For 19 years now, I’ve been doing these semi-annual endorsements of primary and general election races and ballot measures. In all that time, I can never remember a year in which a ballot was so…meaningless. In the first major election after voters approved (in November 2013) a measure to elect city council members by district and displaced a sinecured city council member (Richard Conlin) with an underfunded, openly socialist challenger (Kshama Sawant) – both powerful statements of voter dissatisfaction with the chronic lack of local electoral choices – we have a primary ballot that is a stunning reminder of why people are pissed off about that. For much of Seattle, only one ballot item – Proposition One, city leaders’ effort to create a new Metropolitan Parks District – is even remotely contested on the August 5 ballot. There are no other ballot measures – not even housekeeping ones – and in almost every other election race, an incumbent is either unopposed or faces only token opposition. Only three state legislative district seats in Seattle, out of the two dozen or so on the ballot, are even remotely interesting – and in each of those, there’s still a heavy favorite.
It won’t take you long to fill out your ballot – but that means it’s even more important to support candidates who challenge an all-too-comfortable status quo, especially in the 43rd District (Capital Hill/University District/Wallingford), where climate scientist and Sawant ally Jessica Spear is challenging House Speaker Frank Chopp.
It also means that, more than ever, the usual caveats apply: do your own homework (it won’t take long), and don’t rely on voting to change things. Activism creates the support that makes good candidates possible and then helps them win. Voting alone is never enough.
US Representative: Four congressional seats – the 1st, 7th, 8th, and 9th districts – are partly or wholly in the Seattle area. None of the incumbents face serious challenges. Seattle’s Jim McDermott (WA-07), who occasionally gets a helpful challenge from the left, faces two permacandidates – Doug McQuaid, who, you may not recall, ran for mayor last year and the Washington Supreme Court in 2012, and GoodSpaceGuy, who has run every year since 2001 – the movie – and two fringe Republicans. Suzan DelBene (WA-01) and Adam Smith (WA–09) will vastly outspend their Republican opponents. And the Eastside’s Dave Reichert, the lone Republican west of Washington’s Cascades, inexplicibly faces two week Democratic challengers, Jason Ritchie being the less non-credible. Why can’t state Democrats recruit anyone decent to run against Reichert? For five cycles now, the Democratic nominee didn’t come with advance party backing, even though Sheriff Hairspray has a voting record that is almost entirely aligned with the lunatics who now control his party and is eminently beatable. Not this year, though.
State Legislature: Only a handful of the local races are worthy of interest. In all of the others,the incumbents will continue their lifetime sinecures, untroubled by the prospect of any voter accountability at all.
District 32, Senate: Democrats in this North Seattle/Shoreline district hate each other – at least, the party activists do. Continuing a feud that has dragged on for a decade, Sen. Maralyn Chase is facing a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Chris Eggen. The acerbic Chase rubs a lot of people the wrong way. She’s also one of the most progressive voices in a state senate currently controlled by Neaderthals. Maralyn Chase.
District 33, Representative #2: This Des Moines seat is worth mentioning only because incumbent Democrat Rep. Mia Su-Ling Gregerson is being challenged by the execrable Jeanette Burrage. Those with long local political memories may recall Burrage, a notorious local figure in the 1990s who was Full Metal Wingnut long before the Tea Party was a thing. Back then, she was booted off booted off a municipal judgeship and a state legislative seat for her loony and decidedly pre-Enlightenment views, but has made a comeback since the national discourse has proven her merely ahead of her time. She’s now on the Des Moines city council and is looking to inflict herself on Olympia again, a fate any sentient being should view with dread. Vote for Gregerson, many times if necessary.
District 37, Senate: Hate Free Zone and OneAmreica founder/former leader Pramila Jayapal has been doing her best to buy herself a sinecure to replace the retiring Sen. Adam Kline in this Southeast Seattle district. Jayapal has done some truly great things in her activist career, but she’s also been sucking up to big money and The Usual Suspects for years in preparation for this run and also has a reputation for treating staff poorly and not playing well for others. Plus, at least two other people in this six-person race have equally good resumes: veteran activists Sheley Secrest and our choice, Louis Watanabe..
District 43, Representative #2: House Majority Leader Frank Chopp loves to regale people with stories of his days as a cutting-edge housing activst with the old Fremont Public Association in the early 1970s. However, that was over 40 years ago. Far more relevant is his long time leadership of House Democrats, for which he’s positioned himself as one of the more conservative Democrats in Olympia even though he represents the state’s most liberal district. Does that sound right to you?
It didn’t in 2012 for an unknown socialist named Kshama Sawant, who pulled a then-unprecedented 29 percent challenging Chopp. Now, much to his irritation – Frank Chopp is a man who gets easily irritated by people who question, well, anything about him – one of Sawant’s Socialist Alternative allies, Jessica Spear, is challenging him again. Spear is not Sawant – she’s a decade younger, and her training is as a climate scientist (a perspective Olympia could badly use). But she’s just as smart and articulate, and her focus on economic advocacy for people never heard from in Olympia is the same. Plus, she’s a climate scientist. How cool is that? Jess Spear.
