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.

Carol Gregory, Teri Hickel in dead heat in 30th Legislative District beauty contest

The marquee race of 2015, which will take place this November in the 30th Legislative District between Democrat Carol Gregory and Republican Teri Hickel, is shaping up to be tighter than tight, if tonight’s results are any indication.

State law requires that partisan races appear on the Top Two ballot, even when fewer than three candidates file, which is the case in the 30th this year.

Consequently, Gregory and Hickel are squaring off in what amounts to a beauty contest or a straw poll. Both candidates are guaranteed to move on to November regardless of what happens in this election – nobody is being eliminated – but the results will significantly shape how people perceive the race.

With less than 11,000 ballots counted so far, Gregory trails Hickel by just one hundred and fifty-five votes… a classic dead heat. She has 5,433 votes (49.30%) to Hickel’s 5,588 votes (50.70%). There are also a handful of write-in votes.

Because the 2015 legislative session ran so late (there were three special sessions, running well into July!) Gregory hasn’t been able to do much campaigning. She has only been free to focus on knocking on doors and making phone calls for a few weeks, whereas Hickel has been free to campaign vigorously for months.

Gregory was appointed last winter by Governor Jay Inslee to succeed the late Roger Freeman, who died just before the November 2014 midterm elections took place. He was posthumously elected, and upon certification of the election, the Democratic Party held a special caucus of precinct committee officers in the 30th to draw up a list of names to succeed him and fill the vacancy.

Carol was the first choice of the 30th’s Democratic PCOs, and was tapped by Inslee for the position after the King and Pierce County councils failed to agree to make a joint appointment within the sixty day timeframe prescribed by the Constitution.

Though Gregory would undoubtedly prefer to be in the lead, she at least isn’t several percentage points behind Hickel. Depending on how the late ballots break, she may be able to make up ground on Hickel and be in an even better position by the time the election is certified in a couple of weeks.

One thing is for sure: the 30th will be fiercely contested this November. Democrats are eager to defend Carol and hold the seat, while Republicans are anxious to take it and reduce the House Democratic majority to a wafer-thin margin of one vote.

Fred Felleman, Marion Yoshino lead crowded field for Seattle Port Commission #5

Good evening from Shoreline and welcome to NPI’s live coverage of Washington’s 2015 Top Two Election! After working around some initial technical difficulties, King County Elections has managed to get its first batch of results posted, and they show that two candidates in the crowded, nine-person field for Seattle Port Commission Position #5 have pulled away to claim the top two spots.

They are Fred Felleman and Marion Yoshino.

Felleman, an effective environmental advocate with Friends of the Earth who enjoys strong backing from the King County Democratic Party and many progressive leaders, is in the lead with 21.73% of the vote.

Yoshino, a former Normandy Park city council member and small business owner with economic development experience, has 18.77% of the vote.

In third place is perennial candidate Richard Pope, who has run for Port Commission (and many other offices) before. He’s getting 16.30% of the vote, no doubt thanks in part to the name recognition he’s built over the years.

Former Delta pilot Ken Rogers is in fourth place with 11.96% of the vote, while former Clipper Navigation CEO Darrell Bryan is in fifth place with 10.82%. Both would seem to be out of the running for November based on this showing.

This is a great outcome for progressives. Both Fred and Marion are high-caliber candidates who would bring valuable experience and perspective to the Commission. No matter which one wins in November, we are bound to end up with a replacement who is far more progressive than departing incumbent Bill Bryant.

It’s Top Two Election Day in Washington State – don’t forget to vote!

Readers, a reminder that today is the last day of the August 2015 Top Two Election, the elimination round of our dysfunctional two-part general election system.

Ballots must be postmarked or returned by a drop box by 8 PM tonight, or they won’t count. Be sure yours is in, and then remind friends and family to vote, too. Chances are, many of them haven’t. Don’t assume – ask!

Participation so far in this election has been utterly abysmal, with turnout well below twenty percent statewide, and even worse than that in the state’s three biggest counties, which account for around two-thirds of the population.

  • In King County, turnout cracked 15% last night
  • Snohomish is at 13.8%
  • Pierce is at 12.3% (worst in the state!)

Average statewide turnout is currently 16.2%, far below Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s prediction of twenty-six percent (which itself is very low).

Douglas County currently has the best turnout, with 46% of three hundred and twenty-two voters participating. (Only a fraction of the electorate were sent ballots; most of the county doesn’t have a Top Two election).

Tiny Garfield County has the second best turnout, with over 37% of 1,522 voters participating. Pacific County, home to communities like Long Beach and Ilwaco, is in third place with 35% turnout. However, only five hundred and sixty-three of Pacific’s voters have a Top Two election this year.

The team at NPI urges you to be a voter and get your ballot in. If you would like to use a drop box to return your ballot, here is a list of locations for major counties:

Need help voting? NPI doesn’t endorse or rate candidates for office, but the Progressive Voter’s Guide is available if you want to learn more about who’s on your ballot. You can also use the official voter’s pamphlet published by your county.

Starting tonight, after 8 PM, we will be offering live coverage of election results here on the Cascadia Advocate. Most counties will only report one batch of results tonight, and not update again till tomorrow afternoon.

The top race we’re watching is the “beauty contest” in the 30th Legislative District between Democrat Carol Gregory and Republican Teri Hickel.

Gregory and Hickel are each guaranteed a spot on the November 2015 ballot because they were the only ones to file. They nevertheless appear on the August Top Two ballot because the position of state representative is partisan, and state-level partisan races always appear on the Top Two ballot.

Reporting, commentary on lawsuit against Eyman’s I-1366 misses mark, distorts history

Last week, within the span of twenty-four hours, Tim Eyman’s odious I-1366 received its fiscal impact statement from the Office of Financial Management, was certified for the ballot by Secretary of State Kim Wyman, and then was subjected to a legal challenge by King County Elections Director Sherril Huff, Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, and other distinguished plaintiffs who don’t think I-1366 should be on the ballot because it exceeds the scope of the people’s initiative power.

These developments have predictably led to a fresh round of media coverage of I-1366. The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner, who attended the press conference announcing the lawsuit, wrote his second article in as many days about I-1366. John Stang also went to the press conference and filed a report for Crosscut.

The next day, KING5 invited Tim Eyman on its morning newscast to “explain” I-1366 (without, as far as we know, extending a similar invitation to anyone opposed to I-1366), while the Seattle Times Company-owned Walla-Walla Union Bulletin published an editorial parroting Eyman’s arguments in opposition to the lawsuit, which Eyman will no doubt use as fodder for a fundraising email soon.

On Sunday, the Spokesman-Review’s Jim Camden discussed the initiative in a brief blog post titled “This seems familiar.” And this morning, The Columbian published a an editorial remarkably similar to that of the Union Bulletin‘s, echoing and amplifying Eyman’s deceptive, misleading Let the voters decide rallying cry.

This body of reporting and commentary unfortunately shares a serious shortcoming: it’s lacking in depth. To put it another way, it doesn’t go beyond what I’ll call the sound bite level. The context that people need in order to understand what I-1366 and the lawsuit against it are really about is missing.

As if that weren’t bad enough, what several media outlets have provided in the way of context contains misrepresentations.

I’m going to attempt to correct the record, as best I can, with this post. I previously authored a post last week which breaks down (in detail!) the legal challenge against I-1366. I highly recommend reading that if you haven’t already.

While I will be touching on some of the same points again here, you’ll be better prepared to follow along if you’ve read that post.

Let me begin with some history. Washington has operated, since statehood, under a plan of government drawn up by seventy-five men. We know this plan of government as the Constitution of the State of Washington.

According to HistoryLink, the constitutional convention held one hundred and twenty-six summers ago included “21 lawyers, 13 farmers, 6 merchants, 6 doctors, 5 bankers, 4 cattlemen, 3 teachers, 2 real-estate agents, 2 editors, 2 hop farmers, 2 loggers, 2 lumbermen, 1 minister, 1 surveyor, 1 fisherman, and 1 mining engineer.” Most of these men were Republicans; a smaller number were Democrats.

These Framers used the U.S. and other state constitutions as a model for writing Washington’s. That’s how we ended up with a state government consisting of a bicameral Legislature (House and Senate), an executive department (headed by an independently elected governor) and a judiciary (vested principally in a Supreme Court, Superior Courts, and also justices of the peace). 

While our state government is different in a number of ways from the federal government, its structure is the same. We have a legislative branch charged with making laws, an executive branch to enforce laws, and a judicial branch to interpret laws. This separation of powers is deliberate. The idea is that each branch will keep the others in line through a system of checks and balances.

When Washington came into being as a state, our country was going through a period that has since become known as the Gilded Age. Politics in the Gilded Age was dominated by powerful industrial interests, particularly the railroads, who used their money to influence legislative proceedings at the state and federal level.

