Higher Minimum Wage Legislation at the Local Level.
Higher Minimum Wage Legislation at the Local Level.
Written by: Nick Licata
I often read the inspiring tale of The Little Train That Could to my two-year-old granddaughter. When she gets older, I should read her Bob Wodnik’s book, Back on Track – Sound Transit’s Fight to Save Light Rail, because like that children’s book it is inspiring.
Wodnik served as the senior communications specialist from 1999 to 2017, for the Seattle region’s bus-rail agency, Sound Transit. He tells the inside story of how transit advocates fought against an array of formidable critics to build the multi-billion dollar Link Light rail train network, now running from north Seattle to the SeaTac Airport far south of the city for a total of 22 miles.
The book is not an analysis of how this system compares to other options that could have been pursued. Seattle would have been the only city in the country with a major monorail system but after passing four ballot votes, it was defeated on the fifth, and construction never began. There have also been proponents for building an alternative Rapid Bus System, using dedicated lanes. But it never came close to a city-wide vote, despite the critics providing details and statistics on how such a system could work. And finally, some relied on just paving more roads instead of laying down rail – a solution attempted in other cities without lasting traffic congestion relief, the roads just fill as soon as they are built.
But getting broad public approval for building an urban rail system is not an easy sell to the public. Approving a fixed-rail rapid transit for a city is one of the most contentious decisions that an urban populace can make. It is often rejected through popular votes, as has happened in Austin, Tampa, San Antonio, Nashville, and in Seattle, where it was defeated at the election polls in 1968,1970, and 1995.
Wodnik clearly reveals the internal problems that plagued Sound Transit’s initial debut. It struggled to gain creditability, after its massive budget gap was revealed, with some of the most influential regional players, like the Chamber of Commerce and the daily newspapers suggesting that the project was a loser. Public officials, both Democrats, and Republicans, including two former governors, Booth Gardner and John Spellman, two County Council members, Maggie Fimia and Rob McKenna, and two city councilmembers, Peter and I, severely criticized its management for lack of transparency.
The turning points for Seattle came in 1988 when a countywide advisory ballot to build light rail passed with 70% approval but with no costs attached, and in 1996, when the proposal, with costs, identified, passed in the three contiguous counties, King, Snohomish, and Pierce. Their county councils would have representatives on the newly created Sound Transit board, which had the authority to build light rail, commuter train and rapid ride bus lines for the region. The bus lines became the workhorses, out of the limelight but delivering early results. The commuter rail, although struggling for ridership, did not create opposition like the light rail system.
In a suspenseful tale, Wodnik details how it took 13 years to open Light Link rail, fighting off opposition from eight different organized citizen groups, seven lawsuits and often the two daily newspapers. They were accused of ignoring the poorest neighborhood in Seattle, the Rainier Valley when the light rail was to be on the surface and not buried in a tunnel.
On the other hand, they were also accused of mission creep as various interest groups argued for different rail alignments that best suited a business and residential community’s needs. Such competing objectives, which is typical in other urban rail projects, it is a wonder how they succeeded? Wodnik attributes it to hard work, luck and a focused leader.
Sound Transit’s main challenge was getting out solid and consistent information to the public. People often support the idea of rapid transit, it’s in accepting the details and cost that dilutes that support; focus groups strongly favored Seattle having a light rail system, but not so much when the details were revealed.
The biggest revelation occurred at the end of 2000 when the newly hired and highly competent Joni Earl was hired. The former city manager for Mill Creek, and a trained accountant, took only two months to discover that Sound Transit’s Link Rail cost estimates were a billion off and would take 3 years longer to finish the project than what was promised to the voters.
Multiple newspapers, including the Daily Journal of Commerce, skewered the agency for its arrogance. The Federal Transit Administration’s Inspector General undertook a two-year investigation to out any fraud that may have occurred, holding up a half a billion-dollar grant that Sound Transit desperately needed. No fraud was found, but public trust in the agency was not shored up until the agency opened up its first stage of light link rail, running from downtown Seattle to the airport in 2009.
Wodnik presents both light rail critics and advocates fairly. The core supporters, however, were not the often skeptical business leaders. Instead, all but one of the eighteen major players he lists at the front of the book, were Sound Transit employees and board members who believed that a public rapid transit system was desperately needed to meet Seattle’s tremendous growth. Between 1960 and 1990 the number of jobs in Central Puget Sound more than doubled, the population grew 82%, and the number of registered vehicles was increasing faster than the population.
Although Sound Transit’s Link Rail teetered on failure, it did get built. Although some critics might claim that was because big money backed the project, there was no evidence presented that building a light rail system was conjured up in some backroom deal. Instead, the increased traffic congestion in Seattle brought about a large public recognition that something had to be done to move people around in a better way. It’s a condition that other cities have also struggled with.
In the end, Seattle’s Light Link rail’s success came down to the critical need for competent management of a multi-billion dollar project. Wodnik strongly credits its CEO Joni Earl, for leading that agency through its rocky years to get Sound Transit back on track. Such leadership, and continuous public oversight, is needed to bring an urban rail system into any city and to keep it accountable to the public.
By Nick Licata
Prosecutor General of Ukraine Viktor Shokin – Wikipedia photo
President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have repeatedly asked Ukraine to open an investigation into their country’s corruption. Rather than work with, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, Ukraine’s current General Prosecutor, a position that is similar to our Attorney General, they have sought out a former prosecutor who was removed for refusing to pursue charges against individuals and corporations that had been identified by his own office as corrupt. Is there a gap in logic here?
That prosecutor is Viktor Shokin. He was appointed by the oligarch Petro Poroshenko who won the election for president as a reformist after the Euromaidan 2014/15 populist revolt against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Shokin was not a holdover from that corrupt government, so the expectation was that he would diligently pursue those who had bilked the Ukrainian people out of billions of dollars.
Although Shokin only served from Feb 11, 2015, until March 29, 2016, his term in office became controversial. He had come under repeated criticism within Ukraine for not prosecuting officials, businessmen and members of parliament for their roles in corrupt schemes under the former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
That mounting dissatisfaction with Shokin was reflected in December of 2015 when the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, said there were no vigorous efforts to combat the kind of self-dealing that had occurred in the past. Meanwhile, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, which props up Ukraine financially, said fighting corruption was so weak that “it’s hard to see how I.M.F. support can continue.”
Shokin was also implicated in tolerating corruption within his own department after troves of diamonds, cash, and other valuables were found in the homes of two of Mr. Shokin’s subordinates, suggesting that they had been taking bribes. When prosecutors in Shokin’s office tried to bring the subordinates to trial, they were fired or resigned, and there was no further inquiry. Shokin’s own deputy, Vitaliy Kasko, resigned in February 2016, alleging that Shokin’s office was itself corrupt.
Because Shokin was not investigating other serious signs of corruption, foreign donors suspected their contributions were being stolen without restraint Americans provided them support. Vice President Joe Biden visited Ukraine in 2015 and 2016 to complain about the ongoing stalled efforts to fight corruption by the prosecutor’s office.
In his last visit, March 2016, Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees if Ukraine failed to address corruption by employing a new more aggressive general prosecutor. The Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove Shokin by a comfortable margin that same month.
Given the breadth of Shokin critics, stemming from street demonstrations to the head IMF official, and in the end even his own deputy, it is puzzling why our President Trump, would go out of his way to describe him as a “very good” former prosecutor to the new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25, 2019 call.
Also, why would Congressman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, in December 2018, meet with Shokin in Vienna, 2 years after Shokin left the office. Nunes has denied that the meeting took place. Public records do show that Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018, with three of his aides. U.S. government funds paid for the group’s very short four-day trip, which cost just over $63,000.
Shokin told President Trump’s personal attorney Rudi Giuliani associate Lev Parnas that he had met Nunes. Parnas is willing to testify under oath before congress of what he knows, but unless there was a third person present, who is willing to appear before Congress, it will be Parnas’s word against Nunes’s. Shokin has worked closely with the Russian government and they would not look kindly on him if he were to confirm anything that endangered Trump’s presidency.
Giuliani had previously met Shokin because he had started investigating Burisma as the former prosecutor-general. Nunes was probably encouraged by Giuliani to visit Shokin to gather some incriminating information about Hunter Biden. However, Shokin’s investigations were either dropped or dormant by the time he was fired.
