Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why one issue elections are the dark side of local politics

Karen Veldheer signed to put R-71 on the ballot, to overturn same sex domestic partnerships in Washington State. But, when talking about equal rights during her city council campaign, she failed to mention this.

I was thinking about five years ago in Olympia recently. At the time I was posting a lot about Karen Veldheer's candidacy, and some other folks were responding:
I hope you can look past a candidate's religion, and not stereotype conservative Christians as a people unable to accept or respect homosexuals, or uphold legislation or benefits that aid others who hold differing beliefs.
During campaign, Veldheer clarified in a closley phrased manner that even then seemed to contradic. someone that signed an R-71 petition:
I support the city policy for equal benefits for same sex domestic partners.  I am a member of the orthodox Presbyterian church and my religious faith will have no bearing on the decisions I will make as a civic leader on the Olympia city council.  I believe in a separation of Church and State.  Further, the state of Washington provides over 200 civil rights, many of which are very important to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered communities, and I support these laws as well. 
 But, she was willing to work towards overturning one of those rights.

Anyway, Veldeer lost that November to Karen Rogers who maybe even better embodies what I'm actually trying to write about. That when politics of a community are narrowed down to a single issue, you get really crappy politics.

2009 in Olympia politics was all about development on a strip of land downtown called the isthmus (its really an urbanized earthen dam, but who's really counting?). Even the secondary issue of council relations with the public was also about the isthmus, because some in the public thought they weren't being listened to.

Both Karen Rogers and Karen Veldheer came from the side of town politics that were hard against the isthmus development and thought the council was being pretty tin-eared. But, Veldheer would have been an odd fit in Olympia politics had she won or continued being involved. And, Karen Rogers really did end up being an odd fit.

As she settled into her seat, Rogers eventually became the lone vote against any sort of government activism. Its hard to think that Olympia had elected a small government, fiscal conservative, but there she was. The fog of the isthmus issue had obscured Rogers' politics.

Too the point that when she ran for county commissioner, Rogers sometimes acted more conservative than the Republican:
Her initial campaign spin for county commission builds common cause with conservatives and south county residents. In an interview with Janine Unsoeld, Rogers even played up how STOP Thurston organizers thanked her for a city council vote. While this may disturb lefties who supported her mayoral run, pivoting to the right makes electoral sense because that could discourage a Republican candidate from entering the race. Rogers’ chances increase from iffy to decent if she doesn’t have to run against both Wolfe and a Republican candidate in a primary.
Then again, some described Rogers  then (where libertarian left and right meet) the same way I described Sue Gunn here. And, Gunn did pretty well in Olympia against a typical business friendly Democrat.

That said, I still think local elections are better when they're broader than one issue, one building or what we should do on one single block. We elected local politicians to do a lot of things. And, with the collapse of the economy in 2008 and the quick council action, it didn't take long for any development in downtown to disappear.  We still expect these people to govern well outside of hot button issues.


Thad Curtz said...

Ummm... You kick off this post with "Karen Veldheer signed to put R-71 on the ballot, to overturn same sex domestic partnerships in Washington State. "

Squinting at the scanned petition, it says:

"Same-sex couples ... may register as a domestic partnership with the state. .... This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities and obligations of registered domestic partners and their families to include all rights, responsibilities and obligations granted or imposed by law on domestic partners and their families."

As I read this, the attorney general's office thought the bill was pretty much the opposite of your characterization of it - expanding the legal rights of same sex couples to make them equivalent in every way to those of married couples, rather than "overturning" them.

I don't want to spend the time hashing over five year old details, but I don't think this is very accurate about various other things about Veldheer's political history and positions either.

Emmett said...

The "everything but marriage" bill had already passed the legislature. R-71 was an effort to put it on the ballot in order to defeat it:

Matthew Green said...

A key difference between the campaigns of Karen Rogers and Sue Gunn is that Sue actually held liberal Democrats even while picking up conservative Republicans. Karen's supporters liked to claim that she appealed to both ends of the spectrum, but her vote totals didn't show it.