If our recently elected leadership were any more progressive, they'd be wearing hemp macramé underwear and passing the talking feather at council meetings. But now is no time for the largely unified city, county, and state lawmakers to mellow out. The city and state are facing a raft of problems that need to be fixed and a handful of opportunities that we need to seize. These are the first six marching orders in a monthlong series.
We don't get the King County Council's recent pick of Jan Drago to fill the council seat vacated by incoming county executive Dow Constantine. Yeah, Drago was acceptable to the council's conservative bloc—which is precisely the problem. She leaned conservative during her many years on the Seattle City Council, and she's likely to lean conservative during her temporary appointment to the county council, too. Democrat Larry Phillips essentially switched parties to vote with the council's Republicans in order to get her approved as a "caretaker" for Constantine's seat until the election this fall.
Phillips did this in order to break an impasse (the council was deadlocked on the issue of who should replace Constantine, with the four liberals and four conservatives unable to agree). But capitulating to conservatives is a pathetic way to start off the year.
We'd better see Phillips out there stumping for a good Democrat to win Constantine's seat this fall. By which we mean Joe McDermott, the 34th District democratic state senator who emerged from a long council vetting process as the other nominee (besides Drago) to take the post. McDermott has been a strong voice for progressive causes in the legislature, helped lead the fight to pass recent domestic-partnership bills, and would be the first openly gay member of the county council. Get him in there, and don't let the door hit Drago on her way out.
Representative Brian Baird wasn't anyone's idea of a reliable lefty. As a Democrat representing Washington's 3rd District—which covers the areas around Vancouver, down near the border with Oregon—he backed the Bush surge in Iraq and voted against health-insurance reform. But he was a five-term Democrat in a district that Bush won in both 2000 and 2004.
Now that Baird is leaving Congress to "pursue other options," his seat is up for grabs, and Republicans are saying, quite plausibly, that they can flip it into their hands.
So which Democrat is stepping up to stop them from doing that? About a half-dozen are in the mix, including Deb Wallace, who represents the Vancouver area in the state house, and Craig Pridemore, who represents Vancouver in the state senate.
Dwight Pelz, chair of the Washington State Democrats, won't take sides yet. "We have several strong democratic candidates running right now," he said. "We want to see who can get out there and get the most support before we let a good Democrat know we would like them to pull out of the race."
He should figure it out as quickly as possible. Time's a-wasting and Democrats need—way before the summer primary—to rally behind a single candidate if they want to hold on to this seat.
In 2008, when voters approved expanding light rail, they simultaneously approved a First Hill streetcar. The hospitals on First Hill, naturally, want the streetcar at their front doors. But that doesn't mean we should build a streetcar for the hospitals. Roads cutting through First Hill are often jammed, meaning a streetcar would crawl rather than serve as a quick connection between the Capitol Hill and International District light-rail stations. And buses amply serve the hospitals already.
The neighborhood around 12th Avenue, adjacent to First Hill, has lots of potential. And by that we mean there's a glut of underused parking lots. A streetcar on 12th Avenue could solve this problem—and bring density to an area that needs it.
More than a bus line, a streetcar would be a "real catalyst for development," especially for the "underserved, underdeveloped" south end of 12th Avenue, says Kate Stineback of the 12th Avenue Neighborhood Plan Stewardship Committee. Density increased over 40 percent within a three-block radius of Portland's streetcar after a few years, according to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund.
There's also an opportunity for compromise: Seattle can split the line in two directions, as several neighborhood leaders have advocated, between Broadway and 12th Avenue, which would satisfy the hospitals near Broadway and provide a boon to the 12th Avenue neighborhood.
Seattle's historic preservation process is broken. A loophole encourages property owners to strip off the historic parts of old buildings before they can be designated as landmarks; this allows owners to contend that the buildings have no historic value and then build taller, more lucrative developments in their place. The loophole threatens the city's small stock of old buildings—part of Seattle's fast-dwindling architectural heritage.
To wit, two downtown buildings that the city's historic survey found "appear to meet the criteria of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance" were stripped of ornate terra-cotta frieze work in the past year and a half (and a third building in 2006). Now owners have plans to build towers on those sites. The buildings—one at Eighth Avenue and Lenora Street and another at Second Avenue and Stewart Street—never had a fair chance. Several Landmark Preservation Board members skipped the meetings at which the buildings' landmark-worthiness was considered, so they lacked enough votes to be protected.
This is the year to fix the problem. The city should pass legislation requiring that all landmark board members (or a voting alternate) attend each meeting, require permits before altering any building in the historic survey, and prohibit anyone with a financial stake in a building's demolition from advocating for or against its landmark status (which currently happens all the time).
We're enthusiastically pro-density. Fortunately, there are plenty of parking lots and ordinary structures where we can build that density. But developers shouldn't have incentive to abuse a loophole to make a quick buck.
The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) is the biggest, most influential conservative organization in state politics. It spent over $7 million on attack ads against Governor Christine Gregoire in 2008. In a newsletter the same year, it called her "a heartless, power-hungry she-wolf who would eat her own young" and equated the state's Department of Ecology to "Hitler's Nazi Party." The BIAW also engaged in some questionable electioneering during the protracted 2004 election, the Seattle Times reported.
What's worse: The BIAW's partisan activity is funded largely by money it skims from running a state-dependent cooperative. The program is called the Retrospective Rating Program, or "Retro," which deals with workers' compensation benefits. Businesses who participate in the program enroll through an association like the BIAW. The BIAW administers the program, collects the premiums, and keeps a percentage. The group is supposed to use the refunded money, several million dollars a year, to improve worker safety—instead, it's used for politics.
Reining in the BIAW should be a top priority for state Democrats in the New Year. Requiring all the money to be used to fund worker-safety programs would both starve a nasty organization of its funding for political shenanigans and improve worker safety.
Yes, Chris Vance, former chair of the Washington State Republican Party. Please, please, PLEASE use every misdirected fiber of your being and all your clout to keep pushing Susan Hutchison into running against democratic senator Patty Murray this fall.
Listen, it's not that former Redskins tight end Clint Didier, an Eastern Washington Republican who recently announced he's gunning for Murray's seat, isn't an attractive target himself. There's plenty to be said about a known teabagger who's been photographed in bulging tights and a porn-star mustache. Still, we prefer Hutchison. Blow-dried, brain-dead Hutchison—who failed to beat Democrat Dow Constantine in the race for King County executive last November—has absolutely zero chance of unseating the very popular Murray, which would make for another electoral blowout. Imagine: The sharp mom in tennis shoes—who's used her three terms in the U.S. Senate to become a quietly indispensable deal-maker and advocate for liberal causes, most recently on health-insurance reform—facing off against the in-over-her-head Republican television hack whose only political experience is having her ass handed to her by a guy she tried to not-so-subtly cast as a pansy.
Bring. It. On. Lazy Susan, the political world is your oyster! Go. Fight. Run!