On reinventing Democratic politics

At last night’s meeting of the 41st LD Democrats there was a discussion about how to attract more people to become PCOs and about how to get more existing PCOs to attend meetings and work on campaigns.

The discussion began with the question: what’s the purpose of the 41st LD Dems? One guy said: to elect Democrats. I replied: not just Democrats, but good Democrats; after all, Rodney Tom is a Democrat.

The discussion continued for almost and hour, with several people agreeing with me on the importance of supporting high-quality (progressive) candidates who are likely to defend our values (e.g., on economic fairness). Others were more interested in making the Democratic Party a “big tent”; such people thought the job of PCOs is to knock on doors, make phone calls, and pay their dues.

Most everyone agreed that the org should host interesting speakers and make newcomers feel more welcome.

I said: most people who get involved in the Democratic Party do so because they believe that the Party and its candidates are most likely to support the policies they favor. Very few people will want to become PCOs just so that they can elect Democrats as Democrats. In other words, people support the policies first and the party derivatively.

In fact, I’m sure a lot of people think both the GOP and the Dems are self-serving factions that do little to help them.

Chair Karol Brown spoke on the importance of politeness towards people with opposing views. I said I disagreed: I think good Democrats need to be more vocal and partisan about weeding out marginal and turncoat Democrats who often vote with Republicans. I said we need more accountability. Most people disagreed with me, some vehemently, but I think that if the  Democratic Party is going to thrive and recover its soul it needs to turn back to its ideals.

A lot of people in, say, Seattle, regard Eastside Dems as little better than Republicans. Perhaps that’s the best we can do over here given the realities of money and power.

Subsequent events at the meeting illustrated some of my points.

Bellevue City Council candidate Steve Kasner was at the meeting. He is behind Republican opponent Kevin Wallace by about 200 votes, out of about 29,000 validated ballots. Wallace has claimed victory, and Kasner is deciding whether to go ahead with the effort to chase ballots and pursue a recount. Wallace outspent Kasner two to one.

Rebecca Bryant, political director for US Congressman Adam Smith, came to speak briefly at the meeting, as she is wont to do. I sharply asked her why Rep. Smith endorsed Kevin Wallace. She apologized and said that Wallace and Smith had had some sort of past business relationship. Others in the room had worked very hard for Kasner — I too walked my precinct with him — and expressed their displeasure to Ms. Bryant. Someone said that Smith’s endorsement of Wallace probably was enough to cause Wallace to win.

Someone spoke critically to Ms. Bryant about Rep. Smith’s early strong support for the NDAA. Again, Ms. Bryant was apologetic. In recent years, Rep. Smith has made efforts to backtrack from his rather militaristic and reactionary support for defense spending and the security state.

For me, LD meetings are often boring and frustrating because of the (usually but not always useless) formality  — “Can I hear a motion to accept the minutes from the last meeting?” — and because of the ineffectiveness and unwillingness to promote progressive values and hold lawmakers accountable. As someone said, lawmakers welcome LDs’ help to get elected; thereafter, they show little interest and often ignore platforms and resolutions.

About 25 people showed up at the LD meeting out of about 101 PCOs — not bad for a post-election meeting in an odd year. Someone mentioned that the 48th LD meeting had only 11 people show up — which is sad, because the 48th LD will presumably be working to elect a replacement for Rodney Tom. I asked and apparently no candidate has yet emerged to challenge Tom in the primary.   Perhaps Tom will run as an Independent: it might actually help his candidacy.

A few months ago, the 41st LD elected Tana Senn as a replacement for departing State House member Marcie Maxwell. The meeting was filled with dozens of new PCOs — most of them specially recruited by candidates to vote for them in the election. Few of those new PCOs have returned.  One who did said she hadn’t felt welcomed when she first came.

As was pointed out at the meeting, many Democratic orgs are struggling. I personally know a lot of passionate Democrats (not to mention people further to the left) who no longer attend Party meetings or who have dropped out of working with lefty groups, because nothing gets accomplished or because they feel excluded.    People rarely work together; everyone wants to lead.  The King County Dems have been in disarray since the chairmanship was wrested from Steve Zemke by Karl de Jong; various vice-chairs and council members have resigned; some people circulated angry letters; experienced committee chairs were fired (because they were thought to be loyal to Zemke); and people complained of being ignored and mistreated.  Several of the 41st LD reps quit, including the 1st Vice-Chair, Sojna Rossman.

The State Dems are preparing to select a replacement for departing state chair Dwight Pelz. Discussions on facebook are similar to the 41st LD discussion about the purpose of the org. What sort of qualities should the party look for in a state chair? Is it enough that she or he be skillful at managing and fundraising? Or should he be chosen to support certain policies?

In Seattle, long time Democrat Richard Conlin lost to Kshama Sawant in a close race that has become nationally emblematic of the problems facing the Democratic Party. Conlin received the endorsement of numerous Democratic orgs but still lost.

I think the Dems should move to the left and promote populist and righteous policies such as economic justice. But they should not move so far to the left that they lose like they did in 1972 with McGovern. Bit by bit. Strategically.

