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Why Big $ is Pouring into Seattle Council Elections

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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.


Good 26%
Fair 40%
Poor 29%


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. 

Arts and Culture Issues Take The Stage for Seattle City Council Candidates

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Written by: Nick Licata

All seven Seattle City Council District election candidates have been invited to a
Cultural Sector Candidate

Monday, October 7, 6-8:30 p.m. at Seattle’s Town Hall, 1119 8th Ave

It is Free and Open to the public, doors open at 6 PM, the program begins at 6:30 PM with
closed-captioning provided.

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 Arts Organization Captains/partners:

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.

Debating Climate Change Has Limits – Let’s Start Talking About the Weather

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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.

Profiles in Courage – U.K. Conservatives Have It, U.S. Republicans Don’t

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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?

Seattle’s Medic One

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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

What happened at Woodstock?

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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.


Trumpian Tactics Shape Progressive Seattle’s Local Elections

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Written by: Nick Licata


President Donald Trump attacks four women in congress as a wild socialist “squad” intent on destroying America if they stay in office. One would be surprised to see similar tactics pop up in the progressive enclave of Seattle, but they have. And, they are being pursued by a group that describes themselves as “progressive, pragmatists”.

The People for Seattle, formed by former City Councilmember Tim Burgess, considers city council candidates a serious threat to Seattle’s peace and safety because they support policies like safe drug consumption sites, traffic congestion pricing, restrictions on rent increases, higher taxes on the largest corporations and are not eliminating homelessness.

Who are these People for Seattle? They are “decent” people. They are not in the streets waving hatred slogans. Many have been civic leaders, promoting new downtown development and safer single-family neighborhoods. But they apparently fear five candidates, one male, and four women. Zachary DeWolf is the male, he’s gay, on the Seattle school board, and a tenant rights advocate. Two of the women are of color and all have been very supportive of organized labor. I believe their critics fear that change will happen, too fast and too substantive to their liking.

It is the kind of change that recognizes that more public and private financing is necessary to deal with our current health crises stemming from a growing homeless population as a result of ever-increasing rents. Better oversight is needed of our police force to assure that force is applied fairly across all races. A better economic climate must be pursued, for starting new businesses and to also allow employees to earn a decent living.

People for Seattle’s mailed campaign flyers are out-right indecent. Despite claiming that they oppose these candidates because they “seek to deepen divisions instead of seeking common ground” in fact this is exactly what this group is doing. Veteran Seattle P.I. columnist Joel Connelly wrote “lots of folks are surprised at getting nasty, negative, consultant-crafted direct-mail hit pieces from People for Seattle. The group is not boosting candidates of promise so much as slinging mud.”

A flyer against candidate Emily Myers ran a photo of a homeless encampment with the heading of “More of the Same”  and the caption “if you like extremist (councilmember ) Kshama Sawant, then you’ll love Emily Myers.” Kshama is an avowed and proud socialist, Emily is not a socialist. She was a delegate to the King County Labor Council from her union of graduate students. Burgess’s group would seem to consider organized labor a socialist conspiracy.

Alex Pederson, whom Myers is running against, received the endorsement of People for Seattle but has disavowed the mailer, posting “negative mail or negative ads from independent expenditures (I.E.s) are unnecessary and unwelcome. I believe all the candidates can and should simply speak for themselves.”

Another attack flyer on candidate Tammy Morales, accused her of supporting a “job-killing head tax”, even though only the top 3% of the largest businesses would have paid into it for building more affordable housing. A company’s cost would have amounted to an increase of one penny per hour in paid wages.

Their attacks have taken on a fever pitch against incumbent Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who was my past staff lead on many of the most progressive city policies passed while I was on the council. According to the last filing posted on the city’s website, about half of the Burgess group’s attack money is going to defeat Herbold, with less than 1% of their money raised from within her District 1. Isn’t that undermining the district election initiative to make council members more accountable to geographic districts?

An attack flyer accused her of being another Sawant and also for having “dreamed up the job-killing head tax.” Erica Barnett who blogs as C is for Crank, posted a photo of giant spray-painted tags on the viaduct’s remaining pillars saying, “Lisa Herbold Policies Kill!” Erica noted that “It’s ironic that an ex-council member who frequently bemoans the lack of “civility” in Seattle politics may be largely responsible for one of the nastiest local campaign seasons in memory.”  Their inflammatory use of  “killing” in today’s toxic political environment, which Trump initiated, leads to this type of chilling and threatening graffiti. Are Seattle’s moderate liberals and conservatives, now adopting Trumpian hyper-vitriolic and mean-spirited messaging for campaigns?

The final irony buried in this group’s effort to stop the supposed socialist drift of the city council because it is accused of taxing businesses too much. The critics ignore that the council passed the original employee hours tax, which has seen been branded by the opposition as a  “head tax”, back in 2006. Councilmember Jan Drago sponsored the legislation, with Richard Conlin, Richard McIver, Jean Godden, and me voting in favor. Tim Burgess had not been elected to the council yet. Its proceeds had to be used ”strictly for transportation purposes.” It was repealed in 2010, largely because businesses complained of the convoluted paperwork involved, not its financial burden. At that time, neither Drago nor any councilmember who voted to adopt that tax was labeled as a socialist!

Providing Links to all the Major Presidential Candidate Websites

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While the televised debate among the Democrat Presidential Candidates has dominated the public’s attention, what has been missing is a detailed comparison of what they are actually presenting to the public in more than 2 minutes or fewer sound bites. I set off to compare their messages as presented in their campaign websites. I was in for a surprise.

I could not find a website that listed each of the Presidential Candidate’s 2020 Websites. Not the Library of Congress, the National Democratic Committee, Ballotpedia, or Wikipedia were hosting this information, although the last two sites do list the candidates and provide very good information on them. However, having a third-party present information about a candidate is not the same as evaluating what the candidate’s campaign presentation to the public. For this reason, my website http://www.becomingacitizenactivist.org/blog/ is presenting that information and it is also presented in this edition of Urban Politics.

Besides listing the links to their websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, I also include a quick snapshot of what each candidate has within their “issues” section. I have limited the list of candidates who have scored at or above .4 percent of support according to the amalgamation of polls that RealClear Politics collected as of July 8th, which is shown below

[Image from RealClearPolitics]


While there may be additional polls taken after that date, this poll most likely will represent the relative position of the candidates up to their next group debate, to be on July 30 and 31 on CNN. I also made an exception by including the newest candidate, billionaire Tom Steyer. Despite not being part of the debates, I expect that with the money he is currently pouring into TV ads he will pull up to the .4% of support in a short period of time.

I have the candidates listed alphabetically rather than how they poll since their relative positions will most likely move about as they and their campaigns grow stronger or weaker. Under each of them, I have included a clip from their introductory statement on their “issues” page and the number of separate issues that they list and address. I also noted if they used two words: “middle class” and “workers”. Although just using those words does not fairly represent the depth and breadth with which they address issues affecting those groups,  their use may have provided a glimpse of how the candidate wanted to overtly recognize some targeted voters.

I would have liked to list all of the issues each candidate addresses, but that would be too overwhelming to digest for most of us. I did note which candidates did not mention two words that have come to capture the bulk of the media’s attention: climate change and migration. Again, not including those specific words is not an indication that those issues were not addressed, but it may signal a more nuanced approach that the candidate is pursuing.

Because I’m concerned with the shape that our democracy is in, I also noted if each candidate directly addressed that topic. And given that the Latino vote is a growing influence, I noted which candidates provided a Spanish translation for their website; all did with the exception of Democrats Yang and Steyer, and Republican William Weld. I included Republicans Donald Trump and William Weld’s websites because I believe one must listen to and learn from your opponent. What are they saying about the issues and who are they addressing? So, I hope both Democrats and Republicans find this issue of UP educational.


The website data briefly summarized after each candidate’s entry was taken between the dates of July 12 and 14, 2019. The candidates will likely update their websites as their campaign progress, but my summaries will not be updated unless specifically noted. Best to visit a candidate’s website for the most up to date information.

Bennet, Michael – United States Senator from Colorado

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Campaign Contact Form

Bennet’s Candidate’s Issues Page is titled “Vision”.  Lists his issues into 3 categories: Drive Economic Opportunity, Restore American Values, and Fix Our Broken Politics.
Lead-in statement: “America calls itself the land of opportunity. It doesn’t feel that way today. Wages are stagnant, costs are rising, and economic inequality in our country is only growing worse.”
On Middle Class & Workers: “Michael’s plan to overhaul and expand the Child Tax Credit, called the American Family Act, will help middle-class families. make it easier for workers to  bargain for better pay”
On Democracy: “Democracy cannot function with a lack of economic mobility for a majority of people.”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Biden, Joe – Former U.S. Vice President

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Greg Shultz – Campaign Manager

Biden’s Candidate Issues Page is titled “Joe’s Vision” – 8 issues listed; Climate change & immigration identified as major issues.
Lead-in statement: “America is an idea” Ironically this was what Senator Lindsey Graham was reported to have said to President Trump during an all-Republican meeting in the White House when Trump started going down the white nationalist road.
On Middle Class & Workers: “We need to rebuild the middle class, and this time makes sure everybody—regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability—gets a fair shot.” Biden headlines “middle class” several times in his material.“Restoring the basic bargain for American workers.”
On Democracy: Make sure our democracy includes everyone. He refers to democracy several times.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Booker, Cory – U.S. Senator from New Jersey 2013-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Addisu Demissie – Campaign Manager

Booker’s Candidate Issues Page is titled – “Issues” – He lists 15 issues under 3 general areas: Justice, Opportunity and American Leadership, which includes immigration and climate change within them.
Lead-in statement: “Right now, people fear that the lines that divide us are stronger than the ties that bind us—but Cory is running for president to change that. The answer to our common pain is to reignite our sense of common purpose to build a more fair and just nation for everyone.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Make it easier for workers to join a union and strengthen the rights of workers. No mention of middle class  but he does use the term “hard-working Americans.”
On Democracy: “Cory will fight to protect and expand every American’s right to take part in our democracy.”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Bullock, Steve – 24th Governor of Montana

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Campaign Contact Form
Bullock Candidate’s Issues Page – Doesn’t have one, but he does have a page titled ‘ “One Big Plan”, which is “taking on the toxic influence of money in politics a national priority.” Climate Change is mentioned but nothing noticeable about migration.
Lead-in statement: Our nation is founded on the basic idea that every American’s voice matters.”
On Middle Class & Workers:  “We can… protect worker rights and retirement security.” The term “middle class” was not found.
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Buttigieg, Pete – Mayor of South Bend, Indiana 2011-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Mike Schmuhl – Campaign Manager

Buttigieg Candidate’s Issues Page is titled – “Issues”  He lists 27 issues under these three categories Freedom, Security, and Democracy. Some issues support very specific legislation. Immigration and climate change are mentioned.
Lead statement: “This moment demands that our policies reflect a deep understanding of Americans’ everyday lives and embody our country’s highest values — values like Freedom, Security, and Democracy.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Pass a new Wagner Act to support the role of organized labor and defend the right of workers to organize. No mention of “middle class”
On Democracy: Pete believes in our democratic republic, but knows that our government has not been nearly democratic or accountable enough.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Castro, Julian  –  16th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Contact email
Candidate’s Issues Page is titled “issues” – 5 proposals listed
Lead statement: “there is nothing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Both immigration and climate change are mentioned.
On Middle Class & Workers: He worked to lift people from poverty into middle-class. Did not find the term “workers”, although he talks of low-income families.
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Gabbard, Tulsi – U.S. House Rep from Hawaii 2013-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

No Campaign Manager is known at this time.

Candidate’s Issues Page is titled – “Vision” – No listing of issues, rather she has several paragraphs that describe her vision of America. “Join me in ushering in a new century free from the fear of nuclear war. A world where there is real peace, where our people have time to pursue happiness rather than being forced to work constantly just to survive, where parents have time to spend with their children, and we build strong communities that care for each other and the planet.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Did not find mention of “middle class” or “workers”
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Gillibrand, Kirsten – United States Senator from New York

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

No Campaign Manager or contact form is known at this time
Candidate’s Issues Page is – “Issues”  all information placed in 6 categories
Lead statement: “Taking on big fights takes bravery.”
On Middle Class & Workers: our economy has been a tilted playing field in favor of the wealthiest Americans and corporate special interests, while middle- and working-class families struggle to make ends meet.
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Harris, Kamala – U.S. Senator from California 2017-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Juan Rodriguez – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is – “Our America” – : 13 issues listed
Lead statement: “Kamala has been a fearless advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable throughout her career. As president, she will fight to restore truth and justice in America and build an economy that works for everyone.
On Middle Class & Workers: mentioned under Economic Justice, “Kamala’s first priority as president will be to give working and middle-class families an overdue income boost.”
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Inslee, Jay – Governor of Washington

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Aisling Kerins – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is  – Issues presented in 7 categories, five of which have to do with climate change
Lead statement: “As Americans, this is our moment to act on climate change and to invest in a clean energy economy that will grow millions of jobs in communities across the country.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Did not find the words “middle class” or  “workers” did not appear in any noticeable way.
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Klobuchar, Amy – U.S. Senator from Minnesota 2007-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Justin Buoen – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is –  “Issues”
Lead statement: No lead in a statement, just five issues listed: Health Care, Safer World, Shared Prosperity & Economic Justice, Strong Democracy, Climate,  for a total of 18 issues, the most under Shared Prosperity & Economic Justice. She mentions both immigration and climate change.
On Middle Class & Workers: She would make “it easier — and not harder — for workers to join unions.” No mention of the middle class but she does support small business owners and entrepreneurs.
On Democracy: “The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy,”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

O’Rourke, Beto – Former member of U.S. House 2013-2019

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Jen O’Malley Dillon – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is  – “Issues”  Lists 13 issues including immigration & climate change
Lead statement: “The challenges we face are the greatest in living memory. We can only meet them if we build a movement that includes all of us.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Did not find mention of middle class or workers
On Democracy: Your contribution …ensures that our democracy is once again powered by people, and only people.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Sanders, Bernard – U.S. Senator from Vermont 2007-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Faiz Shakir – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page – “Issues” – 24 issues listed; Climate change & immigration identified as major issues.
Lead statement: I’m running for president so that, when we are in the White House, the movement we build together can achieve economic, racial, social and environmental justice for all.
On Middle Class & Workers:
No noticeable use of the phrase “middle class”
“Fight for Fair Trade and Workers”
On Democracy: No noticeable use of the word democracy
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Steyer, Tom – American Philanthropist

  • No campaign manager or contact form to report at this time.
Candidate’s Issues Page – None Provided
Lead statement:  On the main page “There’s nothing more powerful than the unified voice of the American people.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Did not find mention of either term.
On Democracy: Did not find mention of democracy.
Use of Spanish – No translations available in Spanish

Warren, Elizabeth – U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 2013-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Roger Lau – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page – 5 Issues (Immigration and Climate Change do not receive their own section, but are mentioned within others)

Lead statement: “This is the fight of our lives. The fight to build an America that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and the well-connected. It’s time for big, structural changes to put economic power back in the hands of the American people. That means putting power back in the hands of workers and unions.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Rebuild the Middle Class / putting power back in the hands of workers
On Democracy: “Strengthen our Democracy”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Yang, Andrew – Entrepreneur

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Zach Graumann – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is  – “Policy” 106 issues listed
The lead statement is: “Mr. Yang has the most detailed and comprehensive set of policy proposals we have ever seen at this stage in the campaign.” Democratic Party Leadership in Iowa
On Middle Class & Workers: No mention of “middle class” or workers
On Democracy:  He supports Democracy Dollars –“It has been used in Seattle to great effect, and we can take their program national to move towards publicly funded elections.”
Use of Spanish – No translations available in SpanishTHE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES

Trump, Donald – Current U.S. President
[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Brad Parscale – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page – “Promises Kept” – 14 issues listed;
immigration identified as a major issue “President Trump enforced immigration laws to protect American communities and American jobs.”
No direct mention of climate change, but under his sidebar listing recent accomplishments it says: “President Trump Withdraws the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord
Lead statement: “Making America Great Again – President Donald J. Trump Accomplishments”
On Middle Class & Workers: 
“More than 4.8 million workers received increased wages or bonuses (3.7% of all private workers).”
No notifiable use of the word “middle class”.
On Democracy: No notifiable use of the word “democracy.”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated in Spanish
Pushing signing up for SMS and Email notices.Weld, William – Former Governor of Massachusetts
[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Jennifer Horn – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page – No Issues Page; No mention of immigration or climate change, or for that matter any issue.
Lead statement: “American Has a Choice” lead statement for his website
On Middle Class & Workers: No mention
On Democracy: from his press release on Mueller report: “Confidence in our leaders and in our institutions is at the heart of our democracy.
Use of Spanish – No translations available in SpanishMy take away from reviewing the websites.

The following comments are focused on the “Issues Page” for each candidate.

William Weld and Tom Steyer do not have an issues page, which is surprising in that Weld could have an open field in the Republican primary to tap into any party members who are dissatisfied with Trump. And, Steyer could afford a very robust website identifying the various issues that he has or could talk about on his info-commercials which have been running for months. This lack of an issues page on their websites could indicate a poorly organized campaign, a hesitancy to detail any solutions or just not pursuing a serious campaign effort.

Two other candidates, Steve Bullock, and Tulsi Gabbard have avoided listing issues and have chosen to present a broader statement on their beliefs. Bullock presents One Big Plan and Gabbard writes about her Vision for America.

If there was enough time available and a broadly accessible platform, the breadth and depth of issues covered by the Democratic candidates could really contribute to a greater national dialogue on various solutions that our country faces. Unfortunately, these efforts are pushed aside by all the mainline media’s focus on a candidate’s image and their highlighted talking points. However, there are a number of some interesting proposals buried in the various issue pages.

Andrew Yang gets the prize for the largest number of suggested innovative solutions, which includes providing Free Marriage Counseling for All, the use of Democracy Dollars and his most known proposal to provide a Universal Basic Income, a proposal first brought up in a presidential campaign by Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964.

William Weld, the Republican primary challenger to Donald Trump, gets the prize on the opposite end of the scale for not even having an issues page. Any issues he brings up must be picked up through his various TV interviews which he has posted on his website. Does he consider himself to even be a serious challenge to Trump?

Pete Buttigieg, to his credit, identifies some issues that the other candidates have either ignored or not directly addressed. He was the only candidate to mention domestic terrorism and link it to white supremacist violence and the need to increase federal resources for countering domestic terrorism. He also proposes passing a new Wagner Act to defend the right of workers to organize.

There are other candidates who also have identified unique or overlooked issues, too many to cover here. At this point in time, probably Warren and Sanders are seen by the public and democrats as addressing the most issues, partly because of how much media attention they have received and how long they have been covered by the media in the pre-campaign season talking about their differences from Trump.

Evaluating Candidates Websites’ Front-Page Message

In taking a glance at the democrat’s websites opening page and comparing it to Trump’s, I believe a subtle difference appears. Keep in mind that a statistically significant portion of viewers never gets beyond that first page.

Of the five leading Democrats in the polls, two of them ( Biden and Harris) just ask for money. There is no mention of joining them on any mission by submitting your email address.

Both Sanders and Warren, have a highlighted donation button but also ask for emails. Sanders message is that there is only one way to win against Trump “and the billionaire class” and that is being together, “tell Bernie you’re in.”
Presumably, that person will be part of something bigger.

Warren has a less motivational message, “Stay In Touch – Get the latest from the team straight to your inbox.” She will provide you with information.

Buttigieg has a modest donation button, but his page is dominated by the slogan: A fresh start for America” Solicitation for the email is “Join Team Pete”. You would be joining Pete to do something, but it’s not clear exactly what.

Trump is unique from all of the Democratic challengers. Although there is a highlighted contribution button, the only message on the first page is publicizing his campaign rallies and to register folks for free tickets (two per email address).  As president, he can travel to places on the public dollar. The question that needs to be asked and investigated is whether he is using public dollars to pay for his campaign events through covering travel costs if nothing else.

The Democratic candidates do not have the funds to fly around the country holding rallies and as individuals, with perhaps 3 exceptions, they are not likely to attract crowds that are consistently larger than Trumps. If they did try to hold a rally as an individual candidate and the crowd size was smaller than Trumps, he or she would be identified as a weaker figure than Trump.

The Democrats Need a Leader Who Places the Need for Unity Above Their Own Desire to Win

The way around this dilemma would be to have the democratic candidates working as a team, to hold rallies around national issues that they all agree on, such as overturning voter suppression legislation or gerrymandering. It would present a united democratic show of force and it is most likely that the crowds would be larger than any single candidate could attract. This strategy could succeed if the candidates work as a group and not as individuals.

The democratic party needs a leader to emerge from the pack of candidates who could say that they must unite now around some issues and use that cooperation to turn out people to rallies to both support and learn about how these issues are affecting their lives. Without such leadership, the democrats will continue to focus too narrowly on how each can win the primary, which will result in an ever-greater emphasis on the core body of democrat supporters and not on building a broader national movement!

How States Can Disregard SCOTUS’s Pro-Gerrymandering Decision

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Written by: Nick Licata and Roger Scott


The Supreme Court gave the green light to 30 states (with 46% of the Congressional seats) to gerrymander Congressional and state legislative districts in 2021 as they draw district maps after the 2020 census  (Rucho Et Al. V. Common Cause).  Citizens in the other 20 states will receive some or full protection from partisan gerrymandering by either commissions or an independent demographer, in the case for Missouri. Citizens are deprived of their voting rights by gerrymandering because it locks domination of one party in a state for decades. In essence, politicians choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.

In Maryland, Democrats in 2001 gerrymandered one district to increase their representation in Congress by one district.  In 2018, they won seven out of the eight seats.  Republicans in North Carolina instructed map makers to draw districts so that Republicans would win 10 out of 13 seats in spite of how many votes Republicans receive.  In 2018 Democrats received 48% and Republicans 50% of the total votes for Congress but won only three out 13 seats in Congress.  The table below lists the states in which the number of seats elected by one party was disproportionate to the total votes for Democrat candidates secured in that state, excluding independents.

  2018 House of Representatives Election results
Total # districts Total % Democratic vote in State # Democratic districts won Democratic districts won representing % of total D vote. % Difference in Democratic representation mostly due to gerrymandering
North Carolina 13 49% 3 23% negative 26%
Maryland 8 67% 7 88% positive 21%
Wisconsin 8 54% 3 38% negative 16%
Texas 36 48% 13 36% negative 12%
Kentucky 6 40% 1 17% negative 23%
Ohio 18 48% 4 22% negative 26%
Total House Districts 89 31 35%

Data compiled from various sources by the authors.

From a review of the table, it is evident that the Republicans have used modern technology to finely tune gerrymandering by concentrating the voters of the party out of power in the fewest districts.  The result is convoluted district boundaries and supermajority state legislatures that can overturn governor vetoes and maintaining one-party power after each census by gerrymandered districts. The president of the Brennan Center for Justice Michael Waldman noted that highly precise gerrymanders dilute the voting strength of an emerging nonwhite majority.

Citizens can trump the SCOTUS gerrymandering decision by organizing in the states. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, through his organization the Nation­al Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), is pursuing such a strategy. He described his reason to a Mother Jones reporter this summer, “This is a recognition on the part of the Democratic Party, on the part of progressives, that we need to focus on state and local elections to a much greater degree than we have in the past.”

Specifically, there are two distinct paths to fight gerrymandering at the state level.

First, they can use the initiative process to amend the state constitution and second make appeals to their state supreme court.  In 2018 the voters passed state constitutional amendments to establish independent redistricting commissions in Colorado, Michigan, and Ohio; an advisory commission in Utah; and an independent demographer in Missouri.  In 2019 another three states, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Arkansas will likely authorize constitutional amendments to establish independent commissions.  A citizen group in Oklahoma is working on an independent commission and plans on implementation in 2021.

These commissions can draw new state legislative and congressional boundaries from the 2020 census, since the census data is scheduled to be released to the states by March 31, 2021, and by that time the commissions should have been established.

Most independent commissions consist of a set proportion of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that draw district lines under a transparent process involving all parts of the state.  Lines must be drawn with criteria such as compactness, contiguity, respect of political boundaries and preservation of communities of interest.

In 2018, except for Utah, voters approved independent commissions with large majorities. By including a robust number of independents on proposed commissions, frustrated independents form coalitions with members of the out party to pass initiatives with large majorities. The record shows that states with an initiative process can create an independent commission in state constitutions regardless if they are red, blue or purple states.

These ten states have initiative power but currently have no protection against gerrymandering: Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Reformers could organize initiatives in these states to accomplish Virginia and New Hampshire’s successful effort to get their state legislatures to authorize commissions.

Citizen efforts in these states could use the support of presidential candidates, national public interest organizations and party national committees to help them launch initiatives to create independent commissions. And for the 21 states (39% of members of the US House of Representatives) that do not have initiatives, citizens there could use those allies to elect new representatives who would vote for a constitutional amendment that would allow citizen introduced initiatives.

The second path is for citizens to bypass their state legislature if it is hostile to the two above approaches for establishing a redistricting commission. In these instances, they need to challenge gerrymandered districts up to their state supreme court on the grounds that they violate their state constitution.

Most states include language that is similar to that found in the Pennsylvania constitution which says, that “elections shall be free and equal” and no one shall “interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court based its anti-gerrymandering decision on this language League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Pennsylvania and the US Supreme Court’s majority agreed with them. But Pennsylvania’s court decision was possible because new justices were elected to their state supreme court, demonstrating that elections to state court positions are too critical to ignore.

The following states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio), which have been heavily gerrymandered, all have crucial state Supreme Court elections up in 2020. Even though some of them have created commissions it is necessary to protect their existence and performance by electing justices who will deflect challenges to those commission’s proper functions.

Also, only Kentucky has a state supreme court justice position up for election this November 2019. It is a nonpartisan race between Court of Appeals Judge Christopher Shea Nickell and Republican State Senator Whitney Westerfield. However, being a Republican running as an impartial judge may be difficult for voters to believe and could provide an opening for the public to choose a justice that would oppose gerrymandering. This is particularly true in Kentucky, where the latest poll from Morning Consult, shows that their strongly partisan Senator Mitch McConnell received a whopping 50 percent unfavorable rating.

The bottom line is that State Supreme Courts, if they wish, can redraw their congressional and state district maps in adherence to their state constitution, despite the SCOTUS decision.

The above strategies can achieve a win for public accountability.  Now we need to demand all presidential candidates support these efforts, for the good of all citizens not those of any particular party.  This is an urgent matter since the states will redraw districts in 2021 or early 2022 and most of those will stick for a decade. The Supreme Court’s decision to allow states to continue gerrymandering, can and must be rebuffed at the state level.

Public Golf Courses can benefit the public without being eliminated

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Written by: Nick Licata


A recent released city study and comments from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan have stirred up a conversation about whether our public golf courses should be eliminated. 

The City of Seattle Parks Department commissioned Lund Consulting to prepare a strategic business plan to guide the future of Seattle’s public golf courses. Justifying the report, Mayor Durkan said, “It would be a breach of our duty to the people of Seattle not to be really looking at what is the best use of those golf courses, from everything to continuing as golf courses, to finding a way to use part of them as parks, to use part of them for affordable housing.”

What followed was an intense debate between those who believe that parkland devoted to golf courses should be used for other purposes to benefit the public and those who believe the golf courses already serve a public purpose.

The first group is generally referred to as urbanists. The second group doesn’t have as clean a handle to describe their vision. While urbanists argue for greater urban density to address critical issues like climate change and traffic congestion, the second group argues for preserving a sense of neighborhood communities; their critics call them NIMBYs, their supporters refer to them as park and community advocates. Let’s just refer to the two sides as urbanists versus park advocates, albeit those titles do not capture the full extent of their concerns.

One urbanist approach is presented by Nolan Gray in City Lab in an article  Dead Golf Courses Are the New NIMBY Battlefield.  Since golf’s popularity is waning, he asks why can’t their vast amounts of underutilized land be developed? He notes that “In a Kansas City suburb, one golf course is set to be converted into an industrial park. On another golf course in suburban Jacksonville, plans are underway for mixed-use retail, office, and hotel development.” But he also suggests even other park users would be possible.

Another writer Mike Eliason in his article Unlike Seattle, Golf Really Is Dying, which appears in the Urbanist, focuses specifically on how golf is dying in Seattle. He notes that “golf green fees are falling like a rock, 16% in just two years” from 2015 to2017. But making statistical projections from just a couple of years is fool’s gold. Looking at those same 2 years, Seattle Times columnist Gene Balk writes in his piece, Bike Commuting is Down in Seattle, that the number of bike commuters who live in Seattle fell 26%, 16,000 to 12,000. Both downward trends were due to an excessive rainy 2017.

The park advocates’ position was probably best represented by a letter to the mayor by three former park superintendents, Kenneth Bounds, Holly Miller, and David Towne. As supporters of the mayor and of housing affordability, they made two suggestions. First, the city should support municipal golf courses’ non-operating costs from general tax support if the golfing fees fall short. Second, the mayor should not propose converting parkland to non-park uses since it would be inconsistent with Seattle’s livability goals, which would discourage businesses and people to locate, live and work in Seattle.

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat in a column on Golf Courses vs Housing regarding I-42 pointed out, with the help of citizen activists like Joyce Moty, that the city has a law that does not allow taking parkland and using it for other purposes unless it is replaced with the parkland of similar quality and size. In other words, as attractive as building affordable housing would be on golf courses, the cost of obtaining the land, since it would have to be replaced by purchasing land elsewhere, would make it non-affordable. And the city does not currently own large parcels of land to give to the Parks Department without having to pay market value, as it would have to do with the utility-owned property.

I’m familiar with Initiative 42, which the council unanimously adopted as Ordinance 118477, the year before I got on the city council. As the parks committee chair during my first term, citizens often reminded me of how it applied to attempts to sell parkland.

Although the council could overturn the initiative by a vote, that is not likely. The council unanimously adopted the initiative before it got on the ballot because they knew voters would pass it overwhelmingly. You could bet that if the council voted now to overturn I-42, the voters would release those councilmembers from their duties.

What caught my attention was that the Lund report only mentioned I-42 twice, and in a very inconsequential fashion: as part of park history and as a condition to take into account with regards to future changes. Neither citation was more than a line or two. I asked Kjris Lund, who wrote the report why that was. She told me that the city directed the report’s focus to be on the economics of the golf courses. She would have gladly dived into how I-42 could be addressed, but that was never intended by the city to be the focus.

The Parks Department also did not raise I-42 as a significant issue after the report came out.  Lund did meet with city department staff when her final draft came out and discussed the report’s major recommendations and findings. But I-42 did not play any significant role. And, neither the Mayor nor her office staff met with her after the report was released, although that could still happen.

So how come affordable housing has been mentioned when it appears that it was not studied as a replacement for the golf courses? My guess is that the mayor suggested providing affordable housing within parks as an idea rather than as a serious proposal.
The media then picked it up and amplified the concern of residents and park users. This approach does not lead to systemic changes. Rather, it makes a good point and stirs the pot, but doesn’t deliver a meal.

There is another report that is to be released analyzing the golf courses, but its scope is similar to the first one, in that it focuses on revenue, not on public services that could be better provided. This is a blind spot that results from city leaders so focused on balancing a budget, that they forget that their other mission is to provide good public services. That is part of the problem with the urbanists’ perspective.

For many of the urbanists, the golf courses 528 acres could be put to better use. The combined space of Seattle’s four golf courses is nearly as big as Seattle’s Discovery Park, or nearly 8 times the size of Seattle Center. But those comparisons are misleading. Discovery Park is designed to preserve a natural setting for passive use, not for active sports use. The Seattle Center is not park property, its function is to entertain and to produce revenue.

However, it’s not too late to explore how to best use the golf courses. While the national nonprofit First Tee youth program at Jefferson and Jackson teach children of low income and minority families how to golf, more needs to be done to open up the golf courses to the public. The Lund report’s Chapter 5 addresses this issue by describing a study of how seven Nordic and one Dutch golf course have accommodated multifunctional activities.

The services provided included conserving nature while still making the courses available to the public and creating areas for recreation and outdoor activities for a number of groups other than golf players. The study also showed that cooperation with the surrounding communities is a critical factor for achieving multifunctionality. Most importantly it found that “a multifunctional approach can be profitable for golf clubs while also strengthening their place and benefit in society through work on the environment and sustainable development.”

A key understanding of applying a multifunctional activity approach is that these activities do not need to occur simultaneously; they may be limited to seasons or occur at different times of the day. These practices are not limited to Scandinavia. The Old Course at St Andrews Scotland is an example of a revered course being made available to non-golfers.

What is missing from the public discussion right now, is how to begin exploring how golf courses are being used in other places that address the concerns that have been raised by Seattle’s users and residents. That needs to happen, and it was not directly asked of the consultants who are producing the golf studies. The mayor and the council could follow up on the last recommendation made in the Lund Report to conduct a risk analysis to allow non-golfers to use the golf courses at certain days and times.

The first step in that process is to recognize that parks, all parks, including golf courses, are there to provide a public benefit first and a revenue stream second. That may mean no longer expecting our municipal golf courses to carry an additional burden of contributing to the Park Fund to recover capital costs, one that our other park programs are not required to do so. This was the first of the 35 recommendations that were made in the Lund Report, delete the policy obligating golf to return 3% or 5% of their budget to this fund.

The approaching budget process, which will begin with the Mayor presenting the budget to the council in September is the perfect opportunity to devote funds to begin a new approach to using our golf courses, one that retains them and expands their use. It must happen in an atmosphere of cooperation in finding a way to meet the first recommendation of the Lund Report, which was to commit to golf as a recreational program offered by the City on par with other recreational offerings.