Opinion

Mike McGinn Needs a Ron Sims Moment

By Josh Feit April 13, 2011

Back in 2007, a dissident environmentalist was leading an apparently foolish fight against expanding light rail. This Sierra Club purist didn't like that light rail expansion was tied to a massive roads package. The idealistic dissident, as we all know, was then-activist (now mayor) Mike McGinn.

The establishment liberals, including Gov. Chris Gregoire, were unified in their belief that 2007 was the last chance for light rail. If voters went against it, they warned, they'd never get a chance to vote on light rail again. As we all now know, the measure lost, and light rail went on to pass by itself in 2008, no roads necessary---just as McGinn had predicted all along.

A turning point in that campaign came when one member of the establishment, King County Executive Ron Sims (a Sound Transit board member), broke ranks and came out against the initiative. Support began to crack.

McGinn finds himself in a similar position today, hewing to his green ideals (or maybe it's his Grover Norquist ideals; it's hard to tell these days), battling against the $4.2 billion tunnel on the waterfront, while the liberal establishment is unified in support.

There's was even a bit of a reverse Ron Sims moment two weeks ago, when King County Executive Dow Constantine came out loudly for the establishment position and against McGinn. (Yes, Constantine was already a tunnel supporter, but he had never put himself out there as the front man for the cause the way he did at the anti-McGinn press conference he headed up with Gov. Gregoire earlier this month.)

[pullquote]Is there anyone, besides Mcginn's Sierra Club ally Mike O'Brien, who's willing to break ranks and agree with him?[/pullquote]

The question is: Does a Ron Sims exist on the tunnel issue? Is there anyone, besides Mcginn's Sierra Club ally on the city council, Mike O'Brien, who's willing to agree with him? I mean, come on, despite how annoying it is to listen to McGinn pontificate, he does make a lot of good points, primarily: Who is going to pay for this thing when it inevitably goes over budget?

Is anybody willing to stand with McGinn and ask the same question? Anybody? Evidently, not a single member of the Seattle delegation in Olympia. Not one of them would take McGinn up on sponsoring legislation this year to repeal the infamous provision that says Seattle area property owners have to pay for cost overruns.

One person I can think of who could turn the tide for McGinn: Adamant environmentalist Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA, 1). Yeah, yeah, I know. He's running for governor so there's no way he's going to defy labor on this (labor supports the tunnel in a big way). But check out this conversation I had with Rep. Inslee when the tunnel was first introduced. The guy started talking about the People's Waterfront Coalition.

Otherwise, I don't know who could provide McGinn's Sims' moment.

I guess there's always Sims himself.
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