Will progressives take back the party from the centrists? Will they be too polite and compliant, or too disorganized, to make the effort? Will the progressive and independents be willing to do the work required to fix the party? Can they do so and still win elections?

The left needs better messaging, so the voters stop voting against their own self-interest.

Can the establishment Dems welcome the progressives and disaffected independents?

Sen. Rodney Tom to be featured speaker at far-right WPC event

The far-right think tank Washington Policy Center has announced a Solutions Summit on November 12 featuring Democrat-in-Name-Only Senator Rodney Tom. “This half-day conference will kick off with a breakfast featuring Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom and Bob Moore of Moore Information.”

What a betrayal by a supposed Democrat.   It seems to me he shouldn’t be a Democrat.    I’d expect that Democratic primary voters would reject him next year.

King Rodney Tom installed as Senate Majority Leader

Cheer the Majority Coalition if you like ….

Enjoying the gridlock on I-405 and I-5?

Wanna see more bridges collapse, like the Skagit River Bridge did earlier this year?

Happy about the mentally deranged man who stabbed two people in Pioneer Square, killing one of them?  Or about the practice of “warehousing” mentally ill patients due to the lack of psychiatric beds in the state? (See The Seattle Times’  ‘Boarding’ mentally ill becoming epidemic in state).

Then you should cheer for the state Senate’s “Majority Coalition”, under the leadership of Bellevue’s own Democrat-In-Name-Only, Sen. Rodney Tom.

The gridlock and bridge collapse and stabbing and lack of treatment are perfect examples of the dangers of the Republican assault on government.

According to Annon Shoenfeld of the King County Mental Health Chemical Abuse and Dependency Service, the county has lost $30 million in funding in medical in last four year, despite increased demand.   And over the past six years the state has cut 250 psychiatric beds and more than $100 million in psychiatric funding.

Earlier this year the Senate rejected the House’s transportation package that would have funded roads and saved King County Metro bus routes.  Without extra funding for Metro, 20,000 – 30,000 extra cars will be on the road, and thousands of low income workers will struggle to get work.

At last week’s town hall forum on Transportation at Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, dozens of businessmen in fancy suits pleaded with state legislators to pass a transportation package that would allow employees to get to work and trucks to delivers the goods.  Dozens of local mayors and city council members offered similar testimony.

The Majority Coalition is demanding so-called “reforms” as a condition of their approval of a transportation package. They want to weaken environmental protections, lower prevailing wages requirements, and exempt transportation projects from the sales tax —  thereby starving the general fund of much-needed revenue).

Senate Republicans are also resisting a proposed 10 cent per gallon gas tax.  The current state gas tax of 37.5 cents hasn’t risen since 2008, when it rose 1.5 cents.  There isn’t enough money  to keep up with inflation and population increases.

And they proposed an “education first” budget that would starve social services.

But without government services, our economy and our social system won’t function.


October 14: Senate "Listening Tour" comes to Seattle

Seattle “Listening Tour” Stop

Monday, October 14, 6:00pm – 9:00 pm
King County Courthouse, Room 1001
10th Floor, 516 3rd Avenue, Seattle
* Transit Riders & Allies Rally outside at 5 pm *

Our Senators have been making their way around the state (starting with the Bellevue forum on September 17 where we gave Rodney Tom a piece of our mind! — see below) and at every stop so far they’ve heard the same message: pass a transportation package with transit funding already! In other words, people around the state are telling them to do exactly what they refused to do during the 2013 legislative session and the two agonizing special sessions this spring.

What are these Senators up to? Let’s be honest – it’s not really about listening to the people. The “Majority” Coalition Caucus (MCC) has an agenda, and it’s an unimaginative right-wing agenda at that: they want to “streamline” (i.e. gut) environmental reviews, privatize of our public services and resources, cut hard-working construction workers’ wages, and de-fund any mode of transportation other than driving cars.

This “listening tour” is designed to fabricate public support for a transportation package that aligns with their right-wing agenda – and then they plan to use our desperation for public transit funding to secure the support of the more progressive King County legislators.

All in all, it’s a dog-and-pony show – but nonetheless, we need to be there to speak out for public transit and to call out the MCC on their “reforms”. The Transit Riders Union and allies will be rallying outside the courthouse at 5pm, and if you want to sign up for public comment you may want to arrive even earlier. In fact, please RSVP if you plan to be there and want to give public comment, so we can keep you informed.

Like TRU on Facebook

We are proud to announce the publication of Issue #2 of the Transit Reader Newsletter. You can read the PDF version here, or come to our next Membership Meeting on Monday, October 7, 6:30 at the Labor Temple, to pick up a paper copy. Want to distribute the Transit Reader on your bus, or leave some at your neighborhood cafe or library? We’ll be happy to give you a stack — just get in touch.

The "Majority Coalition" hearing on transportation, in Bellevue

There was an overflowing crowd at Tuesday night’s Transportation Forum in Bellevue, organized by the “Majority Coalition.”