His lack of pursuing an investigation of Burisma was noted by the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC). Daria Kaleniuk a leader of AntAC told the NYT, “Shokin was not investigating. He didn’t want to investigate Burisma. And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation.” Just before he was fired, Shokin’s office raided the AntAC headquarters, claiming that it had misappropriated aid money.
While there is no smoking gun or a tape recording of the Nunes meeting with Shokin, the likelihood of such a meeting makes sense. Parnas had worked with Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort as a lobbyist for Ukraine at a time when Ukraine’s government was aligned with Russian interests under the former president Yanukovych. Parnas was also working with Giulani to push Ukraine to open an investigation on Hunter Biden since he was on the Burisma company board. Although Shokin has claimed that if he was still in office, he would have investigated Biden, he did not while he was the prosecutor.
It is reasonable to believe that Shokin would have told Parnas that he had met with Nunes since all three were trying to discover if Biden had participated in corruption. They were all on the same team. Additionally, Nunes was about to relinquish his committee chairmanship to a democrat since they would be in control of the House of Representatives the next month. Interviewing Shokin may have given Nunes an opportunity to make one last media splash if Shokin had something valuable and newsworthy to share.
Republicans would surely have released any item that Shokin could produce that would incriminate Biden. They haven’t. But Trump and the Republicans still insist that he was fired because Vice President Biden demanded it. Trump accuses Biden of fearing that his son Hunter Biden could be drawn into some corruption scandal. He may have feared that but none of the three last general prosecutors have investigated Hunter Biden and all have said that they have had no reason to.
The bottom line is that Trump and the Republicans suspect that Hunter and papa Joe are somehow connected to corruption in Ukraine. However, the only prosecutor they trust for information is the only one that the Russians trust – Shokin, who was kicked out of office by a duly elected parliament – for being corrupt.
Originally posted at the Medium. Written by Nick Licata.
The freedom to dissent was tested as the US closed out the twentieth century with a demonstration that grabbed the world’s attention. Forty thousand citizens marched through Seattle’s downtown on November 30, 1999, to protest a meeting of the World Trade Organization Ministerial (WTO.)
Having decided to hold its third biannual meeting in the US, over forty cities competed to host it. Seattle beat out the others by promising to spend over $9 million, almost twice as much as the nearest bid from Honolulu. The City Council wasn’t asked to approve the offer because the Seattle Host Organization, consisting of members from the region’s major corporations and chaired by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, promised to pick up the tab, although they ended contributing far less.
This was to be the most important trade conference ever held in the US; the newly formed WTO was assuming powers that far outstripped its predecessors. In particular, it would not only continue to regulate manufactured goods, but services, intellectual property, and agriculture would be added.
More importantly, it would have the authority to require the elimination of local labor standards and environmental protections if they violated trade agreements. It was a wet dream for corporate leaders bent on expanding trade opportunities, and a nightmare for those defending worker rights and the environment.
Without firing a shot, the world was seeing the formation of a new international power. The context for Seattle’s WTO meeting was set, it would not happen without vocal and visible dissent from those affected.
To publicize our city council’s concerns with the WTO, I sponsored, and the council unanimously passed, resolution number 29926 in April, expressing the Council’s ability to regulate and pass laws regarding environmental protection and fair labor practices within its jurisdiction and that it opposed international agreements that could restrict that ability. It was a small attempt to support those opposing WTO’s growing power.
Just as delegates from the 130 countries and the several thousand media correspondents were preparing to attend, so were citizen activists. I met with Mike Dolan from Public Citizen; a Ralph Nader initiated organization, in the spring of 1999 to discuss how to create an open environment in which citizens could be heard. Dolan was building community support by acquiring venues to accommodate a huge number of open educational meetings.
Meanwhile, another organization from San Francisco, the International Forum on Globalization, organized two-day teach-in the pristine downtown Benaroya Symphony Hall. Each day more than 2,500 attendees packed the hall to listen to an analysis of how WTO was reshaping the world around profits, not human needs.
Opposition to the WTO came from three groupings distinguished by their tactics and objectives. By far the largest one was a precedent-setting alliance between organized labor and environmental groups, referred to as the “Teamsters and turtles” coalition, due to hundreds of protestors appearing in sea turtle costumes to protest WTO’s rules harming sea life. Labor leaders, for their part, wanted any new WTO trade agreement to set minimum labor standards in factories around the world, so as not to drag down labor agreements in the US.
Although they tussled over whether saving jobs or the environment was more important, they recognized that they faced a common fate of being sacrificed on the alter-of-trade if they didn’t ultimately shrink WTO’s authority. Their tactic was to organize and lead tens of thousands of demonstrators in a permitted march into downtown. I participated, walking alongside AFL-CIO President Sweeny and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and a number of other labor and Congressional leaders who were present.
The second group, numbering perhaps a thousand, came together under an umbrella group, the Direct Action Network (DAN) whose publicized objective was to use non-violent civil disobedience (calling for no property destruction) to stop the WTO from the meeting. Their long-term goal was to create a mass movement to challenge global capital, “making a radical change and social revolution.” Their actions evolved from independent affinity groups that had been training for months on their tactics.
They arrived downtown hours before the mass march was to arrive. By forming large circles of protestors with arms interlocked with duct tape or bicycle locks, they successfully blocked major intersections. Delegates were unable to enter the Washington State Convention & Trade Center while buses and cars were suddenly diverted around the downtown retail core to avoid the protestors.
The third and smallest group, numbering a hundred at most, consisted of militant anarchists, referred to the black block. They systematically blockaded streets with newspaper boxes and smashed the windows of retail outlets owned by exploitive corporations. They also reached the downtown core before the mass march.
The media showered this group with attention while ignoring the anti-WTO forums. Throwing a garbage can through a store window certainly is more eye-catching than a snapshot of a room full of people listening to a lecture. But I couldn’t help but ask, which is better suited for building a lasting informed social movement for change?
As November 30, 1999 approached, public officials had recognized there would be thousands of protestors. Even President Bill Clinton told the workers at a Harley Davidson factory before heading to Seattle, “Every group in the world with an ax to grind is going to Seattle. I told them all, I wanted them to come… I want everybody to get this all out of their system…”
Mayor Paul Schell, a former war protestor himself, said Seattle would welcome all who came to protest peacefully against WTO. And I got the City Council, through a resolution, to request that the Mayor help accommodate all visitors arriving for the Ministerial, by encouraging “…organizations who are serving demonstrators coming to our community to explore opportunities to ensure adequate lodgings and homestays.” It was going to be needed; Mike Dolan informed me that there were 750 Accredited Non-Governmental Organizations actively recruiting people to attend the WTO ministerial.
I had attended a number of meetings between our police leadership and leaders of the mainstream protestor groups, to see if they could agree on how to proceed with the demonstrations. Representatives from both sides were cautious and the meetings were inconclusive. The reality was that dissent would be taking many forms and no amount of volunteer parade marshals could keep folks walking in a straight line down the road.
There was anger in the air that the City did not take into account. Our police showed pictures to the councilmembers of what happened sixteen months earlier at the WTO’s second ministerial conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Five thousand protestors gathered there, firebombing three autos and damaging other cars and stores. The Seattle police were scared but the mainstream protest leaders assured them they would lead a peaceful march.
As I walked down First Avenue with thousands of other protestors from the huge AFL-CIO rally held about a mile north of downtown, I felt that we would show the world how much opposition there was to WTO’s plans. At the front of the march were labor leaders and Congressmen.
When we reached the retail core, we were to proceed to a gathering spot and not continue to the Convention Center; however, some protestors emerged from the march and encouraged us to veer towards it. Confusion reigned and the march splintered into smaller streams of protestors.
Meanwhile, the DAN group blocked the main intersections and the black block faction attacked Starbuck and Nike stores, spraying graffiti on their windows that had not been smashed.
Perhaps stunned by the violence and not prepared for a strategic response the police initially failed to intervene with those smashing windows. The parades’ monitors took up protective positions outside some of the retail stores, fearing that the plate glass windows being shattered by handkerchief-masked anarchists would overshadow their own orderly protesting.
Even as the police began using tear gas to break up DAN’s circles to allow the WTO delegates to enter the Convention Center, a couple of blocks away from other protestors, many in costumes, chanted, waved signs and even danced in the streets. David Solnit, one of DAN’s organizers, described the scene as a festival of resistance, from which the labor leaders and congressional representatives quietly slipped away.
With the situation deemed dangerous for the upcoming visit of President Clinton, Mayor Schell declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew on most of downtown starting at 7:00 p.m. The police moved into the crowds in late afternoon using pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets to end the demonstrations and property damage.
