Category: endorsements

City Council District 5: PubliCola Picks Nilu Jenks

District 5—far North Seattle—includes some of the wealthiest, most homogenous single-family neighborhoods in the city along with areas, like Lake City, that are dense, diverse immigrant hubs. Politically, the district tends to favor centrist candidates like incumbent Debora Juarez, a moderate who has supported punitive responses to encampments and drug use and was the target of protests when she opposed efforts to reduce police funding by 50 percent in 2020.

PubliCola Picks graphicThat’s all preface to say that neither of the top two candidates in this race—Nilu Jenks and Cathy Moore—set PubliCola’s progressive heart aflame.

A third candidate, equity consultant Christiana Obeysumner, would bring her own lived experience and long resume  as a housing navigator, clinical support specialist, and equity consultant to the job of addressing homelessness. When we spoke with Obeysumner, she demonstrated a detailed understanding of what it will take to house thousands of people experiencing different kinds of homelessness, from people with addiction and other disabilities to those who are couch-surfing or living in motels; she is also an impassioned advocate for the rights of sex workers.

For District 5, PubliCola picks Nilu Jenks—a climate and pedestrian safety advocate who we believe will take a thoughtful, nuanced approach to headline-grabbing issues, like police hiring and public drug use, while fighting for safe streets, climate resiliency hubs, and expanded access to shelter.

Like every candidate, Jenks came to our interview prepared to answer questions about police hiring and homelessness. (For the record, she thinks the goal of 1,400 officers is unrealistic, supports civilian alternatives to police for crisis calls, and thinks the city should establish a right to shelter.) But what really got her animated was talking about how Seattle needs to change over the coming decades to accommodate the thousands of people who will move here, many of them “climate refugees” from other parts of the country.

“Every other major city has sidewalks,” she said. “Why can’t we figure this out?”

The best way to respond to this growth, Jenks told us, is to plan for it now, by turning underdeveloped parts of the city—like the area around the future 130th Street light rail station—into dense, appealing neighborhoods. That means increasing height limits, planting trees, widening sidewalks, and slowing traffic so that people can cross the street without risking their lives.

Acknowledging that sidewalks are expensive, Jenks said she would start with areas that have the highest fatality rate, like Aurora Ave. N just south of Shoreline., neighborhoods with large immigrant and BIPOC populations, and areas that lack even one safe route for kids to walk to school. “Every other major city has sidewalks,” she said. “Why can’t we figure this out?”

Jenks also impressed us with her creative, district-level approach to achieving the city’s climate goals. One of her first priorities, Jenks said, would be establishing a climate resilience hub in North Seattle, which would serve as both a community center and a place where people could escape from increasingly severe weather caused by climate change. The city will open its first resilience hub in Beacon Hill, but Jenks says the north end—whose obsolete Lake City Community Center closed in April after a fire—would benefit from a new community center that doubles as a refuge from smoky summers.

She has also proposed providing free heat pumps—a cleaner source of central heating and cooling—to landlords who agree to limit rent increases, along with a right to shelter that would include locations where people could escape summer heat and wildfire smoke during the day.

To pay for some of these priorities, Jenks said she would propose a land-value tax—a tax on the value of a piece of property, regardless of what’s on it—because it would encourage property owners to maximize their land use (housing instead of empty parking lots) and would be more stable than a tax on vacant properties, which is designed to reduce vacancies.

Cathy Moore, a retired judge and former public defender, offered some intriguing ideas during our interview—for example, she said she would oppose any contract for police officers that did not include the same concessions made by the Seattle Police Management Association last year, including a reduced standard of proof for police misconduct and new restrictions on arbitrators, who frequently reverse disciplinary decisions.  But on most issues, from density (she supports the outdated urban village strategy) to police funding (she wants more of it), her views tracked closely with the council’s most conservative members, Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson, and the Harrell Administration.

For District 5, PubliCola picks Nilu Jenks.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

City Council District 4: PubliCola Picks Ron Davis

The race to replace anti-housing activist and one-term councilmember Alex Pedersen provides a clear contrast between an urbanist with a clear plan to build a city where people of all incomes can live in safe, vibrant, walkable neighborhoods, and a candidate whose campaign centers on hiring an unrealistic number of police and a business-as-usual approach to growth that would keep Seattle stratified and unaffordable.

PubliCola Picks graphicRon Davis, our pick for council District 4, would represent a massive upgrade for the district, which has been represented for the past four years by a guy whose most lasting achievement is a rule allowing council members to sit out votes on resolutions they find distasteful. Davis, in contrast to both Pedersen and the other frontrunner in this race, Office of Arts and Culture deputy director Maritza Rivera, is a real-deal urbanist who knows what makes successful cities work—frequent transit, abundant housing, and community-based public safety that includes bustling, vibrant neighborhoods—not just police.

