Sunday, April 16, 2017

Washington had a surge of Independent voters. What does that mean?

Here is the last 10 years of Survey USA statewide poll results charted out (background data), focussing only on how the respondents identified their partisan affiliation.


Basically, following the trendlines, both the Republican and Democratic parties have lost marketshare and three times since 2006 there have been more identified independents than anything else. Also, in the most recent survey from last fall, the independent identification has a big lead.

It is worth noting that independents have always been strong in Cascadia, but I'm convinced we're seeing something different in this trend here.

What could have caused this?

I have a couple of theories, but I'm far from totally convinced by them.

I think the Top Two primary had something to do with this. Especially, in combination with a redistricting process in 2010 that had a lot to do with protecting incumbency and not with creating competitive districts between the traditional left and right.

So, since the first Top Two primary in 2008 and redistricting races in 2012, we're seeing more legislative level races that aren't competitive between the two major parties. So what do member of a minority ideology do when left in the cold without a standard bearer? I think it's possible they drop the partisan standard all together.

I think there's also something wrong with how we structure party politics around here that encourages not identifying as a partisan. Basically, political parties, the local county and legislative district ones, aren't forces in the lives of most voters or even most activists.

Campaigns can be built, volunteers recruited and advertising funded, without a lot of help from local party officials. The web has a lot to do with this, but the fact that the basic party structure is an obscure elected official called a precinct committee officer probably doesn't help.

What does this mean?

I think we're already seeing the impacts of what a possible non-partisan identifying stable plurality or even majority could mean in Washington State. With little buy-in with their actual policies, the Thurston County commission is now made up of conservative independents. There is was also an independent election on the Grays Harbor County commission, a more conservative but still usually solidly Democratic county.

Also, in Grays Harbor, you saw them support a Republican for president for the first time since the Democratic party was near its death in the 1920s in Washington State. My guess is that they voted for Trump not because was running as a Republican, but because he was running as a non-partisan under a partisan label.

What could this mean in the future is two things:

One, maybe Bill Bryant could have won if he'd shed the partisan banner. With 41 percent and growing, the independent population in Washington serves as a much handier base than a shrinking third place identification. It also seemed to me that Bryant ended up not running as really a conservative, but as a better version of the centrist pro-government governor we already have.

And two, on the local level, even more independents. I hope.

 It is one thing for three anti-growth regulation independents to be elected in a county that voted overwhelmingly for an urban environmentalist of lands commissioner. That (plus the way we voted for the independents across the county), means that enough voters didn't know what policies they were actually supporting and just pulled the lever for the non-partisan.

But, what happens when there are two non-labeled candidates in the race? What shortcuts do the voters use to make their decision? Or do low information voters drop out and leave the election to the voters who have their minds made up?

Monday, March 06, 2017

What went on with rural growth in Thurston County?

Grand Mound from highway to today:



It wasn't a member of the Thurston County commission, but there was a county commissioner at a recent hearing on exempt well bills last month. One of our commissioners was there too, but the Mason County commissioner said (and I'm paraphrasing) that the county's economy needed a boost.

What she was talking about was that building houses, more people living in the rural parts of Mason County would give their county a boost.

Despite evidence to the contrary that rural residential development is good for the government bottom line or anyone's economic well-being (I mean other than homebuilders and realtors) it did get me thinking about the rural landscape and how it's either being put to work (with farms or logging) or put to rest (by building houses).

Here's an interesting chart I've been toying with for the last few weeks. It plots the acres of land in Thurston County in farms and logging against the population in the non-city parts of the county:

What I see are a couple interesting things.

One, no one seems to keep track of land in active forestry by county, which is really weird since it is literally taxed differently in Washington and county assessors should really care about that. I was able to find two data points, so it's just sitting on the chart as something I'd like to add in if I can find it.

Also, I also wasn't able to find was any sort of description of residential zoning by acreage, so I used general non-incorporated population as a stand-in. This might be slightly unfair since most of this population is concentrated up in Tanglewild. But, as you can see in the gif at the top of this post, even Grand Mound has seen some significant changes since then.

Two, the 1960s seem to be a big turning point in the change of how Thurston County's rural areas were in terms of a shift from farming to rural growth.

If you zoom in on the 60s, you see the drop off of farm acreage happening just as non-city residential growth picks up.

What is also interesting is that even as no it seems like farm acreage has stabilized, the non-city population continues to increase, which means the rural areas are either getting denser or they're overtaking acreage that isn't in active farming.

Lastly, and this is more of a fun fact than anything. I wrote years back about the unincorporated area east of Lacey was Thurston County's invisible city.

I used to talk about this when I was on the Timberland Library board of trustees about how we should expand library service between Rochester and Grand Mound (which is currently served by a kiosk). But, that if you took the two census tracts that surround Highway 12 between I-5 and the county line, you'd have the fourth largest city in Thurston County at almost 13,000 people.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Read David Scherer Water's "Olympia"



There are a few books about Olympia that I'd say were necessary to own. To be honest, most of the stuff written about Olympia is pretty bad. Either poorly written, poorly researched or just repetitive, not hoeing new ground. Rogues, Buffoons and Statesmen is on that list, not because it is entirely accurate, but because it is expansive. Confederacy of Ambition is also on that list because it is insanely well researched.

You can buy Olympia at BuyOlympia.com (which is based in Portland).

