Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Democrats appear well-poised to once again win a majority in Washington’s state Senate

This morning, when I clicked over to Crosscut from NPI’s Pacific NW Portal (where I usually begin my daily rounds), I noticed, with some amusement, that former Washington State Republican Party chairman Chris Vance had posted yet another one of his Republicans are doing great and well-positioned for the next election columns, which he has been churning out in one form or another for years.

The piece serves as Vance’s commentary on the Top Two election more broadly, but the headline and teaser plainly reflect the narrative that Vance is no doubt anxious to see editorial writers, prognosticators, and reporters adopt:

Republicans appear well-poised to hold state Senate
Inside Politics: Incoming primary results are swaying right, a likely predictor of what the November results will be.

Vance’s piece buries the lede and begins with commentary on the congressional races, but he eventually does offer his opinion of the Senate contests.

Having surveyed the electoral landscape and looked at the numbers in the swing districts, Vance declares that Democrats “appear to face long odds in their quest to gain two seats and retake control of the state Senate floor”. He then goes on to predict (unsurprisingly) a Republican victory in every single competitive race, with the exception of the 35th LD, in the event that Tim Sheldon fails to advance.

Vance’s assessment represents wishful thinking on the part of Republicans. They’d like us all to believe that that the winnowing election is an all-important barometer. Consider this excerpt from a piece Vance wrote for Crosscut in 2010:

Make no mistake, the [Top Two] results do function as a rough poll.  Past elections have demonstrated that the results in November rarely deviate more than a few percentage points from the [Top Two election] results. We now know with a high degree of certainty which races will be close, and which races are already over.

Actually, what the electoral history shows is that there is plenty of deviation. The Top Two and November general (runoff would be a more accurate term) are separate elections. Consider the following differences:

  • The Top Two takes place in August when fewer people are paying attention to politics; the general takes place in mid-autumn after a multi-week campaign season that draws far more news coverage and interest.
  • The Top Two typically has low turnout; the general election (particularly in even-numbered years) typically has much higher turnout.
  • The Top Two features contests with many candidates, in the general, there are only two candidates competing for each position.

The results of the Top Two are certainly interesting, but not indicative or predictive of what will happen in November. A candidate can “lose” in the Top Two (in other words, come in second place) but win in the general election, as Suzan DelBene did in 2012 against John Koster in the 1st Congressional District.

A candidate can also appear weak in the Top Two, but go on to win in the general.

For instance, Tami Green, who is challenging Steve O’Ban in the 28th, found herself well under fifty percent in the August 2010 winnowing election four years ago with just 47%. Her two Republican opponents combined garnered 53% of the vote. She was one of the Democratic House incumbents that Vance and other Republican operatives considered to be vulnerable. But she went on to win, ultimately capturing 51% of the vote in the general in a tough year for Democrats.

If electoral performance matters so much to Vance, why doesn’t he factor the results of the 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 general elections factor into his analysis? Maybe it’s because it would undermine his narrative.

See, the people of Washington State have been consistently electing Democratic majorities to the House and Senate for a decade now.

Even in 2010, a difficult year for Democrats, the party managed to retain control of both the state House and the Senate, after Vance suggested they might not in numerous installments of his “Republican Party Rising” series.

Vance didn’t confine himself to prognosticating on legislative races in those installments, either. For instance, on August 18th, 2010, Vance wrote:

For months, many political observers have scoffed at the idea that Patty Murray was in danger of losing. Now all doubt should be gone. Sen. Murray is a formidable politician, but she has had the good fortune to be on the ballot in years when the tide was running against Republicans in Washington state. Now the opposite is true. This race is a toss-up, with the slightest of advantages going to Dino Rossi.

All doubt should be gone, eh? The slightest of advantages to Dino Rossi?

Just a few weeks later, of course, Patty Murray proved she could win regardless of whether political headwinds were with her or against her. Initial results showed Murray ahead on Election Night; Rossi conceded the race within twenty-four hours, having lost his third straight statewide election. Murray ultimately prevailed with 52.36% of the vote – not her best-ever showing, but certainly respectable given the political climate and the money spent against her by Rossi’s Republican backers.

Nowhere in his latest piece for Crosscut does Vance admit that the people of Washington State have elected a Democratic majority to govern the Washington State Senate for five cycles in a row. Republicans did not win control of the Senate in the 2012 elections; they came to power thanks to a post-election coup that they engineered with Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon. It’s more accurate to say that Republicans are trying to win a majority, as opposed to holding one.

Rodney Tom has since decided to retire, a development Vance described as “terrible news for the Republicans” in an interview with Austin Jenkins.

Tom’s successor will almost certainly be Democratic State Representative Cyrus Habib, who is winning more than 60% of the vote in the 48th LD.

Tom’s sudden retirement in April reset the map back to where it was following Nathan Schlicher’s defeat last autumn to Jan Angel, leaving Democrats in a position of needing to win in two of the several swing districts that have a tradition of electing both Democrats and Republicans.

Among those are the 30th (in south King County), the 45th (in eastern King County), and 28th (in western Pierce County). Republicans Andy Hill and Steve O’Ban represent the latter two. In the former, Democrats are trying to hold on to the Senate seat that is being vacated by Tracey Eide.

The Republicans recruited former Democratic State Representative Mark Miloscia, who holds a sizable lead in early returns. The Democrats are sending up Shari Song, who has roots in the district but is not well known there. Song unsuccessfully ran against Reagan Dunn last year for King County Council.

The reality is that there are multiple paths to a Democratic victory in November, which is the basis for the title of this post, a riff on Vance’s headline for Crosscut. In Matt Isenhower and Tami Green, the Democratic Party has two strong challengers to Hill and O’Ban, who are probably the Republicans’ most vulnerable incumbents.

If the Republicans didn’t think Green and Isenhower could beat their candidates, they wouldn’t have spent big sums on early independent expenditures against them. Isenhower was the target of duplicitous concern trolling, while Green had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at her in attack mailers and television ads.

A combined Isenhower/Green victory is one pathway to victory. There are others.

As Vance noted, Tim Sheldon is seeking reelection in the 35th to another four-year term, but is being challenged by a real Democrat, Irene Bowling, who currently leads both him and Republican Travis Couture.

Bowling’s candidacy has not attracted the same interest that Green’s and Isenhower’s have to date, but that’s probably going to change now, given her unexpectedly strong showing in the 35th’s three-way race.

Bowling and the other Democratic challengers (Rich Cowan in the 6th, Seth Fleetwood in the 42nd, Judy Arbogast in the 26th) offer the Democratic Party flexibility and options. If just one of them happens to catch fire and break through, then the party won’t need to win in two of the three most talked-about districts (the 28th, 45th, and 30th) – it would only need to win in one of them.

In other words, if the party intelligently supports its challengers and works hard to shape its own destiny, it could have a profound effect on the electoral landscape.

Senate Democrats’ goal is to once again have a true blue majority for the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions. So long as they win two of the aforementioned swing districts, they’ll be in charge. But even if they don’t, it won’t necessarily mean that voters will have elected a de jure Republican majority. Nor will it mean that the Republicans will be ready for the next session and able to move legislation.

Here’s why.

All of the Senate Democratic caucus’ incumbents happen to be in good shape, even Steve Hobbs in the 44th, who Chris Vance previously tried to tag with the “vulnerable” label. Furthermore, as mentioned, Cyrus Habib is a shoo-in in the 48th. That means the Democratic caucus will have at least twenty-three members.

