THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE – John Doyle spent Monday evening considering a possible alternative future for Skagit County governance, and thus the county’s citizens. The next vote might be three years away, but the retired town administrator patiently participated in a post election debriefing session organized by Home Rule Skagit. – Photo by Ken Stern
JOHN DOYLE HAS A PLAN – Retired La Conner Administrator John Doyle finds the 1880s era structure of county governance dysfunctional. He suggests citizens award a "golden toilet" monthly to draw attention to particular bad decisions and choices. – Photo by Ken Stern
If democracy must never sleep, the 28 people who met at the Burlington library Monday to discuss the defeat of the November “Yes on Charter” election measure are fully woke. They were asked by Home Rule Skagit, the grassroots citizens group that put the measure on the ballot and organized the campaign to pass it, to review the reasons for the results and to consider what needs to be done to convince Skagit County voters to vote yes in the future. An upbeat Gary Wickman, chair of the Home Rule Skagit steering committee, and election campaign leader, offered a detailed summary of the vote. The yes campaign was defeated by an almost two-to-one ratio and were short almost 17,0000 votes. They won two of 121 precincts, Guemes and MV 307, above I-5, east of downtown Mount Vernon. Included in the “Yes on Charter” vote highlights were that Senator Cantwell won the county, but 4,335 Cantwell voters did not vote on the Charter question. The Home Rule Skagit people define themselves as progressive and hoped for those votes. They also discussed the county’s Republican Party’s strong support of the “No on Charter,” leading the campaign. They noted that Democratic Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt joined Republican District 1 Commissioner Ron Wesen in speaking against having a charter. Wickman said the group is “considering filing a Public Disclosure Commission request to clarify the current commissioners’ activities related to the campaign,” to find out if commissioners used county resources for campaigning. “Yes on Charter” was outspent by almost three-to-one, $58,760 to $21,700. Wickman turned that into a goal of raising more funds for the next election. Others agreed that prominent leaders, elected or not, need to be visible promoters. Looking to the future, attendees were given post-it notes and asked to brainstorm to address four issues: 1. What went well? 2. What could have been better? 3. How can we increase turnout at public meetings? and 4. Things to do differently to win. There will not be a 2019 campaign, Wickman said, but he affirmed that they were looking ahead and needed to learn “how can we win the next election? What do we have to do?” The group then divided into four clusters for in-depth discussion. John Doyle, retired La Conner administrator and a freeholder candidate in the election, said they need to emphasize issues that relate to everybody and show the dysfunction of the government. “People say if it is not broke, don’t fix it,” Doyle said. “It is broken. It is not highly visible.” He sees that the structure of county government, and not the commissioners or staff, is at fault.
He suggested creating a golden toilet award and giving it out monthly to highlight the most broken parts and poorest decisions made. A short article cannot summarize all the ideas raised or the choices Home Rule Skagit organizers must make in going forward. There was overwhelming support for a 2021 ballot measure. Petitions gathered for an election that year will require many more signatures because the 2020 presidential election turnout will be high, and the number of signatures is a percentage of the prior year voter turnout. The election analysis showed the success of door-to-door canvassing. The group will expand its outreach to Hispanics and hold more than 24 town hall meetings. They will also consider a slate of endorsed freeholder candidates instead of having pro-charter candidates run against each other. And, a much larger campaign fund is a priority. Developing a charter will modernize Skagit County governance. The commissioner structure is based on the state’s 1889 constitution. The only way to change the 130-year-old rules the county is structured by is to elect freeholders to draft a charter. That charter then is approved or rejected by the county voters.