Davis isn’t satisfied with the state legislature’s timid vision for fourplexes and the occasional six-unit apartment building directly adjacent to transit. In fact, he considers this vision—a light edit of the existing “urban village” strategy that confines renters to busy arterials and preserves leafy enclaves for single-family homeowners—anathema to equity and affordability. “To lock up that land, is really an act of economic and social vandalism to people around us and climate,” Davis told us. “The 15-minute city concept”—the idea that everyone should be able to access what they need within 15 minutes without a car—is ”supposed to be that every person lives in a 15-minute city, not little 15-minute neighborhoods that are stuck on arterials everyone can drive through.”

In contrast to his opponent, who says she “won’t rest” until there are enough police officers to reduce 911 response times to 5 minutes or less, Davis is realistic about police hiring and supports focusing on alternatives, including automated traffic cameras and civilian behavioral health crisis responders, while the city continues to hire police.

Instead of building walls around neighborhoods (or, as Rivera has proposed, imposing new design standards to ensure multi-unit buildings resemble nearby single-family houses), Davis wants to encourage development everywhere, by adopting a community-backed “Alternative 6” version of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan, eliminating parking mandates for new housing. He also wants to plant trees in historically disadvantaged communities, rather than using “tree protection” as a cudgel to prevent new housing, as Pedersen did; provide development bonuses (additional height and density) in new buildings that include affordable housing; target affordable housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods while creating a right to return for people displaced from gentrifying areas; and impose new taxes on vacant buildings and surface parking lots, which take up space that could be used for housing.

Davis is a tech guy whose does enterprise sales consulting for startups, but he comes from a working-class background and often talks about the personal experiences that helped shape his views. Instead of prosecuting and jailing drug users, Davis supports supervised consumption centers staffed with medical workers who can reverse or prevent overdoses and help people access treatment when they’re ready—an approach that has proven far more successful than mandatory and jail-based approaches. Speaking about a friend he lost to addiction, Davis said that if jail was actually a solution, “I would have hauled him there myself.”

In contrast to his opponent Rivera, who says she “won’t rest” until there are enough police officers to reduce 911 response times to 5 minutes or less, Davis is realistic about police hiring and supports focusing on alternatives, including automated traffic cameras and civilian behavioral health crisis responders, while the city continues to hire police. “We do need to increase police responsiveness times,” Davis said at a recent forum, but “we need to do this without magical thinking”—a reference to his opponent’s campaign pablum vow to hire 400 new police officers at a time when SPD’s actual staffing plan predicts a net gain of 15 new officers this year.

Rivera has a clear and admirable commitment to reducing gun violence by investing in community-based violence interruption programs and enforcing laws that are meant to prevent people who commit domestic violence from owning firearms. But her proposed solutions to other pressing issues is to simply double down on approaches that haven’t worked, such as addressing the fentanyl addiction crisis by prosecuting “repeat offenders” and dedicating even more of Seattle’s budget to the police department, which already receives a quarter of the city’s annual spending.

Rivera has repeatedly claimed, falsely, that the city council “voted to defund the police”—an unsubtle dog whistle that suggests she’s more interested in winning over Pedersen’s fan base than solving the very problems of public safety, addiction, and homelessness in this district.

PubliCola picks Ron Davis.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

PubliCola Picks: Maren Costa for District 1

The crowded race to replace City Council veteran Lisa Herbold in District 1 (which now includes Pioneer Square and Georgetown along with all of West Seattle) features two candidates from the tech world, a bagel store owner who got in hot water with the city’s ethics commission for offering free bagels to district residents, and a three-time candidate who received a tortured endorsement from the Seattle Times in 2019. (They called him “articulate” and “an attorney.”)

PubliCola Picks graphicFrom this decidedly mixed bag, PubliCola picks Maren Costa, a former Amazon user experience designer who founded Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, where her organizing helped lead to Amazon’s “climate pledge” to reduce the company’s net emissions to zero by 2040. In 2020, she was fired after circulating a petition on behalf of warehouse workers organizing for better workplace conditions. Although she hasn’t worked directly on city issues, we believe Costa will be a fast learner with progressive but pragmatic instincts, much like Herbold.

Taking up one of Seattle’s most politicized issues—police funding—Costa has said she wants to “make Seattle the best place in the world to be a police officer” and supports increasing the size of the police force to 1,400 officers. However, in a nod to ongoing efforts to take some responsibilities out of armed officers’ hands, she has also supported standing up civilian crisis response teams that could, in the long run, reduce the need for police. (At a recent forum, she held up a sign at a forum indicating she didn’t believe the city council’s 2020 commitment to reduce police spending by half was “a mistake,” a photo op that will undoubtedly come back to bite her if she makes it through the primary).

