for congestion. While we wish Patterson's independent voice didn't come at the expense of Seattle, she's clearly a better choice than challenger Orin Wells, an antitax conservative who wants to scale back environmental regulations.
County Council, District 7
(Federal Way, Auburn)
Democratic newcomer Geni Hawkins is a breath of fresh air. A bright, articulate technology manager for the Highline School District, she's inspiring, particularly when she expands on her belief in grassroots campaigning and the notion that you can still compete with shoe leather when you don't have dollars. Aside from her liberal views, with an emphasis on helping small businesses and the working poor, Hawkins would bring computer savvy to help the county deal with technology-related election problems. Incumbent Pete Von Reichbauer, a Republican, can be bipartisan, but he's also known as a Machiavellian schemer.
County Council, District 8
(West Seattle, Burien, Vashon)
Re-electing incumbent Democrat Dow Constantine is a smart way to defend open space and keep bulldozers off rural county land. In addition to fine work on land use, Constantine has worked with the social-services community to improve the current veterans and human services levy and fought back a gravel operation in an environmentally sensitive area of Maury Island. He's opposed by John Potter, an independent.
County Council, District 9
(Carnation, Black Diamond, Maple Valley)
Republican Reagan Dunn has the charisma, brains, and drive to become a star in the state Republican party. First, however, he will have to learn to represent a sprawling district with suburban, exurban, and rural areas. It will be good training. It will also give him an opportunity to demonstrate that he can embrace centrist public policy, since he claims to be a moderate. His Democratic opponent is Shirley Gaunt-Smith.
Port of Seattle
Commission, Position 1
Incumbent Lawrence Molloy is the kind of progressive live wire that every legislative body needs. He has an idea a minute, and they have three things in common: promoting workers' rights, environmental stewardship, and fiscal responsibility. He has a terrific record of supporting workers rather than Port executives. He wants the Port and its contractors to pay a living wage and to cut back on junkets by execs. He's also opposed to the Port's risky slide into real-estate development and has taken the lead in environmental issues, including a novel proposal to move the Port into the alternative energy business. His opponent, John Creighton, is a corporate attorney with strong ties to GOP conservatives like George W. Bush and Dino Rossi. Give Molloy another term.
Commission, Position 3
Since the primary election, Richard Berkowitz has won us over. For the primary, our choice was Lloyd Hara, the former Seattle city treasurer. We've watched both closely and have come to favor Berkowitz. His impressive knowledge of Port operations and issues outstrips Hara's. Berkowitz thinks the Port can become profitable again by working toward a regional alliance with the Everett and Tacoma ports and setting matching fees to compete (and perhaps undercut) other West Coast ports, especially those of the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Berkowitz is a lobbyist for the maritime industry, which will require him to navigate some conflicts of interest and means he's not as green as we'd like. But his heartfelt enthusiasm for serving the public by improving the Port's performance has convinced us. Berkowitz deserves a chance.
Commission, Position 4
Let's see if hard-charging, former high-tech exec Jack Jolley can improve the Port of Seattle. Jolley promises to zero in on the $2.9 billion debt and a market-dragging container-cargo business, and maybe even make head-scratching financial reports readable. While Jolley doesn't have a track record in politics, he has been able to win the support of important labor and environmental groups. He makes a good case that 20-year incumbent Pat Davis has turned from reformer to insider. It's time for a change.
City of Seattle
We just can't go along with the coronation of Mayor Greg Nickels. While he claims his pro-development policies are new and environmentally friendly, they are just the same old neighborhood-trampling developer giveaways that City Hall has practiced for decades. His administration is so closed that even the weak City Council got angry enough to demand disclosure of information. While he finally woke up about the disastrous finances of the monorail project, his criticism was too slow in coming. Take this opportunity to let the mayor's opponents know that they should produce a real challenger next time. In the meantime, vote for author and former professor Al Runte.
