#CharleenaLyles (Or: #DisarmPolice)

I think the title says it all. 

Here's the thing - the Charleena Lyles murder was completely avoidable. What we know: the officers responding were discussing her prior interactions with police on their way to her apartment. They knew about her mental health. They knew they were going into a transitional housing complex. 

Yet when they exited their vehicle, they declined to bring non-lethal "weapons." Or they did, and just didn't bother to use them. When a police officer exits his vehicle to respond to a 911 call from someone who may be having issues with their grasp on reality, and they are aware that that person is poor, black, and in transitional housing, then that officer is setting themselves up to kill someone. 

Many have expressed the outrage over this completely avoidable incident. This is further proof that the delay in implementation of police reform - thanks to spineless politicians, a U.S. Attorney who said good things but was unable to get meaningful action, an overseer from a corrupt police department, and a guild that cares more about themselves than the communities that they are expected to serve - will continue to lead to people dying. Specifically - we will see more black and brown people dying, being harassed, and feeling unsafe, all thanks to a bunch of white folks who want to be allies, but for some reason can't stand up and get shit done. 

There is no doubt that Council Member Gonzalez's police reform measures are a tremendous start, and I believe will reap rewards. As she has stated: this is a first step. There is more work to do. And that happens at both the state and local level. 

For one, it's time to remove the option of deadly force from police officers generally. Seattle Police have shown they are incapable of de-escalation on a grand scale, regardless of training. Non-lethal devices to subdue individuals who may be posing an immediate threat to themselves, officers, or the public should be plenty. Only those who have exhibited the ability to carry a firearm, but not use it as a first line of response, should be allowed to bring firearms to a scene when called. 

Next, we need to change state law that shields officers from being held accountable. There has been great work on this already, and it will take the efforts of people across the state to get it over the finish line. 

Further, changing state law to allow for departments to have residency requirements for officers. Being part of the community is an important part of community policing, and we should be able to make that either a requirement, or a major bonus for officers seeking to serve in Seattle. 

There are other big changes in culture we can and should make. Bringing members from the community into the department, regardless of citizenship status, and providing pay to work to build trust in both directions. Adding points for Peace Corps service commensurate with armed forces service. Community service hours requirements. 

Reformation of the criminal "justice" system touches on many parts, and I'll be getting back to my incarceration series next week. But the murder of Charleena Lyles is too important to not remind us of the need for drastic reforms. And it's a statewide need - through work, I have had to review the footage of the Antonio Zambrano Montes shooting in Pasco. We need statewide reforms, and we can lead in Seattle, while supporting measures like Initiative 940 (de-escalate Washington) to take action where legislators have not. Because if we don't, there will be more Charleena Lyles, More Antonio Zambrano Montes. More John T. Williams. I like to think we can be better than that.  

#YouthJustice

I admit that I am always fascinated with how people read into #Hashtag. For a living, I read into case law and statutes to find the result that I want. I try to be objective, but that doesn't always work - so sometimes I have to have someone else read a case, and get their take on what it says. One time I asked an intern to review a case, and just let me know "yes" or "no" whether it said what I thought it might say. He wrote a memo. It did not. My suspicion of my own reading was proven useful. 

With #YouthJail, it is very interesting how people took my writing to support their position. I do feel that, generally, my personal Facebook had a pretty good conversation about justice as it applies to youth. I think some folks were surprised that I don't support abolishing all youth incarceration facilities. But at the same time, my post (I thought) was pretty clear that incarceration must be reserved for the most heinous of crimes, and even then be geared more toward rehabilitation with family support than punitive action. I also must note and acknowledge that I'm writing about this in a very narrow way - not touching on the other areas of public investment and policy changes that must accompany statutory and regulatory changes around incarceration itself. Education, health care access, food access, jobs, equity in municipal contracts, policies to build wealth in oppressed communities - I could go on and on and on. But I am trying to limit myself in individual posts.

Here are some previous posts that really should be read as concurrent policy positions with this series. Public policy does not live in a vacuum, and while I can't touch on each aspect during every post, I confess I'm normally thinking about many of them (and editing accordingly). Sometimes I learn something new after the fact, too. And then that sticks with me. And yes. This is a series (albeit a brief series).

One of the things that comes up with talking about youth justice is the prosecution of 16- and 17-year-old children as adults. The idea being that they are close enough to 18, and the crimes so vicious, that it is justifiable to treat a 17-year-old defendant as if he had the same mental capacity and understanding of consequences as a 35-year-old. This is wrong. I'm not sure how many people can defend this with a straight face, and regardless of the rarity, that it happens at all is a travesty of justice. 

