• Corky Trewin

Hours after being heckled by restaurant owners at City Hall, Council member Kshama Sawant—perhaps because she felt like torturing herself, or because she wants to be responsive to a broad constituency of voters—debated the minimum wage with 770 AM KTTH Conservative Talk Radio's Ben Shapiro. (There were two other debaters on either side of the issue, but gosh, I can't for the life of me remember who they were or what they said.)

The debate was, as you might expect, frustrating. For one, the capacity crowd of maybe 150 people kept jeering and laughing at everything Sawant said. And like the rabid fans they are, they cheered and applauded Shapiro at every turn. The moderator had to ask them to "hold the applause...and the jeers." Sawant responded with poise, sometimes smiling. It was the whitest crowd I've seen at a Seattle event—which is saying something—in some time.

The middle-aged dudes behind me were no exception. They kept snickering, which was rude, but they also groaned, as did I, when Sawant repeatedly cited "the data" backing up her position without ever naming a specific study, even though they're readily available. The fast-talking Shapiro seemed more focused on belting out sound bites and arguments based on libertarian economic theories at a dizzying pace than making sure any of them had substance behind them.

The debate got more interesting when Sawant and Shapiro veered beyond the minimum wage and into their respective ideological strongholds: socialism and capitalism. That's really what the debate should have been about, but the moderator preferred to question Sawant on every manner of carve-out and exception to a minimum wage policy—teen wages, training wages, tip credit, etc.. Sawant rejected them.

There was, however, a special moment of common ground between the far left and right. When Sawant criticized Washington state's $8.7 billion tax giveaway to Boeing last year, Shapiro responded, "When did she join the Tea Party? You're not going to hear any defense of corporate welfare from us." After the debate, he was effusive about her ideological consistency and willingness to spar with him in front of such a hostile audience. KTTH says the debate had "no clear winner."

"Conservatives are stuck between a rock and a hard place" on the minimum wage issue, Shapiro admitted during the debate. "Congratulations to Council member Sawant, this has tremendous momentum. Let's see if it plays out just as she suggests, then maybe we'll all be happy." Agreed!