John Laird: Heck of a rally, bullet-proof incumbents and false alarms

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

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

Notes, quotes and anecdotes while wondering how many people who despise publicly subsidized transit systems will change their minds when they get too old to drive:

"How Do You Like Me Now?" -- Denny Heck is too polite to bellow the vengeful country song popularized by Toby Keith in 1999. But I'm just rude enough to repeat this line from the lyrics: "I only wanted to catch your attention, but you overlooked me somehow."

Heck, a Columbia River High School graduate, represented Southwest Washington for five terms in the Legislature back in the 1980s. But in 2010, the Democrat lost a bid for Congress to Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler. Heck, a realist, no doubt accepts this as the will of the voters. But the hometown loss had to hurt deeply.

Rally time! This year, running in Olympia's new 10th Congressional District, Heck garnered 58.5 percent of the votes and now is headed for Congress. He's making waves even before being sworn in. Last week, Heck was appointed to the House Budget Committee, the only incoming freshman named to the influential body. Ol' Toby must be proud. C'mon, Denny, loosen up those vocal cords and let 'er rip!

Speaking of Congress -- Every two years, the anti-incumbency movement heats up, only to be shot down by this reality: Most folks correctly vote for the candidate they think is best and disregard the rest of Congress.

In 2010, the success rates of incumbents running for re-election were 85 percent in the House and 84 percent in the Senate. But this year, with Congress members' popularity ratings plunging, pitchfork pounders in the "throw the bums out!" crowd got really fired up. Sorry, guys. As bloomberg.com reports, incumbent return rates this year were the highest in eight years: 90 percent in the House, 91 percent in the Senate.

Gender trends -- As one who often contends that the guys have messed up long enough and it's time to cede control to women, I am sad to see the end of an eight-year era. With the retirement of Gov. Chris Gregoire, Washington will end its reign as the first state in U.S. history to have a woman governor and two women senators. But there's good news elsewhere. The Center for American Women and Politics reports a record number of women will serve in the 113th Congress: 20 women in the Senate and 78 women in the House. The fact that 80 percent of Senate women are Democrats and 74 percent of House women are Democrats really shouldn't surprise anyone, as the GOP continues to careen toward favoring my least favorite demographic group: my own.

Welcome to the 21st century, Palmetto State -- With South Carolina electing a woman to its state Senate, as CAWP reports, "There is no longer any state legislative chamber without any women."

False alarm -- Kindly disregard all of those teeth-gnashing hand-wringers who are wailing about tougher standards for gathering initiative and referendum signatures. They will bellyache that the requirement for signatures has increased to 246,372 (from 241,153) for initiatives, and to 123,186 (from 120,577) for referenda.

Those numbers are correct, but here's the rest of the story. Signature requirements are specified in the state constitution and the Revised Code of Washington. For initiatives, the signature requirement is 8 percent of total gubernatorial votes in the preceding election. For referenda, it's 4 percent.

So, nothing has changed, except a higher number of gubernatorial votes in 2012 than in 2008. The standard remains the same.

"Fine! YOU pay for it!" -- This remains one of the most vociferous arguments in public debates, especially regarding any outlay of public money for improvements such as transportation. The absurdity of this argument is illustrated thusly: "You want a firetruck to respond? Fine! YOU pay for it!" Or on a national scale: "You want to wage two unfunded wars? Fine! YOU pay for it!"

The truth is, in most cases of public needs and services, we're all in this together.