Costa supports “upzoning almost everywhere” and pursuing a sixth Seattle Comprehensive Plan alternative that would dramatically increase the maximum allowed density in all neighborhoods—an unusually bold pro-housing move for a candidate in West Seattle, which has long been an epicenter of the battle between anti-growth homeowners and urbanists.

We’re glad to see Costa highlight the need for short-term funding to implement last year’s social housing ballot measure, which split the district along class and racial lines. She’s pinpointed the growing need for affordable housing in this rapidly gentrifying district, proposing that the city impose a vacancy tax on homes that sit idle more than half the year. Although vacancy taxes have mixed results in practice—in Vancouver, B.C., where many apartments are owned by foreign investors, the tax produced significant revenue but does not seem to have lowered rents—the idea is worth exploring, especially at a time when forecasts suggest the city will have to make drastic cuts if it doesn’t find new sources of (ideally progressive) revenue. Costa also wants to consider “turning up the dials” on the JumpStart tax, which funds affordable housing, and looking at options for a local capital gains carbon tax.

As a more immediate, practical proposal, Costa proposes providing direct subsidies to help tenants at risk of eviction pay their rent—an idea also championed by District 3 candidate Alex Hudson—and investing heavily in tiny houses to help reduce the number of “highly established” encampments where crime and predatory behavior are common. She also supports “upzoning almost everywhere” and pursuing a sixth Seattle Comprehensive Plan alternative that would dramatically increase the maximum allowed density in all neighborhoods—an unusually bold pro-housing move for a candidate in West Seattle, which has long been an epicenter of the battle between anti-growth homeowners and urbanists.

The other frontrunner in this race is Rob Saka, a Meta attorney who has a compelling life story (he spent the first nine years of his life in and out of foster care and was raised by a working-class, single dad), but has proven almost impossible to pin down on any issue. Comparing our conversation with Saka in February to his many interviews and public appearances since, we’re hard-pressed to find an instance where he has veered from generic, vaguely centrist talking points, which include “building a ton of affordable housing”; hiring “good, honest police”; removing encampments to ensure parks are clean and “open”; and using arrests as a tool to ensure that drug users “have the the support and treatment services they need.”

When pressed for specifics, Saka tends to change the subject or obfuscate. For example: At a recent forum, candidates were asked whether Sound Transit should scrap its plans to build light rail to West Seattle. Saka’s non-response: “I think we actually need to expand our flexible transit options. Keyword: Options. We should not seek to impose transit or anything onto people. And so, yes, we need to expand our transit options and expand biking options and also create space for people to travel in cars if they so need and choose.”

In this race, where every candidate faces a steep learning curve, we’d rather vote for an independent-minded candidate willing to take  big policy swings than an equivocator who answers yes/no questions with “all of the above.” For District 1, PubliCola picks Maren Costa.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

PubliCola Picks: Alex Hudson for City Council District 3

For the first time in a decade, self-promotional socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant will no longer represent District 3—a swath of central Seattle that includes Eastlake, Capitol Hill, and the Central District.

The newly open seat is an opportunity for voters who deserve a proactive, progressive district representative who listens to constituents’ concerns and gets to work. That candidate is Alex Hudson, and she receives our enthusiastic endorsement for City Council District 3.

PubliCola Picks graphicHudson is the most qualified candidate for any of this year’s open seats, blowing the rest of the field away with her political acumen, policy chops, and deep history of activism in the district.

Hudson has been on our radar for years as a Seattle activist and transportation advocate who consistently scores policy wins and funding for equitable transportation, housing, and neighborhood-level improvements. Nearly a decade ago, as head of the First Hill Neighborhood Association, Hudson—a longtime renter—defied stereotypes about neighborhood activists. Instead of trying to “protect” First Hill by keeping low-income people out, she advocated for hundreds of units of affordable housing at a Sound Transit-owned property on East Madison St., organizing to bring two new homeless shelters to the neighborhood, and leading efforts to secure $80 million in public benefits from the construction of the new downtown Convention Center, just across the freeway from First Hill.

Hudson wants to double the maximum housing density allowed within a half-mile of planned or existing light rail and bus-rapid transit stations, creating room for up to 270,00o new homes while getting rid of the old “urban village” strategy that concentrated dense housing on large, busy arterial streets to preserve homeowners’ exclusive single-family enclaves.

She was been equally effective for five years as Executive Director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, which lobbies at the state and local levels for investments in transit, bike, and pedestrian safety and mobility. Last year, for example, TCC helped secure $5.2 billion for transit and multimodal transportation as part of the Move Ahead Washington transportation package—a critical victory at a time when local transit systems are struggling to recover from the pandemic. Under Hudson’s leadership, TCC has also lobbied against both the state ban on “jaywalking” and efforts to make Sound Transit’s fare enforcement policies more punitive—policies that disproportionately target people of color and low-income people with fines and penalties.