Several hundred protestors were pushed up into the dense residential Capitol Hill neighborhood abutting the Convention Center. Not confident of securing downtown for the next day, Mayor Schell issued another emergency order establishing a “no protest zone” — in 25 blocks of downtown.
Governor Locke called in the National Guard, so that by daylight on Wednesday, troops lined its perimeter. Police then used tear gas to disperse any crowds. More than 500 people, including downtown residents and employees leaving work, were jailed that day for not clearing out from the heart of downtown Seattle. In the evening, a smaller contingency of protestors returned to shout and throw debris at the police, who responded with concussion grenades and large quantities of tear gas, fearing they would be overrun. The firefighters’ union refused a request to turn their fire hoses on the protestors.
Although accusations were repeated in the media that firebombs and bags of urine were thrown at the officers, later investigations revealed that to be false. Wednesday evening, the protestors and the police were once again in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, infuriating residents, as their main retail street became a battleground.
Having lived on Capitol Hill for twenty-five years I walked the familiar streets talking to both police officers and protestors, in a vain attempt to lower the level of hostility. There was no room for any rationale dialogue in an atmosphere filled with fear and pepper gas. On Thursday, the President left and both the police and the protestors ratcheting down their confrontations while the WTO meeting petered out.
Did the massive and confrontational expression of citizen dissent achieve its objective? The massive outpouring of protesters did play the most visible role in stopping the WTO from reaching a new trade agreement. However, it was also widely acknowledged that intense divisions among its delegates also contributed to that failure.
It remains as the only one of nine WTO meetings held up to 2013 that did not issue a Ministerial Declaration, perhaps because it was the only one that experienced massive citizen opposition. Other WTO Ministerial were held in places that did not allow or severely restricted demonstrations, like Dubai and Singapore, or were in difficult places to reach with few accommodations like Cancun. And, those that were held in Geneva never saw as many protestors as appeared in Seattle.
Supporters of WTO and those critical of the protestors, accused political leaders of inviting trouble when they encouraged citizens to Seattle to demonstrate their opposition. They ignored the basic principle of our American democracy, a strong faith in the right to assemble and protest.
Seattle, known as a tolerant city, was portrayed as naïve in expecting things to go peacefully. Perhaps, but more importantly, the City was not prepared for massive demonstrations. Review reports issued from the ACLU, the Police Department and the City Council all concluded that our police force was not properly trained for crowd control or for moving in quickly to isolate those destroying property.
While both DAN members and the police agreed in advance that their members would be arrested peacefully, the police relied on teargas and pepper spray to accomplish that task, which needlessly affected all those nearby. Perhaps the worse example of the police response was their pursuit of protestors up to Capitol Hill where uninvolved residents, business owners, and shoppers found themselves breathing in teargas or even arrested for being in the wrong spot while the police rounded up protestors. Those actions and the Mayor’s enactment of a no protest zone treated many citizens as criminals.
Eight years later in January 2007, a federal jury found that the city had violated protesters’ Fourth Amendment constitutional rights by arresting them without probable cause or hard evidence. Although the Council passed the Mayor’s emergency declarations, I and Councilmembers Peter Steinbrueck, and Richard Conlin voted against it.
After the WTO meeting ended, the city council held two public hearings to allow citizens to air their grievances. The first evening went from 4 pm to 1 am and the second one took almost as long, with over three hundred people testifying. Their complaints were similar to the emails I received; a few blamed the protestors for all the trouble but most were critical of the police response.
“Mr. Licata, they are smashing up downtown, you’re personally responsible since you supported them.”
“You welcomed the protestors, in Seattle 52 years, it’s become a sewer, why aren’t you in Westlake to quite these people down. Why wasn’t City prepared for anarchists? You expect taxpayers to pay for all this? I’d fine them, make them clean it up, and then cut their nuts off.”
“Yesterday Police let hooligans get away with too much. Today people with legitimate protests are being mistreated. Disgusted with the situation.”
“I’m upset about Police actions downtown, throwing tear gas canisters at peaceful protestors all day; I’m a resident and taxpayer, and got a mouthful of it. I’m outraged that Police we pay to protect us would do this.”
“I was impartial about events before, but seeing what Mayor and SPD have done is wrong and illegal, going way too far, I hope there are repercussions for Mayor and the Police Department.”
“The Police action on Capitol Hill last night was like military action, it was indiscriminate, no reason for it. Whoever authorized it should be fired.”
Police Chief Norm Stamper resigned soon after the protestors and the WTO delegates had left town. Latter he said using tear gas was wrong and that there was a need to move away from paramilitary tactics in policing. Mayor Paul Schell lost his next election, failing to get past the primary, in part due to the WTO events.
The City Council formed a special WTO Accountability Review Committee, which convened three independent citizen panels and had staff review more than 14,000 documents accompanied by interviews with key individuals.
The Council then passed three separate pieces of legislation. The first (Ordinance 120096) required every SPD peace officer to wear a nametag on the outermost layer of the peace officer’s uniform since many accusations of police abuse could not be traced to any specific officer. The second (Resolution 30340) implemented a new process notifying the Council of any solicitation of major events and allowed them to formally review any requests made of the city. This would allow the City Council an opportunity to have a public process, if necessary, for evaluating the impact of a controversial gathering. Lastly, the procedures used to declare and/or terminate a civil emergency were modified to allow greater Council control over how long one would remain in force.
The WTO meeting came to be known at the Battle in Seattle. Were the protests a legitimate expression of concern for our citizens wanting to protect their jobs and quality of life? Or as critics charged, were the protestors just hooligans and anarchists’ intent on destroying our civil society?
Observations from both the police and the media noted that the latter group made up less than a half percent of all who protested. Despite the critics who charged that Seattle’s reputation had been irreversibly damaged, overall holiday sales rose 6 percent in 1999 and Seattle has gone on to become one of the most economically prosperous cities in the country, while still promoting strong labor protection laws and environmental regulations.
All parties agreed that the public suddenly became aware of the WTO and its growing international power. Despite the media’s attention on the vandalizing of property, a month later, in January 2000, a Business Week opinion poll found that 52 percent of Americans sympathized with the WTO protestors in Seattle.
What had been had been buried in the back pages of the business section had now emerged as an important topic of debate within our democracy. The massive turn out by thousands of protestors in Seattle, proved the effectiveness of citizens exercising their right to publically and forcefully dissent to alter the course of their democracy when it threatens their livelihood and quality of life.
Seattle’s city council election this November has seen a record-breaking amount of funds being spent by Independent Expenditure Committees (IEs). Amazon’s $1.5 million contributions to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce IE called Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) drew national attention, with both Presidential Candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders condemning it. But many folks don’t understand how Independent Expenditure Committees (IEs) influence our democratic process.
Normally candidates can receive no more than $500 from a single donor, person or business. If they take public funding through Seattle’s democracy voucher program, then that limit is $250. However, IEs have no limit on how much they can receive and disperse to support, or oppose a candidate, as long as that candidate does not have anything to do with the IE. Basically, wealth distorts a fair distribution of verifiable information to the voters. CASE and its allied IEs have mounted such attacks against candidates that are deemed too progressive.
Most Of The IE $ Is To Halt The Council’s Progressive Agenda
Most of IE money is being spent with the express intent to stop the perceived leftward drift of the council. In the last 2 council election cycles, not including the 2017 race for just the 2 at large positions, IEs have crashed into our local elections in a big way.
A review of data collected by Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission for the council elections of 2013 (4 at large races) , 2015 (7 district & 2 at large races) , and 2019 (7 district races), show that IE contributions went from less than $4,000 in 2013 (to 1 candidate) to $494,000 in 2015’s general election (an additional $300,000 spent in the primary), and now, as of Oct 21, about $6 million has been collected by all the IEs with over $600,000 of that still not spent. All of those reserve funds are in the anti-council IEs.
Some have argued that both businesses and unions have contributed substantially to IEs to shape the council’s policies. However, a close review of how the money has been spent or earmarked for use this November shows that $4.4 million is for the Chamber endorsed candidates, which includes Amazon’s $1.5 million to CASE, the Chamber’s IE.
As of October 21st, if you look just at the IE money spent for 3 progressive candidates, Herbold, Lewis and Strauss, the amount totals $488,000 with 76% of that going to just one candidate, Andrew Lewis, from the Unite HERE union. Councilmember Sawant has received just one thousand dollars in IE funds. On the other hand, the Chamber endorsed candidates, Tavel, Orion, Pugel, Pedersen, and Wills, have received a total of $1,585,700.
