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Demos impress in new primary

Washington’s new primary system produced some interesting results in Island County.

This primary was noteworthy because for the first time in 70 years, voters had to express a party preference by selecting the ballot of one party only. No more “blanket primary” ballot that included all candidates.

The primary ballot choices resulted in one big question for this county’s political cast: Where’d all the Democrats come from?

Island County is traditionally a Republican stronghold thanks to Oak Harbor’s large population of conservative voters. But in the primary election, 11,737 voters chose the Democrat ballot, while only 9,776 chose the Republican ballot.

This resulted in some weird polling outcomes. Mike Shelton, our veteran Republican commissioner, received only 2,229 votes, barely more than half that of Democrat Dean Enell’s 4,490 votes. Of course, this vote was conducted only in District 1. When the entire county votes Nov. 2, the advantage may swing back to Shelton. Still, it’s not a very impressive performance for an incumbent in his home district to be outpolled so thoroughly.

Even more curious is the race for Position 2 in the State House, 10th District. Incumbent Republican Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor got 6,832 votes, but her opponent, novice Democrat Mark Norton of Camano, drew 7,070 votes. Chances are, not one person in a thousand on Whidbey Island would recognize Norton’s picture, but he still out-polled the well-known incumbent.

In fact, Democrats “won” virtually every primary race in Island County, from U.S. Senate and governor on down to county commissioner. When a Republican finished ahead, it was because the heavier Democratic vote was split.

Republicans argue that many of their persuasion stayed home during the primary because most of the hot races involved Democrats. But this argument is offset by Island County’s impressive primary turnout by 54 percent of the registered voters -- among the highest turnouts in the state. If so many Republicans stayed home, how could turnout be so high?

We’re not ready to announce a political sea change in which Island County has swung over to the Democrats. But the primary shows they’ve made impressive political inroads due, perhaps, to the high growth rate in recent years on South Whidbey and Camano Island.

The primary also sends a message to all citizens in Island County: Make sure you vote Nov. 2, or you may be in for a rude awakening when the election results are known.

Board makes correct decision

The Oak Harbor School Board proved it can read the handwriting on the wall last week by opting to present only a single levy proposal to voters next spring.

The board had considered two levies, one to continue existing program funding and the other to cover other costs, including further subsidizing employee health insurance costs.

Presenting two school levies in a town famous for rejecting most levies was risky was a risky proposition to begin with, but then the Oak Harbor Library levy went to voters Sept. 14. Only 39 percent of the voters supported the $12 million downtown library -- a clear signal that voters are in no mood to support anything that could be described as sumptuous, deluxe, fancy, or even extra. They’ll settle for the present library, thank you, until a more modest proposal comes along.

On top of the library vote was public feedback on the idea of local taxpayers paying more for school employees’ health care. Sure, health care costs are skyrocketing, but that’s true for everyone. Not many people wanted their property taxes to go up in order to pay for someone else’s health care. That’s the state Legislature’s problem, as the state is responsible for basic education including employee benefits.

The school board showed good sense in opting for the single levy aimed at maintaining existing programs. Now, it has a good chance of passing.

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