On a council that will soon feature at least four new faces, Hudson will provide necessary policy expertise, negotiating skills, and a  steadfast voice for progressive policies on transportation, housing, homelessness, and public safety. Unlike other candidates who speak in generalities, Hudson can rattle off a wonky list of specific policies she’s eager to get to work on.

For example, where candidates often pay lip service to the need for more affordable housing, Hudson wants to implement zoning changes that would double the maximum housing density allowed within a half-mile of planned or existing light rail and bus-rapid transit stations, creating room for up to 270,00o new homes while getting rid of the old “urban village” strategy that concentrated dense housing on large, busy arterial streets to preserve homeowners’ exclusive single-family enclaves.

She also wants to increase the amount of funding from the JumpStart tax, which is perpetually being raided for other priorities, that has to go directly to housing; allow the owners of existing buildings (not just new ones) to take advantage of a tax exemption in exchange for providing affordable housing, a plan she estimates would add about 3,000 new affordable homes; and concentrate new affordable housing construction in neighborhoods with high access to opportunity (like South Lake Union and Queen Anne) rather than the lower-income neighborhoods where the city has traditionally placed affordable housing.

Fittingly for a transit wonk, Hudson has a list of immediate, low-cost ideas for improving road safety and access to the city for people who walk, bike, and use transit. For example, she told PubliCola, the city could prioritize simple safety improvements like curb bulbs, spaces between parking and bike lanes, and crosswalks without going through years of public process. Longer term, she wants to complete the stalled downtown streetcar and build a lid over I-5 between Capitol Hill and downtown, among other ambitious transportation and economic development priorities.

We’d love to see her go toe to toe with Mayor Bruce Harrell on his proposal to eliminate a planned Midtown light rail station just across the freeway from First Hill in favor of a “North of Chinatown/International District” station across from City Hall.

We’d love to see Hudson head up the transportation committee, which has been helmed for the last four years by old-school neighborhood NIMBY Alex Pedersen, and sit on the Sound Transit board seat currently occupied by retiring District 5 council member Debora Juarez.

She demonstrated political tenacity when she challenged Mayor Bruce Harrell on his proposal to eliminate a planned Midtown light rail station just across the freeway from First Hill in favor of a “North of Chinatown/International District” station across from City Hall. (First Hill got screwed out of its original station in 2005, with a slow streetcar on Broadway as consolation.)

Challenging the both Mayor Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine, the two establishment heavies who orchestrated the decision to move two Sound Transit stations away from the CID and First Hill,  Hudson helped build a coalition that visibly irked Constantine in the board room and forced Harrell and Constantine to keep the popular Fourth Avenue station option on the table. By helping organize the opposition in the middle of her own campaign, Hudson demonstrated how willing she is to challenge the city’s power brokers—and showed off her talent as a grassroots organizer.

Hudson acknowledges that she’ll have a learning curve on other issues, including police funding and public safety (for the record, though, she supports creating a new alternative response team along the lines of the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon. She also says District 3 would be an ideal location for one of five crisis care centers King County voters approved in April. And—in an issue close to PubliCola’s heart—she said she would take action to remove illegal obstructions from the public right-of-way, including the concrete “eco-blocks” many business owners have placed on public streets to prevent RVs from parking near them.

“The public right-of-way is for everyone, and so we can’t just [let businesses] drop hostile architecture all over the place, and call it good,” Hudson told us earlier this year. “Forklift comes, picks them up and moves them away. I don’t think it’s that complicated.”

For District 3, PubliCola enthusiastically picks Alex Hudson.

The PubliCola editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

PubliCola Picks: “Yes” On Initiative 135

Seattle is facing a historic housing shortage. In 2019, according to one national report, the region had a housing gap of almost 82,000 units, and the problem has gotten worse, not better, since the pandemic began. The lack of housing for people at all income levels has made this a dual crisis: With rents at all-time highs, even people with moderate incomes can barely afford to live in the city, and those at the bottom are suffering most of all. According to a recent study by Challenge Seattle, a business-backed group headed by former Gov. Christine Gregoire, there is a “severe shortage of affordable rental units for lower income households” in Washington state, particularly for those making less than 30 percent of median income—those most likely, in other words, to fall into homelessness.

PubliCola Picks graphicSocial housing—specifically, mixed-income rental housing that would remain permanently affordable and publicly owned—could be a key part of the solution to this multifaceted problem. Initiative 135, on the February 14 ballot, would create a new public development authority— a kind of quasi-governmental organization with the power to build, acquire, and operate housing in Seattle.