Olympia Delegation Members Who Aren’t Being Seriously Challenged But Whose Sinecures are Worth Supporting:Rep. Luis Moscoso (LD 1), Rep. Zack Hudgins (11), Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36), Rep. Reuven Carlyle (36), Rep. Roger Goodman (45), Rep. Gerry Pollet (46).
King County Prosecutor: Republican Dan Satterburg is unopposed. Again. Skip it.
Northeast District Court Electoral District, Position 3: This is the only contested judicial primary this year; there will be several other contested races in November, Northeast Seattle and King County voters must eliminate one of three candidates. We vote to kick Lisa O’Toole off the island; she’s the prosecutors’ and cops’ candidate. The other two, Marcus Naylor and Rick Leo, both currently temporary and fill-in judges, are both decent and have very little to distinguish them apart. Hopefully both will survive the primary. As a former longtime public defender, we’ll go with Marcus Naylor.
City of Seattle Proposition 1 (Metropolitan Parks Dist.): Billed as a replacement for a parks levy, this measure has the support of every elected official in Seattle history, even the dead ones. It avoids the I-747 Eyman lid on funding by creating an independent parks district, with the same boundaries as the city of Seattle and run by city council members. In this way the new Metropolitan Praks District (MPD) can raise the money it needs to address a serious backlog of maintenance and parks development.
There’s no question that after a decade-long orgy of capital and general fund spending for South Lake Union, streetcar trolleys, and other developer welfare, the city has serious problems with not only parks, but any number of other infrastructure-y things it should have been funding instead. It’s been a long-time council strategy to go for money the public supports spending – parks, libraries, education, and so on – in levies, while less popular stuff gets slipped into the less visible general fund budget. So the city’s parks really do need this money. But this is a long-term solution – and a really bad one – for a short-term problem.
For years, after SPD, the city’s Parks Department has been the most controversial of the city’s departments, owing largely to the city’s attempts to extract as much money as possible from its parks through user fees, corporate use, and privatiation schemes. Some of those plans have actually been stopped, as with the ill-farted attempt to turn GasWorks Park over to a concert promoter for the summer a few years ago. But good luck doing that when Parks has the same arrogant staff but is answerable not to the mayor, but strictly to city council members who will never, ever lose their seats over what an “independent” parks district does. With its own separate taxing authority, it’s a setup for corruption similar to the Port of Seattle, only without the accountability.
What can the new MPD do? Campaign literature shows all the shiny new projects proponents say it will fund, but those aren’t part of this measure – only this structure, which cannot be repealed in the future by voters, is up for a decision. Afterwards, the MPD, which can raise property taxes in the city by up to 75 cents per $1,000 of valuation without a vote (that’s about $300 a year for a $400,000 property), can fund whatever it likes. In the future, under state law, it can also privatize or sell off parks, go into the convention center business (why not? The Port of Seattle did), or whatever else it likes. Good luck trying to stop any of it.
Essentially, this is a new, big pot of money for The Usual Suspects to raid, from a parks system that has a dubious recent history and all sorts of valuable real estate. If that seems cynical, remember that everything – everything in Seattle poliics right now is being driven by developers and real estate.This is no exception. Seattle’s Parks need better, more stable funding – but though a far more accountable mechanism than this. No.
Jeff Smith July 26, 2014 at 4:38 pm
thanks for this blog. the writing is crisp and clear. I really like the radio show. Good luck to “Eat the State” and its successor states.
Michael Bischoff July 26, 2014 at 5:18 pm
“Activism creates the support that makes good candidates possible and then helps them win. Voting alone is never enough.” I like that quote. Whoever said that was a smart dude…
doug July 27, 2014 at 2:32 pm
I admit to not paying attention in the past which is why I maybe am confused now. Geov is saying that with this new proposed structure developers could get their schemes passed through the City Council easier than they can currently get them past the Mayor? In theory, at least, it seems to me that resistance might be more easily developed in a 9 person City Council than in a 1 person Mayor.
Geov – Post author July 28, 2014 at 1:30 am
Hi Doug – The city council has that oversight function at the committee level now. In the past, the Mayor appointed the head of the Parks Dept., council confirmed him, council approved the operating and capital budgets (as part of the overall city budgets), and ongoing oversight (as with each city department) is assigned to a committee with a rotating chair.
Under the proposed new structure, the full council has responsibilty for all of the district’s functions. In all likelihood, this will mean that more of the oversight of daily functions will either be offloaded into an ad hoc council committee, or to Parks District staff. Staff will almost certainly have more power – because the Parks District’s leadership operates independently from the mayor, and because ongoing oversight can be handled (or not) by council in any way it likes, not just the current committee structure. But more importantly, the Parks budget is independent from the city – there’s no need to balance it with the rest of the city’s budget, and a fairly high amount of taxes can be raised without voter approval. That’s why it sets up as a lucrative pot of money for the Usual Suspects, in ways that are unnecessary and have nothing to do with solving the current underfunding of parks.