I've pretty much used up all the words there are to describe the relative merits of 40-term incumbent city council member Richard Conlin versus Socialist Alternative challenger Kshama Sawant, but they had a candidate debate this morning just down the street at Seattle Central Community College, so I figured why not stop by and join the fun?
It was a youthful audience, as you might expect given the venue. And it was decidedly pro-Sawant—not a surprise given her home crowd advantage. But then again, I haven't seen a forum yet in which Sawant hasn't won the crowd. It's partially the fact that her aggressively lefty message simply resonates with the type of people who tend to show up at candidate forums in Seattle. But it's also due to the fact that it is hard to get excited about Conlin.
Today's debate was no exception. Conlin said a lot of very reasonable things in a very reasonable manner. And he did so with a pleasant smile glued to his very reasonable face. It's not like he's a monster, or anything. Or even worse, a Republican. But he offers zero reasons to be get excited about yet another Conlin term.
And that gets to what I think is one of the biggest contrasts between Conlin and Sawant: The politics of the possible. Sawant doesn't talk revolution like your typical clown-variety socialist, but she does advocate for big changes—for example, a $15 an hour minimum wage, rent control ("as one part of a comprehensive affordable housing program," explained Sawant), and a citywide "millionaires tax" to fund transit. But Conlin dismisses Sawant's agenda as unrealistic. "We can't do rent control at the Seattle City Council," Conlin told the audience, pointing to a preemptive state law, " it's a cruel illusion." Likewise with Sawant's proposed millionaire's tax, Conlin insisted: "We don't have the authority. We can't do that in this city."
Okay. The state preempts rent control. But that doesn't mean that it's not worth fighting for. As for a local income tax, there's nothing in statute or the state constitution explicitly denying the city local income tax authority. In fact, I have come to believe that approving a local income tax may be the surest path toward testing that bogus 1933 ruling and dragging our state towards a less regressive tax structure. But "we can't do that in this city," Conlin insists.
Because if there's one thing that 16 years on the Seattle City Council has apparently taught Conlin is that a lot of things are impossible. Maybe. But it sure does make for an uninspiring agenda.