But numbers don’t cover the entire story. For instance, in the Andrew Lewis vs Jim Pugel race, the IEs spent for each candidate, as of October 21, about an equal amount. However, there are hundreds of thousand dollars still available to the pro-Pugel IEs to spend on him and other Chamber candidates, while the IEs supporting the progressive candidates appear to have little if any funds left. For instance, in the Herbold versus Tavel race, IE expenditures for Tavel have been 4 times greater than IE expenditures supporting Herbold, and Will’s IE support has been 11 times greater than Strauss’s IE support.
The chart below shows how the IE funds were dispersed as of October 21st.
|CANDIDATE||I.E. MONEY RECEIVED (10/21/19) in 1,000’s|
|District 1 – Herbold – incumbent||36.4|
|District 1 – Tavel||151.8|
|District 2 – Morales||17.2|
|District 2 -Solomon||71.1|
|District 3 – Sawant – incumbent||1.0|
|District 3 – Orion –||280.7|
|District 4 – Pedersen||173.2|
|District 4 – Scott||1.8|
|District 5 – Juarez – incumbent||31.1|
|District 5 – Davison Sattler||0|
|District 6 – Wills||533.8|
|District 6 – Strauss||48.4|
|District 7 – Lewis||373.4|
|District 7 – Pugel||375.1|
It should also be noted that one of the three unions IEs, the FireFighters PAC, has only supported Chamber endorsed candidates. And on the other side of the ledger, there are wealthy individuals, like Nick Hanauer, who support progressive candidates.
Two Reasons For The Rise Of IE Money
I believe there are two reasons for the rise of IE money flooding into our elections.
One is that past ordinances have clipped the wings of businesses to conduct their operations by mandating requirements to address the working conditions of their employees, like increasing the minimum wage and requiring paid sick leave. In the case of landlords, they have been required to accommodate their tenants’ safety needs or lessen the burden of increasing rental costs. This last focus has resonated with tenants, who are the fastest-growing demographic in the city making up 54% of all households.
The second reason is that the process of running for council seats has been adjusted to allow a greater range of candidates, more women and those with modest means. Let me provide examples of both.
The council over the past two decades has passed several ordinances that have resulted in a more responsive and accountable city council to working families. I assume that the two major contributors to CASE, Amazon at $1.5 million and Vulcan at $255,000, are most concerned about how future legislation will impact their ability to develop their downtown property and keep their operational costs minimal.
However, the largest number of businesses affected by the council’s policies are the hoteliers, restaurateurs, apartment owners/developers and smaller property developers concerned about keeping their labor costs as low as possible. Associations representing these groups are the next largest contributors to CASE.
Aside from corporations, owners and employees from both Amazon, Vulcan and smaller businesses have made huge contributions to both CASE and People for Seattle. The resulting combination has produced a formidable political force. However, a counter political force has also come to the fore through citizen initiatives pushing for electoral reforms.
Expanding Tenant Rights
The law that began a series of other tenant improvements was passing the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) in 2013. It helped ensure that all rental housing in Seattle is safe by requiring mandatory inspections for 250,000 renter households. Property owners helped draft it and the council passed it unanimously.
In 2016, the council passed unanimously an ordinance that said renters could not be denied a rental application for counting income from a pension, Social Security, unemployment, child support or any other governmental or non-profit subsidy. A report to the city from the Washington Community Action Network helped its passage by showing that 48% of individuals who pay for rent with Social Security Disability Insurance or Social Security retirement income said that discrimination prevents them from having successful rental applications.” The following year the Council again unanimously voted to create a Renters Commission to provide tenants political power within the city government to address topics ranging from housing affordability and neighborhood rezones to transportation and access to open space.
This year, 2019, the council mandated that all landlords were required to register with RRIO before a landlord issues an eviction notice and that they had to provide information on the rights and resources of tenants with notices to terminate a tenancy and an increase in rent.
Expanding Employee Rights
The first significant push for expanding employee rights began in 2011 with an 8 to 1 vote (Conlin – No) approving a Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance requiring employers operating in Seattle to provide all employees with paid leave to care for themselves or a family member with a physical or mental health condition, medical appointment, or a critical safety issue. Over 190,000 Seattle workers gained this coverage with its passage.
In 2015 Seattle’s Fair Chance Employment Ordinance went into effect which restricts how employers can use conviction and arrest records during the hiring process and course of employment within City limits.
The biggest employee gain also came in 2015. Seattle’s Wage Theft Ordinance went into effect protecting against wage theft by requiring employers to pay all wages and tips owed to employees, provide written notice to employees, and itemize pay information when employees are paid. Getting more attention Seattle’s Minimum Wage Ordinance which began April 1, 2015, that phased in the higher wage of $15 an hour over three to six years depending on the size of the company.
Not as well known to the public, but in the long run as important as any ordinance passed was the council creating the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) in 2014. Its mission is to advance labor standards through community and business engagement, strategic enforcement and innovative policy development, with a commitment to race and social justice.
The Secure Scheduling Ordinance, which passed in2016, established secure scheduling requirements for covered retail and food services establishments, and prescribed remedies and enforcement procedures. The law applies to retail and food services establishments with 500+ employees worldwide, and full-service restaurants with 500+ employees and 40+ full-service restaurant locations worldwide.
The Domestic Workers Ordinance of 2018 was one of the last ordinances passed to protect employees. It made Seattle the first U.S. city to have a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. This law gives minimum wage, rest break, and meal break rights to domestic workers. It is one of the most progressive pieces of legislation that Seattle has adopted, and it was not initiated by the city council, but rather it was a result of a direct vote by Seattle residents.
Do These New Laws Appear To Be Too Radical For Seattle Voters?
All but one of the above ordinances were passed while there was, and still is, only one lone socialist on the city council, Kshama Sawant. The CASE and the pro-Chamber People for Seattle have campaigned against some city council candidates as being under her sway, and consequently, are socialist or something leaning that way. But for what reason? For passing the above legislation?
When asked on a recent poll the open-ended question, “When you think of Seattle city government, who do you think of?” The term liberal came up at only 2%. Councilmember Sawant came up at 3%. The Mayor came in at 47% and the Council at 43%. These findings do not point to a conservative backlash. Sawant may have the most name recognition, a status I had for some time on the Council during my 18 years there. And neither of us had any sway on the other councilmembers because of that. It takes the hard work of talking to your colleagues and working with constituents to influence them. That’s what gets the vote, not some achieving high marks in name recognition.
There is a certain irony that former Councilmember Tim Burgess, who founded and heads up the pro-Chamber People for Seattle IE, is opposing candidates based on their too liberal legislation, although he voted in favor of all of the above pieces of legislation. All but one of these ordinances passed unanimously by a council that had a majority of members receiving Chamber support in some fashion.
Citizen Initiatives Are Bringing Out More Candidates And Money
I believe there is another reason for the attacks. There is a fear among the business community that future councilmembers will be even more aggressive in pursuing various kinds of government regulation or taxes to achieve public benefits. That fear was fanned with the passage of two public initiatives, which passed about the time as the above pieces of legislation were written and adopted. The initiatives reformed the electoral process to allow for greater participation.
In 2013, with an approval vote of 65%, Seattle voters approved Charter Amendment 19 – Council Districts which converted 7 of the city council seats to District Elections, leaving just 2 at large. The first city council elections based on districts were held in 2015.
That same year, 2015, Seattle voters passed an Initiative – 122 levying a property tax of $3 million per year to fund the Democracy Voucher Program for the next 10 years. It passed with a 63% yes vote and began distributing vouchers in 2017.
The last major citizen initiative was not a vote on election reform, but it is a good indication that the public appears to be in line with the major thrust of the council’s efforts to meet the needs of residents. In 2016, the voters overwhelmingly, with a 77% yes vote, passed Initiative -124. It mandated increases in workplace safety for hotel staff, including the addition of panic buttons for all workers and improved health insurance.
Electoral Reforms Brought More Candidates And More Money
These two electoral reform initiatives resulted in two new historical developments. First, more candidates have surfaced than ever before under at-large council elections. The 2015 elections, the first one that used district elections, resulted in 37 candidates running for the 7 district seats. In the 2019 elections when democracy vouchers were available for district candidates, 54 candidates ran for the 7 district seats. This trend will probably ease off, but certainly, there is more incentive to run for an office that can be partially publicly funded and with a limited geographical area to campaign in.