But this begs a different question: what happens at 18? Why is 18 such a magic number? As I understand, brain development has not completed at 18. Initial adult life experiences definitely have not occurred. The actual application of "justice" is wildly disproportionate at 18 based on skin color - white boys sure seem to get away with a boatload of awful things. 

While we need massive overhaul to our justice system in this state, change moves at a slow pace. My ideal - a restorative justice system akin to Norway and Sweden - is not something that happens overnight. And waiting on the ideal alone perpetuate the harm of the present. This is why I'm supportive of the idea of chipping away at the present through reforms more politically palatable and achievable. 

Take sentencing guidelines and incarceration: The purpose of trying a juvenile as an adult is to get a sentencing range that would be given to a 35-year-old committing a similar crime. But a 22-year-old, frankly, also shouldn't be a situation wherein they will serve the same sentence as a 35-year-old. Enter a tiered sentencing guideline system. 

See, I don't believe there is a magic switch at 18. In fact, studies indicate that brain maturity occurs well into people's 20's. So why is it that we have two sentencing guidelines; one for under-18, one for over-18 (and sometimes 16/17)? If I were a policy maker in Olympia, I would want to get neuroscientists, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and advocates in a room for a day, and have the conversation about what our current sentencing guidelines means in practice. 

As an initial thought, I do believe that we should have a guideline for individuals convicted of offenses committed between 18-24, another for 25-29, and a final for 30+. Such guidelines can and should include more diversion programs and community-based support investments in individuals having a tough time. Going back to the root causes of crime, the disproportionate impact those causes have on communities of color, and the exacerbation of an inherently racist justice system, I do believe that if we refuse to give up on people, particularly young people who are much more likely to benefit from restorative justice programs built up from communities, we will have better outcomes. 

This of course necessarily extends to confinement. Not only what it looks like physically, but what the investments are in the intervention programs for both the convicted individual, and their family and support system outside of jail. This is an area where we have continually failed, and the cost is more recidivism, and increased financial costs to the State due to incarceration.

But also to what we do once someone has served their sentence. What job support are we giving people exiting the system (and what support and training are we providing during their stay - more on that in the next part of this series). While we are doing good things on the policy side to "ban the box" in housing and employment, there should also be more efforts at actually connecting people exiting prisons with jobs - particularly those who are under 30. In federal prisons, nearly 20% of inmates are under 30. By providing actual restorative systems, I do believe we can dramatically reduce the rates at which these folks make a return trip. 

Of course, we can't talk about incarceration of young people without mentioning the worst statistic. 40% of the U.S. prison population is black - compared to 13% of the general population. In Washington, it's even worse. - 18% of our prison and jail population is black, compared to 4% of our state population. (edit: I'm not great at math, apparently, and thank you to folks for correcting this glaring error). 

This is where pinging back to the broader systemic issues in our society comes right back up again. What steps are policy makers taking to ensure true equity in public investment, and build wealth in communities that have been historically (and currently) harmed by racist policies? 

But also what are we doing in the justice system. Does it make sense to continue the status quo - in particular for the 18-29 age range - or do we build on programs that are currently reserved for juveniles, and expand community-based and built systems - ones that are from communities, not at communities - to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes? 

Some of this goes back to current sentencing guidelines and diversion programs, and there is a question of how much leniency prosecutors and judges should have (not for downward departures to prevent manifest injustice, but from being able to, or having to, focus on diversion programs first). But also looking at the larger picture of an individual's life and circumstance. Just like a juvenile's family should have greater access to fully-funded in-home services and support, the same must be extended to young offenders. And the goal: moving away from a punitive justice system. 

I know there are some people working in Olympia to make these changes. And that's a good thing. Working to dramatically reform an unjust system for young offenders who happen to be over 18 is a step in the right direction to reduce recidivism, reduce incarceration, and improve community outcomes - but only if policy makers fully fund and work with community-based providers to implement good policy. 

#YouthJail

An issue that has come up during this year's mayoral election is whether to construct a new Youth and Family Justice Center - a/k/a the Youth Jail. As a rule, the correct answer to "do you support the new youth jail" is "no." There are hairs to split, but ultimately the current battle is over a facility that may or may not need replacement (more on that later). 

One of the roots that I see to this dispute is the question of whether we should, as a society, ever place youth in jail. For purposes here, I'm going to go with "under 18" as my definition of "youth." While this debate has stemmed around the question of whether youth should ever be incarcerated, there is an argument - a colorable one - that some youth do need to be incarcerated. When speaking with prosecutors who handle juvenile crimes, one learns that the few dozen youth incarcerated in Seattle are incarcerated for pretty violent acts of domestic violence, gun violence, rape, sexual assault, and so on. 

