Darcy Burner (again), ladies and gentlemen!
  • David Belisle
  • Darcy Burner (again), ladies and gentlemen!
In response to this Slog post—and the argument between myself and Goldy in the current edition of The Stranger—Congressional candidate Darcy Burner wrote me a friendly rebuttal:

Hi Eli,

I understand too well being disillusioned about politics.

I clearly remember standing in 2008 in line in a Starbucks in Bellevue listening to people talk to strangers in line about how excited they were about Barack Obama. There was such a feeling of community and hope. I went to DC for the inauguration and watched as the guy we believed in was sworn in, and I walked by the Capitol building thinking how great our government of, by, and for the people could be. In DC that day, people of every skin color, of every age, of every socioeconomic background, men and women, gay and straight, from every part of the country stood for hours in the bitter cold and it wasn’t the cold that dominated but a feeling that we had accomplished a tremendous thing together—that we were in this together, and that we could do anything.

And then before we’d even caught our breaths again, the obstruction began. However dysfunctional DC might have been before 2009, by every measure it’s been more deeply broken since. Mitch McConnell made it clear that his top priority was destroying Obama; the fact that the country would be destroyed in the process was apparently mere collateral damage. We have all been grappling with being frustrated and disappointed and angry.

So people are wary and tired of politics. I get that. There are plenty of days in politics when I feel a little like I’m drinking a cup of spiritual poison before I get to my usual cup of green tea.

So why do it? It would be a whole lot easier to enjoy my newly-rebuilt house, savor long hours with my husband and son, have friends and neighbors over for dinner and let somebody else take care of the problem. Denial would be simple.

But we can’t fix what’s broken with our country if we don’t fix Congress.

Our Congress is full of crooks who trade on insider knowledge, of people who have sold their souls to the very people who have broken our country.

Even the good ones, the members who want the right things, too often give up too easily on important fights, or can’t figure out how to fix the deep structural problems that undermine us.

We need people there who are tenacious and who won’t give up when things get hard.

We need people who are going to fight relentlessly for the things that matter—for a country that works for people who work for a living, for equal justice for all.

And we need people who have the kind of deep analytical training needed to see below the surface of the systems of power in DC. Those systems need to be re-engineered so that they work once again for the people of our country. We need engineers.

So that’s why I’m running: DC needs to be fixed. I have a pretty good idea of how to fix it, and the right temperament and skills to get the job done. What I have to offer is what is needed now.

With that said, let’s take your critiques one by one.

Your first critique boils down to the fact that I haven’t been either elected or appointed to a government position. There are two potential reasons you might assert such a requirement: either people don’t get elected to Congress without having been elected or appointed to some other government position (however minor) first, or there’s a set of skills needed that one can pick up by serving in other elected or appointed office.

The first possibility—that it’s an electoral requirement—is fairly easy to dispute. If we look at the current 439 members of the U.S. House (which includes the four non-voting delegates), 222 of them are former legislators, 29 are former mayors, 6 are former lieutenant governors, 10 have been judges, and 18 have been prosecutors. (See the CRS report.) Assuming no overlap in any of those numbers, then at most 285 of the 439 have met your requirement: fully a third of the current Congress wouldn’t qualify. Paul Wellstone wouldn’t have met this criteria when elected, nor Al Franken, nor Norm Dicks, nor Brian Baird, nor Ron Paul, nor Paul Ryan, nor Tom Perriello, nor Dan Maffei... Well, you get the idea. It’s clearly not an electoral-reality requirement.

The second possibility is that you’re concerned about a particular set of skills that make it possible to get things done in Congress. But there’s plenty of evidence that I possess the skills required. Congressional service is primarily about building coalitions and crafting policy (with some managing staff and customer/constituent service built it). Have I built coalitions? Certainly—both as a candidate and around the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, an unprecedented coalition-building effort which had more than sixty candidates for the House and Senate endorse it (including many current members of Congress), and which was praised by a significant bench of experts. More recently, in the period in which I’ve been working with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the caucus has grown by more than 30% and has become a factor in Congressional politics in ways they never were before. This was a direct and intended outcome of my activities.

Have I dealt with complex policy issues? Again, yes. In addition to the Responsible Plan, I’m a member of the Afghanistan Study Group whose report was endorsed not only by plenty of Democrats but also by Grover Norquist, Richard Haass, Dick Luger, Ann Coulter, and Judd Gregg. I organized and ran the Congressional Progressive Caucus Strategic Planning Summit in January, laying out policy options in every major policy area Congress has been slated to deal with this year. I’ve briefed Congress, collaborated with Nobel prize winning economists and retired generals, and have always been happy to answer substantive questions on policy—unlike most candidates for Congress in either party. In terms of managing staff, I managed people at Microsoft, I managed people on my campaigns, I managed people at ProgressiveCongress.org—and the people I’ve managed frequently come back to work for me again when they have an opportunity to do so, which is its own testament to my management skills. And as for customer/constituent services—not only was I a tech support engineer earlier in my political career, but my non-profits have been all about customer service to members of Congress and Congressional staff. The policy summit was described by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky as “the best retreat [she’d] ever been to,” we have more than 900 Congressional staffers subscribed to our daily news clips, and we’ve done a dozen events with unprecedented levels of turnout this year alone.