Within a few years of statehood, Progressive reformers had formed a movement here to fight political corruption. Organizations like the Direct Legislation League campaigned for an amendment to Washington’s Constitution to allow the people to propose laws directly as well as to vote on laws passed by the Legislature. Legislation calling for such an amendment was introduced as early as 1895.

Then, as now, Washington’s Constitution was not easy to change. Article XXIII stipulates that amendments to Washington’s Constitution must originate in the Legislature and receive a two-thirds vote of each house before being placed on the ballot for ratification. Ratification requires only a majority vote of the people.

By 1911, the reformers had succeeded in amassing the votes required for two amendments to add the initiative, referendum, and recall to the Washington State Constitution. Importantly, their amendments left the power to propose future constitutional amendments solely in the hands of the Legislature.

At the 1912 presidential election (which pitted Theodore Roosevelt against William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson), the amendments (numbered 7 and 8) went before the people of Washington and was approved. Thus began Washington’s tradition of direct democracy, which continues today.

By the mid-1970s, Washington ranked behind only Oregon, North Dakota, and California in initiative activity (measured as the total number of initiatives appearing on the ballot), according to a 1974 analysis by the UW’s Hugh Bone.

In more recent times, Grover Norquist wannabe Tim Eyman has abused Washington’s initiative process to force near-annual votes on schemes purposely intended to shred our common wealth and wreck our government.

His latest is I-1366, which would cut state sales tax revenue by $8 billion over six years (thereby taking Washington’s youth as hostages, for the sales tax funds our schools) unless the Legislature refers to the people an amendment to permanently require a two-thirds vote to raise or recover any state revenue.

Constitutional defects are a common characteristic of Eyman initiatives. Most of the schemes that Eyman has gotten past the voters have been challenged in post-election litigation as a consequence of having been poorly drafted.

Three have been struck down in their entirety by the state Supreme Court (I-695, I-722, I-747), while four more have been partially invalidated (I-776, I-960, I-1053, I-1185). With the exception of I-900 in 2005, all the other initiatives that Eyman has proposed have either failed to make the ballot or have been rejected by voters.

Although other states (such as Alaska) have an established process for subjecting proposed initiatives to a constitutional and legal review prior to allowing them to proceed to the signature gathering stage, Washington does not. This has left the initiative process open to abuse and mischief by the likes of Eyman.

Taking the view that a proposed initiative is not a law, just as a bill in the Legislature is not a law prior to receiving a vote in each house and the governor’s signature (or, alternatively, an override of the governor’s veto), Washington’s judiciary has twice declined in the past ten years to set aside an initiative prior to an election.

In Coppernoll v. Reed (2005), concerning a challenge to I-330 which the Supreme Court dismissed, the Court noted, “It has been a longstanding rule of our jurisprudence that we refrain from inquiring into the validity of a proposed law, including an initiative or referendum, before it has been enacted.”

In Futurewise v. Reed (2007), concerning Tim Eyman’s I-960, the Supreme Court added, “Such review, if engaged in, would involve the court in rendering advisory opinions, would violate ripeness requirements, would undermine the policy of avoiding unnecessary constitutional questions, and would constitute unwarranted judicial meddling with the legislative process.”

Tim Eyman, not surprisingly, has cited both of these rulings in predicting that the legal challenge to I-1366 will be unsuccessful.

However, in both Coppernoll and Futurewise, the Court acknowledged that while it will not consider whether an initiative is constitutional prior to an election, it is willing to consider whether an initiative is beyond the scope of the people’s initiative power, as it did in Philadelphia II v. Gregoire (decided in 1996).

In Philadelphia II, the Supreme Court squashed an initiative that attempted to create an initiative process at the federal level because it was beyond the scope of the initiative power. From the Court’s decision:

Generally, courts are reluctant to rule on the validity of an initiative before its adoption by the people. This reluctance stems from our desire not to interfere in the electoral process or give advisory opinions. Seattle Bldg. & Constr. Trades Council v. City of Seattle, 94 Wash.2d 740, 746, 620 P.2d 82 (1980).

However, an established exception to this rule in Washington is that a court will review a proposed initiative to determine if it is beyond the scope of the initiative power.

The reasoning behind the exception was stated as follows:

A fundamental limit on the initiative power inheres in its nature as a legislative function reserved to the people… It is clear from the constitutional provision that the initiative process, as a means by which the people can exercise directly the legislative authority to enact bills and laws, is limited in scope to subject matter which is legislative in nature.

The Court goes on to say:

The idea that courts can review proposed initiatives to determine whether they are authorized by article II, section 1, of the state constitution is nearly as old as the amendment itself. See State ex rel. Berry v. Superior Court, 92 Wash. 16, 159 P. 92 (1916) (enjoining printing and distribution of proposed initiative measure due to preamble being improper argument and not legislative in character).

Recognizing the importance of the initiative power, however, this court has allowed for pre-election review only in rare circumstances, consistently making the distinction that while a court may decide whether the initiative is authorized by article II, section 1, of the state constitution, it may not rule on the constitutional validity of a proposed initiative. Seattle Bldg. & Constr. Trades Council, 94 Wash.2d at 745-46, 620 P.2d 82. We adhere to that distinction and review the Philadelphia II initiative only to determine whether it is authorized by article II, section 1, of the state constitution.

Emphasis is mine.

If you read the complaint filed by the plaintiffs against I-1366 in King County Superior Court, you’ll notice that it seeks to have I-1366 removed from the ballot  on the same grounds that Philadelphia II was blocked.

The power to invoke the constitutional amendment process is not part of the Article II legislative power.

Because the fundamental and overriding purpose of I-1366 is to invoke the constitutional amendment process, it is not authorized by Article II, sec 1.

Under Article II, sec 1, only “bills and laws” may be proposed by the people, not constitutional amendments, which may only be proposed in either house of the legislature.

I-1366 is beyond the scope of the legislative power reserved to the people and should not be placed on the ballot.

As before, emphasis is mine.

Sadly, the editorial boards of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and The Columbian don’t seem to understand that the plaintiffs in Huff v. Wyman aren’t asking the Supreme Court to conduct a review for constitutionality, but rather are asking for a scope review. The Court has already made it pretty clear it won’t oblige a request for the former, but it will hear out a request for the latter.

Consider these misleading opening paragraphs from the Bulletin’s editorial:

Is Tim Eyman’s latest initiative, which seeks to reinstate a supermajority vote by the Legislature to raise taxes, constitutional?

That’s for the courts to decide. But that decision should be made after the voters have an opportunity to approve or reject the measure that qualified for the November ballot on Wednesday.

And these misleading closing paragraphs from The Columbian‘s editorial:

I-1366 might or might not violate the requirement that a measure be limited to one subject matter; that will be for the courts to decide if the initiative remains on the ballot and is approved by voters. But first, voters should be allowed to decide. “Ultimately, the politicians’ lawsuit that seeks to prevent the people from voting may have less to do with Initiative 1366 than it does the right of the people to discuss, debate, and vote on the issues contained in it,” Eyman said.

Let the donnybrook begin.

You’d think that before opining on this lawsuit, the people who wrote these editorials would at least take the trouble to read it and understand it.

I was also perplexed to read this passage from Jim Camden of the Spokesman-Review’s brief recap of the developments surrounding I-1366:

Within 24 hours of the petition signatures being certified, opponents were asking a court to keep the initiative off the ballot. This is a common, but rarely successful, strategy because the Supreme Court usually declines to rule on the legality of an initiative unless voters pass it. Until that happens, it is what Joey Tribbiani of “Friends” used to call a “moo point”, that is, it’s like a cow’s opinion; it doesn’t matter.

It is actually not common for statewide initiatives to be challenged in court after being certified for the ballot. At the local level, we’ve seen initiatives challenged frequently in court at all stages, including on scope grounds.

But at the state level, there simply isn’t much case law pertaining to preelection review of initiatives. Challenges are rarely filed. The few noteworthy cases that have been litigated are cited above (Philadelphia II, Coppernoll, Futurewise).

Again, this lawsuit is not about whether I-1366 has constitutional defects. That is indeed a question for another day. This lawsuit is about whether I-1366 takes the form that an initiative should. The plaintiffs say I-1366 goes beyond what an initiative is allowed to be — that it exceeds the scope of the initiative power.

We agree. Read the text of I-1366, and the first thing you’ll see is that it contains a heading which declares it to be a constitutional amendment. It has also been advertised by Eyman as such. And its provisions are obviously meant to coerce the Legislature into exercising its prerogative to propose constitutional amendments by threatening a brutal consequence if the Legislature does not propose a particular amendment by a particular date. That’s why we call it a hostage-taking scheme.

