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Originally published Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 12:25 AM

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Lynne Varner / Times editorial columnist

Time for a much-needed shower and a new round of 'yes we can'

It was a hellish election, whether you were a Democrat battling to retain power or a Republican fighting tea party enfant terribles for airtime, writes Lynne K. Varner. Now it's time for the voters to wash off the campaign-ad muck and for winners to start solving the nation's problems.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

I don't know what time you went to bed last night, but I bet we woke up in similar emotional states: R-E-L-I-E-V-E-D.

First order: Take a shower and wash away all of the political ick. Take your time. Judging from what I saw this election season, it will take a good luffa scrubbing to remove the mud.

Today is a fresh start, an opportunity to feel and be better. From this point on, acting ugly is for losers, a surprising mix of Democrats and Republicans.

Take the advice of Rep. Reuven Carlyle, who enjoyed a Sunday-style coast to re-election and who greeted his Facebook friends on Tuesday with this generous appeal:

"Please have an open and gracious heart for both the winners and those who will lose today."

Amen.

Looking back with clarity presented by the clearing smoke, we can all agree that it was a hellish election, whether you were a Democrat battling to retain power or a Republican fighting tea party enfant terribles for airtime. This past election will go down as the most expensive midterm contest and one of the most cantankerous in the history of American democracy.

Who wouldn't want to wash that right out of their hair?

I learned some things from this election — for example, how low some humans can sink. Apparently low enough to literally kick a person in the head because they differed on political ideology. And I learned the loudest, most well-heeled voices prefer to let anonymous campaign donations speak for them.

Predictions point to political gridlock, which isn't exactly what we voted for. The political left and right don't have to lock arms and launch into a round of Kumbayas. That unity ship sailed long ago.

But there's work to be done. In the weeks before Tuesday's election, I drove out to the foot of Mount Si to talk to child-welfare advocates, social workers and others who make up the Children's Alliance advocacy group. I listened to them make credible, cogent arguments for a host of important needs, including funding — rather than more cutbacks — for education and for programs that help abused women escape their abusers.

Before the election's reality descended, many in the room were placing their hope on the income-tax initiative to create a trust fund with 70 percent dedicated to K-12 and higher education and the other 30 percent to health care, including the state Basic Health Plan and long-term care.

But that failed.

Back to the Legislature to deal with a real problem. Support for education and health care, including medical care for kids growing up in poor families, has already been reduced. School systems are turning from the Legislature to their communities for extra dough. About $1.6 billion a year is currently collected in local levies, a growing reliance that eventually must be addressed by legislators.

Despite the rhetoric that ran rampant in the election, President Obama and Congress have done a lot: health-care reform, overhaul of the country's financial structure and revamping the student-loan process to make college more affordable, to name a few.

But other pressing issues loom, including a need for immigration reform. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals indicated this week that a federal judge went too far in blocking enforcement of all major provisions of Arizona's new immigration law. The panel's ruling could give police permission to demand papers from anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally and refer them to U.S. authorities for deportation.

As a result, the political mantra ought to remain "yes we can" because regardless of who's in office, there is a state and a country to run.

The political haze may be clearing for some time in Washington state, but let's turn to the future, where many challenges await those who successfully convinced voters they could resolve them.

Turnabout is fair play. In Congress, the House is now led by Republicans, the Senate by Democrats. Both parties are now on the hook. The instantaneous change demanded of President Obama is now demanded of Tuesday's victors. The clock begins ticking now.

Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is lvarner@seattletimes.com

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