by Geov Parrish
Okay, so granted, the concept of “American democracy” is a bit tarnished: Citizens United, voter suppression, gerrymandering, this list goes on ad nauseam. A 2014 Princeton study found that there was no statistical correlation between what, according to public polling, the American public wants Congress to do and what Congress actually does. But there is a very high correlation between what the very wealthy want (using the same metric) and what Congress actually does. That’s not a representative democracy but a plutocracy — which is, arguably, what America’s heavily worshiped “founding fathers” wanted to begin with.
But the election now underway is still the most important of our lifetime. Vote and then get your friends to vote, too.
We can still influence the outcomes you care most about, especially locally, whether or not they’re on your own ballot, by donating and/or volunteering. But there’s a broader and more critical reason for getting involved in this election: Because we still can.
What’s become clearer and clearer this year is that Donald Trump, like his handler, Vladimir Putin, is committed to tearing down our country’s democratic structures and replacing them with an authoritarian regime featuring himself (and maybe, in a few years, his kids.). What this vision does not include is any elections that offer meaningful choices to ordinary citizens. And yes, there is still a very meaningful difference between playing at democracy and full—on fascism. Which is the governing model Trump and his Republican Party enablers want to achieve. Vote now, so we can vote in 2020.
It is appealing to get involved in local political issues because they operate at a level where ordinary people can still have an impact. As Seattle gets bigger and wealthier, that seems like it’s becoming less true. But much of what’s undermining accountability to ordinary citizens by our local political leaders is happening at the national level: a political party with a decades-long commitment to voter suppression, gerrymandering, and unlimited corporate financing of elections has led, inevitably, to a reactionary Supreme Court and a president who thinks his personal interests (and wealth) should take precedence over, well, everything — including fair elections and the rule of law, but excluding Mr. Putin, Saudi princes, and all of the other murderous dictators that he yearns to emulate.
Want to dis-empower Trump? Then vote. And get your friends to vote. And their friends. Get so many people to vote that the Russians can’t possibly hide what the American people — and the people of our state and city — demand.
This past week’s city council budget hearing gave a stark example of what’s at stake. While the city council and mayor aren’t up for election this year, state legislators are. This week, literally hundreds of people testified. Almost all were critical of some part of the budget — from the extensive cuts to social services to the failure to meaningfully address our affordable housing crisis, institutional racism in the justice system, and much more. The proposed cuts would disproportionately affect marginalized communities, people of color, seniors, and youth — segments of our community who often don’t vote. This time, our voices need to be heard.
Let’s look at some of the most important items on this year’s ballot:
President Donald Trump has been able to evade legal accountability for what a great deal of evidence indicates a criminal administration, not to mention one that seems to revel in cruelty toward anyone it doesn’t see as its voting base. This is largely because Republicans have, for the past two years, controlled both sides Congress and installed political allies at all levels of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. Reversing that damage and restoring accountability can happen only if Democrats can retake at least one part of Congress. Washington State can’t directly influence Democratic efforts to retake the Senate — Democrat Maria Cantwell appears to be coasting to re-election — but our state can play a critical role in efforts to retake the House of Representatives.
Democrats need to win a net of 24 seats currently held by Republicans to take back the House of Representatives. To say that having the Democrats win back at least one house of Congress dramatically increases the chance that we can save American democracy is, sadly, not so much hyperbole any longer. Another two years of Republicans running everything in D.C. and who knows which of us will be on the official Enemies of the People list by 2020. Vote now, so that we can vote later. The stakes in an American election have never been higher than they will be this November — and that includes the presidential election of 1860.
Every national list of possible Democratic pickups includes this local district (as well as tight races in two other Washington State congressional districts, District 3 and District5, centered on Vancouver and Spokane, respectively.) Conversely, if Democrats can’t take our Eastside district despite its surging urban (and Democratic-leaning) population growth, it likely won’t win back the House or Senate, either. On a host of issues, from federal funding for social and education priorities to Seattle’s sanctuary city status to ICE depredations and supercharging racism and bigotry, what’s going on back there in the Era of Trump has a huge impact here.
After seven terms and far too many years, former King County Sheriff Dave Reichert is retiring as a Republican congressman serving eastern King County and Kittitas County. In 2012, state Republicans protected Reichert from the changing demographics of the Eastside by adding Kittitas County (and some pieces of other east-of-the-mountains counties) to the district. But this year, even that may not be enough. Ellensburg and Cle Elum just can’t compete with the many tens of thousands of new, Democratic-leaning voters the Eastside has added in recent years.