Second, there was the unintended response of drawing more money into the campaigns, most of it from outside the district boundaries and most of it from wealthy individuals or businesses, with smaller amounts from unions. The total amount of money collected by IEs for the council races was $5.9 million, the total amount collected by all the candidate’s personal campaigns was $4.7 million.
What Does The Most Recent Poll Tell Us?
This month a new poll was released by Crosscut/Elway with a lead in CrossCut reading that “More than two-thirds of likely voters said they want candidates elected who will take the council in a new direction.” That statement plays into the narrative that the council has gone too far in making changes. However, a closer look at the survey’s numbers and crosstabs don’t necessarily support that conclusion. It all depends on how you slice the pie.
For instance, the response to the question “Overall, how would you rate the job the
City Council is doing? Would you say…” percentages responding for each response is shown below.
CrossCut combined Poor and Fair to get a 69% Negative position toward the council. Why not include Fair with Good to get 66% to get a Positive attitude toward the council? Fair is between Good and Poor it could go either way or just call it neutral.
Later in the survey, when asked to choose if the council direction should continue or change, the response was divided between the Negative and Positive. Since the Negative includes all of the Fair responses the percentage saying that there is a need for change is much larger coming from the Negative than the Positive. However, if the Fair had been added to the Good, it is possible that the response from the Positive folks would have been greater than those from the Negative folks.
So, the assumption that the council needs to change direction could be coming from the Positive folks who want to see more progressive change, just as much as from the Negative folks, who would want to see less such change. I hope I didn’t lose anyone here. But as you can tell, even the simplest use of statistics can result in different conclusions depending on how you cut and slice the data.
Two other findings identify what groups of Seattle residents are responding positively to the council’s agenda. Close to double the percentage of Renters over Home-Owners, believe that the council is doing a good job. Also, a consistent statistically significant higher percentage of those with income under $50,000 viewed the council as doing a good job than any other income bracket. Both data points would indicate that the council’s efforts to raise the livability for Seattle residents who are on the lower end of the income scale are being recognized and appreciated.
Homelessness Is A Lightning Rod For Political Change
Seattle’s political struggles will continue as long as homelessness appears as an unsolvable problem. The Elway/Crosscut asked those surveyed, “Which of these issues is most important to you as you decide how to vote in the race for city council?” Addressing homelessness came up on top, registering 3 times higher than housing density and five times higher than reforming the police department. And disapproving the current direction was twice as high as those approving of it.
I believe it is the unsheltered homeless that cause the most concern since they are the most visible. According to the 2018 count there are about 4,500 Seattle residents who are unsheltered homeless, which includes living in campers – about half of one percent of Seattle’s population. And, contrary to some claiming that Seattle’s policies attract many homeless here from out of state to get benefits, only 4% who were out of state residents have lived in King County for less than a year. Rather, economic hardship accounts for 55 % of those who are currently homeless, which is reported as having lost a job, been evicted or had medical bills.
For a city with the third-highest median income in the nation, at $94,000, one would expect that we could figure out how to provide at least shelter for such a small percentage of people. It is that expectation that is being used against the most progressive councilmembers on the city council.
For instance, district one Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who as a legislative assistant to me for 18 years, probably worked on more legislation than any other councilmember promoting housing for the homeless and fighting displacement of renters and homeowners from becoming homeless. However, we still have homelessness, which leads her current opponent to say, “I don’t see any solutions coming from Lisa … it’s about a city that is failing to step up when it should.” But her opponent and the other Chamber backed candidates have not proposed how to fund the additional resources to solve the homeless crises.
A Downtown Emergency Services Center social worker put it bluntly in a CrossCut article, “It’s not a question of managing resources, it’s that they don’t exist.”
Council critics argue that city government spending is inefficient in solving these human needs crises. But they fail to mention the number of new affordable housing units that have been created with efficient use of public funding assistance. For example, the 2016 city reported that the 2009 Housing Levy exceeded the goal of providing 1,670 additional units it promised to Seattle voters, by adding 2,527 affordable rental units and reinvesting in 400 existing units to keep them affordable to low-income families.
Seattle’s overall population has exploded, growing 20% from 2010 to 2018, and while homelessness has also greatly increased, unsheltered homeless still remains well under 1% due to the council’s efforts. But it does remain, and additional funds are needed to house these folks. The belief that we can solve the problem of housing the homeless without additional public funds, is not new. It was used to beat down the council’s proposal to tap a new dedicated revenue stream to provide housing for the homeless – the head tax.
Corporations Bludgeoned The Council On The Proposed New Head Tax
This was a tax that had previously been in force to pay for transportation needs. It was dropped mostly because its forms were confusing and time consuming for businesses. When it was brought back it was streamlined and projections showed that only the largest 3% of Seattle’s businesses would pay the tax, exempting those with under $20 million in taxable gross receipts. Keep in mind that the corporation’s opposition to the new tax was occurring at the same time that the Federal Tax Bill passed in December 2017 lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, a tax cut of 40%.
As the Seattle City Council was unanimously passing a “head tax” ordinance, Amazon became the lead corporation to finance a referendum to repeal the legislation creating the head tax. The financial impact on Amazon was minimal considering its overall budget. The average salary for Amazon employees in Seattle is $158,851 per year. The head tax was set at $275 per employee a year, which would have amounted to a .2% increase in their payroll costs. Nevertheless, because of its passage, Amazon’s Vice President said all of its construction had been halted and clearly implied that the company’s future growth in Seattle could be seriously reduced unless the head tax was repealed. Then it plopped down $250,000 to provide the lion’s share of funding the referendum campaign. The tactic of writing a large check to get rid of a pesky political policy emerged again this year as Amazon became the largest contributor, by a factor of six, to create a new city council better aligned with its interests.
Wisely, the referendum campaign, titled No Tax On Jobs, never publicly attacked those who were homeless but instead attacked the council for not solving the homeless crises and for chasing businesses away. Polling showed that about a year before the council’s vote, 66% of the public supported an increase in taxes to help the homeless. So, the referendum campaign did not deny the need to help them but instead attacked the council for failing to meet their needs. After the referendum’s well-funded media campaign began, accompanied by paid signature gatherers to put the referendum on the ballot, public opinion flipped to 55% opposing an increase in such a tax.
As a result, the council was told by supporters of the head tax that it would have taken several million to counter the corporate-sponsored referendum. Councilmember Lisa Herbold framed the tax as an unwinnable fight saying, “The opposition has unlimited resources and … the margin simply is too great to overcome…” She and other reluctant councilmembers voted to overturn the tax on big businesses, 7-2.
From talking to referendum supporters, it seemed the main problem the council faced was a lack of trust in how the money would be spent, which is the classic conservative argument against any progressive measure. However, the latest Elway poll shows that the public seems to have drifted back to their original feelings since it revealed that 56% of the public supports a Large Business Tax for developing more affordable housing with only 40% opposed.
This Election Comes Down To Trust
It is difficult to determine what the new council will look like because the Chamber IE and its allied IEs are immensely outspending the candidates they are trying to defeat. It comes down to the voters deciding who to vote for, based on what they know about the candidates. Unfortunately, most of their information is being provided by the side with the largest media budget and now paid canvassers.
For the first time in Seattle’s council elections, paid canvassers are being used to doorbell for a candidate, rather than rely on volunteers who believe in a candidate’s values. As of 2 weeks ago, CASE spent a half a million dollars paying for canvassers to support five of its candidates. That amount could easily be doubled before election day, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars CASE and its allies have in the bank ready to be used.
On a side note, if I was on the council, to allow greater transparency in electioneering, I would introduce legislation that requires all paid canvassers to wear a very visible name tag saying, “I’M A PAID CANVASSER”. Since this approach would not inhibit free speech, I believe it would be upheld in the courts if challenged.
This election is important, not just for who gets elected, but for how the use of wealth, both from individuals and corporations, is distorting our democracy. We can see how it is occurring on the national level, but it has now seeped down to local elections. I encourage voters to become familiar with what the council has done to date and to determine for themselves if the kind of legislation I listed at the front of this piece is helping Seattle move in the right direction. I think so and you may as well.
