Opinion

Primary voting rights restored

Washington voters had their rights restored earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, and as a result, we can look forward to a very interesting primary election in August.

The high court ruled that the Top Two primary approved by voters in 2004 is constitutional. So, this August voters will receive a list of candidates and the parties they associate themselves with, and can vote for whomever they want. The top two, regardless of party, will advance to the general election.

Democratic and Republican leaders are aghast by the change, as years of court challenges had succeeded in closing Washingtonians’ beloved blanket primary, which allowed voters the freedom to vote for whomever they wanted in the primary. Party leaders insisted that wasn’t right, that voters should only choose from the ballot of one party, and that the parties should control who is listed. This came to an ugly climax in February when this state’s proudly independent voters were forced to choose a Democrat or Republican ballot in the presidential primary. Independent-minded voters who refused to declare a party preference lost the right to vote.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Top Two case came as a surprise after years of the courts siding with the parties. This victory for the people is the result of an appeal by the Washington State Grange, and arguments by Attorney General Rob McKenna. Both deserve praise for representing the interests of the people, not the parties.

The Top Two primary gives the people a check on the political power of the parties. In a nation of checks and balances, that is how it should be. If parties nominate close-minded goose-steppers sworn to follow the party line, then the voters can choose someone else who shares the party’s basic principles but is more open-minded. This should result in more rational people being sent to Olympia and Washington, D.C., and preclude the possibility of either party being taken over by dangerous true-believes.

The Top Two primary also opens the interesting possibility that two people of the same party could advance to the general election. It could happen in staunchly-Republican North Whidbey, for example. A Democrat is unlikely to beat a conservative Republican, but perhaps a more liberal Republican would have a chance of finishing second in the primary. Then the more liberal candidate would have an advantage in the general election when Democrats would be looking for a candidate, since no one from their own party would be on the ballot. The previously entrenched conservative would have reason to worry.

In short, the first Top Two primary this Aug. 19 promises to be an exciting exercise in local politics and open government. That’s what happens when the courts dare to give some power to the people.

School bid

on the mark

Oak Harbor School District and its representatives did a fine job of estimating the cost of the new career and technical building that is part of the $54 million remodel bond approved by voters in 2006.

In an era when construction project bids of all types have been coming in much higher than anticipated, this latest bid was a refreshing change. The school district estimated the cost at $8.7 million, while the winning bidder, Ebenal Construction, said it will do the job for $7.6 million.

This should spare the school board the pain of paring back the project, as happened when Wildcat Memorial Stadium came in over bid. Coupeville experienced a similar situation when its new high school cost much more than anticipated and plans had to be scaled back.

With an acceptable bid secured for the 28,000-square-foot career and technical building, school officials can now proceed with confidence as the rest of the remodeling project is pursued. As long as costs continue to be correctly estimated, there will be no major disappointments as the project proceeds.

It’s important that estimates be close to the accepted bid, as this gives the public confidence that those in charge of spending the people’s money know what they’re talking about. As anyone who has experienced a kitchen remodel knows, it’s not easy to correctly estimate the cost of a job. School officials deserve credit for getting it right. Of course, the school board still has to make sure the amount bid is the amount spent, and avoid any change orders that seem excessive.

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