Yes, in my backyard!

This morning I was out knocking on my neighbors doors (fulfilling my duties as a Democratic party PCO). The second door I went to was having a “party” to build a structure in the back yard. I went to the back to find the resident to give her the 37th LD flyer and encourage her to vote. I found out they weren’t just building any kind of building in their backyard, they were building a house for someone who doesn’t have a home as part of The Block Project. Theirs is the first to be built as part of this project and Robert will be moving in August 1st.

I’d heard about the project a while back. I don’t think we could literally have one in our backyard (since we already have a bit larger and more conventional small house in it) but I’m glad to see the project going forward and people in our neighborhood hosting. Thank you to anyone who is volunteering or donating to this project.

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Stop voting for white men, part 2

To followup to my previous post, yes, I meant it. I meant to use an inflammatory headline, even if the short-short version is pretty simple:

Given a choice between two candidates who are close (enough) in policy and similar (if not identical) in experience and competence, bias yourself to vote for the one that decreases future homogeneity because your assessments of candidates are probably biased.

That’s all.

Now some folks don’t think representation matters. I was not talking to them. I was talking to people who agree that diversity matters but have not really thought about the consequences of that. What does it mean for you, individually, to support that idea?

When I thought about what it meant to me, I thought about a famous “simulation” paper. In this paper, they simulated a corporate hierarchy where workers are promoted up the pyramid with fewer workers at the top, that is, the management, using randomly generated performance evaluation. Even if you start the simulation entirely gender-balanced, after 20 “review cycles”, a 1% variance in performance evaluation causes a strong shift towards men dominating upper management. Do you really think workplace performance and promotion has less than 1% bias against women (or in favor of men or white people)? I don’t. People, collectively, are biased. We promote mediocre men because we just expect them to do better. We hold women to double standards about likability while penalizing them for not being as “assertive” as men. Our stereotypes about non-white people are far more horrifying with more horrifying consequences (how do you think stereotypes about black people play out in a white-dominated workplace?) We’re just plain biased. (You can learn more about bias in the workplace using Facebook’s glossy training materials much of which is applicable to non-work environments).

Of course our workplaces do not, at all levels, remotely reflect existing demographics. So we’re “swimming upstream” trying to correct this bias, while still promoting people in biased ways. Is it any wonder few companies that announce a big push to improve “diversity” make very little progress? They start in a place of bias, and to make significant progress they have to consciously over-index on people from the groups they are trying to increase representation from. Few companies are willing to do that work consistently over a long time.

So what does this have to do with elected office? Elected offices are, some exceptions aside, usually held by people who previously got elected to a “lower” office or who worked in non-profits or government and run for a relatively low office, but have significant experience. Most folks who end up Congress start at a minor local office, run for state legislature, often spending a term both in a lower and upper body, then run for Congress. If we treat it like that employment promotion pyramid, it’s obvious that the only way you get more not-white-dudes at the more impactful positions is to vote them in disproportionately at lower levels. Otherwise we’re swimming upstream against existing bias and our current biases.

“So why didn’t you just write that?!”

Because I wanted a reader to feel uncomfortable. I wanted you to get your back up. I wanted to make you feel a bit how I feel every day listening to the news. Of course it’s not at all equivalent. I’m a relatively powerless writer on a blog who you chose to read and it made you a little mad. The powers that maintain biased representation in public office are diverse (ha!), often unconscious and systematic. They show up every day in ways we often don’t even notice. They are curled up in our minds.

So I am saying we all need to vote for fewer white men. No, of course, don’t vote for someone who you disagree with a lot or who you think has no chance of winning or who you think couldn’t competently hold the office. Yes, fine, if a good friend really wants you to vote for their long time friend whose policies and personality are exactly what you want but they happen to be a white guy, joke about your token white guy vote (I do). But really think about it. Is this vote now to the white guy who you 100% love on policy worth it if it means a highly competent non-white woman who you 90% agree with doesn’t get to start up that ladder of elected offices? Only you can decide that, for you, which matters more. But let’s not pretend we only vote based on policy or competence or that we’re only voting for the candidate today. You’re voting for future incumbents and future candidates for higher office. And you’re voting with bias.


Note: I of course through out this piece and the previous stopped at “white men” because it’s simple and short and has more punch then “cis straight white men who aren’t poor, disabled, etc.” I hope the rest of the piece made it clear I was talking about decreasing homogeneity in those who hold elected office.

Stop voting for white men.

Let’s pause to let some readers stop sputtering so they can pay attention. Others will no doubt angrily close the tab and move on.

Obviously I don’t mean never vote for a white man. Often your ballot will only let you choose between a white man whose positions you support and someone whose positions you adamantly oppose. But if you want to change representation at the highest levels, you have to vote for it all the way down the ballot in every election. The folks you vote for today for city council are the future candidates for the House and Senate and, yes, the President. (If your national legislature and highest executive elected official are called something different, then you’re not in the United States like I am, you’ve probably already had a woman head of state and don’t need this blog lecture.)

