The so-called "blue wall" finally is a reality: In the three states of the West Coast, Democrats control both the governor's mansion and the statehouse.
Whether that makes much of a difference, at least in the short run, remains to be seen.
An election in a wealthy Seattle suburb last week turned the tide for Democrats in Washington state: There, after a remarkably expensive $9 million election campaign, a Democrat won a seat that had long been in Republican hands. (The Republican incumbent in the district, Andy Hill, died of lung cancer last fall.)
Democrats thought they had an excellent chance to win the seat and, in doing so, claim a tiny majority in the state Senate. And that's exactly what happened: Manka Dhingra defeated her Republican opponent, Jinyoung Lee Englund. One of the points in Englund's campaign was that divided government could offer an important check on Democrats, but she was fighting an uphill battle. The Republican candidate also suffered from being associated with President Donald Trump, even though she said that she had not voted for him.
In any event, Democrats now control state governments up and down the West Coast. And according to a recent story in The New York Times, Democratic leaders in the region are interested in solidifying the region's reputation as a locus of opposition to the Trump administration.
In fact, there's considerable interest among West Coast Democrats in working across state lines to craft sweeping legislation in areas such as gun control, contraception and environmental legislation. Sharon Nelson, the Democratic leader in the Washington Senate, already has met with Oregon legislative leaders, the Times reported.
And Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has like-minded colleagues in Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Jerry Brown. In particular, Inslee has been working toward enacting a carbon pricing plan along with Oregon, California and parts of Canada. Kate Brown has talked about pushing through an ambitious carbon pricing plan in next year's short session of the Oregon Legislature.
Since the story in the Times appeared, however, Inslee has moved to lower expectations from the "blue wall." There are good reasons why he's wise to do that.
For one, the Democratic margins in the Washington Legislature are tiny. Those advantages can disappear in the blink of an eye over a controversial measure: "With very closely held margins like this, neither party controls the Legislature," Inslee told a reporter after the election.
In Oregon, even though Democrats hold commanding edges in both houses of the Legislature, they do not have the required three-fifths majorities to push through tax increases, and plenty of legislative proposals have died on that hill.
And the 2018 elections, now not quite a year away, loom over all of this; although it's hard to see Democrats losing their edge in Oregon or California, even the loss of a seat or two could hamper blue wall efforts and could cost Democrats their hold over Washington state government.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what sort of regional efforts emerge during Oregon's short February legislative session. As we have frequently noted in editorials, these five-week sessions never were intended for sweeping new legislative proposals: The idea behind the short sessions was to have them focus on balancing the budget and tying up loose ends. We think it's wise to limit the scope of the short sessions. But if Oregon legislators did want to tackle something ambitious during next year's short session, our sense is that matters of more urgency await — for example, the mounting unfunded liability in the state's public pension system.
We'll leave you today with an interesting quote from The New York Times piece, in which Englund, the Republican candidate, again raised the specter of one-party government in Washington state.
"You don't want to go the way of Oregon," she told the paper. "Washingtonians are more independent." (mm)