Answering a Seattle Budget Question

If you know me, then you know that first I talk about politics way too much and also, especially during the primary, I got kind of annoyed at how often candidates proposed new things to spend money on while not really having the revenue to pay for their proposals (or having revenue sources that won’t pan out for years if ever, like the city income tax). I did some basic searching and concluded that yes, indeed, the city budget has been going up. One thing I liked about Nikkita Oliver in the primary is that she really took the homelessness and housing affordability issues seriously to the degree she was unwilling to tell vocal constituencies like the bike lobby that she wouldn’t consider their favorite projects off limits for budget cuts. Now, I might disagree with any one thing she would want to cut, but I like the attitude.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to answer a few questions about the Seattle city budget:

Seattle Voter Guide, General Election 2017

You can safely skip this post if you don’t care about Seattle politics, don’t care about voting, don’t live in Seattle, just no politics please no no no no no, etc. But if that doesn’t scare you off, read on!

Primary to General!

First up, let’s just include everything from the primary post as all those candidates made it through to the general and are all still folks I am voting for. To summarize:

  • Teresa Mosqueda for City Council Position 8. I did this cool thing with The Evergrey and got to interview Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda on “leadership”. They haven’t posted yet, so I don’t want to give too much about the interviews away. The tl;dr for me is that I came out of it liking Grant more than I had previously and I believe some ideas I had about his leadership style that I considered negatives were incomplete … but not enough to vote for him over Teresa Mosqueda. While I continue to find a lot of the rhetoric and “contrast-making” happening in this race distasteful, and definitely think Mosqueda is stellar, it is not some bitter outcome if my preferred candidate doesn’t win (edited Sunday, Oct 29th, see addendum). Teresa does still preferentially say “kiddos” to refer to our children and I feel that is absolutely critical for good feeling and collegial spirit at boring city council meetings. 🙂
  • Lorena González for Position 9, duh. There was honestly no one else in the race, even in the primary, who had the depth of experience, policy, and proven effectiveness as Lorena.
  • Dow Constantine for King County Executive, duh.
  • Rebecca Saldaña for 37th LD state senate, but she’s running unopposed so that’s probably obvious. Also she’s pretty awesome and has been spending tons of her time campaigning and advocating for candidates all over her district and South King County helping especially first time candidates run and getting the vote out for them. If you live in the 37th, she’s doing GOTV events and a few minutes with Rebecca really helps make one believe in workable government.
  • Zach DeWolf still for school board director 5. He’s still awesome. Everyone I know loves him.
  • My choices for Port of Seattle Commissioners remain unchanged: Preeti Sridhar, Ahmed Abdi and Ryan Calkins. I had a great conversation with Ryan last week about creating a school pipeline (from high school into technical college) aiming kids into in-demand maritime, aerospace and “green” jobs that are more on the “trade” side of things than the “university” side which sounds really awesome and I hope we get to see where that goes.

New Races!

The way state law works for elections in (technically) non-partisan races, if there are only two or fewer candidates who file, then they skip the primary and are only on the general election ballot. So there are a few of those, plus a ballot measure and the other two school board races.

School Board

For the other two races I’m voting for:

  • Eden Mack. She’s been working on education a long while and has a ton of ties to the community and knows how to work with government. She co-founded Washington’s Paramount Duty which is a coalition of people who’ve been working tirelessly to fix state funding of education. Why wouldn’t we want someone on school board who understands how badly education funding is and can help the school district make the best of things?
  • Betty Patu is the incumbent but that’s okay. She’s very well trusted by a lot of folks on the south side so while I don’t know a lot about her or have needed to work with her, having that kind of trust from parents is really important for a school board member.

City Attorney

For reasons I can’t exactly fathom, we elect a city attorney who has an office devoted to legal stuff (“legal services”) for the mayor and the city. I support Pete Holmes because he’s doing a good job and it doesn’t seem like the kind of role where I believe in throwing someone out of office except for gross failures (much how I feel about judges). But I also have a little story. My ability and desire to be politically involved has varied a lot. At once point I thought I could help with petition signing and went to some training for the marijuana legalization effort. Pete Holmes was there and spoke about why it was so important that we get marijuana legalized. My mind was blown that a city attorney who presumably is very law and order would be supporting an effort to properly legalize it (which has long seemed obvious what with it being far less harmful than alcohol). It turns out I find gathering signatures for petitions intolerably awkward and never gathered all that many (I almost broke down crying at one point at the U district farmers market), but I’m still glad I tried if only because Pete Holmes helped make me less cynical.


