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Posts published in “Washington column”

A Socialist – no, really?

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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.

Washington through lines

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Do the Washington election results leave us with any particular through-lines?

You know, what with the ousting of a Seattle mayor, the rejection of a major statewide ballot issue, apparent narrow win of a Republican to take a Kitsap-area Senate seat, the seeming SeaTac adoption of a $15 minimum wage. And so on.

The major thread seems to be, for all that people are said to be riotously unhappy, a general willingness to stick with the status quo.
Could it be that after making national waves in 2012 on marijuana and gay marriage, the voters decided to more or less hang in there with what they already had this time?

That's not a perfect or absolute suggestion, but there's some reason to think it can fit much of what we saw.

It certainly fits I-522, the measure intended to require labeling of genetically modified food. The results in that issue weren't a slam dunk, but the rejection may have rested in part with an unease about the idea, a sense that not all the implications were fully thought through. The range of opponents was broad, and the subject a new one for many voters to deal with. Many may have decided, understandably, that they weren't going to back something they didn't think they fully understood.
And the ouster of a Seattle mayor? Well, it was the defeat – the second mayoral ouster in a row, remember – of Mayor Mike McGinn. But victor Ed Murray, a veteran legislator from Seattle, is hardly unknown locally, and the two have views on issues close enough that they struggled, without much success, to figure out how to differentiate themselves. Both are liberal Democrats; Murray may be a little closer to business and organized labor (and the gay community, of course), and McGinn closer to activist Democrats. But the difference is more in the area of personality and style. Seattle voters traditionally have liked strong personalities in their mayors, and Murray may fit that mold a little more closely. Remember: Seattle voters had their choice of many options in the primary, and these were the two guys they chose. They're shades of each other.

Incumbents did well in the Seattle council races, and, where they were challenged at all, on the King County Council. Republican Reagan Dunn was seriously challenged, but prevailed. Executive Dow Constantine had a substantial challenger, but seems never to have broken a sweat. (That race seemed hardly to generate even any headlines, unusual for a King executive race.)

The Senate rate, in which Republican Jan Angel seems (the qualifier needs to be thrown in for a bit, since the race is still close) to have won, is in part the case of a close district, sometimes Democratic leaning, but featuring a Republican candidate who runs in line with the tenor of the district and has deeper political roots and visibility than the Democrat. The upshot may make life harder for Democrats as they try to retake control of the state Senate, but the local dynamic was different from that.

You could break from the pattern a bit, probably, with SeaTac and its vote to support a $15 minimum wage. Despite the city's small size, the ballot issue drew national attention. (The airport's fame may have helped with that.) And maybe there's something of a leading indicator here for the future. But the SeaTac vote was something of an outlier.

Maybe it properly goes into the “watch for more of this in 2014” folder.

Gentle giant

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Towards the end of his fine novel, Citizen Vince, Spokane journalist turned best selling novelist Jess Walter describes Vince’s encounter with an Irish politician in a bar on Sprague Avenue inside a well-known downtown Spokane hotel.

It is the day before the 1980 election and Vince, a felon placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program, has been debating for a week whether to vote given his new identity and a clean slate. He strides into the lounge, sits at the bar and asks the bartender if he can switch the tv above the booze to the news for just ten minutes even though Monday Night Football is about to begin.

The bartender politely points out that the five other patrons at the bar want the football game, but tells Vince if he can get one other patron to second his request he’ll switch for ten minutes. Vince surveys the lounge recognizing that none of those at the bar will give him a second. However, there are two gray suits sitting at a table having highballs and eating a steak.

Anyone familiar with Spokane immediately recognizes the Ridpath Hotel. The Irish politician is also recognizable - it is Tom Foley, the only person to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from the vast area west of Texas.

Vince recognizes that the larger of the two suits, a bearish but friendly looking guy, is the local congressman---he knows his name begins with F. Vince asks if the Congressman will be the second. As only a writer with a novelist’s eye can, Walter captures the puckish humor of the late Speaker:

He stands, raises a draft beer, and covers his heart. “Esteemed colleagues, the representative from Table Six in the great state of Washington - home of glorious wheat fields and aluminum plants, cool, clear rivers and snow-
capped mountains, and the finest bar patrons in this great country, proudly casts his vote in favor of ten minutes of misery and heartache courtesy of the national news.”

The guys at the bar raise their glasses in confused reverie as the bartender reaches up to turn the channel.

Anyone who ever knew Speaker Foley can easily envision this fictional scene. It captures the quintessential Foley - his humor, wit, intelligence, compassion, perspicacity, all in one brief vignette. The Ridpath, once the hotel of choice for Labor as the only “union” hotel in Spokane, has been shuttered for years. And Tom Foley passed away at the age of 84 this past week. (more…)

The Seattle mayor map

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

After the results settled from the Seattle mayoral primary - or is it pre-runoff? - Seattle political consultant Benjamin Anderstone mapped the results by precinct. You can see the results via the PubliCola site.

Publicola carried Anderstone's summing up:

Here's the results for the 2013 Primary for Seattle mayor. Mike McGinn (green) performed well in young, highly urban areas. Bruce Harrell (yellow) did very strongly in ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Peter Steinbrueck (blue) won a few precincts, mostly ones with lots of long-time voters. Ed Murray (red) basically cleaned up the rest of the Democratic vote, doing especially well in wealthier zones.

That seems about right, looking at the precincts and their coloration, but is there might we might draw?

First, it seems that McGinn's base from four years ago stayed with him. He had a young, somewhat idealistic, base back then, and he seems to have retained it - but he also seems not to have expanded a lot beyond it. Young idealists aren't an operating majority.

In the runoff, he faces legislator Ed Murray, who seemed to do notably well in all the precincts not dominated by specific ethnic minorities, the elderly, and the notably young. But there's a catch: It's a little easier in saying that to define what Murray's base isn't, than what it is.

A little more definition will be needed, and may be unavoidable, between here and November.

A rightward drift

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

A few minutes before writing this I was reading a column by conservative Myra Adams in the Daily Beast, inquiring about whether a Republican can win the 270 electoral votes needed to become president in 2016, and concluding that as matters sit, probably not.

She started with this: "As I was chatting with a man in his mid-30s, the conversation turned to the 2016 presidential race. When I asked him who he was supporting as the Republican nominee, his answer was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Then I was prompted to ask the question I ask every Republican after they tell me their preferred candidate: “Do you think Rand Paul can win 270 electoral votes?” The man immediately replied, “I never thought about that.” ... let me state that the concept of nominating someone more conservative than ever in 2016 is a foregone conclusion among the Republican base."

But, she suggested, a general election win by a Republican is extremely unlikely under those conditions.

In a somewhat different context, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times makes a similar point in a column today, in considering the prospective candidates for state Republican Party chair.

He quoted one: “American before partisan, conservative before republican, dead before liberal.”

Another: “Will the Jews face another Holocaust? We know that babies have been facing their Holocaust. Abortions and infanticides.”

A third: “Social Security: The Statist Fraud that Undermines Everything Else.”

And then there's state Senator Pam Roach who, he notes, may be running "to lead a party that has tried to bar her in the past for bad behavior."

And sundry others who argue that the party's big mistake has been trying to cave to the political center.

Odds are that the Republican Party will make a political recovery one day. But that day does not seem to be soon.