With as many as 300,000 votes to be counted from metropolitan Martin Luther King County (including Seattle) the Washington State elections have fostered both celebration and disappointment in terms of campaign hopes.
Former state legislator Ed Murray will take over as Seattle's new mayor. The election night party at Neumos music club was joyous and raucous. As a DJ played and the network camera lights blazed, Murray enjoyed the fruits of a tough but well organized campaign against Seattle's reigning mayor Mike McGinn.
In my interview with Murray he told me he believes the city needs "not just a new face - it needs consistent management of government."
One of the reasons for incumbent Mike McGinn's loss is a widespread perception that he's weak on local law enforcement reforms. His continued support for former SPD chief John Diaz was controversial. An eight month US Department of Justice review concluded that the police force had followed a policy of using excessive force.
McGinn's unwillingness to force the department to adopt adequate reforms caused a lot of civil rights groups to sour on his candidacy. McGinn also lacks support from local music club owners who claim he hasn't given enough support to their industry or promoted Seattle nightlife. McGinn ran for office on the promise that he'd allow night clubs to flourish in Seattle. The club owners and live music venues are disappointed that his campaign promises have not been fulfilled.
Seattle City Council
A very interesting race for Seattle City Council took place between long time incumbent Richard Conlin and Socialist candidate Kshama Sawant. Sawant received support from part of the occupy movement in her bid to win the election. Most local political pundits have been surprised by her showing in the tight race. The community college teacher almost beat Conlin with a grassroots campaign and no corporate contributions. To some of the more open-minded prognosticators, it proves that the Occupy Wall Street movement may actually produce potential candidates for future political elections.
The fact that Kshama Sawant was able to launch such an effective campaign bids well for future candidates who may now choose to run against Richard Conlin. As a result of this close election, Conlin's monopoly on his seat at the city council was significantly weakened. In contrast, progressive council members Nick Licata and Mike O' Brien won re-election with a significant majority of the vote.
Washington State's Initiative 522 would force food producers to label genetically modified organisms in grocery stores. As of this writing the initiative has failed to gain support from rural farming regions in the eastern part of the state. King, Jefferson, San Juan and Whatcom County vote counts show I-522 winning but most of the state is still either undecided or has voted against GMO labeling at this point. Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and other multinational corporations spent millions of dollars to fight GMO labeling initiatives in Washington and California. These giant companies may once again win the day with their negative advertising campaigns.
The Seattle Times carried a headline news story saying that Initiative 522 could influence lawmakers in the US Congress who are considering national legislation to label genetically modified food. 24 states now have current or pending GMO bills.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association became the target of the Washington State Attorney General's office after a group called "Mothers For Labeling" filed a lawsuit against the GMA. Although the suit was thrown out of court, the Washington Public Disclosure Commission got involved when it was revealed that GMA had contributed $7 million to the "No on 522" campaign without disclosing that information to the public.
David Bronner of the famous Dr. Bronner's soap company was on hand to support the GMO labeling movement in Seattle. He told this reporter,
"Even if the initiative fails in Washington State, the labeling of GMO's will happen sooner or later. The campaign will continue."
Washington State government is controlled largely by Democrats, including Governor Jay Inslee, but there's always been a strong challenge from voters in the eastern portion of the state. Republicans living east of the Cascade mountains resent the fact that Seattle and the metropolitan Puget Sound area consistently outvote them on state political issues. There has even been talk of dividing Washington into two separate states. However, during this latest general election, the folks in Yakima, Richland and Spokane might have finally won the majority of the vote with their opposition to the labeling of GMO foods.
Despite the passage of previous laws legalizing same sex marriage and marijuana, conservative interests have blocked the progressives on this particular agricultural and food safety issue. It looks like the same arguments used to defeat a similar measure in California may have been effective in convincing the majority of voters Washington that GMO labeling is unwise.
There is a possibility that last minute tallies could change the outcome of the election. Washington has a mail only balloting system and there may have been a bigger "turnout" than expected. If a large enough majority of King County voters marked "yes" on their ballots, it could swing the election results on initiative 522.
The "Yes on 522" organizers are advising that it could be several more days before a final count will be possible. Until then they are crossing their fingers and hoping for a miracle.
A few of the Initiative 522 supporters expressed bitterness over the possibility that the measure could fail. A member of a local food co-op described the anti-labeling campaign as just one more example of how conservative and corporate groups have joined together to convince the public to vote against their own self-interest.
A volunteer for the "Yes on 522" campaign complained, "Why shouldn't we have the right to know what kind of food we're eating? It should be a basic civil right. We need to be informed of food ingredients. I'm not going to buy food for my children unless I know what's in it. The only reason the big GMO corporations are fighting this is because they realize that if people knew what was in the food, they wouldn't buy it!"
During her recent visit to Seattle, internationally recognized biodiversity expert Dr. Vandana Shiva told me, "Washington State's Initiative 522 is important for the future of the planet." Dr. Shiva maintains that genetically modified organisms have already damaged soil and are wreaking havoc on natural ecological systems.
One takeaway from the election so far might be that Seattle remains solidly progressive despite it's nouveau corporate culture, while much of the rest of the state is still divided on many social and economic issues.