In addition, it’s clear that a deep understanding of the technology businesses that are the future of our economy in the Puget Sound and in the country are needed in Congress. We have too few people in Congress who understand technology, too few who can articulate a vision for a manufacturing policy for the U.S. which is forward-facing rather than backward-looking, too few who know why it’s a bad idea to let companies like AT&T and Comcast censor Internet content and why holding ISPs accountable for everything someone might post on their servers is deeply problematic for our democracy and our economy. That’s an understanding that I bring out of real world experience that spans from small software companies to Microsoft.

Your second critique is that a Republican smear against me in 2008 got traction. Yes, the Republicans are good at lying and getting some fraction of people to believe it. They’ve convinced a significant number of people that Barack Obama doesn’t have a real birth certificate from Hawaii; should he therefore decline to run in 2012? They’ve convinced a significant number of people that climate change isn’t real, that gay marriage will destroy heterosexual marriage, that healthcare reform means death panels for grandma, and that the Bible requires that we cut food stamps for the poor. Should we have those lies dictate our actions as well? They’ll smear whoever the Democratic nominee for WA-01 is. They’ll smear Inslee as he runs for Governor. They’ll smear Zach Hudgins in his race for Lieutenant Governor. They’ll smear Bob Ferguson in his race for Attorney General. Should we say that anyone ever smeared by them should get out of politics? That would certainly succeed in giving them complete control of the agenda, and it would make it straightforward for them to eliminate danger from anyone who might be a real threat to them. But it seems to me that a better approach would be (as Richard Blumenthal did in Connecticut) to work through it and push back.

By the way: the most straightforward way to address this problem would be for other journalists, spotting such smears, to explicitly call them out as smears in ways that allow for the smeared to defend themselves—and to shun and call out the ethically-challenged journalists who assist in spreading them. The Fourth Estate policing its own members could improve the state of politics in this country dramatically.

Your third objection amounts to “some people think I’m an uppity woman.” Yup, that’s true. It’s true for any woman who runs for office (regardless of party, by the way). Patty Murray was described in uppity-woman terms when she ran for and won her U.S. Senate seat. But the question seems to me relevant only as to whether there are enough such people to prevent me from winning the race at hand. My polling says no.

Your fourth objection is about me running in WA-01 when I’ve previously run in WA-08. But part of the reason it took me this long to get in was because I was trying to figure out what the redistricting commissioners were going to do. Given the shape of things right now, my best guess is that after redistricting I’m going to be in WA-01, and WA-01 is going to include a whole lot of the territory that was in WA-08 before. It’s entirely possible that fully half of the population of the new WA-01 will be people who were in WA-08 before – including my house. I’m not moving to some new district I don’t have a connection to; the lines of the districts themselves are changing, and I’m talking about running in the district my house is most likely to be in when all of the dust has settled.

Finally, you object to the company I keep, and to their expressed frustration at the process of figuring out how to create/acquire and exercise political power. Yes, my friends can be a little passionate and rough around the edges. The world is changing pretty rapidly; who’s participating in politics is changing pretty rapidly; a whole lot is being figured out on the fly, and lots of people are being galvanized to action (on both sides of the political spectrum). I believe that it’s a good thing we’re seeing much greater levels of participation from people who weren’t particularly engaged fifteen years ago. And I think that most of the people who were pretty rough in 2006 and in 2008 have been growing and learning – as I know I have, as I expect you have. I can’t apologize for getting people excited to be involved. But I can assure you that I won’t be drawing gun sights on anyone’s head, that I won’t be encouraging violence, that I won’t be dehumanizing the other side, and that I won’t pursue strategies in which we take some innocent group of people whose only crime is being different and make them scapegoats for the frustration and anger people feel.

With all of that said, at the end of the day I think that the biggest objection to me is one you don’t explicitly bring up, which is that I’m disruptive to the status quo. I put a lot of energy into changing the rules of politics. When I ran before, I changed the rules about who can become a viable House candidate; I changed the rules about how a credible race can be run. Even something like the Responsible Plan was rule-changing – Rahm and Max Clelland and a host of other people told me not to spend time on anything substantive, that it shouldn’t be worked on until after the election, because candidates just don’t do that. But people like Jared Polis got elected on it. Working with Congress I’ve changed the relevance of a previously easily-dismissed voting bloc, and I’ve changed how progressives in Congress work with outside groups to get things done. I disrupt. It’s what I do. And that means that for people who have some level of power in the existing system, I’m pretty threatening.

But Eli: you and I both know that the current system is broken. It needs change. It needs disruption.

And so this last objection, the one with the most substance, the one at the heart of most of the deep emotional objections some people have to me, is the very thing that most justifies my candidacy.

I think it’s going to be a fun race.

Yours in always-happy-to-talk,