And this gets to some more root issues. As a society, what have we done to put communities in a position where children of color are more likely to be incarcerated for violent offenses? Just as important: what are we doing to change? What steps are we, as a society, taking to partner with communities, not tell them what they need?

But also - is our incarceration system designed for restorative justice, or is it designed for punitive justice? 

One thing we learn in America is that poverty is a major contributor not only to criminal behavior, but also to how "justice" is handed out. Rich kids get home-arrest when they rape classmates, while poor kids get locked up for stealing food to survive. Black kids are much more likely to be poor, thanks to an economic system that is designed to benefit white men. This in itself is a major disconnect that exhibits institutional racism in our "justice" system. We don't ask the kid who stole to eat what he and his family needs - we just assume he's a criminal. I like to think we're getting better about that in King County, but by and large our society continues to be bent on punishing people who do "wrong." 

My experience working with young people who were experiencing homelessness, or had unstable living situations, also reminds me that some parents are shitty. Kids would run away from home because they weren't fond of being beaten or raped. That's a perfectly acceptable reason to leave home. Yet, our "justice" system would require their parents be notified if they were arrested, and while there may be a CPS investigation, the "justice" system is not known for taking teenagers seriously. 

Overall, the "justice" system is governed by statute. With regard to the facility, as pointed out by Presiding Judge Laura Inveen, something has to exist. RCW 13.16.030 states that constructing and maintaining juvenile detention facilities is a "mandatory function" of counties. Sentencing guidelines are established in RCW 13.40.0357. Judges are authorized to deviate from these guidelines only when they find that adhering would constitute a "manifest injustice." 

One thing that I believe we must do is focus on reforming the juvenile justice act, and "justice" more broadly. The idea that turning 18 suddenly flips a switch is erroneous. Sentencing guidelines with brackets for ages up to 29 are much more appropriate. And "justice" for the sake of punishment is just not something I can agree with. Further, prison labor should be held to the same wage and benefit standards as labor outside of prison walls, with access to comprehensive education and trade opportunities (if we really want to eliminate recidivism). 

In the interim - absent a miracle, we're stuck with a youth detention center. Will it be in Seattle or Kent is one question, and to this, as unpopular as it may sound - I pick Seattle. 

King County Juvenile Justice Center cell

King County Juvenile Justice Center cell

I pick Seattle because I believe we have more of an opportunity (and we, as a city, will take that opportunity) to re-shape what happens at the center. To dramatically decrease the scope, size, and cost. Statutes require that we incarcerate youth, but they do not limit our ability to push forward with restorative justice. Focusing not just on what is "wrong" with kids, but what support families need - and providing that support. For kids who need a safe place to recharge - we can make that a reality, with the support system necessary to help work out issues kids may be having. 

This is where the facility and its design is incredibly important - and where the County should re-visit what's what. Cells that look like cells tell kids a lot about how what we, as a society, think of them. Google image search juvenile detention, and you'll get a look at where we put "troubled" youth. Minimal access to natural light, a "prison" like feel - these tell me that, as a society, we don't value young people who are having troubles. We don't believe they are worth the investment of a more home-like atmosphere. 

This compared to Norwegian prison cells: 

Why the hell can't we have this for young people, at least???

Why the hell can't we have this for young people, at least???

The thing is: I believe in people. In particular, I believe in the good in people. The way our entire system works, however, we don't acknowledge that. Our thirst for revenge too often trumps good common sense. While I support broad justice reform, I also know the political reality that providing habitable reformation spaces for adults will not be nearly as popular as doing the same for kids. And if the State of Washington is going to force us to have a juvenile detention facility - fuck it, let's go all-out and make sure we are creating a home facility that treats kids with basic decency, and has program funding designed to support kids, their families at home, connect families with services that they need to succeed now, while continuing the policy push necessary to eliminate the need (or even ability) for any long-term detention, save for the most violent youth offenders. 

So back on the facility - King County Council Member Rod Dembowski and Seattle City Council Member Bruce Harrell wrote about this. The courthouse that is part of the campus is in dire need of replacement. The King County Courthouse is old, but ornate. The Regional Justice Center is sparkling and shiny and new. But where do we send kids? To the dank POS building in the Central District. Again - what is the message we're sending young people in trouble? That these projects are coupled together is frustrating, but I do believe that this part of the facilities needs replacement.

