It’s election time again and, while Geov usually gives his recommendations and predictions for the upcoming elections, he’s been ill and unable to write this article. The duty has passed to me this year. Frankly, I’m not happy about it.
First of all, like most folks, I don’t pay that much attention to election campaigns. This year it’s been easy to do that, because the candidates haven’t been campaigning very much in comparison with prior years. It’s already three weeks before the election and I have seen few mailings, no door-belling, no radio or TV ads, and damn few yard signs. Where are these people?
Secondly, the propositions and initiatives on this year’s ballot are unexciting, to say the least, and downright harmful, in the case of I-695 and I-696. With the addition of over a dozen impenetrable city propositions, there’s a lot here to scare folks away from voting at all. But, for what it’s worth, here’s my recommendations for this year’s elections:
The four Seattle City Council races are depressing. For Position 1, Judy Nicastro is the choice over Cheryl Chow, a former city councilwomen of no special note. In spite of the fact that Nicastro has backed away from rent control and is fast becoming the kind of candidate you can’t trust once she’s elected, at least Nicastro has expressed progressive values. Chow seems stuck in a world of “cottagestyle homes,” “improvement loans,” more “bicycle police squads,” and clean sidewalks–the issues that got her elected to her first city council term, but just won’t cut it this time.
In Position 3, Peter Steinbrueck will easily win re-election over Lenora Jones, a right-wing, religious wacko whose statement in the voter’s pamphlet reads: “Blessed is the Nation Whose God is the Lord.” Unfortunately, Steinbrueck doesn’t deserve to have it so easy. He’s done a miserable job as the chair of the council’s housing committee this year–including helping the Seattle Housing Authority back out of its obligation to provide a one-for-one replacement of low-income housing units for former residents of Holly Park.
Curt Firestone has survived the primary to go head-to-head with Margaret Pageler for Position 5, and he’s the one to vote for. Unfortunately, the numbers from the primary show he hasn’t got a prayer of winning, so he’s turned to desperate measures to try to win media attention and votes. For example, he came out for scrapping light rail and building the Monorail instead, which he claims is cheaper. Maybe. But shouting “dump Sound Transit”–especially after the light rail system plans are almost complete and federal and state funding is already in the pipeline (unlike with the Monorail, which hasn’t got a dime)–is going to hurt him more than help him. Furthermore, Firestone has missed some obvious opportunities to torpedo Pageler on her abysmal record on the council. While he’s made an issue of her initial support for logging the Cedar River Watershed, he’s passed up her role in pouring city money into the Nordstrom parking garage and her most recent support for Peter Steinbrueck’s SHA/Holly Park shenanigans. This has allowed Pageler to lie about her record and take credit for things that have happened in spite of her; unfortunately, she’ll get away with it, get elected, and–most frightening of all–become the next city council president.
Position 7 is the fun race this year. While Heidi Wills has the support of many progressives (in spite of her lack of experience working in a real job in the real world), Charlie Chong is the man to vote for. He’s pissed off a lot of activists and establishment folks, and that’s why I like him. His main virtue is his willingness to listen to what ordinary people have to say and expand their access to the city council. It was Chong that proved that candidates could get elected to city council on populist issues, at a time when every other candidate was spouting a “more police, cleaner streets” mantra. Chong also has the habit of saying exactly what he thinks; for example, his voter’s pamphlet statement comes right out and says what Steinbrueck’s should, but doesn’t: “I believe the City needs to stop the loss of existing affordable housing … To save affordable apartments, we need a moratorium on demolitions.”
Position 9 is the tragedy in progress: Jim Compton, the media personality vs. Dawn Mason, the progressive underdog. Compton is the big-business candidate in disguise; for example, his housing solutions include “tax abatement” and “zoning and code improvements”–key words for subsidies to developers. Our inflated housing costs are already enough of a subsidy. He’s also pro-WTO. Mason, on the other hand, at least knows the issues, has support in the African-American community, and in her short stint in the state legislature she didn’t come up with anything as stupid as the Olympics in Seattle (which is right down Compton’s alley). Vote for Dawn Mason and hope she doesn’t get trounced too badly.
