Saturday evening I attended Washington Public Campaign’s Annual Awards Banquet, held at South King County Community College.
The keynote speaker was progressive radio host Norman Goldman. State Senator Adam Kline was master of ceremonies . State Rep. Bob Hasegawa won the public leadership award. I’ll summarize some salient points from their speeches and from the conversations I had with them afterwards. You can find more details about the banquet and about WPC at http://washclean.org/.
Norman Goldman said “we’re fighting the good fight.”
Goldman spoke of losing his mother at age 6, to cancer, and his father at age 11 (to heart disease, I believe). Goldman lived in an orphanage for six years. It was only thanks to meager Social Security survivor payments and, later, to the City University of New York that he survived and eventually thrived. He worked as a lawyer for insurance companies before switching sides and using his knowledge to work for clients suing insurance companies. He did pretty well but always paid his taxes.
I was somewhat surprised to hear Goldman make an Anthony Weiner joke. Something like: “Now that Anthony Weiner is out of work he’s available for talks. He couldn’t make it to this event so he said he’d tweet us some material. I said no thanks.” Later Goldman said, “Thank you, Anthony Weiner, for adding more stupidity to America’s political dialog.” I suppose that Weiner, like Clinton, should have been more discreet!
Goldman spoke of the “ideological corruption” of the court system, as evidenced by the Citizens United decision. What was most outrageous about that ruling is that the justices ruled on an issue that wasn’t even brought before them. When you first become a judge you usually attend judges’ college, where the first rule they teach you is: rule narrowly. (Again, Goldman is a lawyer.) That is, only rule on the specific issue brought before you. In the Citizens United case the justices ruled on a much broader issue. Goldman called the 5-4 ruling “an impeachable offense.”
Goldman encouraged us to see the discussion of “cases and controversies” in Article III of the US Constitution. Judges should not manufacture the cases they are going to decide. The Wikipedia article about Article III says: “Only actual cases and controversies may be heard by the federal courts; the judicial power does not extend to cases which are hypothetical, or which are precluded because of problems with standing, mootness, or ripeness. Generally, a case or controversy requires the presence of adverse parties who have some interest genuinely at stake in the case.”
Goldman said “judicial radicalism is direct threat to democracy. We are in serious trouble. I don’t mean to be a downer.”
He has a four point plan to rescue America. It starts, “We have witnessed a sustained, ‘institutional-style’ Republican assault on America for the last thirty-plus years.” Yep. His four points are, briefly: (1) Run for office, (2) make a radio home for whistle-blowers, (3) use the ballot initiative process to beat back against conservative policies [Washington State Democrats should promote a ballot initiative to eliminate tax loopholes!], and (4) “create or find a quarterback to knit together the progressive infrastructure and get a coordinated message out in the public.” Goldman spoke briefly only about this fourth point.
He makes the same point that I’ve been making for years: there are too many uncoordinated lefty groups. He said that the right is top-down, with almost military discipline. Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh give talking points and other conservatives repeat them. They crushed even Newt Grinrich for questioning the wisdom of Ryan’s plan to destroy Medicare. Goldman said the right are “fascist.” But, unlike conservatives, most liberals and progressives are not zombies. [I think this is an over-simplification, but his main points stand.] So we need a way to herd the lefty cats. We need to open a magic can of tuna so that the lefty factions all come together. The Left needs to stop infighting. [But I actually think the main infighting we’re seeing is between progressives and “centrists” like Obama, who is barely on the left at all. Other groups do compete for “market share”, however.] We need to market progressive ideas with short slogans like “tax fairness” and “end corporate welfare.”
I’ve long thought that if all the people active in lefty advocacy groups instead became active in the Democratic Party, they could push it rightward and we wouldn’t need advocacy groups. Angry conservatives take over the GOP; angry progressives flee the Democratic Party and join advocacy groups or third parties.
When I spoke to Goldman, Hasegawa, and Kline after the event I asked them “Why can’t the Democratic Party take the leadership role that we need to herd the lefty cats?” The answer I got was, basically, the Democrats are too corrupted by the need to raise corporate money. Anyway, because of the lack of leadership from the Democratic Party, both nationwide and here in Washington State, we have a proliferation of numerous uncoordinated lefty advocacy groups. The Proposal for Washington Liberals discusses this point.
