by Paul Nelson
How does the Mayor’s race look to one of the two significant South End mayoral primary candidates?
State Senator Bob Hasegawa says the future of Seattle will be a lot like San Francisco if we let what he calls “Paternalist Progressives” continue to dictate the agenda and not those with what he says are “humanist” values. Gentrification, Jenny Durkan versus Cary Moon, the failure of the Democratic Party that led to Trump, are all topics covered in this interview with the former Mayoral candidate. (This interview was minimally edited for clarity.)
Paul Nelson: When we look at the primary campaign for mayor, you came in fifth, and-
Bob Hasegawa: First among the men.
Paul Nelson: That’s what I was just going to say. Women got over 75% of the vote. Certainly I have my ideas of why that happened, but why do you think that was?
Bob Hasegawa: I was pretty much constrained without being able to raise money. I had greater hopes that we could mobilize the people with the strong message, even though I’m a seasoned politician, you always have hope that your organizing capacity is probably well beyond what it really is. The big lesson learned was it turns out it does take money. It doesn’t take a lot of money, it doesn’t take a half million dollars. I think that’s kind of over the top. The amount of money that they’re throwing in some of these elections, just for the primary over there in the 45th district, each side threw in over $1 million, just in the primary elections. That’s just crazy. You do need enough to keep a working campaign going, so I think we could’ve done it for … well, we did do it for … I don’t know what the final number was, but maybe $25,000-
Paul Nelson: 25 grand?
Bob Hasegawa: Or so, thereabouts. That wasn’t enough. We need to be able to do one mailing at least.
Paul Nelson: Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times said your campaign was putting democracy through a stress test. Did Seattle fail?
Bob Hasegawa: No. Everywhere that our message went, we got positive feedback. It just wasn’t broad enough to have that penetration into the people who are otherwise disengaged in their communities, and in their neighborhoods, and in politics, just because they don’t have the time to pay attention.
Paul Nelson: It’s a tough time to have a primary here in Seattle when the weather’s finally nice and it’s not raining. Then we expect everyone to stop what they’re doing and start paying attention to politics. Is there something wrong with that?
Bob Hasegawa: I think that’s a civic lesson every citizen has to learn. Because what I do, (is offer) political education work with youth coming up. The first things they always mention is, especially at their initiation, they’ll say, “Politicians, ew.” “Politics, ew.” As community, we have to learn that politics really is everywhere and is what dictates our lives. Even though we don’t like it, it’s a fact of life. As a community we either have to get good at it or we’re going to lose. I just pitch it that way because until we do, we’re going to continue to see the downslide in all of our-
Paul Nelson: Institutions and environment and quality of life.
Bob Hasegawa: Yeah, everything. We’ve turned into a sociopathic society were we just have no empathy for our neighbors … I shouldn’t say we have no empathy. We don’t have the capacity to empathize with our neighbors just because everybody’s working two or three jobs part-time. Not everybody, but everybody has life circumstances that are overwhelming them that are new to this generation. The previous generation didn’t really face most of these challenges. They had the challenges of their own, but their challenges pulled them together. Ours are dividing us against each other.
Paul Nelson: To go back to the results of the primary, the top four finishers were women, they got over 75 percent of the vote. Do you think the combination of Donald Trump getting elected President and not having a female mayor since 1928. (Bertha Landes). Do you think that was a combination this year that was just too potent to contend with?
Bob Hasegawa: No. I don’t think so. I still believe in the integrity of the electorate and you have to have faith in people and humanity and their critical analysis. Yeah, Trump has got the upper hand, but he’s playing to the core values that the Democrats are throwing under the rug. He’s talking about offshoring of jobs, and even though his actions are not necessarily in line with-
Paul Nelson: His rhetoric.
Bob Hasegawa: Yeah, his rhetoric, but he was speaking to working families during the campaign. He’s just not following up on that rhetoric. He did put a stop on NAFTA, but it turns out it’s just a tweak that he’s looking at doing rather than a major overhaul or elimination. He did put the breaks on the TPP. He followed through on a couple of those things, and he still is. I talk to working people all the time and that message is still getting out there.
One of the goals for my campaign was to start reform within the Democratic Party using the Bernie (Sanders) people as a base, but the Bernie people got divided, was a real complicating factor. They forgot, I think, that I was a lead voice for the Bernie reform movement here in our area because everybody else pretty successfully muddied that piece of it so bad, it infringed on a big part of the base.
