We're living in a different region and country now than we were a year ago - more different than was true of the year prior, a year ago at this time. Some trends of significance spun around in whole new directions; some others picked up fresh speed.
We can't know for a while, of course, which will be sustained or overhauled in the next year or two. But let's take a moment and relfect on some of what made 2006 consequential for the Northwest . . .
Initiative-by-rich-ideologue turned back. It's worth remembering that when the batch of initiatives funded by wealthy out of state interests reached ballot status in Washington, Oregon and Idaho (and elsewhere) in mid-year, the common assumption was that most of them at least would pass easily. Instead, they got slammed, decisively: Property measures in Washington and Idaho, budget measures in Oregon, and more.
Part of it may come to this: At the beginning of the year, few people knew the name "Howard Rich," and by late fall, it was a household word. That astounding development was in effect a lifting of a curtain to show the guys operating the machinery - and once voters understood how they were being manipulated, they reacted. This is a development new in recent years, and it could fundamentally change politics in the region and beyond for years to come.
Unified government in Oregon. Oregon has not had a governor and unified legislature of the same party in 16 years. Or consider this: 2007 will mark the first time in half a century that all three Northwest states have had unified governments - governor and both legislative houses controlled by the same party. Is that of interest to anyone but a political scientist? That depends on what those unified parties do with their pwer, what affirmative uses they put it (and poor ideas they refrain from).
Republicans in Oregon: No obvious direction. To restate a point often made in the afterwash of the November 7 election, Oregon Republicans have come to a crisis point. For years, they have operated under the theory that if they could only nominate a candidate for governor who wasn't tagged as "far right" and weighed down with social conservative baggage, they could - no, would - win. In 2006 they did what Democrats did in the 2004 presidential race, nominated a candidate (Ron Saxton) who didn't thrill but was thought to be the guy who could win. When he didn't, and in fact lost decisively to a Democrat who had no unworldly charisma or massive popularity going for him, the longstanding theory smash to earth. So the question: What should Republicans do now? If a Saxton couldn't win, then who will?
All of this is of issue in Washington too, where Senate candidate Mike McGavick was high on the list of the wise folks at the state GOP organization who figured he was positioned just about right - enough local background and social liberalism for the West Side, enough economic and other conservatism for the East Side - to pull off a win. His loss was the biggest for a Senate seat in the state in a generation. So now what?
Shifting the urban suburbs. The Eastside of King County is now Democratic. Not Republican, as it was six years ago, or mostly Republican as it was four years ago, or marginal, as it was two years ago. The city of Boise has made almost a precisely comparable transition in these years - this is a city now (as it was not in the last mayoral election) where a candidate with Democratic background finds it of more benefit than handicap. In more subtle ways, pieces of Washington and Clackamas counties (in the Portland Tri-Met) did the same. How long-standing will these holds be? A question to ponder till the next election.
Albertsons going away. The corporate grinder in 2006 took away one of Boise's, and Idaho's, landmarks with the sale of Albertson's, one of the largest supermarket chains in the country. Sure, there are still "Albertsons" stores around. For how long is another matter; by year's end the renaming was already underway in some parts of the country.
Emergence of illegal immigration as a big but not sucessful political issue. Up to 2006 this seemed to be a perennial underground issue, one that touched a lot of nerves but that politicians seemed reluctant to grapple with. But beginning early in the year and continuing through most of it, the issue gained visibility. It failed, however, to elect: Its big proponent in Idaho, Robert Vasquez, lost his primary race (though he came in second out of six candidates), and in Oregon Ron Saxton seemed on balance to lose more than gain out of it.
Housing market hits the brakes. This seemed to come as a shock to some; to us, the slowdown arrived about on schedule. And we'll predict further the trend will accelerate in 2007.