A Private Drive

Backers of failed transportation Referendum 51 regroup—without greens who turned against their highway-heavy plan.

A Private Drive

EVER SINCE THE newspapers announced in November that Gov. Gary Locke would convene “a transportation summit to plot strategy for a new, leaner traffic-congestion relief plan,” Locke’s aides have insisted that, really, it’s no summit, just another meeting, and, by the way, it’s not open to the public. That might tamp down expectations, but it won’t mend the mutual mistrust between, on one side, Locke and other proponents of last month’s Referendum 51, and the environmentalists whose opposition helped crush the $7.7 billion gas-tax plan at the polls. Even before it convenes, this Thursday’s non-summit has exacerbated that ill will and compounded the uncertainty of who’s invited along in the uphill ride to craft and pass a transportation package.

THE DEC. 19 MEETING is summit-sized. Locke aide DeLee Shoemaker says 60 of some 100 invitees had confirmed as of last week. The “summit” label appeared in a Nov. 26 story by Dave Ammons, the veteran Olympia reporter for The Associated Press, who got wind of it before meeting plans had fully gelled. Ammons says he didn’t actually hear organizers say the S-word, but, “I used the term with at least one of them and wasn’t corrected. I think they got ahead of themselves.”

Whatever it is, Thursday’s session has two contradictory missions. Shoemaker says it gives the guv and R-51 co-chair Slade Gorton, the former senator, their “first opportunity to sit down with the organizing committee and supporters, people who’d done so much for this measure, and thank them.” At the same time, they’ll join “a broad spectrum of groups—business, labor, environmental,” plus “legislative leadership and regional government leaders” to ponder a post-R-51 strategy.

The contradiction lies between “supporters” and “environmental.” Green groups conspicuously shunned R-51. Those most focused on transportation issues, 1000 Friends of Washington and the Transportation Choices Coalition, opposed it outright, as did the Sierra Club, on grounds that it allocated too much to wasteful highway projects and too little—less than 20 percent—to transit and other alternatives. “They need to put in at least a third,” says Aaron Ostrom, executive director of 1000 Friends.

The more broadly based Washington Environmental Council (WEC) and Washington Conservation Voters deferred to the transportation activists and took no position. That was perceived as tacit support, and Shoemaker says those groups are invited, though they were omitted—supposedly inadvertently—from the first round of invitations. But WEC policy director Josh Baldi says the perception of tacit support was mistaken. “We had too much else on our plate then,” he says. “It looks like we’ll play more of a role in transportation now.” And, he expects, take a united stand with “our partners in the environmental community”—including 1000 Friends and the Choices Coalition. “The values of the community are broadly consistent.” Translation: The environmental bloc won’t fracture over this issue—but it might act more judiciously in the future.

Ostrom and Peter Hurley, executive director of the Choices Coalition, speak as though they’re sitting in the catbird seat. “Our assumption is when they’re ready, they’ll come to us,” says Ostrom. “Given that most of the attendees represent the 38 percent who voted for R-51, rather than the 62 percent who voted against it,” says Hurley, “I don’t expect much” from Thursday’s gathering. “If we’re truly going to get solutions the public will vote for, we need to hear from the people who voted against this.”

But most of those people seem to care more about greenbacks than green policies. Stephanie Bowman, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s government- relations director, says poll data the Chamber received last week showed transit and environmental issues concerned “30 percent, tops” of the “no” voters. That would swing most contests, but R-51 would have died anyway: Most nays worried about accountability and cost. “If we invited environmental opponents, we’d have to invite the anti-tax people,” says Shoemaker. “That wouldn’t be appropriate at this point.” Translation: Why help Tim Eyman grandstand?

THERE’S ANOTHER REASON R-51’s battered backers resist sitting down again with 1000 Friends and Hurley’s coalition: They still resent the groups opposing publicly what they’d supposedly approved in legislative negotiations. “I was in the meeting,” says Bowman. “They did specifically agree to that package.” House transportation chair Ed Murray, one of the greens’ best legislative friends, likewise recalls, “We all thought their representatives agreed to a package.”

“Not true,” insists Ostrom. Hurley says they assented to a House package but then, without consultation, legislative leaders adopted a Senate version that kept the same amounts for transit but gave $2.7 billion more to highways. That “harmful” addition was the sticking point. “We were playing politics in a way they’re not used to politics being played,” says Hurley—demanding less money, not more.

Perhaps, as Murray suggests, that’s “amateur” lobbying. Regardless, Murray says, everyone needs to get over it and get on with it. “They have to be players, all of them. Excluding people doesn’t get us anywhere.”


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