It is Free and Open to the public, doors open at 6 PM, the program begins at 6:30 PM with
Candidates Confirmed to Attend:
District 1: Lisa Herbold, Phillip Tavel
District 2: Tammy Morales, (Mark Solomon not attending)
District 3: Kshama Sawant, Egan Orion
District 4: Alex Pedersen, Shaun Scott
District 5: No confirmation received from either candidate as of Oct 1
District 6: Dan Strauss, Heidi Wills
District 7: Andrew Lewis, Jim Pugel
Seattle’s council candidates have been struggling with a number of critical issues like homelessness, transportation congestion, and affordable housing zoning, to name just a few. But, far too often there is one issue that is only hastily touched on. That is the role that culture and arts play in our daily life in providing us the comfort, creativity, and enjoyment we need to sustain our resolve to tackle these other issues.
Everyone who values or engages with arts, science and heritage organizations in Seattle are encouraged to attend, to meet the candidates and hear their platforms. Arts organizations from every district will be attending. The following lead arts organizations from each district solicited attendance at the forum. They will introduce the candidates from the seven races. There will be time for short candidate statements and a brief, moderated Q&A with each candidate.
Seattle’s Youth Poet Laureate, seventeen-year-old Wei-Wei Lee who attends Nathan Hale High School, will close the Culture Forum with a poem. She was selected by poets from Seattle Arts & Lectures. BTW, Wei-Wei works with the City’s Civic Poet Anastacia Renee and will be reading at the upcoming Capitol Hill Lit Crawl which takes place Thursday, October 24, 2019, from 6 pm–9 pm, involving over 80 Pacific Northwest readers and artists.
District 1: Zo Dunbar, Totem Star (Youth Performing Arts)
District 2: Donte Felder, ORCA K-8 (Theater Education). Beth Takekawa of Wing Luke may be a be co-captain, not confirmed.
District 3: Sharon Williams, CD Forum for Arts and Ideas (Arts & Humanities)
District 4: Julianna Ross, Sandpoint Arts and Cultural Exchange (Multi-disciplinary)
District 5: Kathleen White, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, (Youth Arts Education/Music)
District 6: Alejandro Grahal, Woodland Park Zoo; Selby, Moisture Festival;
District 7: Ariel Bradler, TPS (Theatre Advocacy), and Bob Davidson, Seattle Aquarium, and Ellen Walker, Pacific NW Ballet (Dance)
The Cultural Sector Candidate Forum is hosted by Inspire Washington, a newly launched cultural sector non-profit that serves as a statewide force for advocacy and awareness of the cultural sector. The co-hosts of the Forum are KNKX and Town Hall with Woodland Park Seattle, Seattle Aquarium and Pacific Science Center as co-sponsors.
KNKX News Director, Florangela Davila will moderate the forum. Inspire Washington’s Executive Director, Manny Cawaling, will kick-off the event with a brief overview of the important issues facing cultural sector organizations in Seattle. Cawaling says, “The arts and cultural sector in this community and our state critically support our economy. Every person who attends a cultural event in Washington spends an average of $32 around the event, and the cultural sector employs almost 180,000 people. We account for 7.8% of the state’s GDP and move and inspire thousands of people.”
One final note. It is important to keep in mind that the Seattle City Council has often taken the lead in promoting cultural and artistic activities in Seattle. For instance, currently, Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s council committee has oversight on the arts.
An important development underway came out of a briefing in her committee on the Office of Arts and Culture’s efforts to create a Public Development Authority (PDA) to preserve cultural space in Seattle. Check out the briefing on the Seattle Channel. The agenda with materials is linked here. A Council vote will be needed next year to create a PDA, consequently, it’s important to have sympathetic councilmembers on the council. The cultural forum could provide an indication of which ones could be.
Written by Nick Licata
This piece also appears on Medium for easier reading and submitting comments
In a debate, one side wins and the other side loses. How many debates end with the losing side agreeing that they were wrong? It doesn’t happen. And that is why the climate change debate is not converting deniers into believers. Each side on this issue is focused on rolling over the opposition.
The recent national student walkout from schools to draw attention to climate change is certainly converting more youth and the college-educated people to become believers. But protesting as an organizing tactic has limited effectiveness, a strategy must employ multiple tactics to win over deniers or doubters. And, there are many. According to a recent poll taken by the Climate Mobilization Project, while 36% of the public believe that Climate Change is a serious problem, 36% of the population also believe it is a minor problem or is not worried at all. Consequently, we need to think about how to reach those folks and the other 28% who do not believe it is a serious problem.
One approach that should be pursued is to focus on something that is more mundane and not as catastrophic as earth’s destruction, let’s try talking about the weather. That is not an attempt to diminish the importance of climate change. Instead, it lends itself to having a discussion, not a debate, because everyone talks about the weather, republicans and democrats alike. And it impacts all of us. So, where does that discussion begin?
The starting point is recognizing that extreme weather is becoming more frequent. The statistics are there. For instance, in January 2017, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2016 was the hottest year on record. It was the third year in a row to set a record for average surface temperatures, a continuation of a long-term warming trend.
But just laying out facts, particularly if they are not tied to personal experience, don’t carry much weight. Studies have shown that our beliefs more often stem from our personal experiences than from abstract concepts. Climate change believers need to talk to those who have had their job or quality of life negatively impacted by extreme weather conditions. Here are just two examples of how that can be done.
Montana has voted only once for democratic president since 1980, Bill Clinton’s first race in 1992. Barak Obama lost by 2% in his first race while Hillary Clinton lost to Trump by over 20%. However, during this same period, they have been represented more years in congress by democrat than republican senators.
This pattern indicates that Montana voters may not strictly adhere to the republican stance in denying climate change. Their democratic Senator Jon Tester addressed a Bozeman community gathering of 200 people in February 2017, consisting mostly of farmers and ranchers, to describe how climate change has resulted in Montana having less water availability, increased weed growth, intensified and more frequent drought.
By grounding the issue of how extreme weather conditions are impacting their jobs and daily lives, the denial of climate change begins to weaken. For instance, rancher Erik Kalsta who attended the meeting was quoted by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle as saying that he doesn’t feel that successful agricultural producers are totally in denial — they may not like the term, but they respond to the changes.
While Montana is a rural state with only 3 electoral votes, Florida is now one of the most urbanized states with 29 electors. Although registered Democrats have always outnumbered republicans, in the last 13 presidential elections, the Democrats won only five, including Barak Obama’s two victories. In the last 2 president races, the winner won by .9% and 1.2%. This state could go to either party in 2020.
Florida has been identified as the most vulnerable state to climate change damage resulting from flooding and massive storms. In the last three years, Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018 have battered Florida’s southeast and northwest, for a combined $13 billion in property damage insurance claims, excluding flood damage not covered by homeowners’ insurance. Regardless of party affiliation, residents and businesses were devastated in Florida’s republican oriented panhandle and the democratic leaning Miami-Dade region. Those losses do not begin to measure the displacement that occurred with each storm. Irma alone prompted evacuation orders for 6.5 million people in Florida, the largest evacuation in modern U.S. history.
People want immediate solutions, but they also do not want to keep paying more and more for catastrophes that can be avoided. The deniers argue that the weather always changes, so there is nothing to be done. Or they argue, it’s part of a historical regular cycle. They are falling into the same abstract talk that has burdened climate change believers; they are not recognizing that most non-engaged people are more concerned about how their lives are being directly impacted now and not how they have been in the distant past or will be in the distant future.
The dominant political response from both parties has been to provide financial assistance to the weather victims and to offer proposed adjustments in their physical infrastructures to limit damage in the future. Both approaches are expensive and will continue to grow in costs as increased massive storms and rising incidents of floods and drought become a reality as projected by scientists. The question of who pays for these additional costs, allows the discussion of climate change to move to identify who can do something now to reduce future massive costs going to taxpayers. And, that comes down to replacing carbon-based energy sources with renewable energy sources.
By addressing how to mitigate both the destruction of personal property and the taxpayer burden for covering those losses, a discussion can lead to figuring out who is benefiting by stalling or opposing this mitigation. The answer becomes readily apparent: those who have financial investments in the old technology that is dependent on carbon fuels, which hard data show has contributed to extreme weather conditions. Shouldn’t our political leaders be addressing the broader community’s interest in protecting their jobs and homes, than be concerned about protecting the status quo of those who are protecting their own interests first?
This is a message that could resonate with a broad swath of voters from republican states like Montana to purple states like Florida. It begins with a discussion about the weather, not a megaphone announcing impending doom.
