Skagit County – The Fight to Defeat the Charter Initiative
Twenty-one days after the November 6th election, the excruciating slow process of counting votes in Skagit County was over. However, after only a week of sorting through ballots, it was evident the initiative to transform Skagit into a county that resembled its dysfunctional neighbors was soundly beaten back. In the end, voters turned down charter government by a 2 to1 margin.
An overwhelming majority of Skagit residents were not impressed by the arguments from the charter supporters that a new county governing structure needed to be implemented in order to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century, that seven to nine council members could provide better representation than the three existing commissioners, and Skagit had reached a population tipping point that required a new form of government.
Once before, Skagit County faced the prospect of charter government. In 2003, the then mayor of Mt Vernon, wanting more influence in county affairs, orchestrated the campaign. However, that effort ended in the measure’s defeat by an overwhelming 72% to 28%. This time, the results were similar. The final numbers are depicted in the image accompanying this post.
The effort to change Skagit County was a result of angry and frustrated environmental radicals who seethed over the fact that the three county commissioners ignored their demands on a number of issues. Realizing they had little chance of unseating any of the three, they chose instead to pursue changing the structure of county government.
At the beginning of 2018, the pro-charter organizers began unobtrusively visiting groups that shared their goals and views about the environment and politics in general. They explained the charter process and suggested that it was the fastest and easiest way of getting rid of the recalcitrant commissioners. Then they sought signatures on the petition that would put an initiative on the ballot during the general election.
With sufficient signatures obtained by August, the pro charter leaders intentionally held off dropping the petition until the last minute at the auditor’s office. To get on the ballot, the law mandates the number of signatures be at least 10% of the previous general election’s vote total. The election in 2017 featured mostly local city or town council races, mayoral contests in Anacortes and Burlington, and a smattering of levies. Turnout was predictably low, so the number of needed signatures were much fewer than what would have been required a year after a presidential or congressional election.
With the charter measure on the November ballot, those opposed scrambled to organize a credible response. They quickly chose a name; “No-On-Charter.” They established a steering committee, sought volunteers for freeholder candidates, began raising money to publicize the anti-charter campaign, and enlisted bipartisan support from leaders, past and present, in the Skagit community.
Thanks to some very generous donors, No-On-Charter could afford broadcast and online media as well as newspaper ads. This proved invaluable in getting the message out that the charter measure was a product of leftwing radicals who were attempting to gain control or at least substantially increase their influence in local county government, despite cloaking their rhetoric in platitudes and claiming they were just ordinary residents of Skagit concerned about good governance.
In addition, a small cadre of individuals took it upon themselves to submit letters to the editor of several local papers making salient points about the pitfalls of charter government as well as the true nature of the pro charter folks. Charter governments, especially in King and Whatcom, were used as prime examples of what to expect if Skagit decided to discard its current governing structure. Neither county council is noted for wise decision making.
A significant point made by those who were against the charter was that rural residents and especially farmers lost representation in favor of the more populous cities. This is a pattern seen time and again in the state’s charter counties.
Early in the campaign, the No-On-Charter committee encountered a significant if somewhat suspicious obstacle when faced with not being able to get their opposition position statement and rebuttal to the pro charter statement in the voter’s guide because of an unpublicized county elections department internal deadline. In many cases, the guide is the sole source a voter uses in determining how he or she marks a ballot. In a panic, the No-On-Charter committee contacted the county auditor, seeking her assistance. She personally interceded and directed the elections department to include the statements.
The pro charter crowd’s lack of awareness exposed them for who they were. In a gift to those working against the charter, the pro charter group published an article on their website, “Home Rule Skagit,” lamenting the defeat of Envision Skagit 2060, a so-called plan to lead the county into the 21st Century. The plan never received the support of the majority of county leaders and was shelved in 2013.
Envision Skagit 2060, besides being a waste of time and resources paid for with an EPA grant, was a blueprint for economic stagnation under the cover of leftwing policy fantasies. It was also a real threat to property rights. Using an Agenda 21 template, the plan advocated for downsized, crowded housing arrangements, dramatically increased mass transit, more green spaces with the vast majority of people confined to a narrow “urban growth area” corridor along I-5. Disturbingly, policy decisions were to be determined not only by elected officials, but also by private individuals.
After the election, one would think that the pro charter crowd, having just received a substantial defeat at the hands of the voters, would be reluctant to attempt another campaign any time soon. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
As of this writing, Home Rule Skagit has scheduled meetings for December 2018 and January 2019 to plot a path forward. Even though an overwhelming majority of Skagit voters obviously want to continue with a traditional county structure, the pro charter folks apparently intend to persist until they get what they want.
Knowing what’s best for everyone else is a quality that the arrogant left, especially the radical environmentalists in their number, possess in abundance. They want to order the lives of others based on their often peculiar world views and biases. However, they should know, at least in the case of another attempt at forcing a charter government on Skagit County, they will be met with stronger resistance next time. Bet on it.