Teen dance fix nixed

Last week, supporters of efforts to bring all-ages dancing back to Seattle notched one glorious victory and one crushing defeat.

On Monday, the City Council approved a new set of laws superseding the archaic and punitive 1985 Teen Dance Ordinance. Two days later, Mayor Paul Schell vetoed the package.

Although the council approved the bill by a 7-1 margin, it will be hard to find six votes to override Schell's veto. Two members of the majority—Richard McIver and Jim Compton—were part of a group of council members who attempted to amend the ordinance at that same meeting. So, factoring in absent Council President Margaret Pageler, council members who support young people possess only a narrow 5-4 majority. Of course, Jim Compton could stand up and take a tough vote to defend City Council authority against a meddling mayor, but nobody's counting on that.

Assuming that Schell's veto stands, I have a suggestion for what council supporters of the All-Ages Dance Ordinance should do next.

Nothing.

That's right, no negotiations, no horse-trading, no closed-door meetings. Nothing.

Consider the situation: These new regulations were drafted over an 18-month period by a citizens' task force (which included a representative from the mayor's office). They were approved by a majority of council members. Then, within two days, the mayor not only vetoes the package, but also proposes 11 significant changes to the legislation—basically, a complete rewrite of the law by executive fiat.

Why negotiate? Giving Schell any concessions would allow him to declare victory, while ruining the carefully balanced system created by the task force and taking the issue out of public view. Just tell the mayor to take a hike, put the task force recommendations on the shelf, and see if next year's city elections bring either another progressive vote on the council or a new mayor.

If the issue remains unresolved, Schell has no choice but to address it during his re-election campaign. Remember, he ran as the "Arts Mayor" three years ago, but his only significant accomplishment in that arena is a recent plan to boost funding for the Seattle Arts Commission. Factor in his veto of the All-Ages Dance Ordinance and foes could argue that the Arts Mayor has actually had a negative effect on the arts in Seattle.

Taking it to the mayor politically would require some real discipline among the five council supporters of the All-Ages Dance Ordinance (Richard Conlin, Nick Licata, Judy Nicastro, Peter Steinbrueck, and Heidi Wills). It would only take one breakaway vote to pass a watered-down compromise version of the legislation. But an emotionally charged issue such as this one could forge a solid council bloc: Conlin's performance in the final council debate was easily his finest hour on the council dais, and his criticisms of Schell's veto were the sharpest jabs at the mayor in recent memory. "It's a real slap in the face for the citizens and city staff who participated in this process in good faith," Conlin said of the veto.

So slap back. This fight ain't over yet.

Louisiana bound

The New Orleans Saints, Mardi Gras, giant daiquiris in to-go cups—yes, the state of Louisiana has made significant contributions to our American culture.

Now there's one more Louisiana institution that may be ready for prime time: the state's nonpartisan political primary. Since 1977, the top two vote-getters in each political contest, regardless of political affiliation, have advanced to the state's November final election.

The state of Washington is currently in the business of primary shopping because the US Supreme Court recently declared that blanket primaries like ours (in which voters can choose between the candidates of all political parties) are an unconstitutional infringement on the right of parties to choose their own candidates. The Louisiana primary remains legal because the candidates technically aren't the nominees of either party—in fact, two Democrats or two Republicans can end up squaring off in Louisiana's general elections. But, if the party bosses have their way, Washington will choose between two more commonly used systems.

In an open primary, a voter arriving at the polls can ask for a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot. In a closed primary, the voter must have registered his party affiliation in advance. In both systems, the ballot includes only one party's candidates.

Either choice represents a comedown for Washington voters, who have been able to mix and match Demos, Republicans, and independents on their primary ballots since 1935.

The Louisiana primary could be the best available choice: Minor party and independent candidates would still be hard-pressed to make the final election, but would at least have equal access to the primary ballot. Voters in Seattle legislative districts might get to choose between two strong Democrats, rather than a Democratic powerhouse and a Republican sacrificial lamb. And us unaligned Washington voters could continue to vote for a Republican here and a Democrat there if we felt like it.

The Louisiana primary has its critics. The Center for Voting and Democracy blasts Louisiana's extremely low voter turnout and claims that the nonpartisan primary favors nonmoderate candidates such as Klansman David Duke, who made the final election in his 1995 run for governor. A good point, but Louisiana is lousy with rednecks; Duke had enough support to make the final election regardless of the primary system.

Maybe initiative maven Tim Eyman could push the Louisiana primary as his next statewide ballot issue. It's not as much fun as defunding public transit, perhaps, but it's time that boy made some contribution to democracy.

 
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