Olympia by David Scherer Water is also on that list. Not because it is entirely accurate, it really isn't. It is mostly, strictly speaking, inaccurate. But, in the way that smaller details give way to larger truths, it is the most accurate book about the city we live in today.

Zach Mandeville's zine series Funwater Awesome was as close a true (but not really true) capturing of what is is like to live here nowadays.

"Olympia" is a thin volume, it won't take you too long to get through it. But, because the truths are so large and so well presented, I've had to backtrack and slowly take the entire book in.
Visitors, especially ones from cities with "bad" crime statistics have noticed Olympia's "good" crime statistics mask a difficult to gauge social unsafety. "I should feel safe here, but somehow this place feels terrifying. Why is that?"
These are true things about Olympia, but usually they're put out by five or ten year residents that finally got tired of being polite about one aspect of the way we live here and are just reduced to being whiney. David, an Olympian of 25 years, spells them out with calm and without judgement (seemingly) and at times tries to dig down to or origins.

But then there is the Holy Sh*t Park.

I'm not going to say any more, other than to say that every one of us is blind. David is the only one that can see. I'm too far gone, and most everyone I know is as well. David sees reality in the case of this park. Just read the book, you'll see what I mean. I don't want to go over it too much, David will lose his patience.

Monday, February 20, 2017

14 percent of septics are failing because we saw the dye


I wasn't going to write about this 14 percent thing because I didn't really think it needed explanation to begin with. But, there it is, still out there. Like a thing that exists, because it came out of the mouth of County Commissioner Gary Edwards:
The main thing we need to get to the bottom of is what science brought this about because it has been alleged that 14 percent of septic systems failing each year — that is pure malarkey. That means at the end of a seven-year period we would have had 98 percent of septic system fail, that is pure ludicrous.
Basically, there's a fairly good estimate out there that somewhere around 14 percent of septics system are polluting into streams and bays each year. This data, in the case of Thurston County came from an on-site study of septic systems around Henderson Inlet in the late 90s.

What county staff did was put a dye into the septic systems around Henderson Inlet and 14 percent of the tested systems leaked that dye into places where they shouldn't be leaking anything because septic systems shouldn't be polluting. But they did.

What that particular study didn't say is that 14 percent fail each year. Obviously, if you go around and test septic systems at one point in time and finding a failure rate, what you're doing is finding how many septics would be failing at any given point. 

Commission Edwards apparently picked up his bad math from Glen Morgan's blog.

What is a little more interesting is that the 1999 study took a look at two places, Henderson Inlet and the Thurston County stretch of the Nisqually reach. The Nisqually reach septics had an even worse failure rate, in the neighborhood of 20 percent.

Morgan took a shot at the 14 percent number by pointing out that repair permits issued by the county indicate that less that one percent of the septics in the Deschutes watershed had failed. That assumes a one to one ratio of permits for repair and actually polluting septics.

But, it would seem that a failing to the point of needing obvious repair and a polluting septic are not the same thing:
Sometimes a (septic) failure is obvious, other times it’s not so obvious and not an easy thing to confirm. When a failure is not obvious but water quality data or other information seems to implicate a system as a problem system, additional measures must be taken.  
Dye testing is an effective way to verify a failure, but must be done correctly based on established procedures. Little is more definitive than seeing bright green dye flowing in a backyard or in surface water after passing through a property’s plumbing. 
Waiting for a homeowner to ask for a permit to repair their septic system is a very low bar to estimate failing septic systems. And, not all backed up or broken septics are polluting. And, certainly, there are septic systems that would work from the point of view of the homeowner but would leach pollutants.

Dye testing, the type of study that the 14 percent number came from, is much more accurate to asses the one thing that we're talking about here, whether a septic system is polluting.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How Olympia city council district could look like

Rob Richards has a lot of reforms he'd like to see in Olympia, city government structure wise.

Some of his ideas are pretty interesting (like hard wiring advisory boards into city decision making), but one of them seriously caught my interest. Rob said that we should elect city council-members by district, rather than at-large.

He doesn't really get into saying exactly why, but I'm reading into it that its likely because city councilmembers now are concentrated in one or two parts of town. I'm not sure this is true. Last year I tried to go back as far as I could to see what neighborhoods city councilmembers came from, but I got bored looking through the city guidebooks at the library after a few elections.

Either way, council districts Rob laid out are pretty simplistic. Basically, he draws one down the middle (downtown and South Capital) and then Northeast and Southeast and Northwest and Southwest on each side.

At first glance I thought Rob's districts would be way out of balance, especially the middle one. Hardly anyone actually lives downtown right now and South Capital wouldn't be big enough to bring that district into balance.

Here's the map I came up with as an alternative:


I used Dave's Redistricting Tool (which is pretty cool) to draw five districts around 9,300 voters each. I didn't land any of the districts on the nose, but I got as close as I could. To really get close, we'd need much smaller voting precincts. Districts this small can't be very precise.

Generally speaking, this is the same map as Rob's, one district downtown and then two on each "side" of downtown. The difference here is that the downtown district also includes much of the older Eastside. 



Also, I split the westside to inner and outer districts. It worked balance wise, but I also think it worked culturally. If the point of districts is to give each different part of town a voice, the real split on the west side is the older neighborhoods and the new ones west of Division.