by Brett Hamil, Op-Ed Columnist
You ever repeat a word so many times it loses all meaning? That’s what Seattle did with “progressive.” After this current election cycle I never want to hear it again. We’re the fourth wealthiest US city with the third highest homeless population, located in the most regressively taxed state in the nation.
Keep “progressive” out of your mouth.
The word is dangerous because it has a soothing effect on the self-satisfied, affluent white Seattle liberals who compose the majority of the electorate. It says: “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything overtly problematic.” The unspoken assumption, for those who care to parse such things, is that any un-woke actions the candidate might take will be buried beneath enough layers of process and jargon to provide plausible deniability to those who benefit most from their effects.
It’s possible to assess a Seattle politician without regard for this now-worthless descriptor. When considering a candidate, I’ve found you can boil it all down to three questions:
- Do their policies protect process or people?
- Who gives them money?
- Who gives them money?
The answers to questions two and three are fairly easy to track down; you can simply go to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and Public Disclosure Commission websites and view donor reports. Easy as pie. If you were to peruse the current mayoral race, for example, you’d see representatives of the city’s wealthiest corporate entities feverishly jamming fat five-digit wads of cash into Durkan’s coffers daily while the Moon campaign accrues a steady stream of more humble amounts.
Currently, Moon has received $237K, which includes $111K of her own money. Durkan’s campaign has received $761K. Her independent expenditure committee (Moon doesn’t have one) has taken in $116K, the lion’s share of it from the Chamber of Commerce PAC (CASE), which currently has over half a million on hand. Durkan, whose household is far wealthier than Moon’s especially when you factor in her longtime partner’s assets (which they’re not required to disclose because they’re not married) has kicked in $400 of her own money.
It’s safe to say that anyone who receives six figures from the Chamber of Commerce PAC is not “progressive” by even the most elastic interpretation of the word. CASE, which backs a majority of our current “progressive” city council, gets their money from anti-union corporations like Amazon, anti-tenant industry groups like the Rental Housing Association, anti-consumer telecom giants Comcast and CenturyLink, big-footed developers like Howard S. Wright and Vulcan, and former 15Now opponents like the Seattle Restaurant Alliance and the Washington Retail Association.
Let’s return to the first question I posed: “Do their policies protect process or people?” This one’s a bit more slippery, because the Seattle Process is a thing that eludes by design. It’s the method by which our politicians sandbag the public will, how they dodge a seven-figure community investment with a five-figure multi-year study, how they receive the exact public comment and expert advice they need to justify the thing they were already going to do.
It’s how we end up with a $3 billion hole in the ground, blueprints for the world’s most expensive police precinct, or a new youth jail that costs over twice what we paid for City Hall. It’s how we get all the big-ticket items no one remembers wanting, and continue to go without the things we most need. The Seattle Process bores constituents into apathy while powering every backroom deal.
The Seattle Process is a web of invisible entanglements that allowed Ed Murray to remain in office for six months after being credibly accused of child rape by multiple victims. The explosive accusations started in April and grew to five accusers by September, including Murray’s former foster son in Portland and a younger cousin on the East Coast.
Moon called for his resignation in May, well before the blockbuster July 16 Seattle Times article that revealed an Oregon child-welfare investigator and a Portland prosecutor believed Murray sexually abused the foster child placed in his care.
Durkan, who Murray endorsed, called for him to step down an hour before he announced his resignation. Her website removed any reference to his endorsement that same day.
But Durkan wasn’t the only local political figure who tried to run out the clock- four former mayors supported Murray finishing his term- and a majority of city council stayed mum. Bruce Harrell memorably said, “I would ask that I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago,” which immediately made me wonder, What the hell was Bruce doing 33 years ago?
It’s been a couple months since Murray stepped down, and I’m still aghast. There’s definitely something we can glean from how our political class handled it. My primary takeaway is this: When a sitting mayor can remain in office for six months under the cloud of multiple credible child rape allegations, we can lay no claim to the word “progressive.”
We need to figure out what allowed this civic disgrace to smolder on the back burner for six long months. We need to revisit options that have been taken off the table without our knowledge or consent. We need to know which parts of a politician’s platform are just progressive window dressing, what deals they’ve already cut, and what they’ve agreed to overlook in return.
When Murray announced he was ending his campaign back in May after a fourth accuser came forward, he wasn’t standing alone at that podium. Directly behind him stood a crew of bitter-end supporters including councilmember Sally Bagshaw, King County Labor Council leader Nicole Grant, SEIU 775 president David Rolf, and state senator Jamie Pedersen, who was appointed to fill Murray’s senate seat after he was elected mayor.
Together these people represent a wide swath of establishment power in Seattle. Every one of those people is now endorsing Jenny Durkan. They had Ed’s back and now they have Jenny’s. It’s reasonable to assume something greater than all of them has their backs in turn. The Process abides.
In the Mayoral Forum last week at KEXP, the candidates were asked to name some of their go-to mentors and advisors on the environment. Durkan reticently fumbled through her answer—“Do I have to single them out?”—before naming just two people, one of them an executive director for a well-resourced parks non-profit. When it was Moon’s turn she rattled off a handful of organizations: Climate Solutions, Got Green, SAGE, Sierra Club.
Where Durkan grudgingly namedropped a couple highly placed individuals who have the privilege of bending her ear, Moon rattled off a list of organizations representing diverse, broad-based constituencies whose counsel she seeks. If the word “progressive” still had any meaning (which it doesn’t) Moon’s answer is what it’d look like in practice.
In an earlier debate, every answer Durkan gave on housing affordability centered on incentivizing landlords and developers, her major donors, while every answer Moon gave was about protecting those most impacted and displaced by the historic crisis. The contrast could not be clearer. Guess which candidate’s website describes them as “the only truly experienced progressive leader on the ballot”?
I am hereby calling for a moratorium on “progressive.” We need to strike the word from our political vocabulary. Trust me, we can easily do without it; we’ve just got to ask the right questions. From here on out if you’re running for office in Seattle, don’t tell us you’re progressive. Tell us who’s got your back and we’ll decide.
Brett Hamil is a comedian, writer and host of political comedy talk shows The Seattle Process and The Shadow Council. The Seattle Weekly named him Best Comedian of 2017. He currently resides in South Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Chris Blakeley