The labor movement has, in my opinion, lost its way because they believe in large part on top-down approaches to politics, which alienates and disengages the base. And until they learn that lesson … because the labor movement really is the only hope for us short of a full blown revolution. Even if we get pushed to that full blown revolution because of the increasing income inequality and what not, the labor movement has got to lead the way. Both on principle but also because they have the resources to actually do it. They’re the only social institution that has the resources to be able to do it that comes from the right principles.
Paul Nelson: Those resources are going to support Jenny Durkan in the general.
Bob Hasegawa: Yeah, so I rest my case. I shouldn’t say that. I have not endorsed in the mayor’s race, but she is the pick of corporate Seattle. That’s pretty well established throughout. Talk to anybody. I don’t think that’s the direction that the city really wants to go in. I just saw an article in the paper yesterday that over half of the incomes reported on IRS tax forms in Seattle are under $50,000. People are not voting in their own self interest.
Paul Nelson: You talk about moving Democrats to the left, the one candidate in this race probably most responsible for that effort was Nikkita Oliver. You said many times during the campaign that you had basic agreement with her on almost all the issues. Had one percent of the people who voted for you voted for her, we’d be talking about her and Jenny Durkan now.
Bob Hasegawa: Yeah, that’s one thing people are saying. I would see it in the opposite direction.
Paul Nelson: Was there ever talk between campaigns to see what could be done to team up somehow?
Bob Hasegawa: Yes.
Paul Nelson: What was the result of that?
Bob Hasegawa: It was a nice gathering and then we both went our ways. You have to understand my history before you analyze that because then see where your values take you because my history has been through the labor movement. I came up through a pretty infamously top down union, the Teamsters Union, and my people would ask me rather than trying to reform the Teamsters, which looked like an impossibility at the time, “why don’t you just get out and start your own union?” To me that made no sense because the machine is there, it’s just been stolen from the people, the members. Rather than recreate the whole wheel, it’s so much easier just to use democratic-
Paul Nelson: Institutions?
Bob Hasegawa: Institutions and recapture our union back for the workers, which we ultimately did succeed in doing. The Teamsters Union you see now is nothing like what it used to be. I shouldn’t say nothing like, there are changes that we implemented that have permanently changed the way the Teamsters do business.
Paul Nelson: Bring that back to Nikkita Oliver, the connection between your experience and-
Bob Hasegawa: My strategy is I feel the exact same way with the Democratic Party. My feeling is why would I want to go through the time and effort to create a third party, which has been tried and tried again, even on a national basis, when the Democratic Party is the machine that has historically has been the voice of working families, and it has been stolen away from us by paternalistic progressives, is how I refer to them. My goal is to work within the Party, and it’s my m.o. that I’ve consistently supported in the past, to fight for democracy and the democratic institutions within our larger institutions and recapture what is rightfully ours, rather than using an outside strategy.
Paul Nelson: You talked a little bit about Jenny Durkan. Can you talk about Cary Moon? Your thoughts about her as a candidate and-
Bob Hasegawa: I like both of them as people. As candidates, I like Cary Moon, too, just because she actually seems open to what I refer to as people-power progressives, as opposed to paternalistic progressives.
Paul Nelson: Can you elaborate more on that, what you mean by that?
Bob Hasegawa: The Democratic Party tries to claim to be progressive, but they don’t really have a definition for it, so that phrase has been co-opted by conservatives, just like populism has been co opted by far right folks. First off, I should say the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is not the right way to describe the body politic right now. I think it is more like corporatists versus, and I would say populists, but as I said, Trump has co opted that phrase, so I would use the term humanist. It’d be corporatists versus humanists are how I would view the body politic right now nationally.
Within the humanists side, I think you’ve got paternalists and you’ve got people power advocates. The paternalists are people who are okay with the current political system, that are okay with top down power because they’re the ones in control. They don’t want to give up power to the people, they have a good heart, they want to bestow the benefits of our society onto the deserving people because it’s the right thing to do. That’s why we get things like anti-trafficking laws passed. We can do that through conservative legislature that we can get paid family leave passed, those kinds of things, because it’s kind of the right thing to do. But they don’t want to give up power to the people to get it.
[Contrast this with] people-power progressives, building a movement from the bottom up, and then the people win these benefits as victories that they’ve earned, and then they cannot be taken away by a changing of an administration, because they have the power to make sure that the administration doesn’t change it. As we saw what happened with Trump. Trump is overturning all of Obama’s, as many as he can-
Paul Nelson: His Executive Orders.
Bob Hasegawa: His Executive Orders. They’re overturning everything that so-called progressives were fighting for this whole time. I shouldn’t say so-called, they were progressives. They were just paternalistic progressives.