We can do something about the weather! The question that needs to be asked by those who are ambivalent about the seriousness of climate change is, do you want to continue to live with more disruptions in your life? Do you want your future to continue to be uncertain and pay more taxes for a never-ending stream of measures trying to reduce future damages? If not, then the other option is to recognize that we can create a better, more livable environment by altering our technology to lessen our carbon emissions. All that is stopping us from taking that approach is the will power to demand action from our government to represent the needs of the majority of people, not the minority who financially benefit from inaction.
Written by: Nick Licata
As a Senator, John F. Kennedy authored Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage in 1957 to highlight the integrity by eight United States Senators who did what they felt was best for the nation not their party and they suffered accordingly.
This week Conservative Party members in Britain’s Parliament demonstrated that type of unique political courage. They voted to stop their party leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, from leaving the European Union without a deal governing future relations.
They did so, against the express wishes of their party and PM Johnson, whose followers in retaliation have vowed to kick these dissidents out of the party and bar them from running in the next election. In response to the vote, PM Johnson has proposed calling for a general election on October 15.
As reported in the New York Times, these Conservative rebels took this highly unusual break from their Party’s leadership because they believed Johnson’s actions on Brexit would severely damage the British economy and set “fire to their vision of a big-tent party with priorities beyond Brexit.”
Under the parliamentary system, you cannot run for public office from a political party unless you have that party’s approval, unlike in the U.S. where just about anyone can run as a Republican or Democrat, even if they don’t have the approval of the party. In other words, the Conservative parliamentarians knew that they would very likely lose their seat without the party’s endorsement.
Now think of what is happening with the Republicans in Congress under President Donald Trump. He has demanded loyalty from them and has threatened retaliation against those who publicly criticize him. They do not need his approval to run as a Republican for Congress, but his 80 percent-plus approval rating among Republicans has intimidated any effective opposition to his executive orders and policies that threaten our democratic society.
In May 2019, Justin Amash became the only Republican Congressman to call for Trump’s impeachment for obstructing justice. No other Republican in Congress has joined him.
Other conservatives and republicans have come out in opposition to Trump, but they are either former elected officials, like conservative radio personality Joe Walsh, or journalists like David Brooks and Bill Kristol. They are not sacrificing any public office. However, there are sixteen current Republicans in Congress who do not intend on running for reelection in 2020. Could this be an indication that they would rather drop out than fight Trump and his followers?
The significant difference between Johnson and Trump is that Johnson, first of all, was not elected into office by the general public, but rather achieved his position as a vote of just conservative party members. Second, and just as importantly, there was a national issue that had to be immediately dealt with.
When Johnson took the unusual step of dramatically limiting the time that parliament could meet and debate any Brexit legislation, he forced members of his own party to recognize that something had to be done within days. There have been no comparative single crises with Trump.
Although his actions ignore the norms of acceptable democratic process like Johnson’s did, they consist of a steady stream of actions with long term impacts that often are initially stifled through our court system. So, there are no impending crises that need to be addressed within days.
Nevertheless, Republicans face the same two major problems with Trump that the conservatives in Britain faced with Johnson: potential national economic damage and a shrinking voter base.
The first stems from tariff wars being conducted solely by the President and an astronomical growth in national debt that shows no slowing down. The second is the continued reliance on an increasingly narrow slice of the population. Although not easily seen as grounds for impeachment, they are clearly transforming the Republican Party into a personality-driven movement promoting ethnic nationalism at the expense of protecting our general welfare and respecting basic democratic rights.
Which brings us back to the issue of courage. Democracies cannot be sustained on obsequious behavior by politicians whose first concern is to protect their job. It will eventually result either in authoritarian behavior from the top or group think from below. It takes courage to recognize these trends and for elected officials to stop them from growing like cancer in our society.
The Profiles in Courage chapter on Republican Senator Edmund G. Ross, from Kansas, always stuck in my mind. He cast the deciding vote for acquitting Democratic President Andrew Johnson for impeachment. Ross lost his bid for re-election two years later and none of the other Republicans who voted for acquittal were voted back to congress.
Now, Johnson was not a good president, his policies did not protect the rights of black citizens following the civil war, but the grounds of impeachment were so flimsy that afterward even some of those most in favor of impeachment realized it would have been a mistake.
It took courage to recognize that maintaining an orderly democracy overrules allegiance to a political party. This past week a select group of British conservative parliamentarians came to that realization. The question is how long it will take for Republicans in Congress to get the courage to reach that same conclusion?
Originally published in the Seattle Times by Nick Licata
“Seattle’s Medic One: How We Don’t Die” by Dr. Richard Rapport can be read as an informative account of Seattle’s pioneering public health services, a demonstration of using creative thinking to overcome insurmountable obstacles, and — in a political climate where the word “socialism” frightens some — an example of what a socialized health care service for everyone could look like.
Rapport focuses on three key players who envisioned, organized and sustained Medic One. Len Cobb, director of Harborview Medical Center’s division of cardiology, initiated the emergency care service after reading about patients in Belfast, Ireland, who had survived cardiac arrest before even arriving at the hospital; first responders brought the emergency room to patients rather than the other way around.
Dr. Cobb saw the fire department as an existing system capable of addressing health emergencies where they happened, and Seattle Fire Chief Gordon Vickery directed resources to provide training and equipment to a select group of firefighters who would become the best-trained medics in the nation.
Rounding out the trio was emergency room director Dr. Michael K. Copass, who during 35 years at Harborview “made absolutely certain that all patients, no matter what was wrong with them, where they came from, what shade of skin they had, what kind of insurance they had or didn’t, or what language they spoke, were cared for perfectly.”
Dr. Kathleen Jobe, now an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Washington, sums up the three men’s contributions this way: “Len Cobb had the idea for Medic One, and Vickery helped it get going, but Mike Copass built it.” Rapport adds one more credit: “The ambitious firefighters who became the early paramedics are another major reason that Medic One succeeded in Seattle.”
Before Medic One, Seattle firefighters had responded to thousands of medical emergencies. But residents needed a faster and more effective life-saving service regardless of their location or ability to pay, and there needed to be an equitable way to cover the costs of this new service. These are similar to the challenges many currently face when it comes to obtaining health care coverage.
When Cobb asked Vickery if he would expand firefighters’ services to include paramedic treatment to victims of heart attacks before transporting them to the emergency room, Vickery supportive. He enlisted the city government’s cooperation with Dr. Cobb and Harborview’s staff to train 19 enthusiastic firefighters in managing cardiac health emergencies. In 1970, Seattle rolled out its first Mobile Intensive Coronary Care Unit.
Rapport’s narrative of Medic One’s successful adaptation of existing resources to save lives shows one workable approach to designing and executing a comprehensive delivery system for all, not just for those who can pay for it. This accomplishment was made possible through government, nonprofits and private businesses working together, in a spirit of cooperation Rapport attributes to public health officials and departments being “relieved of McCarthy-era risks of having the communist stigma nailed to them.”
Finding funding was another issue. When planning for Medic One began in 1969, Seattle’s economy was in decline and the unemployment rate was more than 10 percent. Rapport notes that “competing forces were after every cent that could be squeezed from the city budget.”
But at the same time, technological improvements and improved building codes meant fire crews departed their stations less frequently to fight big city fires. And there was a bipartisan recognition that the effort would require tax increases. “One reason that King County Medic One has always been funded by a special levy rather than individual insurance is to guarantee that all citizens are protected,” says Rapport. Since the levy was introduced, it has failed just once, showing that “the citizens of Seattle found a way to pay for keeping people from dying.” It’s a story that could guide today’s debate on creating a more universally accessible health care system.
“Seattle’s Medic One: How We Don’t Die” by Dr. Richard Rapport, The History Press, 192 pp., $21.99
Written by: Nick Licata
Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock
I usually devote Urban Politics to politics, social movements, and book reviews. This is a slight deviation in that it is a personal story of a particular peak moment in the counter-culture social movement of the ’60s. I hope you enjoy this little time capsule.
Fifty years ago, this week, close to 500,000 youth attended Woodstock. Each of us could tell a story of what happened there. This is mine.
After hitchhiking a couple of thousand miles around New England and Canada for the month of July 1969, I returned back to Bowling Green, Ohio, dead tired. I was met by friends on the BG State University campus. They invited me to join them to attend a concert. Where was it and how much did it cost? It was in New York state, where I had just come from. But I was more disheartened by its exorbitant cost. Having just spent my entire savings of $30 on my thirty-day road trip I was flat broke and could not afford the $24 gate payment, even if it was for a three-day music festival.
