Should a progressive vote for Adam Smith or for Sarah Smith in the 9th CD?

I’m on the fence about whether to vote for Adam Smith or Sarah Smith for Congress this year.

In short, Adam Smith has more experience, will have more power if elected,  has a decent but mixed voting record, and has moved left as his district has become more progressive. Sarah Smith would more strongly work to rein in military spending and to enact progressive change.  Sarah, however, has no experience in elected office. Moreover, she is a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists — a party that is significantly to the left of where I’m comfortable.

Adam Smith is a 21 year old veteran of Congress, where he is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Service Committee.

His voting record is mixed.  He voted to approve the invasion of Iraq, for the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, and against an amendment to restrict the NSA from collecting phone records of Americans even in the absense of suspected crimes.    He voted against the Protect America Act of 2007 but for the 2001 Patriot Act and for extending the George W. Bush administrations warrantless wiretapping program. (source)

Earlier this month, Smith spoke at the Defense News Conference in Arlington, VA, and said that the defense budget is unsustainable (source: Democratic control of House could mean more ‘rational’ defense budget).

An expert or military official testifies at hearings and “scares the hell out of us by saying there’s this huge massive threat … We are hopelessly outgunned, outmanned, everything is falling apart we’re all going to die, basically,” Smith said. “All part of an effort to get us to spend a massive amount of money on any one of a thousand different things.”

Smith said Democrats will look at how they can, within a reasonable budget, manage risk while also prioritizing other factors that make a country “safe, secure and prosperous” like paying down debt and fixing infrastructure.

“The biggest problem I feel that we’ve had is, because we get this ‘Oh my God we have to cover everything [mindset],’ we wind up covering nothing well and that leaves the men and women who serve us in a position where they are not properly trained, properly equipped to meet all the missions we want them to meet,” he said. “It’s a complete impossibility to meet all the missions that we dream up.”

Smith’s congressional district used to be further south, encompassing the Lewis-McChord military bases near Olympia.  Now it has moved north to include areas of Seattle and south-eastern suburbs.  These areas are more liberal, and Smith has moved to the left to accommodate his changed district.

He is the chair of the political action committee of the centrist New Democratic Coalition, but he recently joined the Progressive Caucus.

I’ve attended many of Adam Smith’s town halls and debates. He speaks forcefully and eloquently for progressive taxation, environmentalism, women’s rights, immigrant rights, and various other progressive concerns. He strongly opposes Trump.

I heard Adam and Sarah debate last month at an event in Bellevue. Sarah spoke well and seems qualified, despite her lack of political experience.

In the primary, Adam Smith led with 48.4% of the votes. Progressive Democrat Sarah Smith (26.9%) edged out Republican Doug Basler (24.7%).  This is an indication of how strongly Democratic the district is, and, perhaps, of the coming blue wave in November.

A large number of Democratic organizations and politicians, as well as womens’,  environmental, and labor groups have endorsed Adam Smith.  See this list.  The Washington State Progressive Caucus endorsed Sarah Smith, as did Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, The Stranger, and various incarnations of Our Revolution.

Adam Smith is taking no chances and is actively campaigning.

Sarah Smith, who has no experience in elected office, calls herself a democratic socialist. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez call themselves democratic socialists as well. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Sarah Smith.

Sarah Smith is a Justice Democrat and a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists. Here are some quotations from this interview in The Stranger:

Justice Democrats are Democrats who have pledged not to take corporate money.

If you look at the Democratic Socialists of America platform, it’s really not far off from the Washington State Democratic Party platform. But one of the key differences is Democratic Socialists believe in both a social and an economic democracy, not just a social democracy.

I’m not sure what that means, but the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, says, in What is Democratic Socialism?:

Democratic socialists do not want to create an all-powerful government bureaucracy. But we do not want big corporate bureaucracies to control our society either. Rather, we believe that social and economic decisions should be made by those whom they most affect.

Today, corporate executives who answer only to themselves and a few wealthy stockholders make basic economic decisions affecting millions of people. Resources are used to make money for capitalists rather than to meet human needs. We believe that the workers and consumers who are affected by economic institutions should own and control them.

Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Democratic socialists favor as much decentralization as possible. While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives.

Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.

This is further to the left than most progressives, because it does propose social ownership of wealth (worker control).  Democratic socialism is socialism.

As I say write in Socialism, even democratic socialism, is quite different from progressivism, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are probably incorrect to call themselves democratic socialists. They are, in fact, social democrats (i.e., New Deal liberals). They are OK with private corporations, provided they’re adequately taxed, regulated, and balanced by an activist government. Think Denmark and Norway, not Venezuela.

