In American Cascadia, as in the rest of the United States, the 2004 general election was hard fought, bitter, and emotional. It brought unprecedented levels of spending, advertising, grassroots organizing, and turnout. It was as divisive an election as any in, well, a long time. Some commentators point to 1968. Others go back a century before finding an election as closely fought and deeply passionate. I’ll leave it to historians to decide.

Thomas Friedman today published what I thought was a particularly apt description of how the 2004 election felt:

At one level this election was about nothing. None of the real problems facing the nation were really discussed. But at another level, without warning, it actually became about everything. . . . it felt as if we were rewriting the Constitution, not electing a president. I felt as if I registered to vote, but when I showed up the Constitutional Convention broke out. . . . The election results reaffirmed that. . . . It seemed as if people were not voting on [President Bush’s] performance. It seemed as if they were voting for what team they were on.

And the end result? Well, at the national level, a narrow but decisive victory for Republicans, especially for the conservative wing of the party. But in Cascadia, given the mammoth outpouring of partisan energy that surged through the electorate, what’s surprising is how little changed. The winner was, or seemed to be, the status quo.

  • The competing political parties-and the various demographic, psychographic, and interest segments that interact through politics-seem perfectly counterbalanced. If elections are tug-of-wars, this one involved the recruitment of scores of steroid-pumped body builders to each team with, in the end, little appreciable movement of the marker at the mid-point of the rope.

    The exceptions to this rule are the interesting developments. More about them in a moment. First, the continuity:

    Incumbents won and voters repeated themselves. The Kerry-Bush vote splits (so far) are very similar to the Gore-Bush vote splits, as the table below shows. Most of the differences between 2000 and 2004 are probably the result of 2000 Nader voters becoming 2004 Kerry voters.

    (Nov. 8 Update: As Washington and a few Oregon ballots keep coming in, the Kerry edge is growing for the region overall. It’s now 51% to 49% in American Cascadia. I haven’t updated the table above, because no other percentages have changed.UPDATE: On some screens, you can’t see the totals column on the right for all of American Cascadia. If it’s not visible to you, click on the whole table and it will (I hope) pop up in a new window. These results are incomplete because a large number of Washington ballots remain uncounted, as do a small number of Oregon ballots. Cascadian California includes six northern California Counties: Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Siskiyou, Sonoma, and Trinity. Cascadian Montana includes twelve western Montana counties: Deer Lodge, Flathead, Granite, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Powell, Ravalli, Sanders, and Silver Bow. For a fuller, county-by-county breakdown of the Bush vote, I recommend getting a paper copy of today’s New York Times. It’s got some great maps that aren’t available online.)

    British Columbia, could it vote for the US president, would have gone for Kerry, probably by a landslide. (For a humorous take on this question, read this from The Tyee.) I say that because a Canadian moderate is about the same as an American liberal, while a Canadian conservative is ideologically akin to an American centrist.

    With stunningly few exceptions, incumbents returned to office, whether in statewide races such as Secretaries of State or in local races. Incumbents almost always won, even in hotly contested statewide offices in Washington such as Superintendent of Public Instruction and Commissioner of Public Lands (though this last race could conceivably, but improbably, still flip toward the challenger UPDATE: No, it couldn’t).

    Seattleites voted for a fourth time in favor of building a monorail. Oregonians voted for a second time to compensate land owners for losses in property value that spring from land-use laws. (More on this in a moment.) Washingtonians insisted that they do still want a “blanket primary,” and that they still don’t want to raise taxes, even to pay for schools. Oregonians don’t want to impose major new environmental policies at the ballot box (in the past decade, measures on grazing, clearcuts, and the bottle bill have failed by lopsided margins; this time, a forest protection plan for state lands did). Montana voters still don’t want a lot of cyanide heap-leach mining in their state, as the Billings Gazette notes.

    The center ruled. Those toward the political center beat out those toward either end of the spectrum. For example, Rob McKenna, a moderate Republican, beat liberal Democrat Deborah Senn for attorney general in Washington. The governor’s race in Washington is close for the first time in several cycles because the Republicans nominated a moderate—or someone more moderate than recent Republican nominees. Democrats have held the governor’s mansion in Washington for 20 years not because the state is reliably Democratic but because of the extremism of Republican nominees.

