Democracy Costs Port of Tacoma a Boatload of Nickels

The Nose, May 31, 2013, The News Tribune

Thomas Jefferson is often credited with saying: “Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty.”

That was quaint back in the days of powdered wigs and pantaloons. But in 2013, the price of democracy is well over a half million bucks. At least that’s what it will cost the Port of Tacoma to put four names on a ballot.

The Nose learned this week that the Pierce County Auditor will have to stick the Port with an estimated bill of $665,310 for a single race in the August primary.

For those of you scoring at home, that equals 13,306,200 nickels or 332,655 two-dollar bills — the currency that features President Jefferson’s eternally vigilant visage.

The Port Commission seat held by Connie Bacon is the only countywide race that drew more than two candidates, but county honchos aren’t allowed to cancel the primary election for lack of interest. They still must go through the motions of mailing ballots this summer to all 739,643 of the county’s registered voters.

And the Port will pick up the tab. (A handful of governments with local primaries will pay much smaller pro-rated amounts.)

Spokeswoman Tara Mattina said Port bosses didn’t plan for it, but they have enough cash in the operating budget to pay for it. Sometimes that’s the cost of democracy, she said.

Voters will have to choose between Bacon, Eric Holdeman, Dave Dormier and Andre (Doctor Dre) Young. Better start studying up on them now.

Or maybe not. We’ve dreamed up a win-win solution for everyone concerned.

Take just half of that $665,310 and split it between the three challengers on the condition that they drop out. They’d likely never earn that much at the Port, even after commissioners on Thursday voted to more than triple their salaries. (For more on the vote, see A12.)

With no election, voters wouldn’t be bothered to wake up from their long summer siestas, and the Port wouldn’t have to steer a Maersk containership of cash up to the county loading dock.

And best of all, Bacon would join the two uncontested port commission incumbents to continue their reigns without the hassle of a re-election campaign this year.

In these post-Jeffersonian times, shouldn’t our goal be to make democracy cost as little as possible — in money, time, effort and vigilance?

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