Prediction #1: Our politics – and your politics-related anxiety – are going to get worse, not better

With the launch of 2018, it’s time to make a few predictions about the road ahead.  The first prediction isn’t going to make anyone really any happier, I’m sorry to say.

There have been a number of salutes to how tough 2017 was if you’re a fan of democratic institutions, fact-based conversations, and productive civil discourse.  Some of those salutes were pithy, of the one finger genre.

Regardless, many were based in the hope that things will get better in 2018, not worse.

But, don’t look now:  2018 is going to be far worse than 2017 for political discourse, with one important exception.  Here’s why.

  1. It’s an election year.  Our politics always become more divisive in an election year where, appropriately, the two parties make their best case for election in a district by district fashion.  The stress of campaigns, the uncertainty about the future, and the questions about policy direction all add up to a meaningful anxiety that, for the most part, we didn’t need to deal with in 2017.  It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
  2. Whatever honeymoon President Trump had is gone.  There will be an increasing willingness for vulnerable Republicans to distance themselves from the President, and an increased benefit for Democrats to attack him.  We’re not only closer to election day, we are farther from the point of deference to the commander in chief by other federal policy players.
  3. The US Senate doesn’t have a working majority.  With Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama, and the 51-49 split in the Senate, things are tight to begin with.  As Sen. McCain likely spends less time in the Senate to manage his brain tumor, that margin gets even more complicated.  Sen. Thad Cochran from Mississippi is also often away from the Senate for health reasons, meaning Sen. Mitch McConnell will have a hard time cobbling together a working majority to simply manage the basics of governance through the first part of 2018.

For us here in Washington State, there is one mitigating element that is certainly worth noting:  it’s likely that the legislative session will get out on time.

While most folks never believed that the session would get out on time last year, most people I talk with think it’s very likely to happen this year.

Members are looking to run for re-election.  During the legislative session, they can’t raise funds for their campaigns.  They can’t go doorbelling.  They can’t be in their districts making the rounds.

With Democrats controlling both chambers in Olympia, there is less of an opportunity for partisan gridlock.  Sure, the bond portion of the capital budget is an opportunity that remains, but if Republicans won’t go along with a capital budget sans a long term Hirst fix, there is nothing an extended session can do to change that.

The politics of getting out of town early make a lot of sense.

For the legislature.

And, here’s where things get interesting:  I predict Gov. Inslee openly talks about calling legislators back into a special session for purposes of passing carbon-related legislation that doesn’t otherwise get passed.  He may even do it.  It’s great politics for him, calling openly on the Democratic controlled legislature to pass a carbon bill.  And, he could use that press – as well as the bill – in his efforts to elevate his position in the national media.