We elect judges. They have to campaign, a little bit, and I think it’s kind of weird. Anyway, I really liked California’s system where judges were appointed and we merely voted to retain a judge which seems like if a judge really was messing up, you could mount what is essentially a recall election. But we don’t have that, so we vote on judges. These ones are pretty simple. In one position on my ballot, “Court of Appeals, Division 1, District 1, Judge Position 5”, there’s only David Mann. I’ve only had brief conversations with him, but he seems fine. The other judge race is “Court of Appeals, Division 1, District 1, Judge Position 2”. Michael Spearman is who I voted for here. I’ve actually met him and have some idea what he’s done … the other guy not so much.

King County Sheriff

This one has been an ugghhhhhh for me. The incumbent John Urquhart has a pile of allegations and rumors (of sexual assault, him covering up or ignoring workplace sexual harassment and gendered discrimination) and “maybe this was mishandled on his part, maybe it wasn’t, sure is hard to say”. At some point, it feels like ultimately something is there. Moreover, in this climate I feel like it’s reasonable to just not vote for someone you think might have mistreated women or non-white people, despite his otherwise fairly awesome record (he has actually fired cops who violated people’s rights). But the straw, for me, is that he joked about arresting our socialist city council member Kshama Sawant at a Republican party event. Now it’s fine that he was at a Republican party event — county sheriff is non-partisan and anyway he should be talking to everyone — and I even understand making jokes about the “Seattle socialist” to separate himself from her to such an audience, though it’s still kind of gross. What I don’t hold with is joking about arresting people. When the police arrest a person, even if they are quickly released and no charges filed, that is still the State using its power to constrain an individual’s liberty with force (even if the arrest is relatively calm and non-violent). It is a failure of society as a whole whenever the police are “forced” to arrest someone. It means whatever conflict was happening, the only immediate solution to keep it from getting out of hand, was to force individuals to do something they didn’t want to do, with the threat of force. Now a lot of the time when the police arrest people it really is probably necessary, such as a person who is suspected of committing violent crime (or in the middle of it!) But it’s never a joking matter. It means we failed as a society, even if it was a failure that happened twenty years before the arrest when a kid was born into poverty and abuse and didn’t get the same start that many of us get. Arresting folks isn’t a joking matter. The sheriff joking about it shows a cavalier attitude towards the underlying meaning of his office.

So, I just can’t bring myself to vote for him. His opponent, Mitzi Johanknecht, has good experience within the office so I don’t feel she’s a bad choice in terms of competence and preparedness for the role. I am concerned that she’s wishy-washy on sanctuary cities and has come out against community health engagement locations (aka “safe consumption sites” or in the inflammatory language “safe injection sites” or worse). My feeling is that her positions on those subjects is more about gaining support from people who, unfortunately, are worried about those things (we have a lot of work to do to help there be fewer folks who are against these policies), but in any case, the county sheriff doesn’t get to decide those policies and thus will be constrained by circumstance. I trust the King County Council and Executive to make sure their policies are carried out properly.

King County Proposition 1, Levy Lid Lift for Veterans, Seniors and Vulnerable Populations

This is a smallish property tax levy, replacing an expiring levy with a slight increase. I’m kind of tired of property taxes being all we have for this stuff, and people, even in my “liberal” district are justifiably tired of how we fund things, but I can’t just bring myself to vote against something that is currently helping some of the most vulnerable people in the county. It’s like $37 a year for my family’s home which is actually above the average for a property in King County.

Some Quick Pleas

I’ve been paying a lot of much more detailed attention to the mechanics of politics the last year. How are campaigns run? How do candidates and elected officials gain support to make it easier to enact policy? What are the major fault lines in our region (both on actual policy and personalities and coalitions)? How do endorsements work (when are they bullshit? why do they matter?) My fascination with the mechanics has only made me proxy-exhausted for the candidates and campaign workers.

Campaigns run on contributions in time and money. If you like some candidate (even ones I didn’t vote for — boo, hiss!), please consider supporting that candidate with more than just your vote. Even a few dollars is one less fundraising call they have to make so they can do something else which might just be yet another fundraising call, but might mean more time to talk to voters.

Seattle Mayor

So many words. You may have noticed I left off mayor till now. I put it in here at the end to make you read the paragraphs above. But I’m a tease. I’m not going to say which candidate to vote for. It will be fine either way. I have my reasons for my vote, but it’s such a mixed bag and it takes too many words to explain and there’s just so much tension around this race with inflammatory and exaggerated nonsense. Plus jeez, there are so many forums where they talk about the same policy positions over and over that aren’t really that far apart (by outside Seattle standards) that you’d think that one or both would have evaporated in frustration. Anyway, here’s a couple “pick your candidate” policy quizzes from Crosscut and the Seattle Times if you haven’t been paying stupid amounts of attention (like me). I basically got half each candidate on both quizzes which is about what I expected. The Evergrey will be publishing some interviews from them both for their Leadership Lab and, while I didn’t participate in those interviews, I suspect they will be very interesting.