Their base roster will most likely look like this:

  1. Andy Billig
  2. Maralyn Chase
  3. Annette Cleveland
  4. Steve Conway
  5. Jeannie Darneille
  6. Karen Fraser
  7. David Frockt
  8. Cyrus Habib
  9. Jim Hargrove
  10. Bob Hasegawa
  11. Brian Hatfield
  12. Steve Hobbs
  13. Karen Keiser
  14. Pramila Jayapal or Louis Watanabe
  15. Jeanne Kohl-Welles
  16. Marko Liias
  17. Rosemary McAuliffe
  18. John McCoy
  19. Mark Mullet
  20. Sharon Nelson
  21. Jamie Pedersen
  22. Kevin Ranker
  23. Christine Rolfes

Since all the Democratic incumbents appear safe, Republicans are left with just one pickup opportunity this cycle, in the 30th LD. There, as I mentioned, they recruited former State Representative Mark Miloscia, which prompted incumbent Tracey Eide to retire. (Eide later claimed she had been planning to leave for a long time, but her decision to retire came as a surprise to her caucus).

Unlike Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, however, Mark Miloscia has traditionally held more progressive stances on economic issues. By his own admission, it is his stances on social issues that prompted his decision to leave the Democratic Party.

It is not clear how Miloscia, a historically pro-labor legislator and a self-proclaimed champion for the rights of working men and women, will fit into the Senate Republican caucus, which holds extreme right wing views on economic issues.

This matters because the Republicans could end up needing Miloscia’s vote on, well, everything. See, without Miloscia and/or Sheldon, Republicans won’t be able to count to twenty-five in the Senate – that’s the bare minimum needed for a majority.

The takeaway from this is that even if Republicans successfully defend all of their incumbents and Senate Democrats don’t win an outright majority, they’ll still be in for a rough two years. They’ll most likely still be a dysfunctional caucus, just as they’ve been since they absorbed Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon at the end of 2012, unable to agree with themselves and unable to work with either the House or Governor Inslee on major issues of importance, like funding education.

By the way, if Sheldon makes it to the general and beats Irene Bowling, and the Democratic Senators who are up this year all win along with just one of the Democratic challengers somewhere, it will result in the Senate having twenty-five members who call themselves Democrats. Meaning, the voters will once again have elected a Democratic majority… if in name only.

There’s no reason to believe Tim Sheldon would switch caucuses again – or that even if he wanted to, the Democrats would welcome him back. But he and Mark Miloscia, if they win, will certainly enjoy influence that the more conservative Republican members would undoubtedly prefer they not have.

The dynamics of the caucuses going forward aren’t something that Chris Vance bothered to address in his piece for Crosscut, but they matter. Politics is not a game; the winners of elections have a responsibility to govern.

Senate Republicans have already demonstrated that’s not a responsibility they can handle. Ironically, their hopes of victory this fall rest on Democratic defectors. If they pull it off, it could well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory, resulting in two more years of dysfunction in the Senate in the buildup to a presidential election year.

Democrats, on the other hand, are hoping to win an outright majority so that Governor Inslee has a partner in both houses of the Legislature – a partner that will work collaboratively with him and the House on complying with the McCleary decision, putting together a transportation package, passing the Reproductive Parity Act, and broadening prosperity for all Washingtonians.

Democrats have recruited many compelling candidates, their base is far more energized than it was in 2010, and their challengers have a strong case they can make after two years of inaction in the Senate.

In my view, Democrats are well-poised to once again win a majority. Whether they can pull it off remains to be seen, but the opportunity is most definitely there.

Chris Vance is free to think that the winnowing election portends a Republican Senate in 2015 and 2016, but he ought to be mindful that pundits and their prognostications turn out to be wrong – and more often than they’d like to admit.

Ready, set, match! Fall congressional contests taking shape thanks to today’s election

Back in May, more than fifty individuals filed paperwork (either in person, by mail, or electronically) to formally declare their candidacies for United States House of Representatives in one of Washington’s ten congressional districts.

By the time the August winnowing election is certified later this month, only twenty will be left, with nearly half of them incumbents.

In a couple of districts, it’s not clear who will be moving on to November just yet, but in the other eight, it seems pretty safe to project the winners.

Here’s a rundown of what to expect this November.

1st District: Suzan DelBene versus a Republican to be determined

In the 1st District, Suzan DelBene is having a great night. She’s winning more votes than all her opponents combined and has an outright majority, despite having six opponents (more than any other incumbent). It’s not clear yet who her opponent will be – surprisingly, the candidate recruited by the Republican establishment to challenge her (Pedro Celis) is running behind a Republican with no credibility or name ID. This post offers a more in-depth look at the results in the 1st.

2nd District: Rick Larsen versus B.J. Guillot

Incumbent Rick Larsen did not face a strong challenge in this election. He has 56.52% of the vote and will face second-place finisher B.J. Guillot, a Republican. Independent Mike Lapointe garnered over 11% of the vote – a decent showing for an independent with no money, but still dead last in this three-man race.

3rd District: Jaime Herrera-Beutler versus Bob Dingethal

Two-term Republican incumbent Jaime Herrera-Beutler, as expected, will face Democrat Bob Dingethal in November. Dingethal is an accomplished businessman and community leader with deep roots in the district; he has been waging a vigorous campaign. Herrera-Beutler had one other challenger, Republican Michael Delavar, who will not be moving on. He’s got over 12% of the vote.

4th District: Clint Didier (likely) versus Dan Newhouse (likely)

Doc Hastings’ decision to retire in the 4th District yielded an unusual open seat contest this year that attracted twelve candidates, most of them Republicans. Sadly, because Washington uses a stupid, deeply flawed system for selecting candidates called “Top Two” in place of a real primary, it is possible to have two candidates from the same party competing against each other through November, leaving voters of different political persuasions totally unrepresented on the ballot.

Up till now, runoffs between candidates from the same party had been confined to legislative and local partisan races. But now it appears that for the first time, a major political party (the Democratic Party) will have no candidate on the ballot in a federal race, as former football player Clint Didier and farmer Dan Newhouse (both Republicans) stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field, which includes two Hispanic Democrats and three independents.

5th District: Cathy McMorris Rodgers versus Joe Pakootas

The results out of Washington’s other ultraconservative district are much better for Democrats, who will be sending up dynamic tribal leader Joe Pakootas to face incumbent Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers. McMorris Rodgers is so far capturing 51.7% of the vote. Pakootas has 28.9% of the vote, with the remainder going to another Republican and an independent. The 5th is not an easy place for a Democrat to compete in, so Pakootas’ showing is certainly respectable. He’ll have to run a very unconventional and powerful campaign to put the seat in play.

6th District: Derek Kilmer versus Marty McClendon

In the 6th, freshman Democrat Derek Kilmer is in excellent shape. Impressively, he’s capturing around 58.9% of the vote. Of his three opponents, only one managed to attract any significant support: Republican Marty McClendon, who will be Kilmer’s general election opponent. It doesn’t appear that Kilmer is going to have much difficulty at all holding the seat that formerly belonged to Norm Dicks.

7th District: Jim McDermott versus Craig Keller (likely)

No one identifying as a Democrat filed against Jim McDermott this year, which has resulted in a fairly lopsided contest. Jim (who critics sometimes refer to as Mr. Congressman for Life) is utterly dominating his challengers with a whopping 76% of the vote. All of his challengers are stuck in the single digits. The second highest vote getter is currently Republican Craig Keller, who will probably get to move on to the general election and get crushed by an even bigger margin.

