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.

You owe fifty doors

I decided on this rule a month ago, but I’m posting it publicly right now because I want to send the link to someone.

The rule

Any (a) Bernie vs Hillary complaint, or (b) rehashing the primary, or (c) citing the Bernie or Hillary alignments of a candidate or activist that appears on public or semi-public social media costs fifty (50) doors personally knocked or seventy-five (75) phones called in support of democrats or progressive candidate. I’m not picky: even candidates I wouldn’t like count. I just want you engaged instead of stirring up anger when we could be doing work. Images cost double because they have greater reach.

Anyway, some y’all are pretty deep in debt and now I have a post to remind you to get to work instead of dredging up nonsense.

I 💙 Spreadsheets, Election Night Precinct Data Edition

I am finally, after sixteen years of post-college experience as a “software engineer” learning to understand and love spreadsheets. So much so that I’ll inefficiently figure out how to do something in a spreadsheet to answer a question as opposed to just writing a script or dropping the data into a proper structured data store with a more programmer focused query language. But spreadsheet formulas, etc. are programming! I am fairly certain that some business spreadsheets I’ve seen are self-aware and planning to throttle us all. Anyway, I can do this. I am a professional.

Tonight I dumped the August 1st primary election night precinct level results CSV file into a Google Spreadsheet and decided to do some programming. You can find the original csv on the elections website – look on the “Download results” tab to see what’s available. The specific file I played with is this one. Note that all the screenshots on this post are using the election night results only. The final precinct results won’t be available until August 16th, sob, though at that point I can just replace one tab in my spreadsheet and voilà! It will all update.

Continue reading “I 💙 Spreadsheets, Election Night Precinct Data Edition”

Complain where it counts!

Some weeks ago a building project was brought to the attention of a neighborhood social media group. The main concern of the original poster was that the project (with ~90 residential units) would not have enough parking (only three). Some of us disagreed as the building was going to be very close to light rail and bus stops for multiple buses. There were dozens of folks commenting on various aspects of the project, in opposition and support, but the parking issue was the main concern. The thread seems to have been contentious – after a while I ignored all the new comment notifications and now I can’t find it. It must have been deleted.

The original post included a link to make a comment on the project. So I did. I wrote in support of the project having almost no parking because I believe it lowers overall rental costs. I got an email today with a summary of all activities on this project so far, including a recent review meeting which summarized public commit received since the last solicitation.

This is all the comment they received since last November and before a meeting at the end of July:

No public comment was offered at the meeting. Two emails were sent in prior to the meeting. One requested additional off-street parking with the project, the other felt that not providing off-street parking was appropriate to help lower the costs of residential units.
All public comments submitted in writing for this project can be viewed using the following link and entering the project number:

The moral of my post here is not to shame my neighbors for not submitting comments. Or not shame them very much: complaining communally is a time honored bonding exercise we all engage in. But if you do really care, submit your comments! You might be only one of two.