People with incomes ranging from 0 to 120 percent of Seattle’s median income would be eligible to rent apartments in these new and repurposed buildings. Renters in social housing wouldn’t get kicked out if their incomes rise; instead, their rents would increase too, though never higher than 30 percent of their income, the widely accepted definition of affordability. Crucially—and in contrast to other types of affordable housing—renters themselves would make up a majority of the new PDA’s governing board, and would also have a say in how their building is run, along with a budget for amenities and events.

This type of mixed-income housing won’t, on its own, fix the city’s housing crisis. What it will do is provide badly needed housing for hundreds of people who have been, or are at risk of being, displaced from Seattle, augmenting other efforts to build government subsidized public and nonprofit housing such as apartments for people exiting homelessness. Many more ambitious initiatives—such as Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent commitment to commit $4 billion to affordable housing and legislation that would allow denser housing across the state—will be necessary to fill the gap. Social housing is a key piece of the puzzle, not the whole solution.

Critics, including the Seattle Times, have claimed the initiative is toothless because it lacks a funding source. This is disingenuous: As supporters of the initiative have pointed out repeatedly, including a revenue source would risk violating the state’s “single-subject rule” for initiatives. Previous public developers, like the Pike Place Market PDA, have been established in exactly the same way I-135’s sponsors, House Our Neighbors!, are proposing: Get the developer going first, identify revenue sources second.

Nor is it true that social housing supporters haven’t thought about how they would pay for it. In fact, they’ve identified numerous potential revenue streams, including federal housing funds, new progressive local taxes, and funding from the state, whose Democratic leadership, including Gov. Jay Inslee, has recently shown a renewed interest in investing in new affordable housing. Longtime State Rep. and housing advocate Frank Chopp, now a senior advisor to the housing nonprofit Solid Ground, has publicly said he would work to secure funding if the measure passes—a strong vote of confidence from someone with a wealth of experience making housing happen.

The measure has also garnered opposition from members the anti-development left, who argue in the King County Voters’ Guide that the measure is a waste of money because it would create mixed-income housing, rather than housing exclusively for homeless or very low-income people. The idea that very poor people should be segregated into apartment buildings that bar tenants with modest incomes (or kick people out if their income rises) has been debated ad nauseam for decades, but the US has broadly abandoned Cabrini-Green-style public housing projects in favor of mixed-income communities where better-off renters help fund the “operations, maintenance, and loan service” for the community by paying higher rents than those making little or nothing.

This element of the plan should give skeptics cause for optimism: Once built, social housing should become a self-sustaining system—one solution, among many that must happen simultaneously, to Seattle’s affordable housing crisis.

PubliCola picks a “Yes” vote on Initiative 135.

The PubliCola editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

King County Prosecuting Attorney: PubliCola Picks Leesa Manion

Current King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, an iconoclastic former Republican who has long embraced a rehabilitative approach to public safety unusual among prosecutors, will retire next year after 15 years in office. The options to replace Satterberg include his longtime chief of staff, Leesa Manion, and Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell—another Republican-turned-Democrat who has promised to resurrect many of the punitive policies of previous eras, tossing aside years of prosecutorial reform in favor of outdated 1990s-style approaches to crime and punishment.

PubliCola Picks graphicFerrell, a former senior deputy prosecutor in the office, has tacked well to the right of Manion, embracing endorsements from law-enforcement groups (including the Seattle Police Officers Guild and its controversial leader Mike Solan) and spouting law-and-order talking points about “chronic offenders” and “revolving doors” while reflexively rejecting community-based rehabilitation programs.

If elected, Ferrell has vowed to eviscerate Restorative Community Pathways, a pre-filing diversion program that connects young people facing their first felony charge with community-based diversion programs, by making many offenses ineligible and subjecting all RCP participants to charges. These changes are unlikely to improve community safety or improve the accountability of this somewhat opaque program; instead, they would ensure that fewer kids enroll in RCP, which also provides restitution and counseling for victims.

King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion
King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion

Ferrell has argued that it makes sense to hold some people with behavioral health disorders in jail prior to trial, on the grounds that jail can help “stabilize” them and get them on a path to treatment. In reality, the jail is a chaotic, poorly staffed institution where inmates have reported difficulty meeting with attorneys or getting basic medical care—hardly a therapeutic environment for people with complex conditions that require compassion, not confinement. While PubliCola supports improving access to both physical and behavioral health care for incarcerated people, Ferrell isn’t proposing those kind of systemic solutions; instead, he’s embracing a Band-Aid approach to deep-rooted problems that can’t be addressed by a quick stint in jail-based treatment.