I emailed Sarah Smith to ask her whether she’s really a Democratic Socialist. I haven’t heard from her yet. I presume she is a real socialist.

As reported in this article in the Bellevue Reporter:

Her specific criticisms of Rep. Smith have largely consisted of his willingness to take campaign donations from big corporations — especially firms in the defense industry — and several of his foreign-policy related votes, such as his vote for the invasion of Iraq in 2001 and a more recent vote against an amendment that would have banned the U.S. from selling cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia.

Rep. Smith has vigorously contested the narrative that he’s a faux-progressive. While he has said that his vote for the Iraq war was a mistake, Smith points to his sponsorship of a bill that would ban mandatory detention for undocumented immigrants and another that would nationalize health insurance across the country.

Rep. Smith also notes his early endorsement of the successful $15 minimum wage ballot initiative in SeaTac, and his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as evidence of both his lefty credentials and ability to bring home the bacon for his district. His endorsement list reads like a who’s who of regional progressive heavyweights and influential interest groups, such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, and a slew of assorted labor unions and Democratic organizations.

Yesterday I got a text message from one of Adam Smith’s campaign aides asking me whether I wanted to volunteer for his campaign. I responded that I’m leaning towards voting for Sarah Smith because she would be more likely to vote against Pentagon waste, corruption and war-mongering. The aide asked me if I would want to speak to Adam Smith. I didn’t respond, but an hour later I got a phone call from Adam Smith.

Adam (who knows me from town hall events, debates, and my writing) said that if the Democrats take over control of the House, he will be chair of the House Committee on Armed Services, where he will have a lot of power to enact reform. If Sarah Smith wins, she will have much less power, though she can vote against military budgets.

I quoted to him from a sheet “Adam Smith on the Issues” that was distributed to the 41st LD Democrats yesterday.  In the section on National Security, it says:

As the highest-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Adam knows that having a strong military is paramount to out national security. He is committed to ensuring that the men and women serving in the military have the resources that they need to respond to threats quickly and effectively. [So far, this sounds quite pro-military.]  At the same time, Adam recognizes that any military resources devoted to dealing with the range of global threats must be paired with strong civil and diplomatic efforts. Adam is also dedicated to ensuring that all veterans get the care they need and deserve, from health services to job opportunities once they leave the service.

The section of Adam Smith’s website on National Security says similar things.

I told Adam that the blurb makes no mention of the tremendous waste, secrecy and fraud in the military budget, or about the destruction wrought by military adventurism.

Adam acknowledged that the budget is too high (“unsustainable”).   He still believes that soldiers should have the resources they need to respond to threats, but thinks that the military is spread too thin and needs to be more selective about threats it engages.  He says this year, finally, if all things go well, the military budget will be audited. (He has said that at several town halls and debates.) He also suggested that he’d edit the blurb on National Security.

He said he spoke two weeks ago at the Defense News Conference (where he apparently spoke for 20 minutes with a Defense News reporter at a fireside chat) and also at the Reagan Defense Forum (page removed). He told them that the defense budget is too high. Republicans then pounced on his words to say that if Democrats gain control of the House, the military budget would be threatened.

He wanted to make clear that he is not in favor of drastic (e.g., 50%) cuts in the military budget, as some people propose. There are real threats: ISIS, for example, and Yemen. And we don’t want China blocking shipping traffic in the South China Sea. Of course, we don’t need a 350 destroyer (?) navy to defend against that, he said.

He also pointed to the threat of Russia invading Estonia and Ukraine.

When I suggested that the U.S. and NATO should not have surrounded and threatened Russia, he agreed. He mentioned the late University of Washington professor Brewster Denny, who said the U.S. made a mistake by antagonizing Russia, leading to the rise of Putin.

I said that the U.S. created many of the threats we’re facing (e.g., anti-Americanism in the Middle East, the mujahedin in Afghanistan — I should have added Sadaam Hussein and radical Iran) by our meddling in foreign affairs, he agreed.  And I pointed to Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians and the U.S. backing of Israel.

He said he works with progressives including Barbara Lee and Jim McGovern on military issues.

He said that there’s one thing he agrees with Donald Trump on: it’s better if the U.S, has peaceful, cooperative relations with Russia.  But, he said, Trump’s reasons are wrong: he’s in Putin’s pocket. I agreed with him about Trump’s reasons being and wrong and said that it’s a shame that Fox News and the GOP are now the ones attacking the Deep State, even if they’re doing so for the wrong reasons. He said that Trump is attacking the FBI more than the Pentagon. We agreed that things are a disastrous mess in D.C.

I am still on the fence and expect, in any case, that Adam Smith will win easily.


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