8th District: Dave Reichert versus Jason Ritchie

Lazy Republican incumbent Dave Reichert faced two Democrats in the winnowing election: Jason Ritchie and Keith Arnold. Arnold did little campaigning and isn’t mustering more than 8.7%; he’s the third place finisher, so he’s out. Ritchie has been trying to build a credible campaign with the support of Democratic activists throughout the district, and had no problem winning the second place spot. But he isn’t cracking thirty percent in a district that voted for President Obama, which is concerning to Democrats. Reichert, who faced no Republican opposition, is coasting along in first place with more than 62% of the vote.

9th District: Adam Smith versus Doug Basler

While Democratic incumbent Adam Smith isn’t managing to put up Jim McDermott-like numbers in the 9th District, he does have a commanding 63.14% of the vote. His closest rival is Republican Doug Basler, who outdistanced Democrat Don Rivers and independent Mark Greene with 28.22%. The 9th is considered Safe Democratic, like the 7th, and Smith probably won’t have any trouble defending it.

10th District: Denny Heck versus Joyce McDonald

Freshman Democrat Denny Heck was able to put some distance between himself and Republican Joyce McDonald as the night wore on, but he still has the narrowest lead of any of the state’s Democratic incumbents. Republican Joyce McDonald will be his general election opponent. She represents the Republican Party’s best chance of taking a seat in Congress in this state. She’s managed to score 41.44% of the vote so far, which is quite impressive, and will likely be the beneficiary of big Republican money in the weeks to come. Two other candidates, Sam Wright and Jennifer Ferguson, barely registered and won’t be moving on.

Suzan DelBene cruising in early returns; redrawn 1st District looks safely Democratic

Ever since Washington’s 1st Congressional District was redrawn back in 2011, it has been widely characterized as the state’s most evenly divided political subdivision… a true “tossup” district if there ever was one.

But looking at tonight’s winnowing election results, a newcomer to Washington politics might be forgiven for thinking that the 1st is a district with a strong Democratic lean. With Whatcom County, King County, Skagit County, and Snohomish County all having reported in, freshman Democratic Congresswoman Suzan DelBene holds a huge lead over her six opponents with 51.71% of the vote.

Republicans have tried to pin the vulnerable label on DelBene, but she certainly doesn’t look it tonight. She has more votes than her three Republican opponents twice over. And embarrassingly, Pedro Celis, who the Republican political establishment in D.C. recruited to challenge DelBene, isn’t even coming in first among the Republicans. He’s trailing Robert Sutherland, who has raised little money and hasn’t done much active campaigning. Ouch!

Results as of 9:20 PM Pacific Time, August 5th, 2014

Suzan DelBene
Democrat (incumbent)
51.71% (44,244 votes)
Robert Sutherland
15.93% (13,626 votes)
Pedro Celis
15.08% (12,906 votes)
John Orlinski
10.24% (8,761 votes)

There’s still a possibility Celis could pull it out, but even if he does, his weak showing won’t help his credibility for the autumn campaign season. Notably, Celis is losing big in Snohomish County, which is a crucial portion of the district.

Prior to the election, Celis’ campaign was practically invisible. About the only evidence of its existence were its website, an occasional cable television advertisement, and the red “Vote for Pedro” signs placed in a few places around the district by Celis’ supporters. (The slogan is a riff on Napoleon Dynamite).

Bizarrely, the campaign barred reporters from attending its kickoff a few weeks ago, and it appears they left a lot of money sitting in the bank ahead of the election. Celis’ operatives have acted as if their goal was to keep his candidacy a secret from the voters, and they may have well succeeded in doing so.

We’ll have a better idea tomorrow.

Celis’ candidacy may also be suffering from a lack of enthusiasm among the Republican base, which contains the most xenophobic members of Washington’s population: far-right wing paleoconservative extremists who don’t like immigrants.

Celi’s poor showing is just the latest indication that the Republican Party continues to have a big problem on its hands: it is hostile and unwelcoming to new Americans and people of color. That doesn’t bode well for the party’s future.

America is an increasingly a non-white nation; before long, whites will be a minority of the population. Despite this shift, the Republican Party is becoming more xenophobic, not less. The caucus Pedro Celis is seeking to join just passed two pieces of shameful legislation out of the House of Representatives that would mandate more forcible deportations – even of children.

Suzan DelBene voted against those bills and delivered a strong speech in opposition. Pedro Celis, on the other hand, had nothing to say about them (at least not that we could find; we checked his website and Twitter feed).

The Republican Party itself has recognized the peril it faces. “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only,” concluded a five-member panel of the Republican National Committee following a review of the 2012 presidential election, which was won by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

Since that report was produced, the Republican Party has shown a total lack of interest in working with either President Obama or the Senate on comprehensive immigration reform. It finally became so embarrassingly obvious that John Boehner decided he needed to bring a bill to the floor of the U.S. House for a vote. But once again, he was foiled by the Tea Party faction of his caucus, who demanded – and got – a pair of bills that are breathtakingly draconian, stupid, and mean-spirited.

Republicans may not want to admit it, but Suzan DelBene is well-liked and well-respected by her constituents. She’s not afraid to tackle tough issues; her work to rein in the NSA has been especially important. She is responsive and eager to connect with constituents. Case in point: After stepping off her plane from D.C. this past weekend, she was off to tour the The Root Connection with constituents and local elected officials from the Woodinville area.

Suzan’s concern for her people shows. She has spent many days in the Oso area offering an empathetic ear to people displaced by the horrific mudslide last spring. At her election night party tonight, she was introduced by the mayor of Darrington, who repeatedly praised her as an exceptional leader in a heartfelt introduction.

Thanks in no small part to Suzan’s strong work ethic, it looks like the 1st Congressional District will be staying in the Democratic column for another cycle.

Senate challengers Matt Isenhower, Irene Bowling looking strong in 45th and 35th LDs

Democrats’ hopes of retaking the Washington State Senate this autumn may rest on the fate of the campaigns of first time candidates Matt Isenhower and Irene Bowling, if tonight’s election results are any indication.

Isenhower, thirty-four, is trailing incumbent Republican Andy Hill in the 45th by just a few percentage points. He’s outperforming every other Democratic Senate challenger, which is noteworthy. Isenhower is contesting a seat in an area that is increasingly blue, but still considered a swing district. It will be interesting to see tomorrow if the gap between Isenhower and Hill tightens at all.

The 45th, in eastern King County, takes in part of Kirkland, a slice of Redmond, most of Woodinville, a big chunk of Sammamish, and incorporated Duvall, along with many unincorporated King County precincts in between those cities.

In the 35th LD, Democratic challenger Irene Bowling is making an incredibly strong showing, performing beyond the expectations of most pundits. She leads entrenched incumbent Tim Sheldon and his Republican challenger Travis Couture, and now seems set for a November duel with Sheldon.

Take a look at the numbers:

Irene Bowling
34.85% (8,240 votes)
Tim Sheldon
Republican (incumbent)
33.41% (7,900 votes)
Travis Couture
31.74% (7,504 votes)

Sheldon, readers will recall, is one of two legislators elected as a Democrat who defected to the Republican caucus at the end of 2012. The other, Rodney Tom, opted not to run for reelection – his successor is likely to be progressive Democrat Cyrus Habib, who has more than 60% of the vote in early returns.