But the other part they bring up: The designing around this has been centered on incarceration as punishment, not restorative justice. I'm actually all for tearing down the existing 200+ bed facility. And when we design a new one (if we have the Mayor, the County Executive, City Council members, County Council members, all agreeing we need to do this, then where is the goddamn legislation to make it happen?), it must be done in a way that recognizes punishment should never be the goal of youth justice. Sometimes young people are going to need to be placed in a detention facility. But what it looks like is entirely on us as a community. And it is entirely on us as a community - and as politicians - to not just say we need reforms to the system, but to be actively engaged in making those reforms a reality. 

Beyond a facility (or even better - small facilities in both Seattle and Kent) for those most at risk to themselves, their families, or their communities, it is a smart idea to move away from incarceration to home monitoring - without a requirement for exorbitant costs that deter poor families from participation in these programs - so that kids who are non-violent and have a safe place to go home to can do just that. With the in-home support for the entire family, whatever it may be (rent assistance, food assistance, counseling, etc.)

On the whole, a big chunk of the needed changes to our juvenile justice system need to take place in Olympia. So when you hear a candidate say they want to reduce or eliminate juvenile detention, ask them what they're going to do beyond words to make that a reality.

And while that process is playing out, a big chunk of the reforms to how we do incarceration, as mandated by the state, can easily be played out here at home. If our leaders have the political will to make it happen. 

#Participation

I don't want to write this. That I feel compelled (I mean, I always feel compelled) says something about the state of our city, and the state of opinion toward renters, immigrants, young people, and low-income families. But, here we are - Seattle, on the one hand, is on a path to a more inclusive government that is more responsive to all residents, and encourages greater participation - even from disaffected people - while on the other hand has folks actively fighting against this type of progress. 

This is, of course, a tale of two issues that are separate, but still managed to be linked together. The first: a proposal to include a voter registration form in the packet that landlords provide new tenants. The goal: make it easier for people to keep their registration current, and provide that reminder during a stressful time (moving) to change your registration address. I'd go so far as to add this requirement to closing documents for home buying. Anything we can do to increase voter registration among eligible voters, and increase participation in our democracy, is a good thing. And we're talking about a single page of paper as part of a stack of documents that landlords have to give regarding landlord-tenant laws, mold, fire safety, etc.

As a Democrat, I wholeheartedly support utilizing all avenues possible to increase voter participation and lower barriers for voter access. Unlike some of my contemporaries, I would go so far as to allow voting for non-citizens in municipal and state elections, and lower the voting age to 16, while making it easier for felons to restore their voting rights. The decisions our elected officials make have an impact on all of our lives, and should be subject to scrutiny from all residents of our community. 

But back on point - this proposal is pretty much small potatoes. The problem: Council Member Kshama Sawant proposed it. As I've stated before - I really like Kshama, and have enjoyed working with her on policies here and there. I'm annoyed by her constant attacks on my Party, but like the Republicans, Socialist Alternative exists to compete with Democrats. However, a good idea is a good idea. And this is a good idea. But because of the vitriol surrounding Kshama in Seattle, it is, unsurprisingly, being attacked as overly burdensome for landlords. The undercurrent of the responses: I don't like Kshama, so I don't like any idea she proposes. 

Here's the funny thing - the responses I'm seeing go so far as to say that the State should track when people move, and mail them a voter registration form when they move (or include it with utility or city light transfers). As I am sure my friends understand, that would mean an increase in taxes (or decrease in services), or an increase in utility rates. All so landlords don't have to include a single sheet of paper in a packet that many just download from the city (so it would be included in that download). 

I'm sorry, folks, but I'm not buying that argument. And I'm also just going to have to say "NOPE" to folks who want to lecture renters about "how easy" it is to figure it out. As noted above, renting in and of itself is stressful. And moving as a renter often is as a result of either (a) increases in rent, (b) changes in family dynamic (new baby, new spouse, new ex-spouse, death of spouse), or (c) changes in a job. There is the application process, the potential to be denied numerous times while paying $40 or more for the pleasure. Changing utilities, making sure the cable gets installed, finding your routes to work, moving stuff, unpacking stuff, etc. etc. So forgive me, but I don't think that it is too burdensome for a single sheet of paper to be included in the move-in packet - a sheet that will increase voter participation, and mean more folks have updated registrations.

And if your belief structure is such that you think that increasing voter access by inserting one sheet of paper into a move-in packet is overly burdensome for landlords...well, I'd check my values on voting rights and access for low-income folks and marginalized communities if I started down that path. All because I don't like the messenger. 