The Republican candidate for Reichert’s seat in November is Republican Dino Rossi, who nearly won the governorship in 2004 (and still thinks he did) by pretending to be a lot more moderate than the frothing, Trump-adoring self that he’s fessing up to as the 2018 Rossi. And this Rossi, despite having already lost three statewide gubernatorial and U.S. Senate campaigns, can still draw on nearly unlimited money, and the love of fellow Trump fetishists everywhere. So the paramount task for our eastern and southern suburban neighbors in this primary is to beat Rossi. Most polling of this race rates it as too close to call.
The Democrat facing Rossi is Kim Schrier, a Sammamish pediatrician who has been running a Hillary Clinton-style campaign of trying not to offend anyone, which might fit this historically Republican district, but definitely doesn’t fit our political landscape in 2018. We’ll see, in just a dew days, how well her strategy has worked. A lot is at stake.
The other interesting local Congressional race is in District 9, which stretches from Seattle’s south suburbs to suburban Tacoma. Once upon a time in 1990 the incumbent, Democrat Adam Smith, was a dynamic young politician. That year, he won his race for the state senate at age 25, becoming, at the time, the youngest state senator in the country. Six years later, he was elected to Congress.
He’s been there ever since. This year, he’s seeking his 12th two-year term in a district that has completely changed under him. What was once a bucolic suburban/exurban district where Smith could carve out a comfortable career representing Boeing and Fort Lewis is now the state’s only minority-majority congressional district, covering south King and parts of Pierce Counties. Smith, a hawkish Democrat who’s risen over the years to become the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, hasn’t faced a serious challenge in years. But now he’s got one, in a district he no longer fits.
His challenger, Sarah Smith, is being compared by a lot of observers to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young Bronx firebrand who in June upset powerful incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley (who is white) in an almost entirely Latino and Black district. The parallels aren’t exact, but Smith’s politics are similar enough to Ocasio-Cortez that it will be fascinating, and telling, to see how she does in a district that doesn’t even remotely resemble the one Adam Smith, like Joe Crowley, was first elected in.
State Legislative Races
As usual, most Seattle races are unopposed incumbents or non-competitive races. But there are a few interesting ones, mostly in the burbs as with the congressional races:
In Legislative District (LD) 30, Federal Way is one of those south King County suburbs where demographics have changed a lot in recent years, with a large influx of immigrants and other people of color fleeing Seattle rents. Inexplicably, they are still represented in the state senate by Mark Miloscia, one of the most obnoxious of Olympia’s Republicans. (Yes, that’s a high bar.) You may remember this homophobic, anti-abortion culture warrior from his PR stunts in Belltown last summer bashing The Big City for trying to house people experiencing homelessness. Yeah, that guy. For the first time in ages, Miloscia has drawn a strong opponent: Claire Wilson, a former teacher who is a Federal Way School District board director. Wilson represents Democrats’ best chance for buttressing the slim one-vote margin of control Democrats have held in the state senate since 2016, breaking years of Republican-backed gridlock in Olympia.
Over the past two decades, two things have been constants in local politics: 1) Seattle’s legislative districts are dominated by Democrats; 2) Of those Democrats, the ones in Legislative District 32 (North Seattle and Shoreline) are always at war with each other.
The basic split is between corporate centrists and progressives. In the ’90s it was remnants of the Rainbow Coalition at war with Clinton supporters. Now, it’s Bernie Sanders fans against, uh, Clinton supporters.
In this race, the war features incumbent Sen. Maralyn Chase. She’s abrasive and fearless and one of the few members of Seattle’s legislative delegation — the safest and most left-leaning Democratic districts in the state — who is progressive AF. The corporate wing’s challenger, Shoreline Deputy Mayor Jesse Saloman, has raised far more money than Chase. Saloman has establishment Dems fully in his corner
In West Seattle’s Legislative District 34, two Democrats — one progressive, one corporatist — seek to replace the retiring Sharon Nelson. The corporatist is Shannon Braddock, last seen in 2015 losing her Chamber-backed bid for Seattle City Council to Lisa Herbold by the narrowest of margins, despite outspending Herbold by a 3-to-1 margin. Her opponent is Joe Nguyen, a young, progressive candidate in a race most observers now rate a toss-up.
In Legislative District 41, My-Linh Thai is a truly remarkable candidate. If elected, she would the first refugee ever to serve in Olympia. She’s also president of the Bellevue School Board and would add another desperately needed voice for public education in our state legislature.