Although the prosecuting attorney’s office does not direct county or city policy, the criminal justice system is overloaded with people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and poor people often end up stuck in jail because they can’t afford bail or electronic home monitoring. As mayor, Ferrell has embraced what he called a “tough-love” approach to homelessness, accusing homeless people of choosing a “lack-of-accountability lifestyle” and supporting Federal Way’s ban on encampments in public spaces. People experiencing homelessness need housing and services, not the “tough love” of incarceration; we need a county prosecutor who sees the county’s most vulnerable residents, even those who commit crimes, as more than merely criminals.

Manion is hardly a progressive icon. Her moderate platform consists largely of promises to continue reform initiatives Satterberg started and to take a similarly “compassionate” approach to defendants whose offenses are tied up in poverty, racism, and lack of access to health care. Her belief that the system fundamentally works has caused her to justify obviously poor decisions. Earlier this year, for example, the prosecutor’s office charged a homeless man in a year-and-a-half-old theft case despite the fact that he had enrolled in LEAD and had not reoffended; Manion said he was a good candidate for drug court, which mandates sobriety, despite the fact that he had been unable to comply with similar programs at least 22 times in the past.

Still, on policy alone, Manion is a better pick than Ferrell, who we fear would dismantle programs and policies Satterberg established, undoing decades of slow but steady reform. For that reason, and because she would support alternative approaches that improve public safety by addressing the root causes of some criminal behavior, PubliCola picks Leesa Manion.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Secretary of State: PubliCola Picks Steve Hobbs


For secretary of state, PubliCola picks incumbent Steve Hobbs, although his opponent, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, is also highly qualified for this position.

PubliCola Picks graphicJulie Anderson, the nonpartisan candidate for this technically partisan job, is versed in election law, knowledgeable about both the well-known and obscure aspects of the secretary of state’s office, and will do a capable job if elected. As Pierce County auditor since 2009, Anderson has ample experience overseeing elections, maintaining and ensuring access to public records, and implementing complex IT upgrades—boring-sounding stuff that’s critical to any functioning 21st century democracy. She wants to modernize the office, which still has one foot in the 20th century; for example, she proposes creating alternatives to handwritten signatures for voter validation and preserving complex digital documents in their original form, so that an interactive map, for example, doesn’t show up in the state archives as a static image.

Hobbs, a longtime state legislator appointed secretary of state by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2021, has also proven his qualifications for the position, establishing a new division to combat election disinformation and taking down several cybersecurity threats in real time. To address racial disparities in ballot rejections (and to ensure more ballots are counted), Hobbs has directed his office to develop a system that will send text messages to voters whose signatures have been rejected, giving them more time to contact their local elections office and make sure their vote counts.

In our interview, Hobbs also emphasized the need to expand access to voting information and ballots in languages other than English; currently, a county only has to provide voting materials in other languages if more than 5 percent of its population “are members of a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well,” according to federal voting rights law. The longtime ex-legislator said he would lobby lawmakers to fund additional voting materials for minority language groups and hire trusted community messengers to distribute voting information, a tactic that has worked in other arenas, including fighting misinformation about COVID vaccines.

Steve Hobbs Voter Guide image

Both Anderson and Hobbs are strong candidates. So why are we endorsing Hobbs over Anderson? It goes back to that seemingly simple label: “Nonpartisan.” In an ideal world, the job of overseeing elections would not only be nonpartisan, it probably wouldn’t even be elected—it’s pretty weird, when you think about it, that we fickle, partisan voters get to decide who holds a fundamentally administrative position. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a hyperpartisan, fragile democracy in which one party believes in free and fair elections and the other believes COVID was a hoax and that Donald Trump won the 2020 election despite no evidence of fraud. In this context, in this election year, declaring yourself “nonpartisan” is a denial of the real forces that threaten our democracy—not just against cyber warfare and election disinformation, but the future of free and fair elections. For this reason, PubliCola picks Democrat Steve Hobbs for secretary of state.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Approval Voting/Ranked Choice Voting (Propositions 1A and 1B): PubliCola picks “No” and Proposition 1B

The ballot measure to decide whether Seattle should change its voting system is worded, confusingly, as a two-part question. The first question is yes-or-no: Should the city adopt either of two potential new voting systems for primary elections, ranked-choice or approval voting? The second is multiple choice: Regardless of how you voted on the first question, which of the two systems would you prefer? We’re endorsing a “No” vote on the first question and a vote for ranked-choice voting on the second.