Which brings me to topic 2. Take a look at this gem:

For those who are in the know - the City of Seattle has been proactively working to increase civic participation among groups that typically avoid city politics. One of the most earth-shaking examples was the citation of an age that skewed well above the median resident age in Seattle as reason to cut ties with the Community Councils. Now, whether a complete severance was the best policy is a question not being presented here. 

Rather, it's what the city has also done: actively worked to increase participation in civic life through the Renters' Commission and the Community Involvement Commission. There has been the work to let young people be engaged in participatory budgeting, getting middle and high school kids more engaged in their communities. This is a win

By attacking this, and insisting that city focus only on voters, we see the impacts of institutional discrimination. A brief list of people less likely to vote (for various reasons): 

Communities of Color
Immigrants
Young people
Poor people
Renters

But more often, it is homeowners, and older white people who vote with perfection. All while having the time and the resources to siphon more funding for their neighborhoods, continuing the lack of investment in redlined, marginalized communities. The assertion that the city should peg outreach based on voter participation is one of the most classist and racist - whether implicit or not - things I think I have ever seen. By changing the focus in this direction, we would simply see continued decimation of the black population in Seattle, and an extension of disproportionate spending cuts in areas that low-income residents live. 

If we want people to participate who haven't even been on the sidelines for generations, that requires showing that government works for them. The idea that government should wait for people to show up before providing needed community benefits is ludicrous. When we as Democrats discuss the need to increase voter participation and lower barriers to ballot-box access, that must also be accompanied by advocating for programs that give people a reason to vote. And increased outreach to communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, and young people does just that. 

Now, perhaps that is what's terrifying. Changing the power dynamic so that those with a voice represent a more diverse segment of the population - particularly when compared with what we have seen in the past. But I am excited to see the outcomes of greater participation from all ages and all communities. 
 

 

#Paris

Unless you're completely off of the grid, you know. Our President, in a flash of his version of genius, has committed to pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. This despite protestations from oil companies (does this mean I'm siding with Shell Oil???), his Secretary of State, numerous corporations, and ostensibly the majority of Americans. 

Here's the thing - I don't pretend to be a master of environmentalism. I get many of the larger concepts, but breaking down the science is not my forte. But I believe in the people who have produced evidence-based science that climate change exists. With 90+% of scientists pointing to evidence of this change, it's hard not to. And with those same experts being able to point at carbon emissions as a key driver of climate change, it is impossible to not accept that we must make changes to protect future generations.

Of course, the liberal centers of the United States are already pledging to adhere to the Paris Accord principles. Which is awesome. But what does that look like when we are talking actual concrete and meaningful policy? The benefit of the Paris Accord is that it created a system wherein all countries (except for a couple - and now three) agreed to take action to reduce their carbon emissions. This goes to the idea that regionalism is preferable, because you literally get get more done (and have a more meaningful impact) on whatever the issue is your trying to solve or improve. 

So what does that mean for Seattle? For one, we are going to watch politicians decry the Trump administration. It's an easy target. That dude is not popular here. But there is this slight problem: many of the actions we can actually take at the municipal level are also not popular

This is what "Bus Only" should look like

This is what "Bus Only" should look like

Take transit. One of the easiest ways to reduce our carbon footprint as a city would be to expand the Electric Trolley Bus (ETB) network, allowing more ETBs to travel to more parts of the City. Concurrently, we could re-dedicate more traffic lanes to be bus only (and truly bus only - no "bus only, right turns permitted," but bus only, and right turn only on green arrow). All while removing street parking in major bike corridors to create safer bike infrastructure, so more people will feel safe taking this method of transportation (which also improves safety indirectly for pedestrians). Super easy

But the politics - not so much. People like their cars. I remember watching "Singles" recently, and chortling when the environmental activist in the film admits she's not going to give up her car because she likes driving. This reminds me of Tesla drivers. They LOVE their cars, and will gladly espouse the great work they're doing to protect the environment and lower their carbon footprint. 

Looks like cars had to choose between a lane of traffic or street parking - but I know my kid would feel safer on this. If this loss of a lane of traffic makes you unhappy - you're not doing good by the environment (plus: don't you want us cyclists out of your car lane?)

Looks like cars had to choose between a lane of traffic or street parking - but I know my kid would feel safer on this. If this loss of a lane of traffic makes you unhappy - you're not doing good by the environment (plus: don't you want us cyclists out of your car lane?)