The reason this scope challenge is being brought now is because it is justiciable now. The question of whether I-1366 is beyond the scope of the initiative power is moot if it goes to voters. For that matter, the question of whether I-1366 is constitutional or not is also moot if it is beyond the scope of the initiative power.

The courts should ignore these illogical editorials, take up this thoughtfully-prepared complaint, and consider it on the merits. Tim Eyman simply cannot be allowed to continue abusing Washington’s initiative process without being challenged.

Eyman also should not be allowed to go on misrepresenting the electoral history that precedes I-1366, as he did in the interview recorded with KING5’s Mark Wright on Friday, and that has unfortunately found its way into the reporting of John Stang, Jim Brunner, and KOMO’s Carleen Johnson.

Eyman is fond of saying that voters have voted “five times” to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise or recover revenue, and he has repeated this so often and incessantly that the media now regrettably report it as fact.

From Brunner’s Wednesday story on I-1366:

The supermajority-for-taxes concept contained in I-1366 has been endorsed by Washington voters in five previous initiative votes. But the state Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional in 2013.

Stang’s story on I-1366 the following day:

In the past, Washington voters passed five straight initiatives supporting the two-thirds majority threshold, but did not address the state constitution. In 2013, the Washington Supreme Court found that the two-thirds majority threshold is unconstitutional, prompting Eyman to look for ways to amend the constitution.

And the transcript of Johnson’s story on I-1366, also that day:

Washington voters have FIVE times approved the super-majority for taxes measure, but the state Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional in 2013 saying an amendment was the only way to make that happen.

Here are several vital facts missing from the stories above:

  • There have been four initiatives, not five, adopted by voters that subverted Article II, Section 22 of our Constitution by undemocratically requiring a two-thirds vote to raise revenue: I-601 (1993), I-960 (2007), I-1053 (2010) and I-1185 (2012). There was no fifth initiative.
  • I-601 (sponsored by Linda Smith) and I-960 (first of Eyman’s I-601 clones) passed with narrow margins in odd-numbered election years in which turnout was significantly lower than the preceding and succeeding years. (In the KING5 interview recorded Friday, Eyman referred to I-601 as having passed “overwhelmingly”. This is false. A yes vote of 51.2% is not overwhelming.)
  • I-1053 and I-1185 passed with large margins in even-numbered years, but, unlike I-601 and I-960, were not fought by effective NO campaigns.
  • At the same time that I-601 was narrowly adopted in 1993, a sister initiative that made I-601 look less draconian (I-602, requiring a three-fourths vote to raise revenue) was being overwhelmingly defeated by voters.
  • At the same time that I-960 was narrowly adopted in 2007, a constitutional amendment lowering the threshold for passage of school levies from three-fifths to a majority was also being narrowly adopted (HJR 4204).
  • Eyman never talks about these votes because they contradict his false narrative about Washington voters having consistently voted to make it harder to raise taxes. In reality, the electoral history is mixed.

If there was no fifth initiative, where does the notion of five votes come from? I addressed this in a post nearly three years ago that I wrote in response to a similar error in a Seattle Times article written by Andrew Garber.

Be warned: this is a long excerpt.

Tim Eyman and his friends at the Washington Policy Center have long claimed that in addition to the aforementioned measures, there was another occasion (in 1998) where Washingtonians voted for a measure to impose the two-thirds requirement. Eyman and Company have done such a good job repeating this that lawmakers and reporters have actually started to believe that I-1185 is the fifth initiative on this subject, instead of the fourth. But that’s not the case.

As we can see from looking at the index of ballot measures for 1998, there was no such measure. What we do see are statewide initiatives pertaining to the minimum wage, medical marijuana, abortion, and affirmative action… along with a statewide referendum on transportation funding.

It’s this referendum, R-49, that Eyman and the Washington Policy Center claim is the fourth vote (excluding I-1185).

They justify their claim by citing the following language, which is buried in the referendum’s text:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 14. A new section is added to chapter 43.135 RCW to read as follows:
(1) Initiative Measure No. 601 (chapter 43.135 RCW, as amended by chapter…, Laws of 1998 (this act) and the amendatory changes enacted by section 6, chapter 2, Laws of 1994) is hereby reenacted and reaffirmed. The legislature also adopts this act to continue the general fund revenue and expenditure limitations contained in this chapter 43.135 RCW after this one-time transfer of funds.

Here’s the thing, though: We have researched Referendum 49 fairly extensively, and we’ve found that the discussion and the debate over R-49 concerned the measure’s subject: transportation funding. That makes sense, because R-49 was a transportation plan that the Republican Legislature put before the voters for their consideration, not an initiative to make raising taxes more difficult, as the summary of Andrew Garber’s story erroneously says.

Let’s consider the evidence.

First, let’s look at the ballot title for R-49 (which is what voters saw on their ballots). Notice it doesn’t say anything about reimposing the two-thirds vote requirement.

Shall motor vehicle excise taxes be reduced and state revenues reallocated; $1.9 billion in bonds for state and local highways approved; and spending limits modified?

There’s also the explanatory statement, basically a longer version of the ballot title.

The explanatory statement does explicitly refer to I-601, but again, it doesn’t say anything about reimposing the two-thirds vote requirement. It only refers to the provision establishing a state expenditure limit. In fact, the words “two-thirds” do not appear in the explanatory statement at all.

What about the voter’s pamphlet statement? Same deal. The arguments for and against R-49 don’t mention the two-thirds vote requirement, let alone I-601. They are solely concerned with the wisdom (or lack thereof) of lowering vehicle fees and committing money to unspecified highway construction projects.

See for yourself. You’ll want to scroll down to page twelve of that document and start reading there. It’s a scanned copy of the 1998 pamphlet, but it’s readable.

What about news coverage of R-49? I searched the Seattle Times‘ own archive for stories about the measure. I found several. In none of the stories did I find references to I-601 or the supermajority vote requirement in I-601.

Here are the stories I looked at:

I did find one op-ed urging a “Reject” vote on R-49, penned by conservative Wynn Cannon that mentioned I-601…  but only in passing, and again, only in respect to the state expenditure limit provision.

But here is the most important point of all: Had Referendum 49 failed, it would not have repealed I-601. In other words, the unconstitutional supermajority vote requirement created by I-601 in 1993 was not up for a vote, or a revote. It was going to remain in place regardless of how the voters voted on R-49.

It is therefore entirely inappropriate to place R-49 in the same category as I-601, I-960, and I-1053. R-49 was a referendum on transportation funding, with a line buried deep in its text that symbolically “reaffirmed” I-601, put there by Republican legislators. R-49 was not a sequel to I-601 like I-960 and I-1053.

Washingtonians need to know that the radical right wing’s repeated attempts to sabotage majority rule in Washington are directly in conflict with the values that our state and country were founded upon, and upset the carefully forged balance between majority rule and minority rights found in our Constitution.

The lawsuit filed against I-1366 by elected leaders and activists seeks to prevent our cherished initiative power from being improperly abused to attack and subvert our Constitution. It should be supported by all Washingtonians who want to live in a democracy that operates according to the rule of law.

Bernie Sanders to visit Pacific Northwest next week; will hold rallies in Seattle and Portland

Bernie Sanders, widely considered to be the most progressive of the five Democratic candidates running to succeed Barack Obama as President of the United States, is bringing his people-powered campaign to the Pacific Northwest next week. Organizers working for the dynamic, inspiring Vermont senator have invited Washingtonians and Oregonians who support Bernie’s vision for the country to rally with him in Seattle and Portland next weekend.

The Seattle rally will take place at Hec Edmundson Pavilion at the University of Washington on August 8th, 2015. Doors will open at 6 PM; the program will begin around 7 PM and last till 8 PM. The campaign encourages attendees to carpool or take public transit. Unfortunately, University Link isn’t quite ready to carry the traveling public yet, or we’d recommend that anyone coming from the south take that. But the University District does enjoy frequent bus service. Take advantage.

The campaign requests that supporters RSVP for the Seattle rally here.

The Portland rally will take place the next day (Sunday August 9th), also from 6 – 8 PM, at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. As Portlanders know, the Coliseum is located in the Rose Quarter and is readily accessible via TriMet’s MAX light rail.

The campaign requests that supporters RSVP for the Portland rally here.

There is no charge for admittance to either event.

At the rallies, Sanders will discuss how we:

  • Get big money out of politics
  • Deal with obscene wealth and income inequality
  • Combat climate change
  • Make college education affordable

Sanders has already drawn big crowds in Phoenix, Arizona (following an appearance at Netroots Nation), Minneapolis, Minnesota, and numerous venues in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now he’s coming to the great Pacific Northwest to talk about his progressive vision with the people of our region.

