Washington State Democrats have ignored and/or rolled their eyes at an email from Council Member Kshama Sawant asking 21 state legislators to go on record in support of her long-awaited rent control trigger law, which would go into effect only if the Legislature votes to lift the statewide ban imposed in 1981.
Two infamously moderate State Democrats, State House Rep. Gerry Pollet and state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, were the only lawmakers who responded, Sawant’s office said. Instead of evaluating the merits of her proposal, the lawmakers sent snarky emails chastising her for not properly groveling before the Seattle delegation, who they say showed so much gusto by proposing an end to the ban that died in committee.
Sawant is not one to schmooze Democrats, which makes her an ineffective operator, according to some politicos. However, this refusal to engage on a bill because its sponsor did not kiss their rings reveals their priorities and their own brand of ineffectiveness on issues they claim to care about.
In a generic email to Seattle’s Olympia delegation, Sawant, in typical Sawant fashion, pointed out that the Democrats in Olympia have failed to bring rent control to a vote despite controlling the State House, the Senate, and the Governor’s mansion for years. In light of their inaction, she urged them to publicly support overturning the ban on rent control and to send a statement endorsing her ordinance. Support from state lawmakers could give Sawant a solid counter-argument to opponents who think her policy is a moot point until the state acts.
Her email did not land with Rep. Pollet. He ignored her question and instead scolded her for not properly praising his bill to end state preemption of local rent stabilization and controls in the last session.
State Senator Javier Valdez introduced Senate Bill 5615, which died in committee, and Pollet introduced its companion in the House, which also died in committee. In his email, Pollet pointed out that Sawant, the council member who can find a way to bring up rent control in any setting, did not send a statement of support for these bills.
“Now, you write us asking us to announce that we will support lifting the ban on rent control. It’s almost as if you don’t follow the Legislature or what Seattle legislators are doing on behalf of the City’s legislative agenda,” Pollet wrote to Sawant.
Pollet continued: “If you were aware of our work to end the preemption of rent control, your email might have appropriately begun by saying that you appreciate the effort and that you are introducing legislation to control rents whenever preemption ends.”
Pollet’s email did not land with Sawant, either.
In a reply to him, she wrote, “I will not lie to working-class renters and pretend that Democratic legislators in Olympia have made an honest effort to end the statewide ban on rent control, because if that were true, it would have been done already.”
She went on to mention that she had no opportunity to bring her red shirt army down to Olympia in the first place, since the Democratic committee chairs declined to give the rent control bills a public hearing. “...You are predictably engaging in political gaslighting by attacking us for not supporting bills that you and your fellow Democrats would not even bring for a vote. It’s stunning,” she wrote.
If the State made a “bare-minimum credible” swing at the ban, she added, her office and Socialist Alternative would have “undoubtedly done everything in [their] power to build a movement to win that legislation.”
She then turned the tables on him.
If Pollet were aware of Sawant’s work to end preemption of rent control, he might remember that her office passed a resolution in 2015 that urged the Legislature to repeal the ban and added repealing the ban to the council’s State Legislative agenda. Or he might recall when Sawant and Council Member Nick Licata argued in favor of the policy in a two-hour debate against a Republican and a corporate real estate lobbyist that same year.
Maybe Pollet would have seen her office’s formal letter asking legislators to legalize residential rent control when the state considered banning commercial rent control in 2017. Or perhaps he would have remembered when she testified against the ban in Olympia in 2018. In addition to that state-level advocacy, her office has also collected thousands of signatures in support of the policy.
At the end of Sawant’s scathing email, she repeated the question Pollet failed to answer in his quest to call out the undisputed call-out queen: “Will you send a statement of support for our rent control bill, and for lifting the statewide ban on rent control?”
The Stranger asked Pollet the same questions. He said his support for lifting the state ban should be obvious, however, at the time of his email, he had not read Sawant’s proposal. After he read it, he told The Stranger he “might not personally” sponsor a bill that creates a 42-member rent control board, but ultimately he said it is “not [his] call” on what the council decides is the best form of rent control. Either way, he will continue to try and lift the ban to empower the City’s choice.
Pedersen also ignored Sawant’s request for a statement of support. Instead, he wrote, “Thank you for your message. This is the first record I have of any communication from your office in the nearly 10 years that you have served.” He added that he “would be happy” to vote in favor of the repeal of the rent control prohibition that Valdez introduced in the last session.
Sawant wrote back, saying that he commented about her poor communication in order to “deflect from your own role, and that of your fellow Democrats, in upholding the deeply unjust ban on rent control, and refusing to stand up to the real estate lobby to significantly improve the lives of renters.”
She restated her question, unsatisfied with his endorsement of Valdez’s failed bill. She wrote, “It’s one thing to support a bill in Olympia that you know is going nowhere, quite another to support city legislation that has a fighting chance of passing.”
The Stranger asked Pedersen if he supports Sawant’s policy and he did not respond.
These emails do not appear to be out of the ordinary. Rep. Nicole Macri, who was CC’d on Pollet’s email to Sawant, said the exchange is “actually pretty funny” and “typical of the tension” between Sawant and most state legislators.
Macri said she appreciates both perspectives, but she added: “I really think our constituents want us to try to work together when we can. Reading the exchange, I don’t think either elected seems authentically interested in doing that.”
She said she will catch up on the details of Sawant’s proposal soon.
Regardless, Sawant’s strategy has never relied on easy support from Democrats. In a committee meeting this Wednesday, she will tell the public which of their state representatives have sent her statements of support. Absence of some big names in progressive politics may even help Sawant and her office rally the troops.