|RANDY STAPILUS / Washington|
A city council race in Seattle drawing national attention? Well, yeah, in this case. It involves the ouster of an incumbent, Richard Conlin, but that isn't the reason. Or the fact that the race was very close, coming into clear focus only well into last week.
Rather, it was that an avowed Socialist, Kshama Sawant, appears (narrowly, at a most-recent 1,148-vote lead) to have won.
Socialists have been getting the hard-core blast in national politics for the last couple of decades, demonized to the point that their actual stances have gotten obscured. Even a writer on the Seattle Horse's Ass blog, no stranger to liberalism, remarked, “It’s so rare that someone in government is to my left, it’ll be interesting to see what it actually looks like.”
Maybe not all that startling. Some decades ago, election of Socialists to local government offices was not especially rare. Small towns in places like Idaho used to do it with some regularity. Check out this list in Wikipedia of Socialist mayors around the country; it's a long list. Until not so long ago, socialists weren't that far out of the political mainstream.
(Quietly, to an extent, not so much even now: Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has described himself as a socialist, though generally he caucuses with the Senate Democrats and votes much as most of them do.)
So what is this exotic partisan have in mind for the council? What's the far-out agenda?
The list of issues on her campaign web site suggests: She likes the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage, taxpayer-funded election campaigns, labeling GMO foods, and opposition to the coal transport trains.
In other words, the kind of stuff most Seattle City Council members already pretty much support, rent control probably excepted.
The most distinctive element is the up-front quote: “Our campaign is not an isolated event, it's a bellwether for what's going to happen in the future.”
Activism and movement, in other words, at least as much as policy.