Dr. Lilliana Mason answers an audience member’s question as fellow panelists Boris Shor, state Sen. Ann Rivers and state Rep. Eric Pettigrew (l to r) listen.
Washington is one of America’s most polarized states, ranking third most politically divided over the past three decades, a Capitol forum sponsored by the Foley Institute and Secretary of State Kim Wyman heard Friday.
A panel of legislators and academics said the 2016 primary season and the rise of outsiders as frontrunners is a symptom of a divided nation and the gridlock in Congress and some legislatures bespeaks a growing stark partisanship of lawmakers and voters.
Boris Shor of Georgetown University said his nationwide research shows that polarization is most marked in western states, led by California, Colorado and Washington during the past 30 years. Washington Democrats and Republicans haven’t changed greatly in their liberal and conservative bent, respectively, he said. He said he doubts the state’s Top 2 Primary system has led to more moderates getting elected, and that the two parties seem to be in very distinctive camps.
“Winning is more important than getting things done” for many American politicos, said Dr. Lilliana Mason of the University of Maryland. “It’s party over policy.”
People in general “see through partisan lenses” and often don’t mingle with folks from the opposite party, she said. It gets harder to compromise when people don’t think the other side share their values, she said. Panelists said that all across the country, people tend to sort themselves out geographically along political ideology.
Panelists Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, said highly publicized dustups and partisan fights in Olympia give the wrong impression that lawmakers are at each other’s throats all the time. In fact, most bills pass with better than 90 percent yes votes and there is considerable collaboration across the aisle on most important bills, they said.
The forum was live-streamed by TVW and will be posted on their website. Austin Jenkins, host of TVW’s Inside Olympia show and correspondent for Northwest News Network, was moderator. He noted that the Legislature is “about as narrowly divided as you can get” in both chambers. Some big-ticket items that have a partisan tinge have gone nowhere, including minimum wage and carbon emissions, but other accomplishments have been achieved, including last year’s state budget deal and the first transportation improvement package in a decade, he said.