Yet when they get their car tab renewal for this expensive car, they will also go whining to the media about paying more for mass transit. Sorry, bro - you're actively working to destroy the environment. Or when government subsidized parking is removed in exchange for moving people and goods as a top priority - why, that's a war on cars, and all cyclists are the devil! Again, sorry, bro - you're actively working to destroy the environment

Of course, this extends to zoning and density changes. I've seen people complain that a building that might go up next to theirs - and house more families - is bad for the environment due to potential shading of solar panels. Here's the thing: putting solar panels on your roof is a feel-good measure. But in the grand scheme of things, if we continue to jack up the cost of housing in Seattle artificially by forcing all growth into 11% of the city, then the only units that will be built are going to be high-end - because that is the only place there will be profit. And that necessarily means more people will be pushed into suburbia, more people will be car reliant, and those pushed out as a result aren't going to be able to afford your Teslas or Priuses or Leafs. So your desire to feel smug and like you're doing your part is actually causing more harm to the environment, and exacerbating climate change. But hey - you may be eligible for a tax break and rate reduction for those solar panels, so kudos to you!

Providing more homes for people near transit - and expanding transit access while reducing car capacity - is going to be a requirement for us a city if we want to prove we actually give a shit about the environment. We also will need to work to incentivize and/or require more energy efficiency (or allow in some instances) for new construction. 

An 8-story CLT building in the UK.

An 8-story CLT building in the UK.

Things like FAR bonuses or tax breaks for passivhaus structures; encouraging exterior stairwells (why do we need to heat apartment building hallways???), and explicitly allowing - and encouraging - cross-laminated timber (CLT) construction for mid-rise and higher buildings will put us on a path to actually be a green leader on the housing front. 

Passivhaus apartments in Europe are stylish - and hella energy efficient

Passivhaus apartments in Europe are stylish - and hella energy efficient

And if we're willing to take the political hits on the transportation infrastructure front - double whammy. Add in rail directly to the port terminals to eliminate drayage, and partner with our region to improve freight corridors with trains more generally to decrease the reliance on semi-trucks, and we not only have a pro-environment program, but a jobs program. And with better infrastructure, we may well be in a position to partner with economically depressed places like Grays Harbor County, and support their efforts to bring back manufacturing - of new technologies like solar, wind, streetcars, and the batteries that power them - and the union jobs that go along with them. 

These are just a few thoughts that come to mind when I think of how we can be a better partner to the environment. My hope is that the politicians seeking our votes have some even better ideas - and the political courage to implement them. 

#Democrats Part 2

Regular readers of this blog know that I have no qualms being critical of my own Party. It is always out of love, and desire for us to get better. I remember my own entry into the Party, and my own frustration with barriers to participation. Personally, I believe that action on a liberal agenda is far more important than process. In my age, I have found myself being "that asshole" who starts up the process talk, and am always thankful when people call me out on it. 

Of course, with age, I have also learned how to use process to end process. While there are some in this world who want to endlessly debate the fine lines of public policy, continuous debate with no resolution in sight means that people suffer. We see this in the calls to stop the MHA program because it's not good enough, or it's too harsh (depending on your point of view). But stopping it means more people will be without shelter, or be forced into suburbanization due to lack of affordable homes now

With the influx of new members into the Party, I confess I was worried. The "throw the bums out" mentality that some exhibited - and the desire for ideological purity and a refusal to find common ground to get shit done that some explicitly endorsed - was terrifying. I have seen the Democratic Party get more and more liberal because more liberals have joined, and have been able to come into positions and change our agenda. Right now, we have the most liberal platform (at all levels) in probably forever, with the most liberal DNC Chair ever. But there does remain processes, so the desire for immediate change is one that goes unfulfilled. 

My home district Executive Board. Spoiler alert: They are crushing it.

My home district Executive Board. Spoiler alert: They are crushing it.

We're five months into the year, and there has been significant changes at all levels of the Party. While earlier this year I bemoaned some aspersions cast toward prior Board members in my home Legislative District. Considering the makeup of the Board, I had concerns. Some of the most vocal Sanders supporters and some of the most vocal Clinton supporters. Brand new folks jumping into Party leadership for the first time ever, and some old hands. Across King County, I saw many new faces (which is awesome), but continued to be concerned about stability in the organizations. No person is more right than the next (except for me, of course), and I do not believe our Party survives if we lose the institutional knowledge. 

But I kept coming back. As Second Vice Chair of the County Democratic Party, I was tasked with leading up the Bylaws & Rules Committee, and it was very exciting working with newcomers and old hacks like myself. Even better - we put together a set of bylaws that overhauled the previous system, and really de-centralized power to the committees and members of committees of the King County Democrats. I believe it was definitely the right thing to do, and I am excited to help our team implement and get used to the idea that the Board doesn't tell members what to do - members decide what they are going to do, and the Board focuses on the budget. More action, less process. 