PubliCola Picks graphicProponents of approval voting and ranked-choice voting have spent weeks engaged in highly technical debates about which alternative voting system gives people the maximum say in who ends up on the general-election ballot. A ranked-choice primary would offer voters the the chance to rank as many candidates as they want in order of preference, with the final winners determined by knocking out the lowest-ranking candidate in successive “rounds,” redistributing votes to people’s second, third, and fourth choices until only two candidates remain. Approval voting allows people to vote for as few or as many candidates as they want, with the two candidates who receive the most votes overall moving forward to the general election.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting say their system gives voters more of a voice in the process because even if their top-ranked candidate doesn’t make it through, their votes for the candidates they rank lower will still “count” toward the final outcome. Supporters of approval voting say their system better represents people’s preferences, because they can vote for as many candidates as they want, including candidates they would not have picked in a traditional, one-vote system. Both say their system would be simple to implement—ranked-choice voting because it’s already being used in jurisdictions across the country, and approval voting because it wouldn’t require a new type of ballot, only new ballot instructions telling voters they can pick as many candidates as they want. Ranked choice voting advocates say their plan is more democratic, because it empowers people to express nuanced preferences, and approval voting advocates say their plan eliminates candidates on the political fringes to elect the candidate who appeals to the maximum number of voters.

But let’s pull back a bit and ask: What problem are these voting systems trying to solve? If the answer is “too few people are running for city council,” the two most recent city elections would like to have a word; the last five races for open seats drew a minimum of seven candidates and as many as 15. Moreover, many of those who made it past the primary (in 2019: Tammy Morales in District 2 and Shaun Scott in District 4, and in 2021, Lorena González for mayor and Nikkita Oliver for Position 8) were progressive candidates of color.

Both campaigns claim adopting their system will reduce the influence of money in local elections by lifting the pressure to vote for the best-financed candidate. But Seattle’s money problem is that independent groups can spend unlimited amounts supporting candidates and ballot measures, something no voting system can directly address.

If the answer is “too few people are voting in local races,” it’s hard to see how complicating the ballot—requiring voters to educate themselves thoroughly on a dozen or more candidates in order to rank them or decide how many of them to vote for—will achieve that goal. The more work involved in voting, whether it’s ranking candidates on a scale of one through 10 or going to an in-person voting booth—the fewer people will vote.

Both campaigns claim their new voting systems will ensure that “better” candidates will win—or at least candidates that are more representative of the electorate’s true preferences. But that’s hardly a guarantee. The candidates who make it through local primary elections are determined by a host of messy factors, including who decides to run, what issues are top of mind for voters, and which candidates have financial support from outside interest groups, which enjoy outsized power in Seattle’s local elections. Both campaigns claim adopting their system will reduce the influence of money in local elections by lifting the pressure to vote for the best-financed candidate. But Seattle’s money problem is that independent groups can spend unlimited amounts supporting candidates and ballot measures, something no voting system can directly address. Notably, both campaigns are funded primarily by six-figure donations from organizations outside Seattle.

Based on their appeals to voters, the real argument for both of these voting systems is that people’s votes will count more when they’re run through an algorithm that tabulates it differently, even though the outcome will always be that the two most popular candidates move forward. This boils down, for either system, to a contention that allowing voters to choose more candidates makes voting more “fair.” (Neither RCV nor Approval Voting supporters have claimed their system would have altered the outcome of recent council primary elections, in which two candidates generally emerge from a field of a dozen or more.) The strongest case for either system, then, is that they make voters feel heard. Unfortunately, the problems with Seattle’s electoral system, most notably the immense influx of outside money from unaccountable independent expenditure campaigns, can’t be fixed by making people feel included. Algorithms can’t fix democracy—or turn 20-point defeats into victories.

This two-part ballot measure also allows voters to choose an alternative voting system, regardless of whether they support our current top-two primary. On this question, we urge readers to vote for Proposition 1B, ranked-choice voting. If we are going to get a new voting system for primary elections, we would prefer that system be ranked-choice voting, both because ranked-choice systems have been tested in many jurisdictions and because we’re open to the idea that, in the future, ranked-choice voting could give a worthy candidate a needed boost in a close three-way race.

Supporters of approval voting say it would lead to more broadly popular, or centrist, elected officials. Historically, Seattle has needed no help electing mushy moderates (PubliCola’s editorial board is old enough to remember the days of Margaret Pageler, Jim Compton, and Jean Godden), so we don’t need a voting system that pushes candidates further to the middle.

Overall, though, we’d prefer to stick with our current top-two system, and advocate for reforms that will actually help even the electoral playing field by reducing the influence of dark money (and the incendiary advertising it pays for) in our local elections.

PubliCola picks “No” On City of Seattle Propositions 1A and 1B Part 1, and IB on Part 2.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Seattle Municipal Court Position 7: PubliCola Picks Damon Shadid

Local judicial races are typically low-profile events; during the last municipal court election, in 2018, all seven candidates ran unopposed. This year, after voters elected a tough-on-crime slate of candidates in 2021, is different. Earlier this year, one of those candidates, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, pushed progressive municipal court Judge Damon Shadid to exclude so-called “high utilizers” of the court system from community court, which diverts people accused of low-level crimes into services instead of jail. When Shadid said he needed time to discuss the idea with his colleagues, Davison got the full court to exclude high utilizers without his consent, ensuring that more people in this group would end up in jail instead of getting help.

