Much has been made about Washington state’s recent electoral rift over car-tab fees and affirmative action.
Voters in only six of Washington’s 39 counties, including King, Jefferson, Thurston and Whatcom, rejected Initiative 976 which intends to cut car-tab fees to $30 but also cuts transportation funding statewide and in jurisdictions across the state. All but one voted for the failing Referendum 88, which would have repealed the state’s prohibition on affirmative action in public employment and education.
In the aftermath, politicos and commentators have crunched numbers and analyzed this stark rift. The reasons are far deeper than the allure of a catchy and misleading campaign slogan, in the case of I-976. Or the opportunism of R-88 opponents whose campaigns played on the confusion of how a referendum works.
The easy thing for urbanites is to dismiss everyone who lives outside those counties as money-grubbing, racist rubes. Or for the rural dwellers to shake their heads at the sanctimonious woke city dwellers, with tech dollars coming out their ears to pay taxes with, who don’t know what it’s like to have to drive 30 miles to town because there is no bus service and no jobs nearby.
For now, I’m going to set aside yet another analysis of the oft-lamented urban-rural divide. Instead, let’s peek beyond the Cascade curtain — both ways — and celebrate our connections and what we have in common. Walk with me here.
I spent the first half of my journalism career at small Eastern Washington papers and half at the state’s largest. Though a city girl, my first job was as a farm reporter writing not only about crop-devastating freezes and the farm program but also about the international connections sophisticated Washington producers had cultivated to sell their crops. A visiting Japanese wheat buyer joked at a Touchet cafe that his blood pressure rose and fell with the precipitation in Walla Walla County. Later, I toured his Tokyo factory, where I saw the milling of our low-gluten wheat, particularly suited for noodles.
In Seattle, you will see ferries chugging across Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier standing sentry over a region that is an international leader in digital innovation and global health. In Western Walla Walla County, you can see the mighty Columbia cut the semiarid shrub steppe habitat like a knife. Barges carrying wheat bound for Asia ply the river as it bends like an elbow into the Wallula Gap on the way to the Pacific Ocean.
In Whitman County, you will feel like an ant crawling across a crazy quilt as you drive Highway 195 through the undulating hills of the Palouse, planted in terraces and divided slopes to protect the soil. Yep, like art for soil’s sake.
In Yakima County on I-82, you will drive past hops — the better to brew IPAs for the world — and grapes whose qualities combined with wizardry have put Washington on the map as a source of exquisite wines.
In Kittitas County along I-90, you inhale the sweet springtime scent of blossoming orchards, apples of all varieties, cherries, peaches. Also near there, the unobstructed Eastern Washington sun bakes lowland air, which whooshes uphill, creating the perfect spot for wind turbines that generate electrons to zip through transmission lines to Puget Sound. Power generated at Columbia River dams help to keep the lights on, irrigation water flowing and factories producing across the region.
Yes, dear readers, this is one hell of a state, gorgeous in both lush forests and prickly sagebrush, sophisticated in digital platforms and drip-irrigation precision.
The ambition that established an international seaport more than a century ago, reached across the sea for customers and brought the world even closer through technology is a proud legacy that we all share, urban and rural dwellers alike.
Washington is world class in technology, medicine and agriculture. Couldn’t we also strive to be world class at understanding, rather than undermining? Could we try harder to discuss rather than dismiss?