The King County Council races, as usual, are a joke–mostly incumbents running unopposed, with the exception of two wacko, pro-I695 candidates–one a Libertarian and the other a Republican. Cynthia Sullivan, Larry Phillips, Rob McKenna, and Greg Nickels will all get re-elected, so don’t waste your vote on any of them. Larry Gossett will, too, but he deserves a little more respect than the other flotsam, so ink his little circle. David Irons, on the other hand is the guy who ousted pro-environmental incumbent Brian Derdowski. Ironically, Irons’ family are big Derdowski supporters; pissed that David ran against the Derd, David’s little sister is running a write-in campaign against her own brother. The incestuous back-stabbing antics of suburban politics is always entertaining. To participate in the drama, write “Di Irons” in the write-in slot for County Council Position 12.
Four slots are open for Seattle School District Directors. The candidates mostly divide into two camps: those who loved John Stanford (i.e., turning schools into bootcamps) and who support advertising in the schools, and those who think education is something more besides just training kids to work at Microsoft and Boeing. Another issue of contention is the state’s efforts to tear down current (and, in some cases, historic) old school buildings to build newer, more expensive, smaller buildings. The first group includes Barbara Schlag Peterson, Steve Brown, Nancy Waldman, and Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, who also boasts about ending school desegregation. Unfortunately, their opponents are not much better. Martin Ringhofer’s a nut, Sharda Bowen has no experience, and Mary Jean Ryan wants to make Seattle schools resemble corporate motivational seminars. Which means you should vote for Susan Kline for District No. 2 and pass up the other races. To her credit, Kline recommends individual education plans for students–an option that has worked well in other school districts.
By now you’ve probably heard all the arguments for and against I-695. It will drop your auto license tab fees to $30, but the loss in revenue to the state is a major blow–especially to the transportation package voters approved last year (Referendum 49). It will cut the public transit budget by 25%, and Metro is already scrambling to figure out which bus routes to cut. It also means less money for social services: child abuse prevention, domestic violence programs, school safety programs, etc. But there’s more.
In case you haven’t heard–because the media and I-695 opponents haven’t done a good job of telling us–$30 car tabs is not what I-695 is really about. It’s about stopping state government from raising any new tax revenue. Here’s the exact wording from the text of I-695: “(1) Any tax increase imposed by the state shall require voter approval. (2) For the purposes of this section, “tax,” includes, but is not necessarily limited to, sales and use taxes, property taxes, business and occupation taxes, excise taxes, fuel taxes, impact fees, license fees, permit fees, and any monetary charge by government.” The key words here are “business and occupation taxes” and “excise taxes.” While Tim Eyman, the sponsor of I-695, and all his supporters have sold this as a $30 auto license tab initiative, it’s really a break for big business, and Eyman recently wrote an editorial in the Puget Sound Business Journal saying as much.
You should vote NO on I-695. But it will probably pass, because its opponents haven’t said the obvious: the auto license tab fee is the most progressive tax in the State of Washington. It’s a tax on an environmentally damaging industry: auto transportation. It’s also indexed to the value of the vehicle: people who have more money and can buy more expensive cars, pay more for their tabs. Finally, in this era of gas-guzzling, air-fouling, road-hogging sport utility vehicles, the auto license tab tax ought to be jacked up as an incentive to prevent people from buying and driving their damn SUVs, and to encourage people to ride-share and take the bus.
I-695 will probably pass, but when it does, it’s headed straight for court and a constitutionality review. Let’s hope it dies there.
I-696 is the ban on commercial net, troll, and trawl fishing. Good idea, but bad execution. It seems great on the surface, until you look into the politics behind it. Its main supporters are a group of rabidly right-wing sports fishermen, and its main impact, if it passes, will be to sabotage decades of coalition work between environmentalists, fishermen, tribes, and state biologists to restore salmon habitat. I-696 attempts to sell itself as a “save the salmon” initiative, yet it doesn’t address any of the causes of habitat loss: logging, dams, river and ocean pollution, etc. It’s a “give us the salmon, not them” initiative and you should vote No on I-696.
SJR 8206 would allow the state to back bonds issued by school districts to fund capital (usually construction) levies. Its effect would be to allow school districts to pay a lower interest rate on their debts. This resolution would help out poor and rural school districts the most. Since I went to school in the Bethel School District and have depressing memories of a leaking roof, faulty lights, electrical fires, water dripping through light sockets, and overflowing toilets, I say you should vote Yes on SJR 8206. I’m also happy to see that its supporters include a member of the Bethel School Board, the Wenatchee School District, and the Castle Rock School District.