Hec Ed has a seating capacity of 10,000 people, and the Coliseum has a capacity of nearly 13,000. Hec Ed was previously the site of a big rally for Patty Murray in 2010 headlined by President Barack Obama that completely filled the arena.

On Saturday, Sanders will also speak at an anniversary celebration for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, taking place from 1 to 3 PM at Westlake Center in downtown Seattle. Other speakers include labor leaders and local elected officials like Senator Pramila Jayapal and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant.

“We are very excited to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid and the 80th anniversary of Social Security,” said Robby Stern of PSARA and Social Security Works – Washington. “We are particularly honored to welcome Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the national advocacy leaders for strengthening and expanding these three critical programs.”

Details on that celebration are here.

Elected leaders, activists file lawsuit to remove Tim Eyman’s I-1366 from 2015 ballot

This morning, at a press conference at Pacifica Law Group’s offices in downtown Seattle, several friends of the Northwest Progressive Institute announced the filing of a legal challenge to block Tim Eyman’s incredibly destructive I-1366 from the November ballot because it exceeds the scope of the people’s initiative power as set forth in Washington’s Constitution.

We released a statement praising this lawsuit through NPI’s Permanent Defense earlier today, but this is really important news, worthy of further analysis and commentary, so I’m going to talk about it at greater length here.

I-1366 — which was certified yesterday for the November ballot by Secretary of State Kim Wyman — would slash state sales tax revenue by $8 billion over the next six years unless the Legislature agreed to pass a constitutional amendment sabotaging our cherished tradition of majority rule. Eyman wants to permanently put the fate of revenue decisions in the hands of a submajority of lawmakers (seventeen of forty-nine senators or thirty-three of ninety-eight representatives).

This would have the effect of locking in our state’s regressive tax system for all time, preventing the Legislature from acting to fix our broken tax code. It would subvert the Constitution’s Article II, Section 22, dating back to statehood, which declares that bills shall pass by majority vote (in other words, greater than fifty percent).

King County Elections Director Sherril Huff, Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, State Senator David Frockt, State Representative Reuven Carlyle, Bellevue College student Paul Bell, Seattle parent Eden Mack, retired nurse Angela Bartels, Solid Ground fellow Tony Lee, and ElderCare Alliance Chair Jerry Reilly – the plaintiffs in the case – agree with us that Eyman’s I-1366 is not a proper initiative.

Eyman’s own false advertising supports this conclusion. The heading of I-1366, which you can see above the text, contains the words “2/3rds Constitutional Amendment”. Eyman has also referred to I-1366 as the “2/3rds Constitutional Amendment initiative”. But there is no such thing, and Eyman knows it.

Article XXIII of the Washington State Constitution explains in pretty plain language how amendments are made. They must originate in the Legislature, and they must receive a two-thirds vote of each house to pass. Then, they are placed before the people for ratification, which takes a majority vote.

This is the only process we have for amending the Constitution. There is no other.

In neighboring Oregon, the Constitution may be amended by ballot initiative, but not here. The people who wrote Washington’s Constitution and who brought direct democracy to our state wisely realized that Washington is first and foremost a republic. They also knew a healthy democracy requires a balance between majority rule and minority rights. That is why the responsibility of proposing amendments to Washington’s Constitution rests solely with the Legislature.

As Tim Eyman is not one of our elected representatives, he can’t propose a constitutional amendment. And since he is not influential in the Legislature except among the most extreme members of the House and Senate Republican caucuses, he does not have the votes to force through an amendment sabotaging the Constitution’s majority vote requirement for passage of bills.

Eyman certainly has a knack for convincing ultra-wealthy right-wing donors to give him money for malicious schemes to destroy our common wealth and wreck our government, which belong to us, the people of Washington. But his long history of careless, hyberbolic rhetoric and repeated use of bad politics to pursue his nefarious ends have made him very unpopular. As he has discovered, two-thirds is a very high bar. He doesn’t have the votes to get the Supreme Court’s League of Education Voters decision (which upheld majority rule in Article II, Section 22) overturned.

So he has turned to blackmail. Coercion. Extortion. All of those words describe the twisted, sinister purpose of I-1366.

Eyman’s hostages are the youth of Washington State, whose education is imperiled by his threat to eliminate $8 billion in sales tax revenue through 2021 if the House and Senate don’t do as he demands by mid-April of next year.

It is vital that every Washingtonian understand that the sales tax provides nearly half of the revenue for our general fund, and over half of every dollar in the general fund goes to either K-12 schools or to colleges and universities.

The loss of $8 billion in sales tax revenue would devastate funding for education in Washington, in violation of Article IX of our Constitution, which says that the education of our youth is our paramount duty as a people.

When he has been asked in interviews about the destructive impact of the sales tax cut his initiative prescribes (which we’ll call Scenario 1), Eyman has consistently pivoted back to talking about what he considers to be the merits of requiring a two-thirds vote to raise revenue, because he clearly doesn’t want to dwell on the subject of the dreadful, awful impact of a sudden and drastic cut in the sales tax. Scenario 1 is easily avoided, Eyman says, if the Legislature opts for Scenario 2: Capitulation to his demand for a constitutional amendment.

But proposing constitutional amendments is the Legislature’s prerogative. It is the House and Senate’s constitutional role to originate any changes to our state’s highest law. With I-1366, Eyman is attempting to do an end run around the Washington State Constitution by inducing the Legislature to introduce and vote on the particular amendment he wants under duress.

This is an outrageous abuse of the initiative power, which was conceived over one hundred years ago by Progressives to allow the people of Washington to make, alter, or repeal laws… but not to change our plan of government.

The aforementioned plaintiffs contend that because Eyman’s I-1366 exceeds the scope of what an initiative may constitutionally be, it should not go before the people of Washington for a vote. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to enjoin Secretary of State Kim Wyman from placing I-1366 on the November ballot.

As the complaint filed by Pacifica Law Group’s Paul Lawrence, Kymberly Evanson, and Sarah Washburn further explains (PDF):

1-1366 was not proposed in either house of the legislature, nor approved by two-thirds of both houses.

Rather, 1-1366 was proposed by its sponsors, and impermissibly attempts to bypass the process set forth in Article XXIII and amend the Constitution via the legislative powers in Article II.

1-1366 utilizes the threat of a [significant] reduction in sales tax to force the State Legislature to invoke the constitutional amendment process, an objective that cannot be achieved through the initiative power. The threatened sales tax reduction would eliminate approximately $1.4 billion in Washington State sales tax revenues per year [beginning in 2017, according to OFM].

The people acting through the initiative have no power directly or by force of threat to invoke the constitutional amendment process.

The suit, filed in King County Superior Court today, also names Tim Eyman, Mike Fagan, and Jack Fagan (the sponsors of I-1366) as defendants, in addition to Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Wyman will assuredly be represented by Attorney General Bob Ferguson (it’s his job to defend the state when lawsuits are filed). Eyman and the Fagans will be on their own. Though considering the deep pockets they have access to, obtaining representation ought not to be a problem.

What is the likelihood of success in this case? It’s hard to say, because I-1366 is unlike anything that has qualified for the ballot before.

Eyman has already attacked the lawsuit and pointed out that historically, Washington’s courts have been reluctant to set aside initiatives prior an election. The Supreme Court has said that a challenge merely on constitutional grounds (for instance, the single subject rule) is only germane after an initiative has become law.

However, the case filed today does not seek to have I-1366 blocked simply because it is unconstitutional. Rather, the plaintiffs are arguing that I-1366 should be set aside because it exceeds the scope of the initiative power.

It is very important to understand this distinction, because it underpins the case. As the Pacifica team noted in a letter to Attorney General Ferguson last week, there is a precedent for setting aside an initiative on scope grounds before an election.

The Supreme Court has recognized, however, that one basis for a pre-election challenge is where “the subject matter of the initiative is beyond the people’s initiative power.” Futurewise v. Reed, 161 Wn.2d 407, 411, 166 P.3d 708, 710 (2007).

To determine the subject matter of an initiative, the court looks at the “fundamental and overriding purpose” of the initiative. Philadelphia II v. Gregoire, 128 Wn.2d 707, 719, 911 P.2d 389, 390 (1996).

The “fundamental and overriding purpose” of I-1366, as evidenced by its title and its advertising, is to invoke the process to amend the state constitution to require a two-thirds legislative supermajority or a public vote for approval of any measure that “raises taxes”.

The power to invoke the constitutional amendment process is not part of the Article II legislative power. Rather that power stems from Article XXIII of the Constitution. Article XXIII establishes a process that is “manifestly distinct from that involved in the enactment of ordinary bills and laws” and requires first that two-thirds of each house of the legislature must agree to submit the proposed amendment and then it must be approved by a majority of the voters.

This process, with its inherent safeguards, is the only method by which our state constitution may be amended.

See Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 v. State, 142 Wn.2d 183, 232, 11 P.3d 762, 794, 27 P.3d 608 (2001) (The constitution may not be amended by statute or initiative.).

The Washington Supreme Court has definitively held that initiatives which seek to amend the constitution are not “legislative acts” and are therefore outside the scope of the initiative power.

See Ford v. Logan, 79 Wn.2d 147, 156, 483 P.2d 1247 (1971).

For the same reasons cited in Ford, the power to invoke the constitutional amendment process is outside the scope of the Article II legislative power. Under these circumstances, courts have granted injunctions to prevent the placement of improper initiatives on the ballot and avoid needless elections.

See Philadelphia II, 128 Wn.2d at 709.

The purpose of the above-excerpted letter to Ferguson was to ask him to rapidly initiate legal proceedings against I-1366.

Writing on behalf of Ferguson, Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even declined to do so within the short timeframe the plaintiffs gave him, and suggested the Pacifica team take action themselves on behalf of their clients — which they now have.

The plaintiffs’ prayer for relief in this case is pretty simple and straightforward. It principally asks for a declaratory judgment and an injunction to stop I-1366.

Plaintiffs request the following relief:

  1. That the Court enter a declaratory judgment that 1-1366 exceeds the scope of the initiative power and therefore violates Article II and Article XXIII of the Washington Constitution;
  2. Such other relief as may follow from entry of a declaratory judgment;
  3. Entry of an injunction prohibiting placement of 1-1366 on the ballot for the November 2015 general election;
  4. Reasonable attorney’s fees, expenses and costs to the fullest extent allowed by law and equity; and
  5. Any further relief this Court deems necessary and proper.

By August 14th, a King County Superior Court judge will likely hear oral arguments in the case, and consider further written briefs from the plaintiffs and the defendants. There may also be amicus briefs filed by other interested parties. This is a high-stakes case and there is likely to be a lot of interest.

Whoever loses will almost certainly appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court and ask for an expedited review. Ballots are due to be mailed to overseas and military voters in mid-September, and the printing of ballots and completion of the voter’s pamphlet statement needs to happen before then.

So there’s not a lot of time for this case to stretch out. The judiciary will need to move more quickly than it ordinarily does in order to hear this case before the voting begins in the 2015 general election. Whatever the Washington State Supreme Court decides – assuming it hears the case on appeal – will be final.

We can’t assume that the court will block I-1366. It’s simply wonderful that this legal challenge has been filed… and every Washingtonian who cares about upholding our Constitution and the values this state was founded upon should be grateful to Paul Lawrence and his colleagues tonight for bringing this action… but we need to be prepared for the possibility we won’t win.

That means continuing to organize opposition to I-1366.

We at NPI will definitely continue to cover this legal challenge and report on all developments. At the same time, our efforts to aid in the assembly of campaign infrastructure to fight I-1366 will go on as planned. We need to be ready for whatever happens. Should I-1366 stay on the ballot, it is deserving of nothing less than a diverse, compelling, and well-constructed opposition campaign.

Rent control in Seattle: Licata & Sawant make case at Town Hall debate

Editor’s Note: The team at NPI is very pleased to welcome Dominic Barrera to our staff. This is his first post for the Cascadia Advocate, concerning Monday’s forum on rent control at Town Hall Seattle. 

Following the release of Seattle’s contentious HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee) report, a debate on potential rent control legislation for the city was held Monday at Town Hall Seattle. First-term city councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, joined progressive champion and outgoing city councilman Nick Licata arguing in favor of exploring options to stabilize rent hikes in the city. Speaking in opposition were real estate lobbyist Roger Valdez and Matt Manweller, a Republican Washington State Representative and political science professor from Ellensburg. The debate was moderated by former city councilman Peter Steinbrueck.

A diverse crowd that included landlords, students, workers, and elected officials filled the First Hill auditorium to capacity. The spattering of red campaign t-shirts made it apparent that Sawant’s fiery supporters were out in force as well. Raucous cheers erupted following her every statement, and were sometimes paralleled by interjections or hissing aimed at Manweller or Valdez, both of whom too often ignored the nuanced debate at hand, choosing instead to lean on tired and overgeneralized clichés of market-suffocating government intervention.

Nick Licata opened by addressing the inevitable laissez-faire argument that the marketplace produces affordable options when it is allowed to work freely. “Is it working?” he asked. In a time when a majority of renters are paying more than a third of their income on rent, the obvious answer from either side of the argument would be a resounding “no.” Through building codes that protect neighborhoods and tax codes that promote development, Licata reasoned that the housing market is already supported by government interventions that work. As it stands, though, we have no way of addressing skyrocketing rents as a result of speculative price gouging. Housing construction in the city has been booming, yet prices have risen higher in Seattle than any other major American city since 2010, according to US Census data.

Despite the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the issue, Kshama Sawant clarified that her proposal is just a part of a larger plan to stabilize the rental market by linking rent increases to inflation, rather than the outdated model of setting a price ceiling. Tailored policy approaches have been successfully implemented in major cities across the world in recent years. Still, some loopholes, such as those in San Francisco created by the Costa-Hawkins act, which exempts single family homes and condominiums from regulation even if they are being leased out, skew numbers in certain neighborhoods. While the ideas being discussed for Seattle would hardly result in the kind of state choke-hold on the market that some opponents claim, Sawant noted that even the slightest attempt to address rent increases of 30-100+% (that generally equate to economic evictions) will “bring down the entire might of the real estate lobby,” because even though developers and property owners would remain profitable, they would not be allowed to make the drastically inflated profits they enjoy today.

Roger Valdez argued that rent control discourages commercial development and does nothing for new families moving to the city. With a somewhat brow-furrowing metaphor, he simplistically likened the affordable housing crisis to a bread shortage, saying in such a case “we would produce more, not impose price limits on the loaves we have.” The entire argument, he claims, is also “a waste of time,” as rent controls are not currently legal due to a statewide ban implemented by the legislature in 1981 following an earlier Seattle rent control movement. “We need solutions now,” he said, though the only specific he offered was a plan (also supported by Council member Sawant) to sell unused publicly-owned land to housing developers.

After a lecture about banishing ideology in favor of hard facts, Matt Manweller (who has never lived in Seattle) placed the blame for the shortage of affordable housing entirely on the City Council. He argued that land use and zoning regulations make real estate projects so costly that property owners have no choice but to charge such high prices. He cited the HALA report as supporting this point, saying the only way for Seattle to combat such dramatic price increases would be up-zoning and giving greater freedom to developers. Manweller also sees the city’s crackdown on micro-apartments as stifling innovation, arguing that the tiny dorm-style units brought affordable options to the market.

A quick comparison of micro-apartments against other rental units in the neighborhood shows that these “affordable” options often rent for more than four times the price per square foot. Residents are also faced with greater restrictions including being limited to only one person per unit and three month lease terms that may allow for more frequent rent hikes. Valdez himself lives in one such micro unit and spoke in support of them. He failed to acknowledge, however, that tiny does not equal affordable. Valdez’s 220 square foot unit rents for $1,350/month, according to a January 2015 report by The Stranger’s Heidi Groover.

Ultimately, Valdez and Manweller’s arguments against rent stabilization leaned entirely on the premise that new housing development is the only way to bring prices down.
Licata noted, and the opposition conceded, that new developments are always built to be rented for the highest possible rates. Developers espouse a trickle-down real estate theory, with prices easing on older units as the new ones become available. But with such rapidly inflating prices for the new units increasing market rates across the board, new development alone will never satisfy the city’s need for affordable housing. Sawant agreed that rising rents are normal. Constantly skyrocketing rents, on the other hand, are not a result of simple supply and demand. Instead, she says, we are witnessing deliberate price gouging by developers with the upper hand, holding ransom assets necessary to life and a thriving city.

The opposition’s narrow focus on commercial development interests ignored legitimate concerns about rent control that would have been much more likely to resonate with middle-class Seattleites. Monthly proceeds from a rental home or two remain a necessary piece of total household income for some working families, and a policy written to curtail corporate greed may have unintended consequences on this less stable minority of the market share. This is a key piece of the debate that should not be ignored, and an example of the ineffectiveness of giving a lobbyist and an ideologue the most public critical voices on such intricate policy proposals. Exemptions for such cases (say, any individual not tied to a larger real estate holding company that operates three or fewer units) could, of course, be written into any eventual legislation. Still, uncommon sense would suggest that rent increases for these homes would track the larger local market trend, regardless of their inclusion in the law.

The pro-rent control side also failed to mention a key issue in the larger housing crisis worsened by an unfettered rental market. Of the thousands of foreclosed homes in the Seattle-area currently sitting off-market, many of those most centrally located are being held by speculative developers for years, waiting for the right time to tear down, build up, and cash in.