But what about the LDs? I confess myself immensely impressed with what we have been seeing. The ability of folks to work together toward a common goal - electing more Democrats, and holding our own accountable to a liberal platform. Sure, there remains disagreements over policies here and there. But I have been very glad to see some of the acrimony washed aside in order to work together. Debate on the issues with which we disagree, and then move on to work together where we do. After all, it's all shades of blue. 

I may be biased, but the best LD Chair in the State. He's been able to hold us all together, and keep us moving forward, while welcoming new folks to the LD org.

I may be biased, but the best LD Chair in the State. He's been able to hold us all together, and keep us moving forward, while welcoming new folks to the LD org.

This has been reinforced by my outings of late. My home district - the 43rd - held our annual Ballots & Bubbly. It was a perfectly run event, great food, great people, great location. And the organization denied entry by Alex Tsimmerman. Center-left Democrats and the super progressive Democrats were working together to build a Party, and build a welcoming Party. So while there was a rocky start, I have to give praise to the folks who have chosen to put aside ideological differences to focus on the Party, and the leadership of Chair James Apa to bring it all together. 

And this is continuing in so many other places. In my days, I have been to endorsement meetings at County that would go until Midnight or later (and similar situations in LDs that aren't the 43rd, where the rules make it basically impossible). Often this is because people who like to hear themselves talk more than I do entertain every opportunity to make a point of this or a motion for that. See, I'm a believer in reading up on the process in advance of a meeting, and asking questions before. In my ideal world, Points of Information would be limited severely, because there's no excuse not to ask before a meeting. 

These two have been getting endorsement after endorsement in the LDs. (I'm supporting both Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda, so just adding them for good measure)

These two have been getting endorsement after endorsement in the LDs. (I'm supporting both Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda, so just adding them for good measure)

That said - the meetings I witnessed this week were jovial, as succinct as they could be, and very well run. What is clearer than ever: the new folks are not putting ideology above working to improve the basic infrastructure, and increase membership, in the organization. While remnants remain of people looking for purity in the process, or interested in allowing the process to be the enemy of action, on the whole I am so excited about the unity. 

I know there are voices that believe we are still moving too slow. But bylaw changes don't happen overnight (again - four months at County, where we meet monthly). What is clear: the actions of our State Party Chair are designed to continue to grow a more inclusive and action-oriented Party. We are clearly on a great path. For folks who came in during the Dean years (like me!), we've been working hard to pull the party left, and to tear down barriers to participation. The speed at which that has happened over the last five months is astonishing. 

We're not perfect. And it remains to be seen how this new Party will hold our elected officials accountable - and how many folks are going to go out and help win races in purple parts of the state. But we're pretty goddamn good. And I figure if I agree with 95% of where someone is 95% of the time, I'm pretty goddamn lucky. 

There has been some talk about endorsing non-Democrats - which I have come down very much opposed. I'm not interested in helping build a Party that's going to run candidates against Democrats in partisan elections. There's also the common statement from Council Member Kshama Sawant that all Democratic Party leaders are "thoroughly pro-corporate." 

Some folks like to say "well, what she meant was..." Bullfeathers. If she meant only elected officials in Congress, or national leaders, then she could have said that. I'm going to take her at her word - and the volunteer Party leaders in the 43rd are Party Leaders. In her estimation, that means they are "thoroughly pro-corporate." The fact is I still really like CM Sawant, and we are in agreement on a lot of local issues. I love that she has opened up a wide section of the left within which folks like me can thrive in the Democratic Party. But I reject the notion that I'm "pro-corporate."

Before people who purport to be Democrats jump in and defend her, I would just note that she's not interested in Party building for the Democratic Party. As the only elected official and leader of a political party that challenges the Democrats (much like the GOP), she's interested in building her Party. And that's awesome. By continuing the trope that all Democrats are corporate shills, that may well discourage people from joining the Democrats, and instead joining Socialist Alternative for their secret meetings. 

So when she makes statements without facts, using a broad brush to attack Democrats, I'm always happy to see people push back. With facts. With citations. 

Democrats do good things. And sometimes we do shitty things. But as I am watching our Party continue to grow and diversify in our ranks (and hopefully we'll see more of that in our leadership, especially more women. Women aren't rapey like too many men in our Party), I continue to swell with excitement about our direction. And if we can be patient and continue to work together, I know we can build a statewide network that will be successful for generations to come because of our values, not because we are resisting the other side. 

#CampaignStaff

In campaign life, there are various components that I find are necessary to have a successful campaign. First and foremost: A reason to run. Running for the sake of running, or because you just really want to be in elective office, typically isn't enough. You have to have an agenda, and a plan to enact that agenda. 

