The Chamber of Commerce’s political arm (i.e. Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy [CASE]) is using the momentum from the head tax failure to fuel a conservative takeover of the city council, according to a report in the Seattle Times over the weekend.
The Chamber is raising lots of money ($702,277, so far). Amazon is contributing mightily to the cause ($200,000). They want to use all that money to knock out the city’s progressives (Mike O’Brien, Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant) and replace them with cops and small business owners. With O’Brien bowing out allegedly due to polling numbers so bad that “labor went to him and said ‘don’t run because we can’t save you,'” that leaves the Chamber with two incumbents to tackle and four open seats to swoop.
All of this has been pretty apparent to observers of the race, especially with the number of candidates clearly running as Chamber bait, but it's worth analyzing the Chamber's strategy here, at least so you won't get fooled in the primaries.
Two particular quotes from Chamber president Marilyn Strickland tell you all you need to know about what’s going on here. The first reveals the chamber’s motives for revenge, and the second reveals its political strategy for action.
Here’s the motivating factor, from the Times:
Even the election of relatively business-friendly mayors, such as Jenny Durkan and especially her predecessor, Ed Murray, hasn’t stopped that progressive majority from pursuing policies, like the head tax, that many business leaders see as both economically costly and openly ideological. Council policy has become almost 'punitive,' as if some council members are trying to 'address social problems by taking it out on business,' said Seattle chamber President Marilyn Strickland in an interview last fall.
Awww, poor big businesses getting picked on by those progressive bullies at the city council. All big businesses are trying to do is strip-mine the city's resources in order to grow at unsustainable rates while exacerbating the housing and homelessness crises. But then the mean ol’ city council comes around and ruins all the fun by trying to pass a modest tax to help fix some of those problems. How unfair!!!! How rude!!! What else is big business supposed to do except to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars behind conservative candidates in an effort to exert total control over the city????
This response is a favorite of people in power. It’s so common, in fact, that professor Sarah Schulman wrote a whole book about it called Conflict Is Not Abuse. Here's the basic theory: People in power, because they're used to being in power, perceive any criticism as an existential threat. When someone criticizes them, they use their power and ample resources to reframe the conversation so that they become the victims and not the victimizers. Once they successfully frame themselves as the “real” victims, they then use their victimized status to justify cruel actions. See for reference: literally any issue involving Donald Trump. (Immigrants are taking our jobs and committing crimes, so we must break up their families and put them in camps!)
In this case, Seattle's business lobby is trying to frame itself as the “real” victim of the homelessness crisis. In order to gin up sympathy, Strickland uses the language of physical violence to describe the head tax, saying council members were trying to pass “punitive” policy to “take it out on business.” Never mind the fact that the “punitive policy” in question was the revival of a modest tax to fund badly needed homelessness services. And never mind the fact that the response from big business only revealed their outsized power in the city relative to the council—they dumped tons of money into the repeal effort and threatened to dump more, all while Jeff Bezos—the richest man in the entire world—caused a big scene by halting construction of Rainier Square tower in protest. All of this worked! They won! Why are they still pretending like they're victims?
Anyhow, now that Chamber and big business have framed themselves as the victim, it’s unclear what sorts of cruel actions they plan to justify. But their plan to put themselves in a position to enact that cruelty is clear. Here’s the strategy:
CASE hopes to avoid politically charged labels like 'business' or 'conservative' in favor of themes such as 'inclusiveness' and 'openness'— as in, 'we want a council that has an open mind, that is willing to listen to all sides of the conversation, and isn’t driven solely by ideology,' as Strickland explained.
Again, you almost have to respect the Chamber for its honesty here. Strickland is suggesting that the Chamber wants its candidates to cloak their conservative ideology in the language of civility. Don't say "business" or "conservative." Say, “I want to listen to all sides!”
We’ve seen this strategy play out on the national stage. Howard Schultz is camouflaging his conservatism with the rhetoric of listening to "all sides.” Even Mitch McConnell rang the civility bell after conservatives pushed through Kavanaugh. "Civility" is the sound a person makes when they have zero ideas.
Speaking of which: It's been a year since anti-head tax organizers promised new solutions to the homelessness crisis, and I’ve heard exactly zero new ideas. I can only glean two old ones: philanthropy and, uh, round up the homeless, put them all on an island, and inject them with methadone.
Neither of these “solutions” is tenable. Philanthropy cannot provide services on the scale the region needs. And we’ve already tried putting a lot of homeless people in jail—it doesn't seem to be working too well.
The solution to addressing the region's homelessness crisis involves a cash injection of $400 million per year, according to an independent analysis from McKinsey consultants. Progressives and socialists want to tax large corporations in order to get that money. Big business wants to—do what, exactly? Ah yes, they want to solve the homeless crisis with "openness" and "inclusion," by which they mean tax cuts and rolling back regulation.
It's worth noting that the Chamber goes after progressives every cycle, but, as the Times shows, low polling numbers for CMs Herbold and Sawant plus a loud, organized contingent of people who think the council's policies are violating Seattle's beautiful jewel might make their efforts more successful this year.