They also did not speak to properties being taken off the market and held as investments by foreign or out of state interests, decreasing the supply and driving up prices for both renters and owner-occupant purchases. The potential of a stabilizing effect on rent increases in surrounding suburbs that are not subject to city policy was another intriguing aspect that should be taken into account as a way of improving what is truly a regional crisis.

Licata and Sawant did make very clear that, as it stands now, we are paying incalculable public costs. Just as we as a nation cannot solve our healthcare crisis with taxpayer subsidies alone while allowing insurers and pharmaceutical companies to run wild, Seattle cannot continue to make sacrifices as a society to subsidize runaway corporate real estate profits.

This is only the beginning of what must be an in-depth, regional conversation with carefully drafted policy that includes rent stabilization and tenants’ rights. Representative Manweller himself states on his legislative website that “decisions on land use… should be made by local elected leaders, not in Olympia.”

The state legislature must lift its Cold War-era ban on municipal rent controls so that Seattle can study, discuss, and draft a comprehensive housing affordability plan that prevents price gauging by politically and economically powerful real estate corporations.

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“We have to make them give it to us”: the power of organizing to push for immigrant rights

In the last panel for the day before the closing keynote, the panelist discuss the efforts that have been made to make sure the voices of immigrants are being heard and policy gains are made. The panel was moderated by former AZ state senator Alfredo Gutierrez, who spoke as part of the opening keynote Thursday evening. He introduced each of the panelists and then delved into the topic.

“No one is going to give it to us because of a good heart. We have to make them give it to us”, said Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice-President of the AFL-CIO. He spoke on past marches for immigration rights and work being done in DC, trying to figure out a way to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Marisa Franco, who was also part of the Thursday keynote, spoke on ending Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline, she explained, is when groups of people who are undocumented are brought in, and as a group are prosecuted and sentenced, with only one lawyer representing them, stating quite clearly (and quite obviously) that it is a perversion of justice. She also touched on the need for people who are about these issues, people who are allies, to take greater responsibility and action to move for greater justice. “We don’t just need allies, we need champions”, she explained, people who are willing to be as brave as people who are undocumented that face fear and arrest every day of their lives.

Arturo Carmona, the executive director of Presente.org, which Senator Gutierrez described as similar to “MoveOn.org” and responsible for getting Lou Dobbs off the air, talked about the work they do framing the debate and responding to statements by candidates like Donald Trump, responding directly to candidates, which they didn’t really do in the 2008 election cycle. He called comprehensive immigration reform a “vague promise”, not a specific policy which will have real results in the lives of immigrants.

The conversation moved into talking about the dynamics between DC and organizers on the ground. How some people are better at certain things, whether policy, legislative work, or organizing is important to the movement, but an idea Marisa Franco hammered on was that to many in DC the issues don’t matter as much, aren’t as important, because they “don’t have skin in the game”, and thus has a myopic view on what’s needed for immigration reform and other issues. She also pointed out the importance of diversifying funding so that the movement can keep moving forward and build on their successes.

Erika Andiola, another participant in the Thursday keynote, was the last panelist on the panel, and spoke on the beginning of efforts to push for the DREAM Act and focusing on it because a lot of young folks organizing saw that comprehensive immigration reform wasn’t going to be possible, and how they were getting pushed to not talk about the DREAM Act by other folks and organizations. This seems have become a bigger theme on the panel, that there’s a giant disconnect between the people on the ground and the policy wonks in the Capitol community.

In terms of making concrete steps forward to strengthen the movement, the panelists went through many different topics, from using data and data mining to help people who are undocumented every step of the way, consolidating progressives in the immigrant rights movement to strengthen the sway they have in helping to set policy, and changing the conversation to stop delineating between “good” and “bad” immigrants.

We went into audience questions, where topics included driving a wedge between chambers of commerce and the right-wing, nativist candidates they fund, why organizers are focusing on the President, and not Congress, and how immigration issues from the 90s to today have been shuffled from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice, to the Department of Homeland Security. All in all, it was a great panel.

We’ll be posting live coverage of the closing keynote soon, so stay tuned!

Netroots Nation organizers respond after presidential town hall disrupted by protest

Organizers for Netroots Nation this afternoon released a statement responding to the events that transpired during this morning’s presidential town hall in Phoenix. For those who weren’t there and weren’t watching the livestream, the town hall was supposed to be a civil conversation with former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, but turned chaotic when a group of Black Lives Matter protestors entered the room to voice their anger and frustration with systemic racism in America from the floor of the convention hall.

Many attendees were expecting that the protestors would ultimately march out after having made their point, but they stayed in place for the duration of the event and continued to periodically shout and chant, preventing moderator Jose Vargas from respectfully finishing up the conversation with O’Malley and then hampering Vargas from facilitating a conversation with Sanders.

Netroots Nation organizers released a statement in response, saying:

Netroots Nation stands in solidarity with all people seeking human rights. With today’s Town Hall, our aim was to give presidential candidates a chance to respond to the issues facing the many diverse communities represented here.

Although we wish the candidates had more time to respond to the issues, what happened today is reflective of an urgent moment that America is facing today.

In 2016, we’re heading to St. Louis. We plan to work with activists there just as we did in Phoenix with local leaders, including the #BlackLivesMatter movement, to amplify issues like racial profiling and police brutality in a major way.

It is necessary and vital to continue this conversation. We look forward to doing so in the coming year.

It’s important to know that this is hardly the first time a Netroots Nation event has been crashed or disrupted. For instance, last year’s keynote by Vice President Joe Biden was interrupted by DREAMers and protesters seeking justice for new Americans. The convention’s response to those activists was to bring Netroots Nation to Phoenix and make immigration reform its 2015 theme.

But previous disruptions have generally been temporary. In this case, the event really didn’t get back on track after being crashed. Moderator Jose Vargas seemed unsure of how to handle the protestors. It’s unfortunate, because the whole point of the town hall was to hear O’Malley’s and Sanders’ vision for our country, including their responses to questions from the community.

In 2007, when it was known as YearlyKos, Netroots Nation had a fantastic Presidential Leadership forum that drew all but one of the declared Democratic candidates. It’s unfortunate that this conference didn’t have a forum like that.

America needs progressive leadership: A town hall with Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley

Welcome to our continuing coverage of Netroots Nation 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona! Our first convention-wide session of the day is a town hall discussion with presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, who are seeking the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination along with Hillary Clinton, Lincoln Chafee, and James Webb. Clinton was invited to today’s event, but declined to participate; for reasons we can’t fathom, Chafee and Webb were not invited.

We will be liveblogging the town hall in real time once it gets started. Patrick from our staff will report on Martin O’Malley’s remarks, while Rennie will cover Bernie Sanders’ remarks. Enjoy our live coverage of this town hall conversation, and leave any comments or questions in the thread below.

10:36 AM: Jose Antonio Vargas takes the stage to introduce himself, welcome the candidates (who will speak one at a time), and set the theme for the event.

10:41 AM: Vargas talks about immigration issues and asks about presidential candidates if they know where they come from (in reference to the nativist statements by candidates like Donald Trump). Asks if they know,”that white is not a country”?

10:42 AM: Vargas also brings up the root causes of immigraton, asks to the audience why no one is talking about NAFTA, why people are immigration.

10:43 AM: Martin O’Malley takes the stage, introduces himself. Talks about his work as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor to make progress.

Martin O'Malley at Netroots Nation 2015

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley speaks at Netroots Nation 2015 during the presidential town hall (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

10:46 AM: O’Malley states his support for the $15 minimum wage. Asks how many people think their children will have a better life than they did. Not many hands were raised, O’Malley called the group optimistic compared to other groups he’s talked to.

10:48 AM: Goes over his successes as Governor. Outlines why he’s the best Democratic candidate. 15 years of executive experience, actually having concrete victories.

10:49 AM: Jose Antonio Vargas asks O’Malley about his being heckled when he announced running for president for being the “father of mass incarceration” in Baltimore city. Asked about what concrete actions he would take to ensure that Black Lives Matter.

10:51 AM: O’Malley isn’t doing well answering the question. Trying to defend what happened during his announcement, denigrate the people who heckled him.

10:55 AM: Have to be tougher on fighting to stop extreme poverty.

10:56 AM: O’Malley says that we need to stop the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

10:57: Jose Antonio Vargas commends O’Malley for having the broadest and most specific immigration proposal. Asks how O’Malley how he would deal with private federal prisons having minimum bed quota. O’Malley says he opposes private prisons and “is not thrilled” about public prisons either.

11:00: Asks O’Malley about Warren’s call for candidates to pledge to support the “revolving door” bill to prevent conflicts-of-interest in regulatory bodies. O’Malley says he supported it before Warren issued the call.

