Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What's past is prologue.

Part 1 - What's past...

The 2005 non partisan elections in Pierce County were a study in what to do and what not to do and a portent of things to come.

If you put out signs, waved signs, did a little door-to-door, had a reasonable picture and write-up in the voters' pamphlet and spoke at community events with an eye towards the positive not the negative your chances of winning were good. Unless, of course, your opponent did the same thing and he or she was the incumbent. I guess I could say the same thing after every election. But there were stark reminders this campaign season.

Tim Corliss is a case in point. He is a good guy, a staunch conservative (in a conservative district), has access to some money, has high name ID where he ran, and received good campaign advice. He lost both races in which he chose to run...Charter Review Commission and Fire Commissioner. Why?

Well, he put up good signs and lots of them and they were red and white and easy to read. But, he put a rough-hewn, homemade picture in the Voters' Pamphlet and did not submit a voter pamphlet statement. For the many voters who read the Voter's Pamphlet and choose a candidate based on what the candidate submitted, Tim's failure to submit said: "I am not interested." So neither were the voters. Yet, he only lost 57-43% against Barbara Skinner, a long time Mayor of Sumner and former County Councilmember. If Tim had submitted a professional picture, written a cogent piece for the Voters' Pamphlet and been prepared at public debates to talk about why he wanted to be on the Charter Review Commission, he could have won. Given the First Council District's decisively conservative leanings, the race was Tim's to lose, not Barbara's to win.

Dave Morell (note spelling - one R and two L's) was the opposite (well, except he is also a nice guy and a staunch conservative in a mostly conservative district). Dave has high name ID in the Third Council District, he is a former (and future) legislator, he has nice signs and put out lots of them, he submitted a professional picture and a good write up in the Voter's Pamphlet and he was positive and thoughtful at public forums. To the voters he just seemed genuinely interested in doing a good job of Charter Review. He was elected by a 70-20% margin.


A genuinely interesting race developed for the Puyallup School board: Greg Heath versus Cindy Poysnick. Greg Heath is a shy, moderate Republican, a one term incumbent, a small engineering business owner and a great board member when it comes to overseeing Puyallup's $200+ million school construction budget in the county's second largest school district and one that is growing a mile a minute (only Bethel is growing faster.) Cindy is a voluble, engaging and genuinely likeable socially liberal and fiscally conservative Democrat, who believes that we must stop growth in the South Hill portion of the district by using the School District to force the County Council to stop issuing building permits until schools (and roads) can catch up with the population. (In other words, a moratorium on building the homes that produce the taxes to build the roads and schools.)

Both candidates did what they were supposed to do. They put out signs; she did some door knocking he did not; they spoke well and positively at public forums; they submitted good pictures and well written articles for the Voters' Pamphlet; and, they both came across as well-prepared for and genuinely interested in the Puyallup School Board. But they each brought a different view of the same issue to the voters. One said we needed to efficiently and smartly bond ourselves to the build schools for our growing population and the other said we needed to stop the population growth so that the schools we have (or are being built) are not overcrowded.

This is exactly what the American political process is all about. Two equally capable, interested and interesting candidates arguing a community issue from two perspectives and with two solutions. And the voters decided - well not quite. The race is too close to call (though Greg is now ahead by 67 votes out of 24,500.) There will likely be a mandatory recount.

In my opinion, moratoriums don't work. They actually reduce the money that is available to build infrastructure AND reduce the good wage construction jobs now held by carpenters, fitters, plumbers and such, who in turn buy homes and pay taxes. Nevertheless, politically, we voters got a choice and the system worked as specified. And since Dean Logan is not counting the votes, I will likely trust the result.

That brings us to the Lakewood City Council races.

Here is a set of four races, two of which feature strong Republican incumbents in a Republican city. And the race for the open council seat featured two strong Republican candidates without a Democrat in opposition. This is the stuff of Republican dreams. Unfortunately, the word snake-bit is the only word that comes to mind.

