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Originally published December 16, 2009 at 4:12 PM | Page modified December 17, 2009 at 11:48 AM

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Corrected version

Crushing the illusion of nonpartisan King County Council

The effort to fill the King County Council seat of new County Executive Dow Constantine reveals a council still stuck in partisanship, though voters opted to make the council office nonpartisan last year.

IN an election overshadowed by gubernatorial and presidential contests, voters last year opted to change the Metropolitan King County Council from a partisan to a nonpartisan office. The vote was one thing, the reality quite another.

A perfect example includes the political high jinks associated with naming the council replacement for longtime Democrat Dow Constantine, the new county executive. His departure leaves eight members — four Democrats and four Republicans — or, four former Democrats and Republicans.

At risk of crushing the illusion, harsh partisanship reigns. Yes, the council voted unanimously for the budget. But when it came to creating a process to replace Constantine — a process! — the council broke along party lines, 5-4, with Constantine breaking the tie before becoming executive.

Then came Monday's more-pronounced outbreak of party fever. The council deadlocked along party lines, 4-4, for state Sen. Joe McDermott, a Democrat, and another 4-4 vote, for outgoing Seattle City Councilmember Jan Drago, a more business-oriented Democrat.

No decision, no deal. Democrats supported McDermott; Republicans said no. Republicans supported Drago and Democrats said no.

It will take time to wash the partisanship out of the council. Since these council members were all elected as Democrats and Republicans, there is no secret about party affiliation. Council members still caucus weekly as Democrats and Republicans.

Councilmembers Bob Ferguson and Reagan Dunn attempted to launch a suburban caucus, but that fizzled for lack of interest.

In the old days, precinct committee officers in a council district would offer recommendations to fill a vacancy.

But now the council had to establish a new process.

So far, not so good. The council is officially nonpartisan but the culture has not changed. The council remains partisan in many ways. Citizens should watch to see how long it takes for the council to pick a successor for Constantine. The next attempt comes in January.

Joe McDermott is a state senator. This editorial originally said he was a representative.

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