Anyway, vote. If you want me to talk too long at you about the mayor’s race or anything else, find me in person. But better yet, don’t waste your time on silliness and go help take back the state senate by volunteering for Michelle Rylands or Manka Dhingra. 🙂

Additional Comment (posted October 29th)

Frustratingly, a few days ago I happened to read a profile of the position 8 candidates in Real Change News. It was mostly nothing I hadn’t read before. But one answer from Grant, combined with other nonsense going on (that’s a great piece from Hanna Olsen), made me just viscerally react. Grant was asked why him, given he’s white, straight, etc. and he answered:

“When I sat down with my opponent very early on and I put it out there on the table that I could drop out of this race. If we were going to be the exact same on issues I care most about, in particular housing and police accountability, I don’t have a reason to be here. What became clear through the course of those conversations and through the course of the ensuing debates prior to the filing deadline was that my opponent was not willing to adopt strong positions on housing and a lot of it has to do with her connections to a lot of these powerful players. So I don’t think we need another lobbyist on City Council.”

He answered primarily by minimizing Mosqueda’s work and non-specifically attacking her housing positions as not strong because of her “connections”. He could have mentioned specific policies without impugning Mosqueda’s reasons for having them. Or specific examples of why his way of working is more effective. But instead, he chose to dismiss his opponent’s achievements. If Mosqueda has been a lobbyist, then so has Grant (“in Olympia” even!) But of course most voters don’t read “lobbyist” and think “advocate for children and workers”. Most folks when they hear “lobbyist” are thinking corporate suits who convince legislators to pass laws that help the richest and most powerful. That would be exactly opposite what Mosqueda is. Grant knows that. Now, of course, if Mosqueda were a “he”, Grant might still have made this attack. No doubt he doesn’t think this answer comes off as sexist, but to me it just reflects yet another case of a woman having to prove it over and over. Grant knows that gender roles and perceptions are relevant in this race. He could have made this point without making it an attack on a woman’s achievements. But he did.

I don’t think Seattle will somehow degenerate if Mosqueda loses: I think the people and groups who asked her to run will continue to push for what’s good for everyone. Ultimately that matters more than who wins one election. But I’m not sure I won’t be bitter about it because it seems like no matter what, even in a city that’s willing to elect women to public office over and over, even a male candidate who claims he’s trying to do better either can’t resist making an attack on a woman’s experience or doesn’t even realize he’s making one. Fortunately, I’ve become very competent at channeling bitterness into action: I just came back from my 16th time knocking on doors since May. Yes, I’m keeping score. Well, actually a calendar. Bitterness will do that. I’ve had nearly a year of the most incompetent president whose ever been in the office. And he got there, at least in part, because downplaying and questioning women’s accomplishments is routine and unremarkable.

Money in politics, promises and trust

Yesterday, former Seattle mayor and recent candidate Mike McGinn tweeted about recent political committee donations in our mayor’s race:

I’ve been there so you can trust me on this. Corporations don’t write big checks like this without firm promises first. Lets review (1)

He then had a many tweet thread about the problems of money in politics and some local political alignments. I’ve been kind of stewing about it. Most of the folks I follow in Seattle politics are Moon supporters, so partly I am just seeing an ever increasing stream of Durkan criticism which wears after a while, even when you don’t particularly care about the candidate. But I couldn’t really figure out what it was.

The thread popped up (again) this morning and I realized the problem for me is that phrase “firm promises” and what it says about our political discourse. I’ve been reading the Wellstone campaign book and it reminds you:

The truth is that those of us who care passionately about politics— who write and read books on how to win elections, for example— are not normal.

Charitably, I realize that all McGinn is trying to say is that the political decision makers at these corporations perceive their business interests to be aligned with Durkan’s apparent policies and likely style of governance. No one (well, maybe a very few) believe that she promised anything she wasn’t saying publicly because someone who works at the Chamber of Commerce promised to help her win the election. It was obvious from Day 1 of her campaign that she was positioning herself as the centrist (for Seattle), moderate, “get things done but not too extreme or fast or disruptive to established interests” candidate. She’s well-known to many political figures at all levels of government and business. They know how to work with her. She touts her association with Obama who is also that kind of politician.