Senators Curtis King, Tracey Eide, and Rodney Tom officiated, with numerous other public officials in attendance, including Senator Steve Litzow, Rep. Larry Springer, Rep. Ross Hunter, and Rep. Tanna Senn. Many politicians testified, including King County Chair Dow Constantine and local mayors and council members.    A large number of business people in snazzy dark suits showed up; many of them were from the Chambers of Commerce and supported expansion of I-405 or 520 in Redmond.  Men from the Kemper Freeman-associated Eastside Transportation Association spoke, as did Labor representatives and ordinary citizens.

The event began at 6:00 PM and attendees reported having to deal with heavy traffic. One guy said it took 45 minutes to go from Kirkland to 8th St in Bellevue. I-405 going south is like a parking lot weekday afternoons starting about 3:30PM til about 6:30PM.

The first half hour or so was spent on introductory talks by WSDOT officials.

The rest of the three hours consisted of testimony from public officials and the public. Almost everyone who spoke, including about a dozen local mayors and council members, asked the legislators to pass a transit package that keeps Washington moving, protects transit, reduces wait times on the roads, and aids businesses. Dozens of business people expressed the importance of keeping traffic moving on I-405 and 520; their companies can’t operate if employees and delivery trucks are stuck in traffic. Small businesses, as well as representatives of Boeing, Amazon, and Microsoft, were represented.    Several businessmen said they’d be quite happy seeing the gas tax raised 10 or 20 cents.

Jane Hague of the King County Council argued for increased transit funding and received applause. In the past she had been more conservative.  She had once planned to go along with Tim Eyman’s opposition to the congestion relief car fee but had a change of heart. She said the King County Metro has already cut 100 staff and saved $20,000,000.  Dow Constantine added that unions cut costs by $30,000,000.

The proposed 17% transit cuts would send 20,000 – 30,000 additional cars on the already congested roads.

A couple of blind people said they depend on buses.

One person said they hate to admit but they agree with Tim Eyman: let the people decide on taxes. The Senate, however, refused to pass the transportation bill that would have allowed “local option” funding, in which local constituencies could raise taxes to pay for transit.

The Kemper Freeman-associated men from the Eastside Transportation Association argued that expansion of I-405 is crucial.   They poo pooed public transit. They claimed that over 60% of state funding now goes to public transit, although it serves only a few percent of the rides.  Are they correct?  Are they including gas tax revenues?

One woman from Pierce County stood out because she said she’s poor and taxes would hurt her. She said that Pierce County officials said that bus service would need to be reduced if they cut funding for Pierce County Transit. But in the end, she claimed, they came up with the money. Afterwards, others said that, no, many routes were in fact cut and the added money came from sales tax. What’s the truth about Pierce County?

[State Rep. Cindy Ryu said in a facebook comment on this post: “Pierce Co. Transit: many routes were in fact significantly cut (35% of services is the number I recall; then another cut). Voters within the Pierce Co. Transit District voted down two ‘local options’. For the second, the District was slimmed down, but the ballot measure still did not pass.”]

One guy said that expanding roads would reduce pollution (due to less idling?).

I had wanted to give testimony but there was not enough time. (In order to testify, you needed to sign a form.  Nine pages of people people had signed up. Only about half spoke.  The sign-up form included a check box for whether or not you support more revenue and a check box for whether you support “reform” — a loaded term, since the Majority Coalition’s proposed “reforms” involve weakening environmental regulations, transferring tax revenue from the general fund to transportation, and lowering wages for workers.)

In my testimony I wanted to express my support for carbon taxes (including the gas tax), as a way to nudge people into more efficient cars and onto public transit, carpools, and bikes.   But I planned to acknowledge the regressiveness of the gas tax.   In fact, I planned to say, Washington State has the most regressive taxes in the nation, and fixing that would provide money for transportation, as well as for education and other needs.  I also wanted to point out the terrible health and environmental damage from cars.  Driving a gas-powered car is like smoking in an infant nursery. I live not far from I-405 and have to deal with the pollution. I also have to breathe car fumes as I wait for the bus every morning.  America’s unsustainable car culture makes our communities filthy, noisy, ugly, and unwalkable. It also causes global warming and corrupts our foreign policy.

Additional forums will be held around the state, as described here, starting with a forum in Everett tomorrow (Sept 18).

If you want to testify, get there early!!

The Majority Coalition is accepting online comments at http://senatetranspofeedbackforum.org/.

Katie Wilson of the Transit Rider’s Union told the senators, “With all due respect, it was irresponsible for you to not pass a transit option.”

Members of the Transit Riders Union presented to Senator Rodney a “Grievance Bus” bus loaded with petitions critical of the Majority Coalition’s actions.

Get on the Grievance Bus

Get on the Grievance Bus

Rodney Tom receives the Grievance Bus

The Transit Riders Union hands Rodney Tom the Grievance Bus

Rodney Tom

Sen. Rodney Tom looking serious

Rodney Tom

Sen. Rodney Tom looking serious