Paul Nelson: The phrase with alliteration that came before paternalistic progressives was limousine liberal, are they the same thing?
Bob Hasegawa: Yeah, I guess they’re similar, but I wouldn’t necessarily put all paternalistic progressives, because-
Paul Nelson: They’re driving Prius’s now.
Bob Hasegawa: It’s because people power progressives, people don’t understand that they really do have the power. They’ve been so beaten down that they think that… I would call it a Jesus Christ approach. We elected a benevolent dictator and that benevolent dictator’s going to bestow grace upon us. But what happens when that person gets unelected? That’s the real problem. We have to build a movement that transcends those kinds of temporary saviors that we elect.
Paul Nelson: What are the top three issues facing the city?
Bob Hasegawa: I would have said housing, and I learned that housing is probably the top issue as the people see it. I really see gentrification, which is an effect of the housing problem as a crucial issue. We’re whitening Seattle. There’s no other way to say it. All the communities of color or people of color who are generally on the lower income scale are just being priced out of the city, and it’s being taken over by six figure folk downtown who are dictating the policy for the entire city. Everywhere I went throughout the city there were people who are just not happy with city government. So, more of the same is not going to work for them. If Jenny wins… it might be too harsh to say I heard some of the paternalistic rhetoric, but I didn’t hear the real empathy for building people power. There was no power analysis behind what she wants to do.
Paul Nelson: Housing, gentrification, and number three?
Bob Hasegawa: Transportation, obviously. I would put housing/gentrification and then probably transportation. I just see the south end of Seattle being purified, right, that’s not good.
Paul Nelson: Ethnic cleansing in a housing way.
Bob Hasegawa: I actually used that phrase a couple of times, it might be a little to harsh because it’s identified with what happened in Nazi Germany. We’re not quite at that point in the city of Seattle yet, although I think that Trump’s trying to lead the country that way, but he hasn’t gone through the extreme of extermination tactics yet, except that the Native American community can claim it.
Paul Nelson: In early 2016, there was a software developer in San Francisco, Justin Keller, who wrote bitterly about his President’s Day weekend and how it had been ruined by homeless people. He said, “I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is we live in a free market society.” He was only in San Francisco for three years at the time, but he said, “The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it.” He said, “I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted, I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.”
Of course, he was vilified in the blogosphere, but is this the future of Seattle, to be like San Francisco, and attracting people who come here for jobs, or the natural beauty, or any number of things, and they have these kinds of attitudes, which to me are antithetical to the way Seattle has operated since it’s inception.
Bob Hasegawa: Yes, Seattle’s going that way, and that particular phrase just, to me, it underscores my previous comment about becoming a sociopathic country, where it’s all about the principle of free market enterprise, which is dog eat dog until there’s only one big dog left, and our inability to really empathize with the plight of the rest of humanity who are less privileged than the one making the quote. I think we’re going that direction. This whole free market thing is what’s driving the sociopathy, too. Is that the right word to use?
Paul Nelson: Yes, I think so. What do you expect to be dealing with in the next session of the legislature?
Bob Hasegawa: One good outcome of this campaign was nobody can claim they don’t know about public banking anymore, ’cause I was all over that, talking about it everywhere. In the last budget that passed on, whatever it was, June 30th I think it was, I got a budget proviso that creates a task force to make recommendations to the 2018 legislature about creating our own state owned public bank, so I’m going to be working on that and working through the next legislature … it’s going to be a short session, so we really have to have our ducks in a row. I’ve been working on that even during the campaign I was working on the state bank issue. Unfortunately, people are dragging their feet on this and I’m not in a powerful enough position, I think, to really drive this. I’m going to have to start bugging the heck out of people and start building a campaign probably to push the legislature, at least the decision makers in the legislature, to start doing something with this thing.
Paul Nelson: Does the governor support the effort?
Bob Hasegawa: I’ve talked to him and he seems to kinda get it. The state treasurer is open to the concept, very open to the concept. The governor, I think we have to convince him.
Paul Nelson: I’m grateful for your time today, and grateful for all the work that you do, and just a real honor and privilege to talk to you.
Bob Hasegawa: Thanks, Paul, that’s really kind. I appreciate that. I feel like on the whole, just to be able to run a campaign like this was such a privilege, and to be taken seriously by you and South Seattle Emerald, and even the Seattle Times, I think, gave me pretty fair coverage, which has not been their history with me.
Paul Nelson is a poet, interviewer, father and literary activist engaged in a 20-year bioregional cultural investigation of Cascadia. He currently lives in the Rainier Beach neighborhood.