The 35th is a rural western Washington swing district that covers much of Mason County. Sheldon has represented it for years; he also serves on the Mason County Commission, which has long been a sore spot with many of his constituents.

NPI’s Eleventh Anniversary Picnic is in three weeks: Don’t forget to RSVP!

Three weeks from today, we’re going to be celebrating NPI’s eleventh anniversary (along with the defeat of Tim Eyman’s I-1325!) in style at Redmond’s Perrigo Park with a festive summer picnic, continuing a tradition we began last year.

We will have several special guests with us, including state Senate candidate Matt Isenhower (running in the 45th District) and Holly Mortlock from the office of Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. Holly will be fielding questions about Washington’s efforts to implement the Patient Protection Act.

NPI President Robert Cruickshank and I will also provide an update on NPI’s work and explain how Washington can move beyond Tim Eyman.

Along with the short speaking program, we’ll have an exhibit showcasing the photojournalism of NPI’s staff, including yours truly, and anyone who would like to will be welcome to play volleyball or badminton in the sand-filled courts adjacent to the roomy picnic shelter. (We’re anticipating good weather – it’s August, after all! – but the show will go on even in the very unlikely event of rain.)

Of course, as usual, we’ll have plenty of food… including hamburgers made from locally-raised, grass-fed beef, all natural hot dogs, salmonburgers, gardenburgers, plus chips, salad, watermelon, pies, and an anniversary cake. So please plan to join us on August 22nd for what promises to be a very fun evening.

Desserts at NPI's Tenth Anniversary Picnic

The dessert table at last year’s summer anniversary picnic. (Photo: Lincoln Potter/Samaya LLC)

The picnic will kick off at 5 PM and run until dusk at around 8:30 PM. No admission will be charged – this is is a “pay what you can” event, with a suggested donation of at least $25. We’re asking supporters to RSVP so we know how much food to get.

Perrigo Park is located at 9011 196th Avenue NE, Redmond, WA 98053 (between Union Hill Road and Novelty Hill Road). It is a fantastic public park, owned and operated by the City of Redmond. Note that city law prohibits the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages in parks, so we are not able to offer beer, wine, or spirits at the picnic (and we ask that you not bring any, either). But we will have refreshing non-alcoholic beverages for your enjoyment.

Here’s the link again to RSVP. We hope to see you on August 22nd!

How democracy saves Seattle schools from bad superintendents

With the departure of Jose Banda from the post of superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, we’ve seen the usual hand-wringing and recriminations over the future of the district. Banda’s departure led the Seattle Times to publish an article and an editorial decrying supposed meddling by the board in the operations of the district.

The editorial hinted at the Times’s true agenda – taking away power over the school district from the people’s elected representatives:

By the widest margin, most schools are overseen by school boards, not boards and mayors, or mayors alone. But the chronic melodrama on the Seattle School Board certainly stirs a curiosity for a change in governance.

The real story, the one the Seattle Times does not want to tell for fear of undermining their anti-democratic agenda, is one of repeated mismanagement by a succession of superintendents and of a central staff that is unresponsive or overtly hostile to the board and the general public.

For nearly 15 years Seattle has had superintendents who lost public faith through bad leadership or outright scandal. After the beloved John Stanford suddenly died three years after being hired, his successor, Joseph Olschefske, left after a financial scandal. Olschefske’s successor, Raj Manhas, quit after the school board listened to public anger over a flawed school closure plan he pushed through. The plan was quickly reversed when it emerged the district had badly erred in its student population estimates.

Manhas’s successor, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, was fired after another financial scandal. Her immediate successor was the interim Susan Enfield, who like Jose Banda left the district when it became clear that the board was not going to sit back and let them have free reign over the people’s schools.

Banda left scandal in his wake as well. Though the school district’s finances appear sound, the horrifying story of a Garfield High student who was raped on a school trip and failed to get justice from the district suggests that Banda was not quite an effective leader.

Banda cited the debate over math textbooks in his departure letter, but these are often contentious issues in any school district. A good superintendent would have navigated it more effectively, accepting the board’s decision and moving on. After all, math curriculum figured prominently in the 2011 school board campaign, and parents had been vocal in their call for a different approach. Rather than accept the verdict of the board that employs him and the public that he serves, Banda – already looking for the exit – used the issue as one of his justifications for leaving. He wasn’t a good leader. He was a quitter.

The common denominator here isn’t the school board. Instead it is poor quality superintendents who are not accountable to the board or the public, who believe the Seattle Times when they say the superintendent’s job is to do as they please.

These issues play out against the broader backdrop of an all-out national battle over the future of public education. Since 2001 the federal government, under both a Republican and a Democratic president, have pursued education policies emphasizing standardized testing, school closures, and mass teacher firings. These policies have created sizable public backlash in cities large and small, in districts urban and suburban.

Seattle has played an important role in this backlash. One of the largest boycotts of standardized tests took place in Seattle in 2013. A majority of the current school board shares the broad skepticism of so-called “education reform” policies, a stance shared by large swaths of Seattle parents and voters.

Which brings us right back to the Seattle Times’ attack on the school board. In cities like Chicago, control of school districts have been taken away from elected representatives who might oppose mass teacher firings, school closures, and teaching to the test. The districts have been instead turned over to the mayor, on the theory that a municipal executive can better oversee these unpopular reforms.

Mayoral control is thus a deliberate attack on democracy in order to force through reforms that might not survive the democratic process. No wonder that Tim Burgess and Reuven Carlyle, two of Seattle’s leading proponents of teaching to the test and undermining public schools through charter schools, are quoted extensively in the Seattle Times article attacking the elected board for doing their jobs.

As it turns out, mayoral control is extremely unpopular, and may cost Rahm Emanuel his job as mayor in next year’s election.

It is also not very effective. I’ve worked in a mayor’s office, serving in the administration of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn from 2011 to 2013. The idea that a mayor would provide close oversight of the schools is ridiculous and flies in the face of reality.

Seattle’s mayor oversees 11,000 employees in 27 departments. They include two huge utilities, Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, that would be big businesses were they privately owned. It includes the Seattle Department of Transportation, itself a huge responsibility. And of course, it includes the Seattle Police Department. Overseeing the police was nearly a full-time job for Mayor McGinn, just as it is for any mayor in any city.

If Seattle’s schools were under mayoral control, they would have to compete with all 27 other departments for the mayor’s attention. He or she would be able to devote only a brief amount of time to the schools. Instead real control would be exercised by a bureaucrat who is several steps removed from the voters.

In other words, power would really rest with a superintendent-like figure who would recreate all of the failings of Seattle’s recent string of school superintendents.

Seattle’s school district suffers not only from a series of bad superintendents. It also suffers from a central staff that is incompetent and contemptuous of the public and parents. Central staff were leading an effort to try and undermine the board’s math curriculum decision until Banda finally called them off. They badly mismanaged the process of drawing new school boundaries in the fall of 2013. They have failed to resolve longstanding issues with special education and advanced education. And as we are seeing with a federal Title IX investigation spurred in part by the Garfield rape case, the central staff are unable to guarantee the basic safety of students or compliance with federal civil rights laws.

The last thing Seattle needs is a superintendent who has too much power to implement their will. What we need is more democracy and a board that is even more involved. State Representative Gerry Pollet understands this well, as quoted in the Seattle Times article:

“There are some areas where I would encourage the board to delve deeper and manage more,” Pollet said, especially regarding the special-education department and the continued overcrowding of schools.