City Council, Position 2
Richard Conlin was the only council member to give the off-track monorail project proper scrutiny. That alone would merit re-election. There is much more to this fine public servant, however. He is a consistent and thorough supporter of neighborhoods and their plans to manage growth. When Mayor Greg Nickels cut a bad deal on development at Northgate Mall, Conlin led the charge to make sure the neighborhood was treated fairly. As chair of the Transportation Committee, he has fought to make policy serve pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users. Finally, he respects citizens enough to listen, actively seeking effective and meaningful ways that ordinary Seattleites can participate in government. His opponent is longtime Seattle Port Commissioner Paige Miller.
City Council, Position 4
Anyone who has spent time with Casey Corr knows one thing about him: He thinks for himself. Corr was a passionate, insightful journalist and columnist for The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before joining Mayor Greg Nickels' office as communications director. As the mayor's spin-doctor, Corr made us dizzy with constant PR for hizzoner, but as a council member, we think he'll keep his own counsel. On the campaign trail, Corr has already begun to demonstrate independence by breaking from the monorail when the agency revealed a boneheaded $11 billion financing plan and by sharply criticizing the mayor's raid on Metro bus hours to pay for the silly South Lake Union trolley. Corr is a fiscal moderate—something the council could use, because the consequences of its building spree have begun to haunt the budget.
While incumbent Jan Drago has done a fine job of championing social services, she clung to the wreckage of the monorail, even as it was sliding into Elliott Bay, and she hasn't resisted lobbying for public dollars to support Paul Allen's plans in South Lake Union. Corr has earned a shot.
City Council, Position 6
When lefty Nick Licata became chair of the council's public safety committee, the Seattle Police Officers Guild wasn't happy. Two years later, he's won their endorsement. It's one more example of Licata working with a variety of interest groups without sacrificing a commitment to civil liberties, financial prudence, and progressive politics. We have one long-standing complaint about Licata: his senseless and ceaseless support for the monorail. But we still urge his re-election. He is opposed by real-estate agent Paul Bascomb.
City Council, Position 8
We need more elected officials like Richard McIver. The eight-year incumbent is a powerful advocate for the disadvantaged, understanding what government can and cannot do to assist those who face discrimination because of race, gender, or poverty. His work to create a $50 million fund to help minority businesses struggling through light-rail construction in the Rainier Valley is a crowning achievement. As budget chair, McIver found a way to work with colleagues on the council and Mayor Greg Nickels during difficult times—no small achievement given these warring camps. Now that the budget is better, McIver will be an advocate for those in need as well as exercise better oversight of the city's capital debt. As the council's only African American, McIver understands the reality of 21st-century racism and will continue the quest for civil rights at City Hall. Give McIver another four years. His opponent is King County Council member Dwight Pelz.
Seattle Advisory Measure 1
Message on health care
This ballot measure directs the Seattle City Council to advocate for health insurance for all Americans. It's a nice sentiment, but it's a meaningless distraction from the council's job of basic city services. Vote no.
Seattle Popular Monorail Authority
Board, Position 8
The incumbent, Cindi Laws, has been a sometime voice for reform but also a part of the project's flawed oversight. The board failed to demand the truth from monorail project leadership and staff, accepting too many lies and believing in fairy tales. Speaking of fairy tales, Laws virtually destroyed her credibility and effectiveness with a ridiculous claim (since retracted, with apologies) that the monorail was being done in by a cabal of rich downtown Jews. We endorse the challenger, Beth Goldberg, a budget supervisor for King County. She is a monorail skeptic and has the combination of fiscal skills and guts necessary to take on a board still in denial. We believe she has the independence and experience to help get the project—and its supposed overseers—under control.
Board, Position 9
Monorail booster and board incumbent Cleve Stockmeyer remains a true believer in a project with fatal flaws. A sea change is needed. It's time to stop rearranging the deck chairs. We support Jim Nobles, a political outsider—and an environmental Republican—who has said he will work to shut the project down. We also believe Nobles' experience counseling street drunks will help him convince monorail boosters in denial to join some kind of 12-step program. He might even know a good hangover cure.