One race pitted Democrat incumbent city councilwoman Helen McGovern a well-respected and well-liked businesswoman with widespread name ID against Republican newcomer Lisa Ikeda. Lisa had OK signs (they need more work on drive-by readability) which were well placed and appeared more numerous than Helen's. Lisa is an engaging, bright and competent young talent who will certainly run again. The voters liked her and she liked them - a marriage that is usually reserved for heaven. Alas, they saw Helen as a stabilizing force in an otherwise tumultuous city council. Democrat McGovern wins 55-45 in a Republican area perhaps setting her up for another partisan race. While I don't see her doing well against any current Republican office holders, it would be a tough race for us if she chooses to wait for an open seat on the county council or in the legislature.

The other stabilizing force the voters saw on the city council was Republican incumbent (and Mayor) Doug Richardson. Doug is the dream candidate and a great council member. He is smart but self effacing and he listens - what a concept for a member of the legislative branch of his city's government. Most of all, he never loses his cool. Then again, I would not expect him to. Among his many other accomplishments, he is an Army Reservist who last year was promoted to Brigadier General. As a 30 year Air Force veteran, I can tell you that the cut to make General is exceedingly fine. Of 1000 officers who enter active duty in the United States, 50 may make full Colonel but only one will be a general. There are probably five traits that make a General. (Competence and brilliance are just gravy.)

One: Never lie (lives depend on telling it like it is up and down the chain of command.)
Two: Never lose your cool (you can make a stressful battle situation into a death laden rout.)
Three: Listen (even the least ranking soldier or staff member can have a great idea that will save lives or resources if you just listen to them.)
Four: Be decisive (obvious, perhaps, but in a peacetime, bureaucratic military – the Clinton years for example - very difficult to train for.)
Five: Loyalty (to America, to your boss and, more importantly, to your troops.)

Doug has all of those traits - in spades.

The sad part is that Doug was forced to run against another Republican. Why? Because someone was miffed that Doug, in an effort to reduce her County Council aspirations, voted for Democrat Helen McGovern for Deputy Mayor when there was Republican Councilman, Pad Finnegan, also running for the job. (Recall that Lakewood is on the weak mayor system, so that Deputy Mayor is even less than ceremonial). So a retired Marine, J. Paul Wagemann, was dragooned to run against Doug Richardson. Now Paul is a likable guy with a wide steak of competence but is a lackluster campaigner. His signs were so-so, not very numerous and not well placed. Even worse, he took his political cues too obviously from others on the council and from Lakewood CARES. It seemed that he was not always his own person. Those are high hurdles to overcome.

All in all, the voters re-elected Doug Richardson with a 64-36% margin.

Then comes the Pad Finnegan race. With that name, with his impeccable Republican credentials and with his City Council incumbency, there is no way Pad can lose - but early on he tried. Pad is an energetic, no nonsense, straight arrow conservative Republican who knows Lakewood and is our 2005 County door-belling king. There is no better way to learn your area, get the feel of voters' interests and gain more good will than to doorbell. And Pad did it better than anyone else this year. But he started the campaign on a negative. Too much time was spent in talking about why some Republican City Council and County Council members were not Republican enough and not enough time was spent in telling voters why he should be re-elected. The result is that Pad only garnered 45% in a thee-way Primary. That means that 55% of the voters voted for change. That cannot bode well for an incumbent. But he seemed to "get it" after the Primary. He quieted his negative approach and doorbelled his butt off.

Sadly, he too was forced to run against a Republican. Perhaps in response the negative cast of his early campaigning or in response to Paul Wagemann being asked to run against Doug Richardson, Republican Jason Whalen was asked to run against Pad. Now Jason is a Republican super star in the making. He is a top notch attorney, a Republican PCO, he knows and is liked by virtually every business organization in the county, has access to money, and is smarter than the law allows. He also speaks well, approaches problems positively and understands city and county issues at their very depths. So what's the problem? Well, besides only ho-hum signs, time. Jason has a full plate at work and his wife gave birth during the campaign. Jason just could not match Pad's doorbelling. Additionally, Jason was also running for the Charter Review Commission. While these offices are mutually compatible, it takes time to run for both and do well.