Seattle residents and parents care deeply about their public schools. They want them to be great. They have opened their wallets, repeatedly, to support public education. They’ve elected a school board that reflects the public’s desire to be engaged participants. A good superintendent will embrace this spirit, rejecting the undemocratic, unpopular, and ineffective “education reform” policies of punishing kids and teachers.

A good superintendent will instead emphasize the basics. They’ll clean out the central staff and replace them with competent people who treat the public with respect. The next superintendent will be a national leader in blazing a trail away from standardized tests and fads toward holistic education practices that ensure every child gets a good education.

Those are the qualities the Seattle school board – and the people of Seattle – should demand from the next superintendent. The board and the public should be full partners in the process, and should strongly assert their duty of oversight to ensure the superintendent and his staff get it right. A good superintendent will not be fazed by it.

After all, that’s how good public schools are run in a functioning democracy.

House Republicans authorize John Boehner to file baseless lawsuit against President Obama

John Boehner and his caucus continued their political theatrics on a grand scale today by forcing the United States House of Representatives to vote on a resolution authorizing John Boehner to initiate litigation against Barack Obama for failing to properly discharge his duties as President of the United States of America.

All but five Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, resulting in its passage by a vote of two hundred and twenty-five to two hundred and one. No Democrats voted aye. Three Democrats and three Republicans did not cast votes.

In a lengthy floor speech opposing the resolution, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi eviscerated John Boehner and the Republicans for wasting the American people’s time and money on a baseless lawsuit designed to score political points with the far right. Here’s an excerpt from her remarks:

The lawsuit is only the latest proof of the House Republicans’ contempt and disregard for the priorities of the American people.

It is yet another Republican effort to pander to the most radical right-wing voters at taxpayers’ expense: $2.3 million spent defending DOMA – a doomed case – defending DOMA, more than $3 million on the Select Committee to exploit Benghazi – and by the way, something that had been investigated again and again, at the very admission of leaders on the Republican side. Why are we doing this? And then this, which we don’t have a price tag on that they will reveal to us.

But again, why would you sue somebody unless you want to prove something? And why would you go down that path unless you wanted to do something about it?

But the fact is: Republicans in Congress have no standing on this suit. Most constitutional scholars have, or do, admit that. Even your expert witnesses have in the past said you don’t have standing on it.

Middle class families don’t have time for the Republican partisan grudge match with the President.  They know this is – it’s a funny thing – well funny in one strange interpretation of the word ‘funny’: but a couple of weeks ago, on the steps of the Capitol, House Democrats were there to launch our ‘Middle Class Jumpstart’ about some of the issues I raised: job creation here in the US, affordability for college, early childhood education, all of those things, equal pay for equal work, raise the minimum wage.  We were doing that on the steps of the Capitol.

And in the Capitol building, the Republicans were launching their lawsuit against the President. What could be more different in terms of addressing the needs of the American people? We made the point that this was all happening on the same day.

In Kansas City, Missouri, President Obama echoed Pelosi’s comments, slamming House Republicans for their hypocrisy (they refuse to do their jobs while charging that he isn’t doing his). From the transcript of his speech at the Uptown Theater:

But think about this — they have announced that they’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people.

So they’re mad because I’m doing my job. And, by the way, I’ve told them — I said, I’d be happy to do it with you.

So the only reason I’m doing it on my own is because you don’t do anything. But if you want, let’s work together.

I mean, everybody recognizes this is a political stunt, but it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you. When they have taken fifty votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time that could have been spent working constructively to help you on some things. And, by the way, you know who is paying for this suit they’re going to file? You.

The roll call vote from the Pacific Northwest on the resolution broke down strictly along party lines and was as follows:

Voting Aye: Republicans Jaime Herrera-Beutler, Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA), Raúl Labrador and Mike Simpson (ID), Greg Walden (OR), Steve Daines (MT), Don Young (AK)

Voting Nay: Democrats Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDermott, Denny Heck, and Adam Smith (WA); Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader (OR)

The five Republicans who voted against the resolution were Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Paul Broun of Georgia (a member of the Tea Party faction), Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Steve Stockman of Texas.

The Democratic National Committee and the party’s two congressional campaign committees have already been using the threat of the lawsuit to raise record sums of money this cycle from donors, and are already using today’s vote as fodder to raise even more. An email from DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has just gone out urging Democratic donors to “chip in” to fight the Republicans.

“I just walked off the floor of the House after the Republican majority voted to sue the President of the United States for the first time in our history,” the email, signed by Schultz, begins. It goes on to say, “I wish I could say it was surprising, Andrew. But frankly, with these folks, endless stunts and empty-headed wastes of time have become the norm. After today’s vote, it couldn’t be more clear that it’s time to elect Democrats and send this shutdown/lawsuit crowd packing.”

Jason Ritchie, who is among four Democrats challenging Washington State’s incumbent Republicans for House this cycle, condemned his opponent Dave Reichert (who has claimed in the past to be an independent thinker) for voting in lockstep with the House Republican leadership. (There exists, if you haven’t seen it, a great clip of Reichert admitting that he does what he’s told when he’s back in D.C.).

“The people of the 8th District want an end to partisanship and gridlock. Instead Congressman Reichert voted to spend taxpayer money suing the President. He and his D.C. friends are wasting taxpayers’ time and money on a frivolous lawsuit when they could be addressing real economic issues like infrastructure and immigration,” said Ritchie in a statement sent to NPI.

Republican Party trying to drive down support for Matt Isenhower with attack mailers targeting 45th’s Democratic voters

In an apparent attempt to make the high-profile contest between incumbent Republican Andy Hill and his Democratic challenger Matt Isenhower look less competitive, the Senate Republican caucus (of which Andy Hill is a member) has begun sending out attack mailers to Democratic voters in the 45th District, trying to discredit Matt Isenhower by claiming he is really a Republican – which is not true.

I actually received both of these mailers myself. The first one arrived mid-week and the second hit my mailbox just yesterday. Both mailers feature a smiling picture of Matt next to readily available images of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and contain lines like “Matt Isenhower volunteered in the Bush White House. Now he says he’s a Democrat… Matt Isenhower: NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS.”

Here’s the front and back of the first one:

Front of Republican Party attack mailer against Matt IsenhowerBack of Republican Party attack mailer against Matt Isenhower

And here’s the front and back of the second one:

Front of the second Republican Party attack mailer against Matt IsenhowerBack of the second Republican Party attack mailer against Matt Isenhower

The mailers say they are paid for by the “Good Government Leadership Council.” What they don’t say is that the “Good Government Leadership Council” is a shell political action committee (PAC) created by The Leadership Council, and that The Leadership Council is a Republican Party PAC. In other words: These mailers were produced and sent to Democratic voters by the Republican Party.

The Public Disclosure Commission’s website actually lists The Leadership Council in its caucus committees section, and that’s because its operatives answer to the Senate and House Republican caucuses, of which Andy Hill is a member. The top five contributors to The Leadership Council this cycle are as follows:

  • Farmers Employees and Agents PAC: $50,000
  • Washington Restaurant Association PAC: $40,000
  • Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW): $30,000
  • George W. Rowley, Jr.: $25,000
  • Washington State Dental PAC: $25,000

The mailers ought to have listed the above entities on its mailer as the top five contributors To The Leadership Council in accordance with Washington State law. But they don’t. That’s because in addition to trying to conceal the fact that the Republican Party is responsible for producing and sending the mailers, its operatives are also dishonestly attempting to hide the identities of their top donors. That’s the only reason they set up the “Good Government Leadership Council.”

