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Friday, November 23, 2007

The Apple Cup

For 100 years Washington State University and the University of Washington have played a football game that is now known as The Apple Cup. This year both teams are 2-7 and wretched, but equally wretched and inspired to salvage some scrap of dignity from the '07 season. A game between two mediocre (generous assessment) teams should make for thin gruel in this blog, but it explains a lot about Washington State. Folks from Washington always have to tack on "State" when traveling and have to tell people where they come from. Only citizens of New York State are subject to such an indignity. When was the last time you heard anyone talk about Oklahoma State or Georgia State when not referring to a university? I digress.

Washington is split by the Cascade range in a 1/3 - 2/3 arrangement. The East side of the State is dry, and agricultural, and much larger than the coastal area. The Western part of the State is industrial, wet and cosmopolitan. You could compare the two to the North and South before WWII. I currently live on the West side, but put in fifteen years in the East.

The East was good to me. I was welcomed, and had the opportunity to genuinely participate in public life. It was my most creative part of my life and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I made friends there who persevere to this day. My children were born 'or yonder. I love Eastern Washington, but it's a tough place to make a living or educate children. Eastern Washington is poor, well perhaps not so much poor but extremely economically stratified. Right next to the poorest (per-capita) county in the state, is the richest in family income. The rich county is also a land of huge wheat ranches and few people, hence wealthy families. The economy of Eastern Washington is a creation of the depression era Works Progress Administration that brought water and cheap electricity to pump it to the farms and orchards. Aluminum and defense (nuclear weapons) devoured all the excess power from FDR's Columbia River dams. The fact that Eastern Washington was a creation of federal subsidy made that side of the state solid Democratic. In the 60's things began to turn Republican. For the first time, much like the American South, the area was making enough money to start paying real taxes, and hated it. The Republicans built on this resentment. The only thing that keeps Washington from becoming another Mississippi is the fact that only about 30% of the State's population lives East of the Cascades.

Western Washington was Boeing for the longest time with the ensuing industrial unionization. From 1938 to the early '70s the aircraft boom seemed unstoppable. Then came the crash. By the mid 70's even with the problems in aerospace the West side still outpaced the dry siders in personal income, so paid the lion's share of State taxes. Today the disparity is even worse. Most West-siders don't spend a lot of time thinking about Eastern Washington, and this comes across as arrogant. Microsoft has made the urban sensibilities of the West even more cerebral and academic.

The University of Washington reflects the personality of its side of the State. Creative, huge and self centered. Washington State University originated as what was called a "Normal" college, more directed to training teachers and agricultural science. Time passed, UW got the State medical school, WSU got the veterinary school. UW got the law school, WSU got the school of dentistry. The agricultural extension services are run out of WSU while the scientific research is mostly done at UW. UW has almost half again as many students as WSU. Generally UW fields better football teams than the perennial Washington State's plucky contenders. The Dawgs are arrogant and the Cougs are hicks.

The tensions of rivalry can become palpable, and I'm not talking about football. With a 2/3 Democratic majority in both houses of the State legislature the minority Republicans have become irrelevant. This has driven the oft ignored East side absolutely nuts. The heartland of Republican politics has been nominating and electing stranger and stranger State legislators, making them more and more powerless. This is not healthy.

Don't misunderstand. I want the Democrats, and more specifically, liberal Democrats to succeed. In the city of Seattle proper politics can get pretty strange. I think it comes of spending months at a time in a dreary atmosphere of slow drizzle. Some folk have too much time on their hands, and spend their days working up petitions in support of undocumented alien trans-species Jello and ball bearing fetishists. I mean we've had hours of city council meetings regarding minorities that don't even exist as far as I can tell. This nonsense makes the paper, and drives our Eastern brothers and sisters absolutely nuts. In the East there are county commissioners who are stuck in 1953 Red Scare mode. That stuff also makes the papers. There is building resentment on the wet side over the fact that so much of their tax money goes East to counties who don't appreciate the subsidy.

The dysfunctional personality of our State makes us charming in a way, but inefficient as hell. We almost need ambassadors and trade missions to each other. The West side needs a place to dry out and take vacations, and the East side needs the money and medical facilities of the West. The UW/WSU Apple Cup serves as an outlet for some of the hostility, but we can do better.

My Call? WSU by five in a high scoring game.

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