Shorter monorail line
The Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) has failed to meet any core pledges, to wit: "The Green Line shall be completed: (1) On time, (2) Under budget, (3) Break even on operations by 2020, (4) With excellent design, (5) True to its grassroots heritage, (6) With transparency and accountability to the public." Needless to say, the project is behind schedule, over budget, unlikely ever to break even. It has a compromised design and poor credibility, even among many original supporters, and is notorious for secrecy, denial, and lack of accountability. In its brief history, the SMP has overpromised, overspent, and under-delivered. The agency has blundered at every turn, through inadequate funding, an absurd $11 billion financing scheme, major cutbacks in design and mitigation, delays, a botched bidding process, and a rambling route. Every setback has been touted as a benefit. Instead of facing flaws, SMP has tried to spin its way to success with rhetoric worthy of Karl Rove.
Proposition 1 gives voters a chance to hold the monorail project to one of its most fundamental promises: that the plug would—and should—be pulled if it could not be built as promised. Proposition 1 is an admission that the Green Line cannot be built as planned and approved. A yes vote gives SMP permission to build a shorter line and gives the agency latitude to alter the project at will. SMP has done nothing to earn greater trust. As for the shorter line, it's an attempt to build a monorail for monorail's sake. It solves no transportation problem that cannot be dealt with by other means and fails to address the major funding and operation concerns expressed by the mayor and City Council. For all its populist hopes and dreams, SMP winds up asking for another expensive ride to nowhere. The rejection of Proposition 1 will stop the monorail project. Vote no.
More elected board members
Proposition 2 would change the composition of the SMP board. Currently, only two positions are elected, and seven are appointed either by the board itself, the City Council, or the mayor. This would phase in three elected positions for an eventual 5-4 elected majority. We support the idea of more elected positions, although we hope the agency will be shut down. Vote yes.
Seattle School District Board, District 4
(Queen Anne, Ballard)
If only every race were this simple. Michael DeBell is the kind of candidate the School Board needs. As proprietor of a family real-estate business who also runs an experimental eco-friendly tree farm, he's a smart professional with a progressive bent. Having served as a PTSA president for six years, DeBell has deep knowledge of the district's nitty-gritty. He knows enough to take very seriously the ongoing multimillion- dollar deficit and the ruinous changes it could bring. He's appropriately concerned about the current board's negative tone and the effect on public morale, but he's capable of criticism, too. He acknowledges that Superintendent Raj Manhas' ill-fated plan to deal with the deficit was flawed. His emphasis on academics, suggesting that every school have a top-notch program of some sort, is welcome. He is in fact a shoo-in, given that his rival is smart but just 19 years old: Astrid Gielen.
Board, District 5
(Central Area, Leschi)
Incumbent Mary Bass is a hero to some longtime critics of the district, and she has indeed offered a critical "no" vote on some things that needed to be stopped. Most recently, she opposed Superintendent Raj Manhas' ill- advised plan to close schools and limit choice. But a habit of saying "no" to a mistake-prone district doesn't give one Cassandra-like powers or the ability to fix the problems one sees. Jane Fellner is a candidate more likely to move the district forward. A longtime involved parent and schools activist, Fellner understands the desperate need to work in a constructive way with staff and parents to find solutions—and that those solutions require compromise. She also has criticized the district plenty in the past and knows that parents have reasons for distrust. Elect Fellner.
Board, District 7
(Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley)
Linda Thompson-Black has yet to articulate a well-formed vision. But she has shown longtime interest in schools and has been a positive force for African-American students. Serving in former Mayor Norm Rice's administration, she helped organize a successful education summit that gave rise to the city's Families and Education Levy. She later co-founded a group called Parents of African-American Students and joined a nonprofit organization devoted to at-risk students. She also knows how to listen and get along—important skills in contentious school politics. A former principal and City Council member, Cheryl Chow also has a longtime interest in education, but her record in previous jobs does not suggest strong leadership. Thompson-Black wins our endorsement.
Members of the Seattle Weekly Editorial Board are Political Editor George Howland Jr., Editor in Chief Knute Berger, Managing Editor Chuck Taylor, Senior Editor Nina Shapiro, staff writers Rick Anderson and Philip Dawdy, and columnist Geov Parrish. Intern Darby Reed provided research assistance.