Only 20% of Congress are women. Only 3.5% are black women. Women make up half the country. Black women over 6%. If you count up everyone who has ever been a member of Congress, the percentage of women, much less black women, is effectively zero. And, yes, I do count the entire history of the United States because it was unjust and wrong to deny women the vote and there was that whole slavery thing. We don’t get to just start the clock a few decades ago when black women finally gained full legal rights and say “well, 3.5% isn’t doing bad!”

The numbers for every other not-white-man group are as bad or worse. Scientists pretty consistently find that groups with members who aren’t all the same make better decisions. Yet, we accept that the most important decision making bodies in the world are made by a body that is mostly wealthy, white men.

Is it any wonder we have problems?

Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously answered the question of how many women are enough on the Supreme Court by saying nine. Prior to 1981 when Sandra Day O’Connor joined the court, for two hundred years nearly, the court was entirely men, mostly white. Yes, we can talk about the historical why, but really it’s weird. It’s just weird for the most important court in our society to be all dudes, just as it’s weird for the most important body of legislators to be almost all dudes.

Does an all women court seem weird? Does Congress made of 80% women feel weird? That is how I and many many other people live every day in many parts of life. It is really weird that I must look at a room full of men, sometimes only men, deciding the most important issues about how my country are run. It must be even weirder for someone who isn’t white. It is not only weird but it fucking pisses me off.

I want that to change. The only way this changes is if we elect more women and more black women and so forth and so on at all levels of government. If we want near proportional representation in a time frame that includes my life, we have to disproportionately elect not-white-dudes to lower offices. School board and city council and state legislature.

Depending on the study, women either don’t run until they feel they are qualified enough – but are actually more qualified than their male competitors. Or, voters are less likely to vote for them even if they are equally qualified – that is, we expect women to be more competent. I imagine studies about non-white candidates are pretty similar. Regardless, not-white-dudes are less likely to be elected. Some exceptions aside, you aren’t elected to national office without some kind of background, usually in politics or government, where men, and especially white men, find it easier.

We are trained to see a certain kind of person in power. We expect leaders to look a certain way. We’re used to seeing mostly white men in political leadership. We’re biased to assume that a white male candidate looks the part in ways we aren’t even consciously aware of. When we look at a white man’s positions, we’re more likely to explain away the parts where we disagree with him while nitpicking every word of the the not-white-man. When we judge a white man and a black woman to be similarly qualified, we’re actually missing qualifications that the latter has because we’ve been taught to not value them – or value the man’s behavior more. But that black woman probably had to walk through more shit to get where she is than the man she’s running against.
So, yes, I am saying vote for people because they aren’t a white dude. Vote for the not-white-dude who has some positions you don’t quite agree with while there’s a white dude who you totally agree with. To get more not-white-dudes into our highest political offices, we have to pack the lower parts of government. It’s going to take a while, but it will take even longer if people who care about representation keep voting for the white men.

Not everything in politics is about policy positions. It’s more important that we get more than 20% of Congress to be women in 10 years, than it is for your local city councilor to be your perfect candidate. You’re not just voting on this candidate today. You’re voting on future candidates.

Stop voting for white men.

Elections blather: demystifying PDC data!

I’ve never really looked at candidate Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) filing data much before. Generally I depend on news reports or summaries from others. But I realized that until filing week, you don’t really know whose running unless they get media attention. But, state law requires a candidate to file with the PDC within 2 weeks of “declaring” which includes any public statement of intention to run or accepting any donations. Most competitive candidates are going to have lots of data in the PDC database long before formally filing to run for an office (and currently elected officials are possibly taking in donations all the time so are regularly submitting to PDC data). So I went to look.

There’s all kinds of interesting stuff in there!

The big local political news of the week is that first term mayor Ed Murray will not be running for re-election, though he will finish out his term. The why is kind of sad and frustrating but I was poking around the local candidate PDC data and discovered that his campaign had already raised over $400k, far, far more than anyone else (to be expected).

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Screenshot: city of Seattle Mayor’s race PDC data on May 10, 2017
Note that for most of these screenshots I’m filtering down to candidates who have raised more than $1000 (this ends up filtering out self-funded candidates planning to spend less than $5000 and non-serious candidates). My apologies for the screenshots: I haven’t figured out how to link to a particular set of queried and filtered data.

When Murray first ran in 2013 against then incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn, he far out-raised everyone (this is primary and general election):

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Screenshot: city of Seattle mayor’s race PDC data for 2013
Since Murray is leaving the race, the money he’s raised can be returned to donors, or kept until after the primary and re-donated to other campaigns. One other interesting bits in the mayoral data: Cary Moon is already in debt. Huh. I wonder why?