But this post is not about Durkan exactly or her policy positions, but rather as an example of something that happens in politics. I do not care all that much about the mayor’s race: I think whoever wins will do no worse and probably a fair bit better than our last few mayors but I am not personally “in love” with either candidate. Probably we can blame the worst primary ever for that. In any case, Seattle is in good hands with a great city council and nothing about this election will change that much. The rest of the state is not so lucky so if you want to stop reading this navel-gazing now and go volunteer to flip the state senate (or whatever the critical campaign is in your part of the world), that’s probably a better use of your time.

This tweet and this style of discourse about money in politics reads as if politicians are literally out there being bribed to change their positions. As if Durkan, somehow, would actually be an outright socialist but, shucks, the business lobby agreed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect her, so her hands are tied. You may not like her or her policy positions, but she’s not actually taking orders from the Chamber. But if you aren’t someone who thinks a lot about politics — go read that Wellstone book quote again — I think you could be forgiven if you thought that’s what McGinn (and many others) are implying if not outright saying.

I think a lot of people genuinely believe that politicians are often that corrupt. That the majority of politicians are scheming in backrooms with moneyed interests to screw the little guy — not because they are ideologically aligned, but just for pure personally self-interested reasons. I don’t think that’s true and I doubt you do if you’ve ever talked to an actual elected official or candidate for office in person for more than ten seconds. To the last of them, even ones I wildly disagreed with, have credibly evinced a desire to do what they think is right for the city (state, country).

I think we do a disservice when we simplify the conflicts in the mayor’s race (or any political contest) to being just about business or corporate interests versus the good steward of the people. We aren’t taking people at face value which harms our ability to make connections and agreements. If you look at their policy positions, the mayoral candidates just aren’t that different. All that money from business and labor and, quite honestly, lots of “regular folks”, flowing into one campaign is about more than just corporate interests crowning their champion. I’ve seen this at Democratic party meetings watching both mayoral candidates’ supporters, all of whom are passionately devoted to their candidate. I have my ideas about what I think is going on and it’s certainly more interesting than the leaders of SEIU 775 supposedly being “foolish” to align with Comcast in supporting a candidate “obviously” harmful to their workers’ interests.

There are a lot of people in the city (and state) supporting Durkan and it’s just not useful to treat them as dupes or fools, if we want to build long-term sustainable change. Would you want to work with people who persist in saying you’re stupid or a dupe? But calling people stupid is what I see a lot of Seattle political wags doing right now. I would say progressives but that’s apparently a dirty word now. 😉 Maybe we could be as critical of people being disdainful as we are of their use of the word progressive.

Just Believe


After the election last year, where I had spent time every week working for a campaign (despite working a regular job), I was crushed. But Hillary Clinton reminded me of something that I’ve always believed but had never taken quite so personally: goodness can only win if people stand up to do good. So I took a “leap of faith”. This is awful, but I will get more involved. The Democratic party is the obvious place to help make change, so I’ll find a way to participate even more.

Here I am, almost a year later. Today, aside from regular family stuff, I did two things. I knocked on doors in the 31st Legislative District to help support Michelle Rylands campaign for state senate:


If Michelle wins her race, then the state senate will be controlled by Democrats and we have a hope of passing legislation including full funding for schools, climate change and tax fairness. By the way, union people know how this stuff works and they SHOW UP.

But I also decided to go to a tiny candidate ‘meet and greet’ with a port commission candidate, Ryan Calkins, organized by Tom Schmidt who lives in my neighborhood and is all around fantastic. I’ve met Ryan before but was yet again amazed at some interesting ideas he had to make the region stronger. Here’s Ryan talking to someone who showed up to meet a candidate. Just someone, a neighbor maybe, who wanted to talk to someone aspiring to be a port commissioner and understand how to make the world better:

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I spend my time doing these things because I feel compelled. I believe that I can make a difference. That I can help make the world better. Somehow I’ve never believed it quite so personally.

I’ve learned a lot the past few months. About how organizations and campaigns work. About how volunteering works and about how government works. And while I have lots of strong opinions about what we should do to make things better, I don’t pretend to believe I know better than anyone else. But I do believe that if more people showed up and noticed and wondered about what is going on and how they could make it be better and we all negotiated a compromise, then we’d all be better.

So I’m not here to ask you to come volunteer for Michelle Rylands (but please do, the signups are here). I’m here to ask you to believe we can make society better.

Believe so hard that you’ll show up to something every week (especially during election season).

Believe so hard that you wonder how you could have felt any differently.

Just believe.