If you check PDC records, you’ll see that 100% of GGLC’s contributions came from The Leadership Council, in the form of three checks (so far, anyway). For those who haven’t heard the term, shell PACs are so named because they function somewhat like a crustacean’s shell. They provide a convenient, innocuous-looking and sounding cover for the real entity underneath that’s trying to influence voters.

The Leadership Council could arguably itself be considered a shell PAC because it does not carry the Republican name (unlike its siblings listed here), but it is definitely a Republican PAC run by the Washington State Republican establishment.

It might seem ridiculous and stupid that the Republican Party is trying to influence Democratic voters by attempting to link Matt Isenhower with Bush and Cheney, but remember that they are desperate to keep control of the Washington State Senate and Andy Hill is their most vulnerable incumbent.

Hill has raised more money than any other legislative candidate this cycle and is sending out his own mailers, but the Republican Party evidently views Matt Isenhower as a formidable challenger, which is why they’re spending time and money targeting Democratic voters with these mailers. The objective  appears to be to drive down Matt Isenhower’s share of the vote in the August Top Two election to make the race seem less competitive going into the autumn.

This is hardly the first time the Republican Party or a Republican candidate has done something like this, and sadly it probably won’t be the last time, either.

In 2007, when founding NPI board member and current NPI vice president Gael Tarleton was running for Seattle Port Commission, her Republican opponent Bob Edwards sent out an attack mailer targeted at progressive voters in King County which tried to associate her with Dick Cheney. Happily, the mailer backfired and Gael went on to win. I debunked that attack piece here in October 2007.

Before I discuss the content of the mailers and respond further, I want to disclose, for those readers who do not already know, that in addition to serving as NPI’s executive director, I am involved in the Democratic Party as the 45th LD Democrats’ State Committeeman and am also a volunteer for Matt Isenhower’s campaign.

While NPI as an organization does not endorse candidates or get involved in electioneering for or against candidates, many of us at NPI do so in our individual capacities as activists. I wanted to make that clear, because we believe in full disclosure here at NPI. We’re committed to it; our code of ethics requires it as part of our publications’ coverage, whether of electoral politics or another subject. The views I am expressing in this post are my own, and not those of NPI.

Now, as I’ve said already, the Republican Party is going to a lot of trouble to discredit Matt Isenhower with Democratic voters. They are doing so because they view Matt’s candidacy as a serious threat to their continued control of the Senate, which they got in a post-election power coup that they engineered with Democratic defectors Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon. (Tom is retiring; Sheldon is seeking reelection).

I learned a long time ago that when you get singled out for attack, it’s because the other side views you as a threat. Otherwise, why would they bother?

Here, in plain text, are the false and incredibly disingenuous things that that the Republican Party is saying about Matt Isenhower. From the first mailer:

Matt Isenhower volunteered for George W. Bush in the White House and gave their [our] candidate money.

If Matt Isenhower is a Democrat, then Rush Limbaugh is a liberal. Matt volunteered in the George W. Bush White House and his wife worked for Dick Cheney for years.

But now that Matt wants a seat in the State Senate, he claims he’s a Democrat. If he’s a Democrat, then there really are weapons of mass destruction hidden somewhere in Iraq.

If Matt Isenhower is a Democrat, then Dick Cheney is a pacifist. Matt moved into our area a short time ago determined to run for political office. He looked around and decided it was better to claim to be Democrat. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, willing to say anything to get elected. Just like his mentors: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney [our candidates for President and Vice President in 2000 and 2004].

Matt Isenhower will say anything to get elected. We deserve better.

Matt Isenhower: NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS.

The second mailer uses slightly different wording but says the same things:

Matt Isenhower volunteered for George W. Bush in the White House. Now he says he’s a Democrat.

If Matt Isenhower is a Democrat, then Bellevue Square is a homeless shelter. Matt volunteered in the George W. Bush White House and his wife worked for Dick Cheney for years. But now that Matt wants a seat in the State Senate, he claims he’s a Democrat.

If Matt Isenhower is a Democrat, then Jay Inslee is in the Tea Party. Matt moved into our area a short time ago determined to run for political office. He looked around and decided it was better to claim to be Democrat. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, willing to say anything to get elected. Just like his mentors: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney [our candidates for President and Vice President in 2000 and 2004].

Matt Isenhower will say anything to get elected. We deserve better.

Matt Isenhower: NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS.

In the progressive blogosphere, we call this sort of thing concern trolling.

I do have to say, I’m amused to see an arm of the Republican Party describing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as people “willing to say anything to get elected”. I guess Bush and Cheney are expendable now that they’re out of office. If you ask me, that phrase also describes quite a few other Republican candidates… including Andy Hill, the intended beneficiary of these attack mailers.

Matt Isenhower, on the other hand, is a man of integrity and honesty.

What Republicans don’t want voters to know is that Matt grew up in the 45th and is one of the strongest candidates for office the Democratic Party has ever fielded on the Eastside. He is a Navy veteran, an experienced business leader, a devoted father, and an alum of Redmond High School (also my alma mater).

It is true that Matt comes from a Republican family and has Republican roots. His wife did work in the Bush administration, and he did once donate to a Republican candidate for statewide office (Dino Rossi, in 2004) on his wife’s behalf.

But Matt is his own person. He is the one running for Senate. And for the record, his wife April enthusiastically supports his candidacy as a Democrat.

The attack mailers seem to imply that Matt worked in the Bush White House as a political operative. In reality, after graduating from the Naval Academy, Matt was asked to help put together a briefing memo for Bush on Washington State issues, and out of a sense of duty to his country, he agreed to do so.

We in the 45th District Democrats knew all this from the very beginning, because Matt has never tried to hide anything from us – or from the public. He has been candid and upfront with us before and throughout the campaign. Matt is a team player and supports other Democratic candidates and causes. He shares a campaign office with State Representative Cyrus Habib, running for Senate in the 48th LD.

As longtime political observers are well aware, it used to be that progressives could be found in both major political parties. Had I been alive in the 1970s, I believe I could have found a home in either the Washington State Democratic Party or Dan Evans’ Washington State Republican Party as a progressive activist.

Nowadays, there’s just only one major political party that shares my values and principles…. and that’s the Democratic Party.

Matt Isenhower came to the same realization while at the United States Naval Academy, which he was nominated for by Washington’s senior United States Senator, Patty Murray. (Senator Murray, by the way, is enthusiastically supporting Matt’s campaign, and singled out Matt for praise during her speech at the 2014 Washington State Democratic Convention in Spokane).

Matt decided to become a Democrat because his values mattered more to him than his party identification, like other progressives abandoned by the Republican Party.

I so appreciate that, because it means Matt and I can work together to advance our shared values, instead of working at cross purposes. So do organizations like the Washington Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the Washington State Labor Council, and Democracy For America, all of which have endorsed Matt’s campaign for Washington State Senate.

In February, after thoroughly vetting Matt, the 45th District Democrats’ Endorsements Committee unanimously recommend him for endorsement. He was subsequently unanimously endorsed in February and then unanimously nominated in June. The Democratic Party has unequivocally determined that Matt Isenhower is in fact a Democrat, and chosen him to be its candidate for state Senate in the 45th.

That ought to be good enough for the Republican Party, which is completely and totally unqualified to advise Democratic voters on how to vote.

Sadly, it’s not, because the Republican Party cares more about winning and maintaining power than governing well or campaigning honestly.