I also poked around in the data to look at Seattle Public Schools races for board director as positions 4, 5 and 7 are up. When I grew up, I was told school board was how folks get started in political careers so in idle moments I look at it. In Seattle, you essentially hear nothing about school board unless it’s absurdly dramatic, which at times it is. But there’s been nothing lately. Is anyone challenging the incumbents? Well, let’s find out in the PDC data! Not so much:

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Screenshot: Seattle Public Schools board of directors PDC data on May 10, 2017
Patu is the incumbent for position 7, but the other incumbents apparently haven’t filed their forms yet! That’s okay as I think they only have to once they actually file (or otherwise publicly indicate their intent to run again). But that got me curious: how much do people need to raise for a school board race? It’s literally an unpaid elected position which is notoriously painful and time-consuming, so it seems absurd that you’d ALSO have to raise a lot of money to win. The going rate for a normal contested race is in the tens of thousands it appears:

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Screenshot: Seattle Public Schools board of directors PDC data for 2013
The position 4 race in 2013 was particularly high spending and note that the candidate who spent the most actually lost. Patu in 2013 did not actually spend nothing but rather declared that she wasn’t raising more than $500 from outside donors and wasn’t planning to spend more than $5000 total (including her own money).

Another big race locally is Seattle city council position 8, which is an at-large position (voted on by all Seattle voters, rather than those in a particular geographic district). The race has been wide open since the incumbent, Tim Burgess, months ago said he wasn’t running for re-election. Tonight the 34th Legislative District Democrats (West Seattle, Burien, White Center and over to Vashon Island) were voting on endorsements, including this race. There’s a whole mess of candidates and I just can’t keep track. The ever useful West Seattle Blog tweeted which candidates received nominations. I was surprised to learn that no one nominated Jon Grant who had entered the race early (I think even maybe before Burgess publicly said he wasn’t running). He seems to have lots of support, at least among some folks I know. Edit: a locally politically active friend thankfully pointed out that Jon Grant is not running as a democrat so was not eligible for nomination – there was a whole kerfluffle about it at their previous meeting!

I was also surprised because I’d never heard of two of the nominations! Social and other media bubbles are weird and I just … hadn’t heard of these candidates for this position. So I went to the PDC data!

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Screenshot: city of Seattle, city council position 8 PDC data on May 10, 2017
As above, this is filtered down to candidates who have raised at last $1000. Otherwise it would include, no joke, four more candidates (not counting Burgess) who have submitted disclosures for a total of twelve (12!) candidates for the race (the top two in the primary go to the general election). I had just completely not heard of either Charlene Strong or Hisam Goueli, but were put up for endorsement while Jon Grant was not. West Seattle Blog reports the 34th LD ultimately endorsed Teresa Mosqueda.

Finally, for a bit of fun, if you know much about Seattle and Washington politics, you might know about perennial candidate Goodspaceguy, who has previously run for commissioner of the Port of Seattle and, last year, governor of the state. Yes, that’s his legal name, as you can see in his 2016 PDC form C1 in which he declares he will not be spending more than $5000. Searching the 2017 statewide, judicial and local PDC data for his name turns up no records … yet.

Seattle, let’s not pass a soda tax

A while back Mayor Murray proposed a soda tax. I haven’t talked a lot about it because it didn’t seem to be going very far very fast. Just another thing that Murray proposed at the beginning of the year. But today’s Seattle Times had an article about it pushing the health benefits and apparently on Thursday at a parks forum, mayoral candidate Mike McGinn said he’d keep pushing the soda tax to pay for parks.

But few left wing policy ideas make me more angry than the soda tax. The obvious reason to oppose it is that it’s regressive. Less wealthy people drink more sugary beverages and it makes up more of their income. Advocates tinker on the edges — Murray’s now includes diet soda to make it less regressive — but continue to support it despite its regressiveness because of the health benefits. The health benefits are real. We’d all be better off if we consumed less sugar.

But soda taxes have a more insidious problem to me. They are explicitly telling poor and struggling people they are doing life wrong. That the small convenience and pleasure of a soda is hurting them so much the government needs to tax it to prevent “lifestyle” health problems. A soda tax is telling poor people that they are choosing to hurt themselves.

We already tell poor people all the time that it’s their fault they are poor. I grew up listening to it. That if only you are just a little more careful, made better choices and worked a little harder, then you wouldn’t be poor. A soda tax is just one more way we say it’s your fault if you’re poor and society has to pay for your sins. The cognitive and emotional burden of being poor makes it harder to get out of poverty. It’s hard to make good decisions about money when you’re constantly struggling. It’s hard to feel good about anything when you can’t afford to feel nice and those little pleasures you can afford are denigrated. It’s hard to succeed when you don’t feel good. A soda tax is maybe a little paper cut in that system. But it’s still a cut.

In Seattle, this proposed “soda” tax is expected to bring in around $20 million a year, of course rightly earmarked for programs to help with education disparities between white and non-white children. The operating budget of Seattle is over $5.7 BILLION. This tax would maybe bring in 0.3% of our operating budget (or 0.6% of the non-utility budget). We are proposing to create a regressive tax that adds to the emotional burden of being poor for a little bit of revenue.

If we’re going to tax people’s food choices, I propose instead we figure out a way to tax the “small” pleasures of our wealthier residents instead. Beers and sugary cocktails and all those tasty, but extremely caloric, fancy plates are just as bad for us as soda. I’m not sure what this would entail – maybe a luxury restaurant sales tax for restaurants with above average prices. I would be one of those people paying it, as I like my fancy beer and fancy plates. But it seems far less awful message than a soda tax and at least the people buying $7 pints can afford it.