Between them, Washington, Oregon and California have more than 50 million inhabitants — about one-sixth of the population of the United States. And while the region wields significant economic and social weight, none of those residents have yet been able to cast a vote in the races for the presidential nominations.
It may have come as a surprise, then, that last week saw Hillary Clinton declared the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination while Donald Trump moved to nearly unstoppable status on the Republican side. Yes, the candidates have been racking up points while voters on the Left Coast have been stuck on the sidelines, waiting to get into the game.
That is problematic for political parties wishing to engage the largest possible cross-section of the electorate in order to position themselves for the November general election. And it is a problem for which Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state, has an obvious solution. Wyman is proposing a “Pac-12” coalition in which Western states would hold primaries on the same day and give the region some of the electoral power is deserves.
Named for the college athletic conference based in the West, the moniker plays off of this year’s wildly successful SEC primary among the states that comprise the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama all held primaries on March 1, resulting in much attention from the candidates leading up to the voting. “It would be nice if it was more regional and the West mattered,” Wyman said in a meeting with The Columbian.
Yes, it would be nice. Instead, when Washington Democrats caucus on Saturday, it will be the first chance for West Coast voters to weigh in on a nominating process that has whittled the field and been narrowed to clear front-runners on each side. Oregon’s primary is May 17, Washington’s primary is May 24 and California’s is June 7. By the time those dates roll around, the nominations could well be wrapped up, leaving 50 million people without a voice in choosing the candidates.
The practical result is that candidates largely ignore the West during primary season — because they can. Iowa and New Hampshire have codified into state law their position as the first two races in the nominating process, but other small states such as South Carolina and Nevada also receive an inordinate amount of attention from candidates due to their early spot on the primary calendar. Meanwhile, regionally important issues such as international trade, climate change, fisheries, forests and even the Hanford Nuclear Reservation go mostly ignored by the candidates.
The first step would be for the Legislature to move Washington’s primary to a spot such as early March — a tactic Wyman attempted for this year before being met with resistance by the state Democratic Party, which already had scheduled its caucuses for late March. The second would be to convince other states in the region to move their primaries, as well. The result could be candidates visiting Washington one day, California the next and Utah after that, rather than treating the entire region as an afterthought.
Ideally, a series of regional primaries would be devised, with the West voting first in one election cycle and, say, the South going first the next time around. But first things first.
Over the next 11 weeks, voters in states abutting the Pacific Ocean will thoughtfully express their opinions regarding the presidential nominees. Maybe in future years, those opinions will be meaningful.