I myself am a lifelong Democrat, but like Matt, my loyalty is to my values, not to any figure in the Democratic Party, or to the party as an undefined entity. I am a Democrat because the Democratic Party embraces my values. I stand with Matt and will be working to ensure that he becomes my next state senator.

In closing, I’d like to deliver a special message to Republican Leader Mark Schoesler and State Republican Chair Susan Hutchison, who I hold responsible for this disingenuous and dishonest attack mail campaign.

Speaking as a longtime Democratic activist and a member of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, I want you both to know that we in the Democratic Party are quite capable of doing our own vetting and nominating of candidates on behalf of our voters without any assistance whatsoever from you or your operatives. Matt Isenhower is ours and we are proud that he is our candidate for State Senate. You, on the other hand, have Andy Hill – and you’re stuck with him.

LIVE from Detroit: NSA Surveillance Reform: Pitfalls and Opportunities

Panel description: A recently launched campaign in Europe calls on individuals to “vote for [their] digital rights.” However, no such movement has caught on in the United States, despite the upcoming election cycle. Rallies and events—including the Rally to End Mass Surveillance and the Day We Fight Back—have demonstrated wide support for surveillance reform. By educating the public about surveillance issues, digital rights activists can ensure voters understand where their elected leaders stand on defending our privacy and Constitutional rights. The election year also offers an opportunity to engage with Congress members directly on surveillance. This panel will discuss the political environment around surveillance reform, including grassroots engagement and the potential for leadership on the issues. The panel will conclude with a discussion of the ongoing challenges faced in communicating to the public audience on the so-called “balance” between national security and civil liberties.

This panel is moderated by Amie Stepanovich who is Senior Policy Counsel at Access. Amie is an expert in domestic surveillance, cybersecurity, and privacy law. At Access, Amie leads projects on digital due process and responds to threats at the intersection of human rights and communications surveillance.

Americans do get that surveillance is happening even though Obama says it’s not. However many Americans believe that it doesn’t directly affect them. The real problem in America is that many believe that “If I am not doing anything wrong, I should have nothing to worry about.” So there is work to be done in order to make NSA surveillance an election issue.

One success in fighting NSA Surveillance was an amendment, the Massie-Lofgren Amendment, added to an annual defense spending bill to end backdoor spying and sabotage commercial software with backdoor entry points. But more work needs to be done. The unfettered surveillance has a chilling effect on our democracy.

Since 9/11 there is a lot of sharing of this information going on. Your personal information that the NSA collects can go all the way down to the “bungling local cop”.

JTTF, or Joint Terrorism Task Force has secret contracts with local law enforcement which essentially draft local law enforcement into acting as part of the federal anti-terrorism force.

Fusion Centers were created by US DHS to facilitate sharing the collected personal data. All this data can be used to profile individuals. For example, a Muslim who makes many calls outside the US could be labeled as a terrorist suspect.

President Obama’s planned reform of data collection will immunize corporations. It is actually an expansion because not only will call metadata be collection, but cell phone connections will be logged. For instance, just cell phones being in the same room, being in range of each other will be logged.

One violation of the law that is currently happening is that if someone is being investigated, queries to the NSA database will return all information logged within the previous 5 years. This includes all indiscriminate data.

Another problem is that not all congressmen have access to what is going on in the intelligence agencies. Congressmen who don’t have access are told to just go along with those members who are on the Intelligence Committee, because “they are the ones who have the information”. However, those on the Intelligence Committee are not sharing much information with other congressional members.

Another problematic issue is that with Obama’s reform, secrets classifications can be awarded to those outside of the government, such as bankers. This would mean bankers and people in other corporations could have access to your personal information that the NSA has collected.

Executive order 12333 is also problematic because there is no oversight, either by congress or the courts. Even though the executive order involves collecting overseas data, a lot of domestic data is collected through this as well. Even Feinstein, who defends the collection of surveillance data including cell phone meta data, has said that there are no privacy protections built in.

NSA lost its push for the Clipper Chip in a previous battle to enable backdoors in encryption, however, the NSA is still working on putting backdoors into encryption standards. One driving force for this in a “surveillance state” is money. There is a lot of money to be made in surveillance technology.

Call to action: call your representatives out on the NSA Surveillance issues. Impress upon them on how important the issue is to you. It is essentially a virtual “stop and frisk” policy that violates your rights. Use tools to protect your own privacy from surveillance. There are many options, but to get started, you can check out “Reset the Net” Privacy Pack.

LIVE from Detroit: Turn on the water! Panel addresses city’s unconscionable shutoffs

Peter Hammer, a law professor from Wayne State University opens the discussion. He began by introducing the concept of the “three R’s of Detroit” which include “Race, Regionalism, and Reconciliation.” He spoke most about “Spacial Racism” and demonstrated by showing a map of Detroit areas color coded to indicate varying level of economic opportunities. Areas of black population is overlayed on the map showing that these areas lay in the low economic opportunity areas. Hammer said, “In southeast Michigan and so many other cities, the segregation of race is also the segregation of wealth.”

Over half the people in Detroit could not pay their property taxes. 6,000 properties were up for foreclosure due to taxes due. Another 4,200 are in danger of foreclosure.

The best you can say about Detroit Water and Sewage is there is an extreme lack of empathy. He stresses, that we need empathy when dealing with these problems. Work is being done to stop evictions and foreclosures.

Abayomi Azikiwe spoke representing Moratorium Now Coalition that was formed in 2008 in response to the tsunami of foreclosures in Detroit. Detroit has the highest rate of home ownership in the country. The crisis really began in the late 1950s because that is when the loss of jobs and the loss of population of Detroit began.

The retirees in Detroit are under attack in the restructuring process. Predatory lending and refinancing took its toll on Detroit’s residents. Resulting foreclosures hurt Detroit’s revenue. There was a call to make the responsible banks pay. Azikiwe stressed “We need a sustainable recovery plan in Detroit. It’s not going to be done through privatization… We can’t allow anyone to tell us that we don’t own the water.”

A sustainable recovery plan is needed in Detroit, not forced bankruptcy and “Emergency Managers”. Azikiwe: “We need real jobs. Therefore, we need a real jobs program.”

Monica Lewis-Patrick spoke on behalf of a coalition “We the People of Detroit” that was formed in 2008 to fight mayoral control of the education system. They are fighting against the draconian, reptilian law called “Emergency Management”.  Lewis-Patrick: “We need to work and re-invent ourselves in this moment because we are finding that we are fighting the same battles again that were fought 50 years ago… We need to become a community that supports each other through these hard times”.

Meredith Begin is with Food and Water Watch. They believe water is a human right and it is a violation of that right to be shutting off water to Detroit residents. Begin asserted that “Corporations across the globe see water as the next oil.” Begin: “Lack of access to water and sanitation poses a huge health crisis. We’ve called on President Obama to declare a public health emergency here in Detroit and turn the water back on. We all need water for survival.” Lack of water is a real health crisis. Not only is water essential for life, lack of water is the source of disease.

Joan Ross from National Nurses United also spoke: “Look at where you are in the country right now. 21% of the world’s fresh water is here: in the Great Lakes region. We can’t afford to waste that and not give it to people who need it.”

The panel session closed with Maureen Taylor from Michigan Welfare Rights. She referred to the people in Detroit who are suffering without water. Some have been without water for a year. “We can’t keep looking at these mothers who are crying… This is insane.”