SSJR 8208, on the other hand, deserves your No vote. The state wants your permission to invest money in the Emergency Reserve Fund in risky stocks and junk bonds. Forget that crap. We all know the stock market isn’t going to keep rising forever, even if our legislators are dumb enough to think so.
County Charter Amendment 1 also gets a No vote. This referendum would allow the county council to bypass the veto of the county executive by submitting every little administrative quarrel to public vote. It was drafted by right-wing nuts to bypass the checks and balances in the county charter.
City Proposition 1 seeks to impose a property tax levy, half of which will fund improvements to the Opera House and the Seattle Center, and the other half to fund new community centers located mostly in neighborhoods north of the ship canal. Obviously, the new community centers are a bribe to get voters (who mostly live north of the ship canal) to approve a renovation of the Opera House. Why can’t private money do it–some of the same rich folks who built a new Symphony Hall downtown? This time around, the city and opera patrons expect us to pay for it. We should say No to Proposition 1.
There are 14 other city propositions on the ballot–enough to make anyone’s eyes cross. There are three possible reactions to all these ballot measures: 1) vote No on all of them in the assumption that politicians always change things for the worse, 2) vote Yes on all of them in the naïve assumption that politicians know what’s good for us, or 3) read through them all and make a hasty decision on each one, based on old-fashioned common sense. I’m doing the third option, although you’re perfectly free to do the first option, with my blessing.
Upon examining these propositions, I finally found an answer to my old question: “what in the hell have Mayor Paul Schell and City Council President Sue Donaldson been doing all this time in office?” The answer is: rewriting the city charter. Each of these propositions deals with “cleaning up” the city charter by deleting passages made obsolete by state law or recent charter amendments, or by rewriting the charter in some other way. Most of them seem benign, but one of them–Prop. 10–is spectacularly bad. Here’s a quick run-down:
Prop. 2: vote No. It would rewrite the whole city charter to eliminate sexist language. I’m not a fan of sexist language; but, do we have to waste time and money rewriting the whole city charter?
Prop. 3: Yes. It deletes references to city departments that no longer exist.
Prop. 4: Yes. It deletes references to the elected offices of City Comptroller and City Treasurer, which were replaced by appointees (City Clerk and City Auditor).
Prop. 5: Yes. This would delete outdated instructions on preparing the city budget that no longer apply; the city follows state law instead.
Prop. 6: No. This does away with the provision that provides for a city Auditing Committee composed of the mayor, city council president, and other officials. Just because the Auditing Committee hasn’t been used in a really long time, doesn’t mean it won’t be needed in the future.
Prop. 7 and Prop. 8: Yes. Prop. 7 would bring the requirements for filing claims and lawsuits against the city into compliance with state law. Prop. 8 would do the same for conducting city elections. The city already follows state law, anyway.
Prop. 9: Yes. This allows the appointment of temporary members to the Civil Service Commission and clarifies the appeals process, apparently to everyone’s benefit.
Prop. 10: NO, absolutely NOT! This is the nasty proposition Schell and Donaldson thought they could sneak by us. It would allow the mayor to weasel out of providing a competitive test to candidates for Chief of Police. The results of the tests are made part of the public record prior to the City Council’s approval of the mayor’s appointee. Schell wants to make the process less open. No way!
Prop. 11: No. Prop. 11 would reduce the level of experience that candidates need to qualify for Chief of the Fire Department.
Prop. 12: Yes. This clarifies the timing of when the mayor has “favorably acted on a bill” (i.e., approved it).
Prop. 13: Yes. This would allow more time to gather signatures on initiatives.
Prop. 14: Yes. Assistants to department heads would no longer have to take an oath of office. Oaths of office are stupid.
Prop. 15: No. This would effect the drafting of amendments to the city charter. It would allow portions of the charter to be mentioned only by title or number, and not by restating the whole passage to be amended. This lacks transparency; people need to be able to read the sections that are up for amendment.
Wew! There you have it. Happy voting on November 2nd.