Finally, down in Auburn, incumbent and Republican Joe Fain made headlines of the wrong kind last month when, in the thick of the Kavanaugh confirmation battle, he was accused of rape by a City of Seattle analyst, Candace Faber, in 2007. Naturally, Fain refused to suspend his campaign. Replacing him would be Mona Das, a well-qualified woman of color who is unlikely to ever be credibly accused of being a rapist.
Two more local races of note: King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg officially left the Republican Party and became a Democrat earlier this year, probably due to the fact that for the first time in his three terms, he had a strong challenger this year: local attorney Daren Morris, who was running a strong campaign against the institutional racism that still pervades our local “justice” system. Alas, Morris suspended his campaign in September, reportedly due to health problems. We wish him the best, and hopefully a similar candidate will emerge in 2022.
Three state supreme court justices are up for re-election this year, but only one has an opponent. Our state supreme court is currently the most progressive it’s been in decades — despite the late Paul Allen’s attempts in years past to stack it with charter schools enthusiasts. Incumbent Steve Gonzalez is an important reason why we’re finally getting long-overdue rulings such as the abolition of capital punishment, and sentences of life without parole for minors. His opponent, Nathan Choi, ran for a lower court last year and lost, so now he wants to be on the state’s highest court instead. Let the voters decide.
This year, there are several high-profile state initiatives.
It’s bad enough that the federal government is run by people who deny climate science. But our state legislature has been notable for its failure to act on climate change, too, despite Gov. Jay Inslee’s attempts to introduce carbon fee legislation every single year he’s been governor. Hence, Initiative 1631. It’s main opponents are, naturally, oil and gas companies whose concern-trolling PACs have been dumping a ton of money into this campaign to spread dubious or specious arguments: objections like “it has too many exemptions” — which is true, but that can be fixed later — or, “it will increase energy costs!” — an argument that proponents dispute. Our planet isn’t waiting around for political consensus or the perfect legislation.
Initiative 1634 was written by the sugared drink industry, which has been barraging voters with perhaps the most blatantly dishonest campaign I’ve seen in the two decades since our state supreme court ruled that dishonesty in campaign ads is protected free speech. The whole point of this initiative is to prevent other cities in our state from imitating Seattle’s successful sugared drink tax, not other groceries. — The Seattle tax has been cutting sugared drink consumption and raising a bunch of money for critical education programs, and which is grandfathered under this initiative — if it passed, it would not repeal Seattle’s tax. So, to be clear, politicians are not going to tax your groceries, despite the claims of worried (and woefully misinformed) seniors on TV ads paid for by Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Dr. Pepper, and Red Bull (the four biggest donors to this initiative). Sales taxes on the types of items those seniors are ostentatiously putting in their shopping baskets are currently illegal, and nobody has seriously proposed changing that. Plus, do you really want your state laws to be written by some government affairs hack from Coca-Cola?
Initiative 1639 is often referred to as the most ambitious gun reform package in our state’s history, which, while true, is a really depressing statement on the insanity of our gun laws. There’s nothing radical in I-1639. It contains all popular, common-sense reforms such as extending background checks and raising the legal purchase of guns age to 21 for semi-automatic weapons.
It’s currently all but impossible to prosecute law enforcement officers for bad on-duty killings due to our uniquely high bar that requires prosecutors to prove that the officer had “personal malice” toward his or her victim. Initiative 940 would change that. The state legislature tried to pass a compromise bill that would have fixed this, but the legislation was struck down by the Washington Supreme Court, so now it’s on the ballot instead. I-940 would also require more training in de-escalation and in dealing with people suffering from mental health crises — long-overdue provisions.
Lastly, there’s the City of Seattle’s Proposition 1, a huge education levy that does a lot of good things, notably expanding the successful pilot program for universal preschool that Seattle voters passed a few years back citywide. But as former Seattle School Board member Sally Soriano points out, buried in the fine print is money for corporate, for-profit charter schools. That’s a problem. A big one.
That’s a lot for one ballot. And the stakes are incredibly high. Happily, for the first time this year (thanks to long-overdue action by the King County Council), there’s no postage needed for your ballot this year. Because, honestly, how many people even know where to find postage stamps any more? Return your postage-paid ballot through the mail, or to any of the county’s ballot drop boxes, by Tuesday, November 6.
Featured Photo: A ballot drop box outside the Rainier Beach Community Center. (Photo: Aaron Burkhalter)