In the final analysis, Pad Finnegan's name, energetic doorbelling, retreat from his earlier negativity and his incumbency were insurmountable. Pad won 55-45%. On the other hand, look to Jason for future high end political office based on his 62% Charter Review Commission win.

That brings us to the race for former Mayor Bill Harrison's City Council seat. Now Bill is one of my heroes with a compassion and personal discipline unmatched on this earth. His are tough shoes to fill. To their credit, Ron Kronk and Bruce Banfield ran to fill them.

Ron is a conservative Republican and Lakewood CARES activist who is well versed in Lakewood politics. (His wife, Christine, is a former Republican District Leader and a future, great Republican candidate in her own right. But that is a story for a different day.) He is absolutely passionate about Lakewood. But his passion has sharp edges which too often come across as strident.

Facing Ron is newcomer Bruce Banfield. Bruce's is from a conservative old-line Tacoma family (in fact, his mother was on the Tacoma City Council in the 70's desperately trying to clean up the corruption that later surfaced to Tacoma's national shame and embarrassment.) Bruce is a successful businessman and family man whose conservatism is somewhat hidden behind a shy demeanor.

Both Ron Kronk and Bruce Banfield were genuinely interested in service to Lakewood and both had good pictures and write-ups in the Voters' Pamphlet. Both speak well and are familiar with the issues. The differences were that while Bruce had better, more and better-placed yard signs (Ron's were bland and hard to read at 30 mph); Ron had use of a Lakewood CARES based e-mail system that assisted Ron, Pad and Paul Wagemann and forged a united message for those candidates. Sadly, Bruce also had to contend with the passing of his mother during the campaign. And if there is anything that will take the wind out of your sails, it is the death of parent or spouse. You have our deepest sympathies, Bruce.

At any rate what many thought would be a close race was indeed an extremely close race. At this writing, 62 votes out of 12,100+ separate Ron and Bruce with Ron in the driver's seat. This may result in a mandatory recount (anything less than 0.5% separation); but because Dean Logan is not counting the ballots, it looks like Ron Kronk is the winner.

A final note for Part 1. The series of Lakewood CARES e-mails in support of Ron, Pad and Paul was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it got a detailed message to the voters on what Lakewood CARES candidates stand for and who they are. The e-mails, written by Lakewood CARES founder and Lakewood City Councilmember John Arbeeny, were extremely well written if not too long (I should talk, this is already six pages long). We have got to find some one like John in each Legislative District so that we can write solid, local and frequent e-mails on the issues that face the voters in that district and how our candidates stand on them. John's e-mails were effective because they were local and passionate and everyone knew it. The curse is that the passion became strident and cutting, dividing Lakewood Republicans over a longer time than just one election cycle. Worse for the County Party, we get much of our volunteer support from the 28th District (most of Lakewood) and this division is reducing the volunteers we may have for the partisan races next year.

We have to remember that the internet is a powerful tool. Let's make sure we use it as a tool to elect Republicans not join in the politics of personal destruction as democrat supporters so frequently use at the state and nation levels.

The Rule must be: Attack the policy not the person. It is infinitely better to say: "Policy A, supported by Joe Blow, candidate for xxxx, will not work for us because: a, b and c"; versus "Jane Blow, candidate for xxxx, who enjoys pulling the wings off flies and is working for the Communists, screwed us again by proposing Policy A".

We can do better than our Democrat friends.

Part 2 – "What is Prologue" will be for the next blog. Happy Thanksgiving.


At 23 November, 2005 05:32, Blogger Love but Hate said...

Great blog - I'm impressed!

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At 23 November, 2005 09:46, Anonymous Doug said...

Thoughtful, instructive, very usefull for future candidates IF they take the time to study the lessons you laid out.

Thanks for taking the time to detail these races and the defining differences between victory and defeat.



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