The ability to convey your thoughts on issues is also vital. Communication is key, and requires the ability to listen, to hear the question, and to provide a responsive answer. 

It's also helpful to have a base. For some folks, that's Labor, others it's the LGBTQ community, some people rely on the business community, and other fall back on social justice leaders. This can admittedly take time to build, but having support from as many communities and leaders as possible before jumping into an election makes things a lot easier. 

Then there's the consultants. A general consultant, a fundraising consultant, and sometimes a messaging consultant. People to help craft a message that can sell (that's what politics is, after all - sell, sell, sell), who can design a lit piece, put together a mail plan, and craft a digital media plan. And, of course, a treasurer to make sure you're not breaking the law.

Personally, I think it's also good to have a steering committee and/or some policy wonks grouped together to help on strengthening and scrutinizing policy areas for a candidate. (Confession: these are my favorite things to be on).

But the most important piece to any campaign - the staff. A Campaign Manager, maybe a field director and, if you have the money, some additional organizers. Often, these are the people who do the most work. Making sure the candidate (or, for ballot measures, speakers) is where they need to be when they need to be there, that supporters have the things they need to canvass, pulling call lists, setting up doorbell days and phone banks. 

Good staff will be working closely with allies and supporters on their schedules, making sure that supporters are happy, stay happy, and continue to provide support to the campaign. When a candidate can't make it to an event, and there isn't a surrogate available, the staff are the ones who answer questions, present on why the candidate is the best candidate, and take the verbal lashing from folks who don't care for the candidate (especially if it's an incumbent). 

Campaign staff are up in the morning preparing for the day, and then out with the candidate (or in place of the candidate) through the evening, plus all-day on weekends. And as the campaign wears on, campaign staff (especially CMs) can become the most trusted adviser to a candidate, as well as a confidante for dumping all of the bullshit that you get while campaigning for office. 

We often don't think that much about campaign staff. In fact, it's not uncommon to treat it like an entry into politics - but the worst possible kind. Easily 70+ hour workweeks - with no weekends or vacation - for months on end. Sick days are not an option. 

Erica C. Barnett has been reporting on one candidate in Seattle posting a campaign job that, assuming a 40-hour work week, is offering organizing staff less than $15 per hour. It's noteworthy because this candidate has railed against companies under-paying employees, and worked as a campaign staffer on the minimum wage campaign in 2016. The question raised: should a candidate be exhibiting the values they proclaim in their hiring practices?

I eventually hired this joker to be my CM for the last couple months of my 2015 campaign. I paid what I could, but also was like, "Dude, take a day off!" He wasn't good at that.

I eventually hired this joker to be my CM for the last couple months of my 2015 campaign. I paid what I could, but also was like, "Dude, take a day off!" He wasn't good at that.

This has come up before with respect to the use of unpaid interns. In 2015, my campaign had no interns - because I knew I couldn't afford to pay them. In the primary, I did all of the campaign management duties, and had a team of volunteers helping with some of the GOTV work, but all of the scheduling continued to be through me. I couldn't pay someone a living wage, so I made the choice to do this extra work (on top of campaigning and working full time). Personally, I believe that if you are unable to pay a living wage, or have a clear expectation that people not work 60+ hour weeks, then you should do the job yourself. 

So what can we do, and what should we do, as a city to ensure that people are making a living wage - and that we treat campaign workers like people? For one, if taxpayer dollars are paying salaries of campaign staff (through Democracy Vouchers), then maybe a rule needs to be put in place with some minimum wage and maximum hour standards for participants in the program. Make a choice on how many staff you actually need to run a campaign, and how much you intend to spend on mail. I am a big supporter of publicly funded campaigns, but this is an issue I admittedly didn't consider, and perhaps it would be appropriate to begin addressing campaign staff salaries and hour standards in advance of the next round of district elections. 

But also - unionize that shit. People who are professional campaign staff and Labor should sit down and figure out what that looks like, what salary scales and benefit scales look like, and let's direct candidates who purport to be liberal to the Campaign Staff Union to find their managers and field directors - people with a pre-negotiated set of wage standards.

One thing that is clear: the current system is not benefiting workers. Campaign staff are, after all, workers, and often people working to improve our region. Having been on both sides - hiring staff in 2015, and being staff in 2016 - I do believe it is incumbent on candidates to set an example. But at the end of the day, candidates are employers. And the best way to ensure reasonable work hours, a living wage, and benefits, is through organizing. The real question - would enough candidates and people who staff campaigns be willing to support such a move, and which union would be the local to start this up? Because it's past time.