11:02: Social Security expansion is brought up. O’Malley supports it.

11:04: Black Lives Matter protesters come up to the front of the stage. Tia Oso from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration comes up to the stage with, gives context about the land we’re standing on, the creation of the BlackLivesMatter hashtag, and the anniversary of the date of the death of Eric Garner. Brings up that 25% percent of black immigrant refugees who are here as political refugees because of US foreign policy.

11:09: Oso says that if we are to be a progressive space, must acknowledge the black women that have been the core of a progressive movements in the country.

11:11: Protesters say the name of black women who have been killed by police in the recent months.

11:17: Patrice, one of the co-founders of BlackLivesMatter, comes to the stage, saying that the protesters “don’t like shutting #$%& down, but are being shut down everyday”. Black folks are in a state of emergency, and if people are aren’t recognizing it, those folks “aren’t human”.

11:18: O’Malley answering, saying that that we wants every police department to have a citizen review board, having the funding to hire private detectives.

11:23: O’Malley drew boos from the audience by saying “Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter.”

11:25: O’Malley’s time is up, leaves the stage, Bernie Sanders come up onto the stage.

Bernie Sanders waves

Bernie Sanders waves to attendees of Netroots Nation (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

11:26 : Sanders opened by stating “We live in a nation where media is controlled by large corporations.” Sanders continued by describing how lopsided the media is: 95% of talk radio is controlled by conservatives; conservatives own their own TV networks. Then he praised Netroots Nation as an organization that is very important in getting the people’s messages heard.

11:30: Sanders says that there is good news and bad news. The good news is that most of what we believe, the vast majority of Americans also believe. The Black Lives Matters protesters began yelling disruptively again at this point. Sanders turns to the moderator and asks “Do you want me to continue, or should I leave?” The moderator encouraged Sanders to continue.

11:33: Sanders attempts to continue with: “The issue that we are talking about is [inequality has been the greatest that it has ever been] and we need to do something about it! The top 0.1% owns as much wealth as the bottom 99%. Maybe that is why we need to overturn Citizens United.” There are loud cheers from the audience, however chanting sounds can still be heard from Black Lives Matter.

11:36: Sanders continues saying that a litmus test he will use to appoint Supreme Court Justices is that they will be in favor of overturning the Citizens United case. There was more disruptive noise from Black Lives Matters and Sanders tries to speak to them and says “A study came out about youth unemployment in America. White youth have an unemployment rate of 33%. Hispanic youth have an unemployment rate of 36%. African-Americans have an unemployment rate of 51%! It is time to invest in jobs and education and not jails and incarceration.” There is applause from the audience.

11:40: Sanders continues “The only way in my view to transform America is to turn a grass-roots movement into a political revolution.” Sanders states that he is the only presidential candidate that will say that there will need to be a political revolution to achieve what has to be done. “This country needs to work for all of us and not just for a handful of us.” Applause from the audience temporarily drowns out the chants of Black Lives Matter.

11:45: Black Lives Matter become loud and disruptive again. Bernie waits and then tries to speak to them again “Black people are dying in this country because we have a criminal justice system that is out of control. A black male baby has a 1 in 4 chance of being jailed.” Noise from Black Lives Matter continues. Bernie continues by saying “What we are going to do is make tuition free for all public colleges and universities. We are going to push policies to create decent jobs with decent wages. We are going to repair and improve out crumbling infrastructure and fundamentally reform police agencies.”

11:50 A Black Lives Matter yells out something like “How are you going to help us?” Sanders answers by talk about the Affordable Care Act making healthcare available to the poor and that $12 million was used to invest in community healthcare centers in poor areas of the country. The noise from Black Lives Matter grows louder.

11:53 Sanders is questioned about his “no” vote on the 2007 immigration bill. Sanders explains that there were too many corporate giveaways in that bill. He says that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce really wanted that bill to pass. He continues “Why does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce want immigration reform? The good part of the bill is that it will take 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. The not so good part is the increase in H-1B Visas and other guest worker Visas that will bring cheap labor to the U.S.” Bernie continues saying that he voted for the last immigration bill because it had a provision to create jobs for youth, which is a very important issue for him. Bernie stresses that he is against corporate interests that try to add provisions

11:57: Black lives Matter continues loud chanting. Bernie continues to talk over them saying “The problem is the congress that we have is not for the American people. We have a lot of work to do to change congress.” There is applause. Sanders returns to the subject of education and says that he has introduced a bill for free tuition at public colleges and universities. Sanders tries to continue to talk about the student debt crisis but the disruption just becomes too much. Sanders ends his speech and walks off the stage.

Voting rights are for everyone: returning citizen disenfranchisement and expanding democracy

We started the last day of Netroots Nation at “Voter Rights Restoration and the Move Toward a Growing Democracy: How We Get There”. It was a packed panel table, apparently because it was a merger of two panels to talk about restoring voting rights for previously incarcerated individuals and growing democracy for everyone.

We started, as with most panels, with a few words by the moderator(s) and introduction of the panelists. Elias Isquith, writer at Salon Media, went first into the historical background of voting rights, drawing right off the bat the connection between mass incarceration (and it’s disenfranchising effects) and upholding white supremacy. The next panelist, Nicole Austin-Hilary, director at the Brennan Center for Justice, echoed Elias and went further into describing how much there’s been a turnaround between how people think about voting rights for previously incarcerated individuals, especially in D.C. She mentions how there’s even bipartisan cooperation on this issue (with some policy differences).

We heard a powerful story from Desmond Meade, who was formerly homeless and previously incarcerated, and came from almost committing suicide to going to school and graduating from undergraduate, law school, and becoming the president and state director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and the Live Free Campaign. His story doesn’t have a happy ending, he says, because he still can’t vote, still can’t get housing, still can’t get admitted to the bar, all because his rights haven’t been restored yet. 2 million people don’t have their full rights in Florida, a figure, he mentions, is bigger than the population of fifteen states. He highlights the importance of using the term “returning citizens” instead of “ex-felons” or “ex-cons”, because these are folks seeking to return to society and return to become members of the community they were torn away from.

State Senator Jamie Raskin of Maryland (and candidate for Congress for MD-8), went first into talking about how the United States started as a slave republic with only white male property owners over the age of 21 having voting rights, only expanding voting rights through a process of continual struggle. He then explained that disenfranchising previously incarcerated individuals has no positive social benefit (seeing that not being able to vote has no rehabilitative purpose), and has the only real purpose of swinging the election a certain way by purging people from the rolls. This finished the part of the panel about restoring rights for returning citizens, and moved on to the panelists who were talking about expanding democracy as a whole.

Tova Wang, the Director of Democracy Programs for the Communications Workers of America, has went into the traditional talking points about how Congress, corporations after Citizens United, and the Supreme Court have been attacking voting rights and labor rights, making the Federal Elections Commission pretty much unworkable, attempting to do the same for the National Labor Relations Board, and undermining voting rights.

Matt Singer from the Bus Federation talks about moving beyond systems reform, and mobilizing people to vote, especially people who have never voted before. This includes highlighting places where returning citizens already have the right to vote, and mobilizing people to vote to ensure there’s a push for greater reforms.

We then went into audience questions, and the panelists delved into topics such as state laws on voting rights for people on parole or probation, how to include relatives and loved ones of returning citizens into stakeholder groups and coalitions, and someone plugging a video contest for people pushing a constitutional amendment against Citizens United.

In my opinions it was one of the best panels of the conference. Next up is the Presidential Town Hall with Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley!

#NN15: Ending Inequality For All

Panel on ending inequality for all / credit: Rennie Sawade

Panel on ending inequality for all / credit: Rennie Sawade

This panel, led by Charles Chamberlain, is a discussion on the issues of inequality in the workplace and how progressives can tackle these issues.

Panelists include: Elba Diaz, Rep. Donna Edwards, Rep. Keith Ellison, Analilia Mejia, Amanda Monroe

The country has turned a critical eye toward the historic gap between the 1 percent and the rest of America. We’ve won significant income inequality victories, from ballot measures to state legislatures‚ but we know we still have a long way to go before we overcome what President Obama has called the “defining challenge of our time.” This panel will examine the progress we’ve made and the challenges and opportunities ahead in addressing income inequality.

One of the arguments businesses use for not investing in their workers is cost. However, businesses invest in their upper income employees because they see it as a long-term benefit for the company. In reality, the same is true for the lower paid workers.

A recurring theme in this panel as in earlier panels is that issues, such as inequality, need to be made an electoral issue. Not only do we need to reach out to voters to ask them to vote, we need to give them something to vote for. Candidates must make issues, such as inequality, part of their campaign platform.