Referring to the audience, Taylor said: “You gotta leave here changed. You gotta leave here different…. I want to leave you with this message: You can’t stay like you were two or three hours ago…. Whatever it is that got you here at 9:30 this morning, you can’t go on the same.”

Taylor concluded the session with a reference to Spock from Star Trek: “I’m so proud to be in a room full of activists and visionaries… We can’t just think about this. Water is a human right. The needs of the many must always outweigh the needs of the few.”

LIVE from Detroit: Keynote with Debbie Stabenow, Mark Schauer

Good Morning from Detroit! This is the last day of the conference and we are beginning the day with keynotes from Mark Schauer, candidate to replace Snyder as governor of Michigan, and Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Lisa Brown is Schauer’s running-mate. Schauer promises to repeal “Right-To-Work-For-Less” and to support unions. Schauer promises equal pay for equal work. Schauer will work for affordable health care and will work with Obama and Stabenow on strengthening the auto industry in Michigan.

Stabenow welcomes Netroots to Detroit and thanks them for choosing Detroit for the location of the conference. “Detroit is a great city with great hard-working people who are working to turn Detroit around”. Stabenow thanks Betty Wiggens for creating gardens in the public schools in Detroit.

Michigan is #1 on clean energy patents. Michigan has created 70,000 jobs, but still has work to do to get employment back to where it was. Stabenow says it is an outrage that thousands in Detroit are without water.

“The game is still rigged for the majority and only benefits the few at the top”, say Stabenow and makes reference to the Koch brothers. “What we need is to raise everyone up with good jobs, healthcare, Social Security”. Stabenow says that everyone deserves a fair shot at getting ahead in Michigan.

“If a fair shot can work 100 years ago, a fair shot can work today”, Stabenow said in reference to the beginnings of the auto industry when good wages were paid.

“Too many students are left with only one choice for education and are left with mounds and mounds of debt.”  Stabenow reinforces the need for “equal pay for equal work”, good healthcare and Social Security.

Stabenow has introduced the “Bring Jobs Home Act” and asked everyone in the audience to call their Senators and Congressmen and ask them to support this bill. Stabenow says that we need to bring back the jobs that were off-shored.

Stabenow: “I need Gary Peters in the Senate” in calling for people to help organize and campaign to help Peters win the election.

Stabenow closes by reinforcing the need to keep up the good fight for progressive values.

Live from Detroit: Detroit, Rocked City: How the Bankruptcy Led to Retirement Attacks that Could Spread Nationwide

This panel is moderated by David Sirota. Panelists include Gwendolyn Beasley, Reesa Kossoff, and Diane Oakley.

Public pension attacks are happening nationally and are being driven by the Koch Brothers.

401k plans have not proven to save tax payer money over a Defined Benefit plan, in fact there are cases where state liability has increased. Pension plans also encourage employees with experience, which is good for public sector jobs such as teachers, police, and firefighters.

There are interest groups that are interested in Defined Benefit plans to push the investments into more aggressive plans. 401k plans have other interest groups that want to push investments into certain mutual funds, etc. All of this is a move to benefit Wall Street.

In Detroit, 1 year ago today, bankruptcy was officially filed. Bankruptcy was eventually approved. It was ruled that bankruptcy law trumped the Michigan Constitution meaning that pensions were not protected from the bankruptcy. The average pension in Detroit is $19K per year.

In the “Grand Bargain”, not only would pensions would be cut, it meant that healthcare benefits would be cut as well.  $125 stipend was offered for retirees to pay for their healthcare, which was not enough. The new plans also had a high deductible which hurt retirees. Detroit also claimed that they didn’t have enough money for dental and eye care. Detroit promised that by 2028 they will try to restore the retirees’ benefits.

Pensions have become underfunded because state and local governments haven’t been paying the contributions to the plans. The Sanctity of pension contracts is not being respected which ironically, big banks claimed that executive pay could not be cut during the bailout because of the sanctity of the contracts that these executives had.

Even though state governments such as New Jersey say that they don’t have the money for pensions, the government spends billions on corporate subsidies. It is a wealth transfer from retirees to the corporations and the rich.

One of the problems with Detroit is that it entered an extremely complex interest rate swap. Wall Street won in the deal and Wall Street was first in line in the bankruptcy to get paid.

More information can be found at the National Institute on Retirement Security and the National Public Pension Coalition.

LIVE from Detroit: Why Net Neutrality is a Social Justice Issue

This panel is moderated by Marissa Valeri who is Common Cause’s digital strategies manager. Panelists include Kim Lehmkuhl, Lauren Wilson, and Andi Zeisler.

From the panel description:

Earlier this year, a court overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) common sense net neutrality rules, which guaranteed the right of users to connect to the websites, blogs, and social platforms of their choice. Now, corporate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are free to block anything online, for practically any reason at all. So there’s nothing stopping your ISPs from censoring your access to the blogs and organizing tools you rely on every day. Each organization represented on the panel organized to restore net neutrality, culminating in the delivery of 1.1 million signatures to the Federal Communications Commission in January.

The battle for Net Neutrality faces many obstacles. Once issue is getting the public to understand what Net Neutrality means. Essentially it means equal access to content, which prohibits providers for giving some sites the fast lane and other sites the slow lane according to who pays to be on the fast lane.

Big telecom companies always find it cheaper to hire lobbyists that work to improve the bottom line at the expense of Net Neutrality. To help fight this issue one should blog about it, write editorials, support candidates that support Net Neutrality, and push to get the right people on the FCC who are knowledgeable and supportive of Net Neutrality.

One member of the audience brought up the issue of potential content filtering using deep packet inspection. It seemed that the panelists didn’t understand what he was referring to. Deep packet inspection is the process of opening the chunks of data that are traveling over the internet and inspecting the data contents. This is a technology that is used for legitimate purposes such as load balancing. However, it could potentially be used by ISPs to slow down or block content, which would certainly be a Net Neutrality issue.

Another from the audience brought up an issue related to deep packet filtering and how it would affect private networks, particularly VPNs. VPN traffic is encrypted which would prevent deep packet inspection, so does this mean VPN traffic would always be put in the slow lane? Certainly a valid question if Net Neutrality is lost.

Another audience member asked the panelists about how the proposed trade agreements would impact Net Neutrality and what their position is on it. The panelists responded that they do not have a position on that yet and eluded to a battle that they are having internally regarding that issue.

LIVE from Detroit: The Rise of Janet Yellen: Why the Fed Matters

The Federal Reserve wields great economic power; it is often said that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve is the second most powerful person in America. In 2013, a ragtag coalition came together to fight for economic justice and work on an unprecedented campaign: to influence who would become the Chair of the Federal Reserve. Now the challenge is how to work with the new leadership of the Federal Reserve to promote a progressive economic agenda.

The Federal Reserve had mainly ignores the mandate of trying to keep “full employment” in the American economy. Within the last couple of years the Fed has started to pay more attention to employment. The Fed is doing this by keeping short term rates low and by buying long term bonds to keep long term rates low.

The deregulation that the Fed was a contributor to helped make our economy for financially oriented. The Fed has essentially been a failure in keeping our economy healthy.

Larry Summers was being considered for the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. There were many concerns over this including concerns over his attitude towards women. Janet Yellen was an alternative choice who was seen as a much better candidate for the position. With President Obama leaning toward Summers, a grass roots movement began to push for Janet Yelllen.

Janet Yellen has said that we must keep interest rates low while unemployment is high. However, the solution to preventing bubbles is not putting on the brakes as the economy begins to improve. The solution is more bank regulation.



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