Not a problem said Tom Hine, editor of the college newspaper, waving a press pass in front of me. We could get in free. So, I jumped in a car with three others and headed east. Once in the car, I asked what is this concert called? Woodstock came to the reply. It meant nothing to me nor anyone else. It was just a place, a misnomer at that since the concert was actually held in Bethel. Woodstock was 42 miles away. That small-town experienced a miles-long traffic jam with folks planning on attending a concert. They were all turned away by police at the edge of town.
Late Thursday evening we found ourselves driving five miles an hour slowly down a narrow, one-lane road clogged with cars snaking through the rolling wooded countryside dotted by pastures of grazing land and tilled fields. The sun had set, we were at a standstill, and there was no sight of any concert. We pulled the car over to sleep on the side of the road and planned on finishing our journey the next morning.
I left the others behind in the car to scout around, checking out encampments that had sprung up in the darkness. Spotting an unadorned canvass tent about the size of a two-car garage, I poked my head inside. Not a person around, just the stern face of Chairman Mao plastered on the front page of some revolutionary newspapers piled in endless stacks spread out across the tent.
I knew from my previous rounds of visiting a dozen campuses that year, who they belonged to; perhaps not the specific name of the group, but one of those sprouting up at the time pledging allegiance to the chairman. They were dedicated to working for the toiling masses and avoided any unnecessary pleasures that might steer them off that course.
Although they were not a fun-loving crowd to hang with, there were mounds of evidence that they had landed in the midst of what was to be the nation’s largest celebration of music and marijuana. Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of half-naked, young bodies swaying and chanting to music over a 3 day weekend, how could they possibly hope to sit down and form collective study groups to discuss how liberalism was the enemy of the people and overthrowing Capitalism should be their calling.
I don’t think they had much success. I never witnessed any study sessions. But that night I was grateful for their optimism because Mao provided me with a nice bed. I curled up on a pile of their papers and slept peacefully until morning when I rejoined the others to continue our journey.
We continued creeping along beside an endless stream of college kids drifting down the bucolic country road. Waving our press pass out the window, we were able to cut to the front of the line and park a hundred yards from a huge wooden stage under construction at the bottom of a grand semicircular sloping meadow. Two seven-story high wooden towers, mounted by the biggest outdoor speakers I had ever seen, flanked the platform.
Construction workers, or rather kids in jeans, were frantically erecting a security fence that stretched from both sides of the stage. It looked like a fragile defense against the sea of bodies pouring over the ridge and down the vast grassy slope from all directions. I felt as if Moses had freed his people from the boredom of Ohio and such places, and now they had arrived at a promised land of endless music and entertainment.
As the day wore on, the fence continued to reach out but not as fast as the crowd grew. I sat on the ridge musing how this frail demarcation between free access and paid admission was going to encircle the ever-expanding population, like a pair of arms trying to encircle an expanding balloon. By the afternoon, some anonymous voice boomed cheerfully over the sound system, just hours before the concert began, “It’s now a free concert!” As if they had a choice.
Richie Havens, who never reached the prominence he should have, opened the concert strumming his guitar, with no backup. When he sang the Beatles playful tune, “With a Little Help from my Friends”, I thought this was what Woodstock was all about — creating a kaleidoscope of people coming together and celebrating life.
This great gathering brought on a sense of freedom from life’s chores and an invitation to just relax for a time and imagine a better future without the Vietnam War and the racism that had led to Martin Luther King Jr being killed the year before. The Woodstock Nation of peace and love had been born.
However, it was a birth without much advance planning. It seemed most of us had left home with only the vaguest idea of what we would do upon our arrival. Bringing provisions or sleeping bags was an afterthought. I ran into one girl from BGSU who found herself thereafter simply being asked by a car idling outside her dorm if she knew of anyone who wanted to go to a concert. Grabbing her purse and camera from her room, she jumped in the car, and after an eight-hour drive down Route 6, found herself at the Woodstock festival.
Friday night, Tom and his girlfriend, Elise slept, in the front seat of his aging Pontiac. Fred Zackel, our fellow traveler and journalist, and I traded off between settling in the backseat and the trunk. We brought nothing to eat, not even a sandwich. What were we thinking?
Apparently, the concert promoters weren’t thinking either, since they provided only a paltry number of food booths. With so few food venues, many of us had to scavenge for food among the other concertgoers. After spending hours doing just that, I rejoined our camp after nightfall, carrying a watermelon, a gift from some generous hippies. We ended our first-day eating watermelon and listening to folksinger Joan Baez sing about labor activist Joe Hill.
Saturday morning brought heavy humidity, warm rain, and oozing mud. Decorum, if it ever applied to this group, soon washed away. Strangers were hugging, sharing food and joints, and to my surprise, feeling free enough to shed their clothes in public. Standing in front of me in an open field a young college couple calmly took off their t-shirts and pulled their jeans down, then plunged into a muddy pond, joining other naked bodies. I thought about joining the fun, but lacking a towel and being doggedly practical, I took a pass, not wanting to spend the rest of the day filled with mud.
In a cluster of a half million young people, I thought I’d run into at least a dozen folks I knew, but I didn’t, except for Louise Conn, a fellow BGSU graduate and our student council chaplain who read Winnie the Pooh at the council meetings. After I had been elected the student body president, I politely converted the position of chaplain to one of the poets, reasoning that the position was intended to lift everyone’s spirits, regardless of their faith.
I assumed I’d never see Louise after graduation. But here we were, carefree, happy, and sharing a joint, high above the stage on the ridge behind the largest mass of bodies I’ve ever seen. Canned Heat came up and started playing “Goin’ up the Country.” Its strong driving beat filled the air like a mad piper’s tune. In response, the entire Aquarian tribe before we stood up and began dancing. Louise grabbed my hand and said we had to go down and stand next to the stage.
As Canned Heat played on, we descended the knoll, dancing and twirling around gyrating bodies. Unfortunately, in the frenzy, my sandals fell off and Louise’s hand slipped away. I searched for my sandals in the torrent of jumping legs, flying arms, swaying torsos, all spinning to the beat of “On the Road Again.” Miraculously I found the sandals, but I never saw Louise again.
Despite the apparent chaos of the gathering, an implicit bond of celebration kept folks in a cooperative mood. That day, the Cultural Revolution’s music drowned out calls for a violent revolution. Woodstock itself was the most successful political expression of the sixties. It wasn’t a protest against anything in particular. Rather, it was a shout out against the status quo by celebrating a culture of peace, a message attracting more people than any single prior rally.
The media assumed that a gathering of hundreds of thousands of youths smoking cannabis, dropping acid, and going naked, couldn’t lead to anything good. There was only one New York Times reporter at Woodstock. He later told another writer how his editors wanted him to emphasize how the event was teetering on a social catastrophe and to downplay the level of cooperation among the thousands of strangers who for three days gathered with no formal supervision. I never saw a single police officer the whole time there.
In contrast, less than four months later, a one-day outdoor concert, held at the Altamont Speedway, in California, that attracted close to 300,000, did not have the same peaceful outcome. Street hardened Hell’s Angels provided limited assistance and security for $500 of free beer. Alcohol consumption fueled multiple fistfights and property damage at Altamont.
The crowd got so uncontrollable that the Grateful Dead refused to go on stage and perform. Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was punched in the head and knocked unconscious by an Angel during their band’s set. Whereas at Woodstock, hippies led by a free-spirited character called Wavy Gravy provided security, and the performers were not in fear of their lives. Clearly, just bringing youth together around music was not enough to result in a blissful event.
At Woodstock, there was a shared set of values, reflected in its promotional material and setting. Unlike Altamont’s rock and roll concert in a racetrack, Woodstock was advertised as “Three Days of Peace and Music” in the countryside. There were a few drug overdoses, one resulting in death, and two non-drug related accidental deaths; similarly, Altamont experienced three accidental deaths, but with a smaller audience and over a single day.
However, given that half a million people came together at Woodstock for a weekend with minimal infrastructure and police presence, it was a miracle there were so few incidents. I like to think that Woodstock was the embodiment of the peace and love ethos that permeated the sixties.
The Woodstock books and movies, magazine articles, and academic reflections would all come later; but for those three days in the summer of 1969, it felt as if youth shared a belief that they could both enjoy life and change the world; social justice at home and abroad was important, and doing something about it was possible.
Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. from the Miami Herald, put it nicely this past week, “…what drew the Woodstock generation together was ultimately not anger but hope that yet tugs at the imagination, the hope of a better, fairer, cleaner, saner more peaceful world.” All we had to do was sustain that hope for the rest of our lives.