Rep. Hasegawa said we need to educate the public about what’s in their own best interest, so they stop voting for initiatives and candidates who harm the public good. Hasegawa encouraged everyone to get their organizations to advocate for progressive tax reform and to support the State Bank (“Washington Investment Trust”). State revenues are deposited currently in accounts at the Bank of America. That’s crazy. Why should we be supporting that bank when, like North Dakota, we could keep the money in-state and avoid fees?
Hasegawa thanked House Speaker Frank Chopp, who was in the audience, for supporting the state bank. Hasegawa joked that nowadays most people hate the state and hate the banks so calling it the “State Bank” is probably not a good idea. In fact, the official name is “Washington Investment Trust.”
Hasegawa said we need to shift the tax burden back from the middle class to the rich. In the 1950s the top tax rate was 91%. Now it’s what? 35%? And capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than earned income. Hasegawa acknowledged that the populist message about shifting the tax burden might not be the best way to frame the issue (presumably, because people might feel it’s unfair and petty to soak the rich).
Hasegawa is such a nice guy. He always is ready with a warm smile. When I spoke to him, he listened politely and was humble and self-deprecating. Personality helps!
Sen. Adam Kline is a solid progressive Democrat, being a leader on women’s rights, environment, and gun control. His combined scores on the following three scorecards are 95, 88, and 96, respectively.
- Washington State Labor Council, 2010 Senate Voting Record,
- 2010 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity, and
- Washington State Conservation Voters Legislative Scorecard, 2009-2010
According to those scorecards, Kline, who is the Senate Judiciary chair, is the third most progressive state senator after Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Karen Fraser. See this visualization of our state senators’ scores.
After the event I hung around to chat, take photos, and network. I asked Kline about the lack of leadership on the Left in Washington State on the issue of tax fairness. Specifically, few Democrats are willing to educate the voters about the importance of progressive taxation and ending loopholes. Kline said that in his district he can get away with talking about the issue, since Kline serves the 37th district, comprising part of South Seattle, all of Renton and one precinct in Tukwila. But many Democratic legislators serve swing districts, where any mention of taxation would be radioactive.
I also asked about Governor Gregoire’s lack of leadership. Since she’s not running for governor, you’d think she could lead. Kline said that Gregoire probably waited to announce her plan not to seek re-election because she didn’t want to lose power and be a sitting duck.
Someone said that the reason Gregoire hasn’t led on the issue of tax fairness, as well as other issues, may be that she simply doesn’t care about those issues. She’s revealed her true colors. Maybe, too, she’s giving the voters what they want.
Adam Kline said something that resonated with me to some degree. He said that a lot of lawmakers probably figure that if the voters are stupid enough to vote against fair taxation, then why should we second-guess them? Let them reap what they sow. I mentioned that I was chatting with my bus driver during morning commute and the issue of I-1098 came up. The driver said that he voted against the initiative (which would have established an income tax on the top 1% of earners in Washington State). The bus driver seemed smart. He always was reading books during stopovers. And he was a nice guy. But after that conversation I was so angry that I never spoke to him again. He works for the state and voted against fair taxation!
Everyone at the banquet seems to agree that the Left needs to fix the messaging problem. We need to make it safe for Democrats to state our truths. We need to frame the issues. Maybe host a gathering of local progressive leaders, as David Vicks reminds me.
Herding the cats needs to start with building a progressive website! It’s not hard: just get different advocacy groups and factions to agree to contribute. Share editing.
I networked with some activists and spoke about making progressive videos.
Rep. Hasegawa’s seriously lovely twenty-something daughters posed for some photos and then stood around holding out their smartphones and smiling at something. I figured they were watching videos, so I edged beside them to see what they were watching. It turns out that they were watching live videos of themselves — and now me — taken from the cameras on their smartphones. One of them pointed to the little lens at the top of the screen. They were posing and smiling in their fancy clothes. Can’t blame them for enjoying their own images. After a bit, I commented, “Wow, those are dangerous devices. ” They laughed. I left.
In the car on the way home I turned on AM-1090. Lo and behold! Norman Goldman was hosting a show. He’s good!