    Parties held on to offices vacated by their partisans, for example, in the 8th Congressional District (Bellevue) and the 5th Congressional District (Spokane) of Washington, and (apparently) the U.S. Senate seat in Alaska. As a result, the Northwest’s delegations in the other Washington remain in the same red-blue balance. From the Canadian border to San Francisco Bay, the area from the coast to the crest of the Cascades (and, in California, the coast ranges) is blue (D) country; east of those ranges is red (R) country, as Clark noted earlier. (The paper edition of the New York Times shows this clearly in its map of U.S. House seats.)

    People don’t like toxic waste. Montana voted against cyanide mining, as noted. And Washington voted against allowing any more radioactive waste to be shipped to the Hanford Reservation until Hanford is all cleaned up. This measure may be thrown out in court.

    Now, the exceptions.

    1. Montana. The state shifted D-ward pretty substantially, as the Helena Independent Record reports. The Big Sky state elected a Democratic governor for the first time in 16 years. In fact, it elected Ds to at least four of five statewide state government offices. It also shifted control of the state senate to the D’s and the state house is likely to be tied 50-50. (One winner was a friend of Sightline: former state representative Carol Williams of Missoula.) Under state law, that means the governor’s party gets to run the show. (And governor-elect Brian Schweitzer is from the Cascadian part of Montana. He’s a farmer from Whitefish.) The Missoulian has good coverage here and here.

    2. Coat tails. The presidential tide shifted the
    composition of
    the statehouse in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. In Idaho, Republicans made gains in the statehouse, adding seats in each chamber, as the Idaho Statesman describes. The practical effect in Idaho will be minimal, because Republicans already held supermajorities in both house and senate.

    In Oregon, Democrats took control of the state senate, after a decade in the minority (and two years in an exact tie). They also gained seats in the state house but stayed in the minority, as reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting. This change matters more than Idaho’s.

    In Washington, Democrats are poised to expand their control of the state’s lower chamber and to reclaim control of the senate, notes the Tacoma News Tribune. (Results are still coming in. You can watch them here.) The practical effects of this change will be large, whichever way the governor’s race goes.

    3. British Columbia. Just before November 2, there was a byelection in Surrey, BC, as the CBC reports. In it, the ruling Liberals got trounced by the opposition New Democrats. It could be a harbinger of next May’s provincial election, or simply a fluke.

    4. Game Changers. Aside from the re-election of a president whose policy agenda is largely antithetical to sustainability, the biggest news for Cascadia on November 2 was the passage of Oregon’s Measure 37. This initiative could undo a generation of growth management in Oregon. It could also be the fire from which the next generation of smart growth strategies arise. The measure is such a big deal that we’ll post on it separately at some time.

    In the long run, it seems conceivable to me that Washington’s ballot measure to revise its election system might be another “game changer.” The “blanket primary” system created by voters in the state is not, in fact, a return to the long-used election system ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. It’s a system through which the two top vote getters in the primary-but no others-appear on the general election ballot. That means minor parties will probably never again make it to the general election. Mostly, this change won’t make much difference, but it may shift the dynamic in unforeseen ways. It could lead to more moderates and centrists, or to more extremists. It’s very likely to further weaken political parties and party allegiance among voters. I’d put this on the watch list for sleeper stories.

    Where does this all leave us? What are the implications for the health and wellbeing of Cascadia?

    The key thing to keep in mind, I believe, is that party label matters less than values. Although progressives have embraced the concept of sustainability more readily than conservatives, the concept itself is neither left nor right. In the short term, conservative advances tend to slow progress on sustainability, but in the long term, sustainability cannot succeed if it is pigeonholed as a partisan cause. It needs to become a given–the conventional wisdom—of the broad mainstream of public thought and political discourse.

    That can happen. It can happen because sustainability is ultimately a moral issue founded on nearly universal values. It’s about freedom and responsibility. It’s about protecting our freedom against trespass by the polluters and depleters of our homeland. And it’s about our responsibility as stewards of our heritage—a heritage that prominently includes our own kind, our cultures, and our communities.

    As a movement for sustainability, our success ultimately depends not on the success of right or left (as currently configured) but on the resurgence of these values in many, even most, parts of the body politic. The German Greens got many things wrong, but their slogan was perfect: neither left nor right, but out front.