Clean-sweep crowd is just dreaming

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Anti-incumbency sentiments are sweeping the land, or so we’re told by aspiring challengers, out-of-power politicians and talk-show pundits. It’s nothing new.

The ultimate goal is often expressed: “Throw all the bums out!” Sounds great, but in most cases, it’s just wishful thinking. Voters seldom throw all the bums out, because smart voters judge each elected official independently, on his or her own merits. Throwing all the bums out makes about as much sense as sending the whole school to detention for the misdeeds of a few students, or grounding every teenager in the house because one came home late from the prom.

Here in Clark County, elected officials are excoriated almost nonstop. It’s hard to determine if all that noise is coming just from the vociferous few. The volume of the protesters often doesn’t manifest itself in the elections. Last Tuesday was a good example.

According to my calculations (a dangerous phrase, as I often insist, when uttered by a columnist), 85.9 percent of incumbent politicians across Clark County were returned to office on Tuesday. In baseball terms, that’s about a .140 batting average for the clean-sweep crowd.

Except for the Battle Ground school board, which saw three incumbents replaced, there were no large pockets of anti-incumbency anywhere in the county. And the Battle Ground pocket is diluted by the fact that all five city councilors on the ballot there were re-elected, three without challengers.

That leads to the second reality about the ankle-biters’ inability to follow through on their crusades. They simply aren’t courageous enough or resourceful enough or ambitious enough to back up their talk with their candidacies.

Enemy? What enemy?

From Vancouver mayor to the most obscure cemetery district commissioner, there were 57 chances to unseat incumbents this year, but only eight of those office-holders lost. That’s where I got the .140 batting average for the anti-incumbent crowd. And if you exclude the Battle Ground school board, the batting average is just .092.

More than half of those 57 politicians — 34 to be exact — didn’t even draw opponents. It’s hard to remove a law-abiding incumbent from office without presenting him or her with an opponent (unless the incumbent advances to higher office or dies).

And Camas? That place must be Happy Valley! As I pointed out in a July 12 column, three city councilors there and three school board members were all unopposed. Camas folks all went to bed early Tuesday night.

And of the 21 incumbent Clark County politicians who did draw opponents, 13 were re-elected.

Nationally, anti-incumbency is a more serious issue. Just ask the members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who have to run for re-election every two years.

Speaking of national politics, many candidates for statewide office will try to bolster their campaigns by calling in the big dogs, the national political heroes. This doesn’t always work. Even President Obama apparently has lost some of his star power. In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Obama campaigned for Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds, but Republican Bob McDonnell pounded Deeds by 17 percentage points. Obama campaigned even harder for New Jersey’s incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who lost to Republican Chris Christie. So much for the power of the presidency.

On the conservative side, none other than Sarah Palin endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. The result? Upstate New Yorkers sent a Democrat (Bill Owens) to Congress for the first time since the Civil War. You roar, Mama Grizzly!

If you’re wondering how The Columbian’s endorsees fared last Tuesday, 10 of 14 endorsed candidates or charter amendments won, and our recommendations on both Initiative 1033 and Referendum 71 came to pass (statewide). That’s 75 percent. But since we’re a Clark County newspaper, and since local voters differed with statewide voters on both I-1033 and R-71, we’ll knock that percentage down to 62.5.

John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.