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.

Migrated the site … again.

Having my website be static using Jekyll as generator was nice. Except that I couldn’t really edit and publish posts on mobile. I’ve been working a lot, and doing lots of politics things, and have a toddler, and have miscellaneous other things going on so I honestly spend 99% of my non-work computer time on a mobile phone. The majority of posts in the last year or more have been composed in whole or part on my phone and published on Medium, then gradually moved over when I had time to spend.

So, on the advice of my friend Cate who, full disclosure, works at Automattic as their 📱👑 (emoji for head of mobile development), I moved my blog to hosted WordPress. Even using my own domains (I also have an owl-themed sub-site), it’s only a bit more expensive and I get a quite functional mobile app. Plus I can change the colors when I get bored without having to go mess with CSS. I’m really not all that good at the theming and CSS and stuff.

Unfortunately while there are numerous guides and posts out there on how to migrate your blog from WordPress to Jekyll, there are none that I could easily find for the other way round. Fortunately, I found someone who migrated from Jekyll to Medium. That process involved using Jekyll to generate a WordPress (WP) export.xml file. Unsurprisingly, you can use a WP export file to import into WP too. So I followed the author’s tool and it went pretty smoothly, dumping my entire blog (essentially) into one big file, formatting and all. It did not import comments but that’s okay. They were a headache to moderate because I don’t believe in having comments unless you moderate and I’ve had comments turned off on all newer posts (and disabled on older ones). If people are dying to get to their comments, they are in Disqus … somewhere.

The only annoyances were that self-hosted media didn’t import right, all my footnote anchors broke and none of my tags carried over. The media presumably broke because all my posts had image source values like /images/something.jpg and the import process couldn’t infer where they came from. Most media I have in blog posts is actually on Flickr though so it was only a few posts. The tags were pretty quick to fix as I just don’t have that many and I didn’t even have to refer to the original site very often to remember which ones. The footnotes on the other hand was kind of obnoxious to fix and I had to go through each post and edit the HTML directly. I was going to go through all of them and at least glance to make sure they looked right, but this made it a bit more time consuming. Footnotes: never again1.

But done! Getting my DNS (how your computer figures out how to talk to web sites) squared away was probably the most stressful part because despite doing computers for a living, me and DNS aren’t good friends. Being able to post on mobile will be 💯 and maybe instead of twitter threads or long facebook posts, I’ll just write a darn blog post instead!

  1. As if I’d give up footnotes.

Nerdy Reminders

Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Part of me broke on the day of the election. Hillary Clinton quoted that verse in her concession speech. While I would have gone on if she hadn’t, those words have sometimes given me the ability on some days to not snap at someone or not snark or dismiss or even just to stop crying and get up. I’m not really religious anymore but I went to a Presbyterian church for many years and went through confirmation. Even as an adult many of the ethics underlying and certainly the words of Christianity resonate with me.

I work at a company making a laser cutter so I decided after the election to make something to carry with me to remind me of my values. I’d been planning to make an IDIC for a while. So I made this on the Glowforge:


The woods are unfinished walnut and padauk with a small chip of mussel shell glued at the center. The wood is stitched together with some copper wire and then small metal posts were drilled to attach the chain. Everything was cut on the Glowforge except the metal (low power CO2 lasers just don’t cut metal).

Why I would want to carry around that quote – a reminder to pick myself up again – is obvious. The IDIC is perhaps less well-known. Spock wears one in the original Star Trek television series and the symbol was explained in one episode. I was often a loner as a kid and my devotion to Star Trek extended to being home every afternoon for a summer so I could record every episode of TOS on VHS. Spock was a figure I looked up to. The concept of the IDIC was barely explained in the show barely telling us more than it stands for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”. It expresses the Vulcan belief that the diversity and strangeness of the universe was to be embraced and celebrated. I was saddened to learn as an adult that the symbol in this world was really created as a prop to sell merchandise to fans. But as a kid I knew none of this and I read every Star Trek novel I could get my hands on. A book provides a lot more space to create emotional resonance to a simple idea – and they are often written by very good authors with real ideas even if they are “only” writing franchise fiction.

One of my favorites has always been Spock’s World by Diane Duane and it holds up well enough as an adult. The structure of the plot is alternating chapters with a “present day” story of Spock, Kirk and the rest arguing against the planet Vulcan seceding from the Federation and past chapters presenting episodes from the supposed history of Vulcan, including eventually the life of Surak and the philosophy that turned (most) Vulcans away from war and fear. The chapter on Surak carefully does not try to explain the philosophy too much. How can a Star Trek franchise novel invent the full philosophy in enough detail to make it credible? But the philosophy was enough to emotionally attach to the pre-teen me. As an adult the bare strokes of the supposed philosophy are recognizable in different real traditions or thinkers.

Most days I remember to wear it and after a few months I feel naked when I realize I’ve forgotten it that morning.

We must turn and realize that the Other is afraid—and then say to him, ‘You have nothing to fear from me,’ in such a way that he knows it to be true. Another thing we have no desire to say! Each of us secretly desires to keep the Other in some slight fear of us, so that he will not harm us. But if we can only bring ourselves to say those terrible words, and have them be true, then the Other will become what he should have been from the earliest days—the constant companion, the source of delight in all his differences.
(Spock’s World)

Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
(Galatians 6:9)

Toward a feminist future

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day which is a much bigger deal in every country that isn’t the United States. I only learned about it as an adult at a company with offices all around the world. It’s not really surprising that a day created by socialists is ignored here. This year in the United States, a “women’s strike” or “a day without women” is being organized for the same day. I guess we can thank one of the more openly misogynist political campaigns and administrations for all the newly activated feminist agitation.

I feel weird about a strike, even in solidarity. I like my job. I’m at no risk of losing my job (nor have I been for a long time). I’m appreciated at work. I’m paid well. I believe the men who run my company try to be aware of the contributions of women, both in our workplace and elsewhere in society. It seems hollow for me to not be at work for the day as my absence won’t teach much of anything. Working in tech, often it feels like my presence in a room is an uncomfortable statement. Plus we have a lot to do at work and I want to work on it.

Instead, I’m giving a day’s salary to Living Goods. In the words of the Life You Can Save, Living Goods “employs and trains local people — the majority of whom are women — to sell goods and life-saving medical supplies at competitive prices. Living Goods provides businesswomen and saleswomen with employment and entrepreneurial skills while improving health outcomes in their communities.” They even did a randomized control trial studying the outcomes of their model and it saves children’s lives. Sounds about right to me.

I’m doing pretty well in life. I attribute a lot of that to a lot of luck. Our household normally gives money to international aid organizations because luck isn’t distributed uniformly. Women everywhere, but especially in less wealthy countries, do most or all of the work needed to maintain households and raise children with less social or political power and less wealth. A day’s salary for our family is not really a lot, but that’s a lot of luck to pass on to another.

If you don’t feel comfortable taking tomorrow off, consider giving some money to an organization working to improve the lives of women. You’ve got a lot of choices because there’s a lot of work to do.

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie