New to Town
Around this time last year, I wrote this same story for people who were brand-new to town back then. Having lived here for one full year, those former newbies have now probably moved on to complaining about New Seattle and wheat-pasting "fuck you tech scum" on some just-completed apartment building. And now you're here, just like they were one year ago, new and confused about Seattle's political issues and players. Welcome!
One moment, please, while I pull up last year's version of Seattle Politics 101...
Last year, I wrote that Seattle is a "place of contradictions," a city where some of the nation's most progressive policies get started and where we're also facing a housing crisis, income inequality, and a police force under a federal consent decree.
The bad news: Not much has changed since then.
Housing affordability, homelessness, and police accountability remain the major issues facing your new city, newbies. Below are some of the names and topics you might hear about, both in Seattle and a little farther out. To keep up, read this newspaper, the Seattle Times (but not the opinion pages), and local news sites like publicola.com, thecisforcrank.com, seattleglobalist.com, and seattletransitblog.com. And don't be a freeloader! A strong democracy needs a strong press, and a strong press needs to be well financed. Subscribe to the Seattle Times, donate to a nonprofit news site, patronize the small businesses whose advertising supports this free rag, or shut your yap about how "the media" just isn't telling you what you need to know.
Promise to do that? Great, here's the quick download on Seattle politics:
Ed Murray: Seattle's mayor. He's a gay former state lawmaker with a bad temper and a penchant for locking big groups of people in a room, calling it a task force, and asking them to figure out how to solve the city's problems. Ed Murray is a Hillary Clinton–brand establishment Democrat who would really prefer it if you would stop pointing out that progressives have moved farther left than they were back when he was coming up in politics.
Seattle City Council, the members are Lisa Herbold, Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, Mike O'Brien, Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, and Lorena González: Kshama Sawant is a socialist. Tim Burgess is a former cop and a conservative in Seattle terms. Everyone else falls somewhere in between. Go to seattle.gov/council to learn more about who represents your part of town, which committee each member chairs, and which issues you should be yelling at them about.
Kshama Sawant, the Great Socialist Hope: Kshama Sawant isn't even the most powerful member of the Seattle City Council, but she is the one you will hear about the most. Sawant's 2013 election upended establishment Democratic politics in Seattle, forcing Dems to reconcile with a whole new rowdy wing of the left that now reliably fills city council chambers to support Sawant's proposals (generally speaking: taxing the rich, housing the poor, offering symbolic support for protest movements). Since her election, Sawant has gotten a few pieces of legislation passed, mostly focused on tenants' rights, but has spent just as much time becoming a national spokesperson for socialism. She prominently backed Bernie Sanders and then turned on him when he endorsed Hillary Clinton, backing Jill Stein instead. Sawant protested at the Democratic National Convention and is headed to DC for an inauguration event with Stein. If you're looking for Council Member Sawant in Seattle, you're just as likely to find her in the streets as in council chambers.
Representative Pramila Jayapal: Pramila Jayapal is Seattle's newest member of Congress and the first South Asian woman elected to the US House of Representatives. As part of the minority party in the other Washington, Jayapal's new role may relegate her to more scene-making than lawmaking. But with a background defending immigrants, a strong populist streak, and the energy of a freshman legislator on defense, Jayapal is sure to show up at the forefront of the Democrats' efforts to obstruct Trump.
Dow Constantine: King County executive, silver fox, transit nerd. Like Murray, Dow Constantine is a middle-of-the-road Dem who's likely harboring ambitions to run for governor someday and governs accordingly.
King County Council, the members are Rod Dembowski, Larry Gossett, Kathy Lambert, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Dave Upthegrove, Claudia Balducci, Pete von Reichbauer, Joe McDermott, and Reagan Dunn: A group that controls the purse strings of some really important stuff—like criminal justice—but doesn't have as many sexy public fights as the Seattle City Council and so very few people pay much attention to them. This group, since it represents the whole region, also has some Republicans on it. Visit kingcounty.gov/elected to find out who's who, who represents you, and what they're doing over there.
Jay Inslee: Washington's governor. Another mainstream Democrat, Jay Inslee fancies himself the nation's greenest governor (even though most of his progressive initiatives, especially the environmental ones, immediately get shut down by Republicans in the state legislature).
Washington State Legislature: A dysfunctional group of partisan children who meet annually in Olympia and can't agree on anything, including how to fund public education, which the state is currently underfunding to a criminal degree. (That's not hyperbole. The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled the state is unconstitutionally underfunding K–12 education.)
Homelessness crisis: About 4,500 people sleep unsheltered across King County, 3,000 of them inside Seattle. The city has poured new money into shelters and services, but the scale is far too small to meet the need. Meanwhile, city and state officials continue to "sweep" illegal homeless camps, forcing people to move from where they're camping and sometimes taking their belongings. Both the City of Seattle and King County have declared natural-disaster-style states of emergency on homelessness and asked the state and Feds for more money. So far, they haven't gotten it (and probably aren't likely to under the Trump administration).
Anti-trans bathroom initiative: For the second year, anti-trans bigots have filed a ballot initiative trying to gut Washington State's human-rights protections for transgender people. (In this state, we're allowed to legislate by initiative if a campaign gathers enough signatures to either send the initiative straight to the ballot or to the legislature, where it will end up on the ballot if lawmakers don't act.) A newly filed ballot initiative—which doesn't yet have a number but is called "Safety and Privacy in Public Facilities"—would repeal current state protections for trans people, allow businesses to discriminate against trans people, and require schools to maintain segregated bathrooms. The people behind this initiative will tell you it's about protecting women and girls from predators in public bathrooms. In fact, it will prevent trans people from using the public bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The pro campaign will be gathering signatures between now and the summer. Don't sign it. Learn more from the people fighting this effort at washingtonwont discriminate.org.