The panel includes fast food workers including one who works at Wendy’s and one that works for McDonald’s. It is not fair that these workers cannot afford essentials for their families, such as buying shoes or other items that kids need. It is not fair to the worker that their wages are so low that they are forced to collect food stamps. Fast food workers are organizing to demand respect in the workplace and a living wage so that they can provide for their families.

One initiative is the “Fight for 15” which is a call to action to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Fighting for the $15 minimum wage was successful in Seattle and continues to get attention across the country. Workers in the fast food industry are beginning to stand up for their rights as workers, and as human beings, because they deserve to be paid a living wage.

One example of working with tough state governors and legislators is in New Jersey, where Chris Christie vowed to veto any minimum wage increase. The strategy was to work on more of a local level. Working on getting a minimum wage passed in large cities is may be easier to do and difficult for governors to ignore. Also working on these issues in neighboring states is another way to apply pressure to these governors. This is another recurring theme here at NN15, start organizing locally and get successes locally, which in turn puts pressure on higher levels of government.

Another fact raised in this discussion is that single mothers and married mothers are the most progressive voters of any other group. It is expected that these groups will outnumber their counterparts in the 2016 election. The issue is that this group is also the group who has a very low voter turnout. The time is right to get out and organize to get these women to vote. It is more important now than ever to make voting easier. Many single mothers are working 2 or more jobs. They need easy access to the ballot box. Early voting and vote by mail are also essential to increase voter turnout.

An important thing to remember and an item to frame the argument around for voters, is that taxpayers are subsidizing these big corporations such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Wal-Mart. Because these corporations are not paying living wages, taxpayers are saddled with paying for food stamps and other services that these workers are relying on to survive.

A panelist brought up that we have a fight with another NRA, which is the National Restaurant Association. This organization is very regressive and fights actions to raise the quality of life for restaurant workers.

Another related topic, corporate welfare was discussed as an inequality issue. Corporations benefit from community works such as infrastructure, so corporations should be expected to pay their fair share to support those community benefits.

Rennie Sawade

How the progressive Arizona of the 1900s morphed into Tea Party Arizona: A history

Good morning from Phoenix! Our live coverage of Netroots Nation continues all day today, the middle day of the convention. The first activities today are breakout sessions, and I’ve decided to attend How Progressive Arizona Became Tea Party Arizona. The synopsis of this panel is as follows:

Arizona entered the Union in 1912 as a progressive state, enshrining in its Constitution citizen power over elected officials in at least three major ways: initiative, referendum and recall.

All have been used repeatedly to enact public policy, recently, for example, in the historic recall of Russell Pearce. Unions have historically been robust in the state and still are today. Yet all statewide elected officials today are Republican, and the state legislature is overrun with Tea Party conservatives. How did this happen? And more importantly, what can be done to revitalize and re-empower progressives and progressive policy?

The panel’s moderator is Joel Wright. Panelists include former State Senator Alfredo Gutierrez, Heidi Osselaer, Dan Shilling, and Pacific Northwest transplant Jon Talton (who writes on economics for The Seattle Times) .

Dan Shilling kicked off the discussion for us by providing a thorough overview of Arizona’s history. He began his remarks with the observation that Arizona has been a home to human beings for thousands of years, despite being the youngest of the lower forty-eight states. Twenty-two tribes still endure today in Arizona, and the Hopi and Navajo Nations are among the first peoples with the largest reservations.

Arizona’s economy has been shaped significantly by industries like agriculture and mining. It also benefited from the United States’ entry into World Wars I and II. Its infrastructure and development were made possible by the people of the United States (think Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon National Park, Central Arizona Project).

In the words of Shilling: “The state could not exist without federal largesse.”

Heidi Osselaer followed Shilling, and gave us an excellent primer on the history of women in politics in Arizona. For decades at the turn of the twentieth century, politics in Arizona (as elsewhere) was considered by men to be the domain of men, and women were not openly welcome in either the Democratic of Republican parties. As a consequence, women got organized through women’s clubs. They worked for causes like suffrage, an end to child labor, and Prohibition.

But a lot has changed between then and now.

In the 1990s, Arizona made history by electing five women to the highest offices in Arizona (governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, and superintendent of public instruction). Prior to the inauguration of current Republican Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona had had a succession of three women governors: Jane Dee Hull, Janet Napolitano, and Jan Brewer.

How Progressive Arizona Became Tea Party Arizona

The panelists of How Progressive Arizona Became Tea Party Arizona. Jon Talton is speaking. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Seattle Times columnist Jon Talton, an Arizona native, was the next to speak. Echoing and expanding on Dan’s comments, he reiterated that Arizona entered the Union during the midst of Progressive Era, with a Constitution that provided for the initiative, the referendum, and the recall. Uniquely, Arizona’s Constitution also created an elected body called the Corporations Commission, which is charged with regulating most publicly-owned corporations within the state.

Talton reminded the audience that the Progressives of the 1900s were from a different time, and did not hold all of the beliefs and principles that progressives of today do (though the values they believed in are the same values we believe in).

In the early decades of statehood, Arizona was mostly rural, and run by Democrats. Democratic hegemony lasted through the Depression and World War II, but began to be more competitive during Harry Truman’s presidency, in part due to Truman’s unpopularity. It was during Truman’s last year as president that the state elected libertarian conservative Barry M. Goldwater, turning out longtime U.S. Senate Majority leader Ernest McFarland by a narrow margin.

Alfredo Gutierrez was the last panelist to speak, and focused on the emergence of Arizona’s major cities and suburbs as the centers of population and political power. Pragmatic Democrats and Republicans from urban areas used to work together, once upon a time, to develop institutions like Arizona State University, he said.

But those days are over. The Arizona Republicans of the twenty-first century are an extreme, militant, xenophobic party whose members are impossible to work with… the kind of Republicans who think Joe Arpaio and Donald Trump walk on water.

“We have always been a southern state,” Gutierrez observed.

The panel wrapped up by taking a few questions from the audience. Most of the questions concerned points raised by panelists earlier in the discussion.

The chief concern of the panel and audience members is the weakness of the Democratic Party in Arizona. Republicans have control of statewide offices and also the Legislature, which has resulted in many bad policies getting enacted, with Sb 1070 being the most famous example.

Our movement has not done a good job of organizing new Americans and getting them out to the polls, which is perhaps the most important reason why Republicans continue to win elections in Arizona despite having anti-immigrant views.

“The people who tend to vote in Arizona are old white Anglos,” Talton pointed out.

“Democrats do not have a chance unless you have an Arizona Democratic Party that figures out a way to stand up and fight,” he added, to enthusiastic applause.

Netroots Nation panel tackles the question: How do we build progressive political power?

Welcome to the second day of Netroots Nation 2015! We’re kicking things off today with a another round of breakout sessions. I’m at a panel on building progressive political power, moderated by Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN). Netroots Nation has a livestream for this panel, which we have embedded below:

 

This panel showcased mutliple perspectives on how progressives have lost political power over the last forty years because of well-funded and organized conservative efforts. We started the core content of the session with a daunting presentation by Nick Rathod for the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), which showed how much money these organizations actually have, and the number of legislatures progressives have lost in these years.Building PP2

The panel then moved to Colorado State Senator Jessie Ulibarri, who talked about his experiences inside the Colorado legislature, and what’s needed to move towards better policy and better candidates, saying “[w]hat we need are folks who can authentically hold on to their values, and be unapologetic about it.”

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spoke on the gains that the New York City has been able to make with a progressive city council. This illuminated as an example what Senator Ulibarri said earlier, that having a progressive legislative body allows you to set the rules and go on the offense for a better society. Even so, she talked about how the number of women in office has been rolled back, and on this key issue there’s still much more work to do.

Michael Sargeant from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has been the resident redistricting expert in panels both yesterday and today, talked about how the DLCC works with local candidates to make sure there’s a strong campaign which is adaptable to the local area the candidate is running, and how critical this work will be to overcome the gerrymandering which emerged from Republican control of state legislatures after the last census.

Rep. Ellison then asked the panelist how important an inside/outside strategy is, where grassroots organizers and elected officials work together to pass progressive policy. Everyone was in agreement, and Senator Ulibarri talked about how it’s critical for him, because he only has a part-time legislative staff member to help him on issues, meaning that there just isn’t enough time in the day to coordinate moving progressive policy forward. If there wasn’t outside organizations and individuals he can trust, then the work they are able to do is limited.

We then moved to audience questions, where the panelists took multiple questions at the same and then weaved their way through the questions. One of the most compelling statements were by Rep. Ellison, who explained that the reason progressives might not push policy forward strongly is that many progressives suspect people in power, and thus when they have power may be reluctant to use that power to further progressive goals.

It was a great panel, and there’s a lot more discussion to be had on building funding and coordination between our movements. Next up, Elizabeth Warren’s keynote!

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