Mov­ing on from ’18: what next elec­tion may mean for the state

The News Tribune - - Business - BY BILL VIR­GIN Con­tribut­ing writer

With the elec­tion of 2018 and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing un­pleas­ant­ness fi­nally over, we can get back to the real busi­ness of Amer­ica — brawl­ing over the next elec­tion.

There’s no post-elec­tion lull or off sea­son in pol­i­tics any more. The pur­pose of count­ing votes to con­clude one cam­paign is to get it out of the way so as to fo­cus on the next cam­paign, which has al­ready started. Pol­i­tics seems to per­vade ev­ery­thing. The lament or com­plaint that “it’s all po­lit­i­cal” is in­creas­ingly a state­ment of fact, not opin­ion.

So we might as well get on with it and fig­ure out how this year’s elec­tion, re­ally just one more chap­ter in the per­pet­ual cam­paign, sets us up for elec­tions in 2019 and 2020:

The lead­ing is­sue in the

A na­tional cam­paign was how much var­i­ous sides and fac­tions loathe one an­other, but some is­sues of ac­tual sub­stance were de­bated.

Trade pol­icy wasn’t one of them. And it’s not likely to be over the next two years, even though it’s im­por­tant to mul­ti­ple in­dus­tries and re­gions of the coun­try, es­pe­cially the North­west.

Trade pol­icy de­bates do not neatly fol­low con­ven­tional po­lit­i­cal di­vid­ing lines. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s hard line on trade, in­sist­ing on new deals and hit­ting im­ports with tar­iffs and du­ties, plays well with his base in in­dus­trial cities that have borne the brunt of lost rev­enues and jobs.

Tough talk on China also ap­peals to many busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives un­happy with the con­tin­ued pil­fer­ing of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

But his trade pol­icy isn’t that dif­fer­ent than what the tra­di­tional Demo­cratic base, par­tic­u­larly la­bor union mem­bers, has been call­ing for for years. The mo­ti­va­tions might be dif­fer­ent, but it’s not far from what is es­poused by the Bernie San­ders wing of the party.

This puts the North­west in the mid­dle of the fight, where you can find bi­par­ti­san ad­vo­cacy for open trade and for man­aged trade, as well as lots of by­standers who are helped or hurt by what­ever pol­icy is in force.

Many of the in­dus­try-spe­cific in­ter­na­tional-trade dis­putes this Wash­ing­ton is caught up in — air­planes, lum­ber and pa­per, agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, so­lar pan­els — pre­date Trump, and are likely to out­last him.

Speak­ing of per­pet­ual cam

A paigns, the ef­fort to whack Wash­ing­ton busi­nesses, con­sumers and mo­torists with some sort of tax, fee or penalty for con­tin­ued use of De­mon Car­bon has now gone 0-for-4, with the de­feat of Ini­tia­tive 1631.

That fol­lows the de­feat of a dif­fer­ent ini­tia­tive a few years ago, failed ef­forts to get the Leg­is­la­ture to pass an anti-car­bon mea­sure and Gov. Jay Inslee’s ef­forts to im­pose car­bone­mis­sion caps via ad­min­is­tra­tive reg­u­la­tion (slapped down by court rul­ing, although it’s on ap­peal to the state supremes). Get ready for round five.

With a big­ger Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the Leg­is­la­ture, and a gov­er­nor who would love to have a win on his sig­na­ture is­sue to take on the na­tional po­lit­i­cal road, pro­po­nents are likely to take an­other run at the is­sue in the leg­isla­tive ses­sion com­menc­ing in Jan­uary. (With Tues­day’s vote, the ini­tia­tive route is prob­a­bly closed off for a few years.)

They might be fur­ther en­cour­aged by the fact that the I-1631 cam­paign man­aged to en­list some busi­ness sup­port.

The lim­it­ing fac­tor will be the

mind­set of leg­is­la­tors — how con­vinced are they that the po­lit­i­cal pen­du­lum has, in Wash­ing­ton, per­ma­nently frozen to the ad­van­tage of lib­eral Democrats.

If they think there’s a chance enough of the elec­torate will bring the Repub­li­cans back to power, they’ll nod po­litely when Inslee makes his State of the State speech, then qui­etly bury the pro­posal in com­mit­tee, never to be seen or heard from again.

But if they de­tect no po­lit­i­cal penalty in ad­vo­cat­ing an anti-car­bon mea­sure, then pro­po­nents will find the fifth time is a charm.

Po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns are A of fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit to some — the win­ners, con­sul­tants, poll­sters, print- ers, ad­ver­tis­ing out­lets, even the U.S. Postal Ser­vice — but as the re­cently con­cluded cam­paign demon­strated, there’s a huge eco­nomic-ef­fi­ciency prob­lem in­volved.

Does the 15th full-color over­sized postcard have any more in­flu­ence than the first or sec­ond? Does the 27th rep­e­ti­tion of a tele­vi­sion spot go­ing to in­flu­ence a voter’s de­ci­sion on a can­di­date or bal­lot mea­sure? (Please, can’t I just watch some foot­ball in peace?) Does any­one no­tice the 53rd sign jammed into a pub­lic me­dian strip, other than to prompt the thought, “Who’s go­ing to clean up this mess?”

Ad­ver­tis­ing the­ory says rep­e­ti­tion builds au­di­ence aware­ness. Ad­ver­tis­ing re­al­ity says loud, hu­mor­less ads build an­noy­ance or are tuned out as noise. Tech­nol­ogy hasn’t im­proved po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing ef­fi­ciency; it’s sim­ply cre­ated more chan­nels politi­cians fig­ure they have to sat­u­rate to reach vot­ers.

Whether they are reach­ing vot­ers, much less in­flu­enc­ing them, is de­bat­able. But for all the com­plaints about the an­noy­ance, the in­ef­fi­ciency and the ex­pense of po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, no one is go­ing to be the first to stop do­ing what is an­noy­ing, in­ef­fi­cient and ex­pen­sive.

That won’t hap­pen un­til some­one fig­ures out a more ef­fec­tive, less ex­pen­sive ap­proach, has the courage to break from the herd and try it — and has the re­sults to prove it works.

With that as a warn­ing, on to the next elec­tion.

Bill Vir­gin is ed­i­tor and pub­lisher of Wash­ing­ton Man­u­fac­tur­ing Alert and Pa­cific North­west Rail News. He can be reached at bill.vir­

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