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Originally published Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 12:20 AM

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Danny Westneat

An Eyman kind of year at the polls

As of today, a month before the November election, I'd bet Mike McGinn is going to be the next mayor of Seattle. And Susan Hutchison is going to be the next King County executive.

Seattle Times staff columnist

As of today, a month before the November election, I'd bet Mike McGinn is going to be the next mayor of Seattle.

And Susan Hutchison is going to be the next King County executive.

Why that odd couple?

Because it feels like a Tim Eyman kind of year.

Say what? Before you go pointing out the ways McGinn (a greenie liberal lawyer) and Hutchison (a sort-of-Republican former newscaster) have absolutely nothing in common with one another, let alone with Eyman (an anti-tax initiative mercenary), there is one key way their stars are aligning this year.

They are the anti-establishment. At a time when the old-guard power structure is about as popular as a swine-flu sneeze (see Nickels, Greg).

You can see the surly mood in a new poll on Eyman's latest: His government-limiting Initiative 1033 is ahead by a whopping 30 points, 61 to 31 percent.

My hunch isn't that voters think Eyman has stumbled on a brilliant idea (think the blind squirrel finding an acorn). It's that Eyman's longtime foil — government — seems tone-deaf right now to people across the political spectrum.

Enter McGinn.

"If you want a mayor who's going to go along with the same big businesses and unions that have set the agenda in Seattle for a long time, then I'm not your man," McGinn told me.

I watched McGinn as he went before The Seattle Times editorial board last week and proceeded to disagree with the establishment position about most everything.

He's not easily pigeonholed. Is he a liberal? Well, yes. But when he's indicting the shaky financing of the $4.2 billion waterfront-tunnel project you could be listening to ... Tim Eyman!

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"The tunnel's going to be the largest tax increase in Seattle history," he says, "and that's before the cost overruns. Shouldn't they let us at least vote on that?"

So both the business and labor establishments are rallying around McGinn's opponent, Joe Mallahan. The outsider status Mallahan once had now is blurred in a blizzard of checks from the insiders.

McGinn says he's no obstructionist. Except when government tries to foist stuff on people they don't want.

Such as the tunnel. Or that big roads and transit package in 2007. McGinn led the campaign to defeat that, then helped put just the transit portion back on the ballot. It won overwhelmingly.

"That isn't a record of obstruction, that is listening to what the public wants and then making it happen," McGinn argues.

McGinn is on to something. I'm opposed to a tunnel vote myself, as Seattle already seems bogged down in too much talking and not enough doing. But cynicism about government right now is epic. People see it as catering to narrow special interests.

So McGinn is offering a kind of lefty version of Eyman's populist pact. Go around the old power structure. Go straight to the public with your ideas. Or go the way of Greg Nickels.

Now over in the King County executive's race, there's no official Democrat vs. Republican anymore. But there is outsider vs. insider — a theme that's killing the insider, King County Councilmember Dow Constantine.

He's far more experienced and knowledgeable about the county's problems than Hutchison. Which she uses as a cudgel, asking: Well, then why haven't you solved them?

It's a good question he hasn't answered. Often his campaign changes the subject like this: Yeah, so. But you're a pro-lifer!

I don't think that's going to work. Hutchison probably is anti-abortion — she won't say, which is lame — but she's no right-winger. She supports domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians, Referendum 71. She backs putting a levy on the ballot for social services (which actually puts her to the left of Constantine).

And she opposes Eyman's initiative, saying it would be "a disaster."

Everyone's against Eyman, as usual. But it sure seems like his spirit is dominating the debate.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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