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Election ’22 sends a shaft of light through lingering darkness

Keep that headlamp handy

By Ron Judd Executive Editor

Election ’22 seems in many ways likely to stretch into ’23, at least in terms of ramifications.

That’s true in Washington, D.C., where razor-slim majorities in both houses of Congress will be the operational principle. It’s also true here in Washington, the Better, where a Democratic-majority Legislature will reassemble and try once again to figure out how best to govern a state with deep factional fissures and philosophies.

In any case, it’s nice to have the election, for practical purposes, in the rearview mirror, and the time seems right for a few rear-gazing observations.

It could have been much worse. Think back a few weeks ago, to the sense of dread many of us felt about election shenanigans, and the possibly protracted agony of challenged election results.

Given the crazed state of Q-inspired conspiratorial bloom, open ideological hostility that already has resulted in violence, and broad acceptance at high levels of the GOP of fantasy concerns about vote counting, the calmness with which the national and local elections played out is a tangible relief. One is left wondering what that says about the fragile state of U.S. representative democracy, but most of us will happily take it.

Most losers in last Tuesday’s election ultimately accepted their fate without slipping into a phase of full-on Donald Trump denial. And a hefty share of candidates running for state offices on a purely authoritarian, we’ll-never-lose-another-election platform, were shown the door by voters.

There’s always one sore-thumb exception, of course. Locally, that was the leadership of the Skagit County Republicans, whose post-election website proclaimed: “IT’S OBVIOUS NOW: AMERICA’S VOTING SYSTEM IS RIGGED!”

No. It isn’t. Try to keep up, kids.

Otherwise, relative civility reigned locally. Make no mistake: Our region was not immune from cash-infused, hit-job nastiness in some of the state legislative campaigns — aimed particularly at ultimately victorious 42nd District Senate candidate Sharon Shewmake. Attacks on her status as a university economist echoed the oldest, meanest and ultimately dumbest American traditions of anti-intellectualism, and distortion of her record became a sport rivaling the popularity of pickleball.

But armed militias were not seen at ballot drop-offs. And local races, so far, have ended the old-fashioned way: with a losing candidate accepting defeat, thanking supporters and moving on. Even the young accidental state Senator, Simon Sefzik, whose campaign apparatus spawned the above-referenced deceptive mailer onslaught (and also, in a likely unintended endorsement of the power of an independent local press, a fake “community newspaper” espousing his own particular genius) summoned the grace for statesmanlike behavior in accepting defeat.

He accepted the tight loss, congratulated Shewmake and told supporters to learn lessons and forge ahead. Again, a low bar, but in this “different time” described eloquently onstage last week by the journalist Bob Woodward, we’ll take it. 

The significance of Shewmake’s victory in that state Senate race should not be lost in the post-election jet wash. Shewmake took a risk in moving on from what likely would have been a comfortable political parking spot as a 42nd District representative to reach for the higher prize. And she succeeded.

That seat, recall, had been a longtime GOP lock in a district encompassing north Bellingham and north and east Whatcom County. Its occupant for the previous decade, the late Sen. Doug Ericksen, made a name for himself in all the worst ways, embracing the Trumpist authoritarian movement, urging rollbacks of wildly popular measures such as voting by mail, and, by all appearances, spending more time courting extractive resource industries and Cambodian authoritarian leaders than attending to the pressing needs of Whatcom County.

Shewmake’s victory is a marked upgrade for Whatcom County residents, as is her pledge to respect the needs of all local constituents, not just the outer-county few. What a pleasant contrast to the post-election antics at the conclusion of the 2018 election, where Ericksen, squeaking by with a 45-vote win over Democratic challenger Pinky Vargas, couldn’t resist taunting journalists who had rightfully reported on his suspicious overseas self-enrichment.

It’s not clear whether Sefzik, a relatively empty political vessel, would have rotted in the same fashion. But precluding the very possibility is a major win for Whatcom County — and a noteworthy demonstration of the shifting demographics in the NW corner.

Democrats held on to every seat in legislative elections in Whatcom, the likely result of fielding a slate of baldly inexperienced GOP candidates and, no doubt, the yoke of political backlash against national anti-democracy GOP figures and predictable angst over abortion rights.

What goes around indeed has come around for the GOP in these districts.

Context is key, but one post-elex question is too big and too juicy to keep in the drawer:  Has U.S. “Trump fever” finally broken?

First, a suggested national clarification: “Trump fever” is cute, but in full honestly, an irritable bowel syndrome named in honor of the bile-spewing 45th President seems more appropriate.

Second: Don’t count on it. As others have already noted, we’ve seen Trump rise from the slime on the U.S. political cutting room floor on multiple occasions — each time dragged back up to eye level by the anti-democratic, misogynist, bigoted forces constantly lurking in dark corners of American life.

In a moment backstage before his appearance at the Mount Baker Theatre on Saturday, Woodward, thumbing through stories on his phone about the aborted “Red Wave” predicted for last week’s election, said he still expected Trump’s full-throated rerun at the presidency to take flight. It’s less a matter of whether Trump would ultimately say yes, Woodward suggested, than whether his own tendencies make him capable of saying no.

And, he cautioned: “He still has a lot of supporters out there.”

Trust the man. This week’s shaft of bright light is warm and welcomed, but the stark need for offensive action in the face of attacks on democracy remains. The skunk is by no means stuffed back in its hole.

Ron Judd’s column appears on Wednesdays.; Twitter: roncjudd.

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