PubliCola Picks graphicDavison isn’t running for judge, but one of her assistant city attorneys, Hyjat Rose-Akins, is. And although Rose-Akins’ views are informed by her own experience and perspective, they are also Davison’s views. In an interview with PubliCola and at a recent debate hosted by the Hacks and Wonks podcast, Rose-Akins argued that community court “doesn’t seem to be working,” based on the fact that people often fail to appear for court dates or are accused of multiple offenses at once.

There are many reasons people fail to show up in court, including homelessness and behavioral health conditions, but Rose-Akins’ solutions—radically circumscribing community court, locking more people up in the understaffed downtown jail, and using bail more liberally as a tool to ensure defendants’ presence in court—don’t address any of them. As judge, Rose-Akins would be a throwback to the days when punishment was seen, falsely, as a useful corrective to behavior caused by untreated mental illness, poverty, and addiction.

Judge Damon Shadid
Seattle Municipal Court Judge Damon Shadid

Under Shadid, the community court has diverted defendants from the criminal justice system and into housing, addiction treatment, mental health services, and Medicaid—programs that improve the material and health conditions that can lead people to commit low-level misdemeanors like theft, trespassing, and engaging in misdemeanor-level drug sales to support their own addiction. In the first six months of the program, which Shadid launched in 2020, 61 people graduated, completing every condition imposed by the court. In the two years since, 80 percent of those early graduates have not been charged with a single law violation—a fraction of historical adult recidivism rates, and clear evidence that people who have access to services commit fewer crimes.

Working with the previous city attorney, Shadid also instituted reforms at the city’s mental health court—an alternative to mainstream court that connects defendants with mental illness to services as part of a closely monitored release and probation plan. The changes reduced or eliminated requirements, such as automatic jail time, that made mental health court unappealing to defense attorneys, tripling the number of people who opt in to the court. According to data maintained by King County, participants in Seattle’s mental health court were substantially less likely to end up in jail after enrolling in court services.

If he’s reelected, Shadid plans to expand his focus on setting up a new “jail release tool kit” to connect people to services in the community if they can be released safely, and making it available to all muni court judges. Shadid doesn’t believe courts should abolish bail altogether, but he has implemented an impactful form of bail reform, eliminating the need for bail at community court by making immediate release from jail a part of the program. This “release-first” model has garnered criticism from Davison and Rose-Akins, but Shadid points out that keeping people in jail simply because they can’t afford bail is discriminatory and can further destabilize people already living on the margins, depriving them of housing, jobs, and access to services and health care.

The court needs reform-minded judges who are deeply attuned to the built-in racial biases that inform arrests and prosecutions, and who understand that jail is not a one-size-fits-all solution to street disorder and low-level crime. PubliCola picks Damon Shadid for a third term on the Seattle Municipal Court.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

PubliCola Picks: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy for City Attorney

Nicole Thomas-Kennedy

For weeks, media coverage of public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy’s campaign for city attorney has focused on anti-police tweets she posted in 2020, to the exclusion of almost any other campaign issue. Amid the onslaught of one-sided coverage and attacks, Thomas-Kennedy has declined to apologize, and odds are, it wouldn’t matter anyway: The “But Her Tweets” crowd is so set on demonizing and caricaturing Thomas-Kennedy as a monstrous extremist, acknowledging their demands would only encourage them.

Nor, it seems, have Thomas-Kennedy’s opponents paid much attention to her actual platform, which represents an evolution and expansion of city policies that have already demonstrated their effectiveness. Already, under current city attorney Pete Holmes, the city has invested in diversionary programs that keep people out of jail and put them on a path to recovery and self-sufficiency—programs like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which provides case management and services to people involved in low-level street crime, and Community Passageways, a diversion and prevention program for youth and young adults.

Ten or 15 years ago, when the first diversionary programs were just coming online, it was still somewhat controversial to propose spending money to address the problems that cause people to commit “public disorder” crimes instead of locking people up for things like shoplifting, sleeping in public, and small-time drug deals. Today, the evidence is incontrovertible that prevention and diversion are far more effective (and cost-effective) than punishment and retribution. Restorative justice, diversion, and decarceration are no longer radical concepts, but mainstream approaches.

Thomas-Kennedy wants to push farther in the direction of decriminalization and abolition than Holmes, who accomplished significant policy changes (decriminalizing marijuana locally before it was legal statewide, for example) using a quiet, sometimes incremental approach. But elections present choices, and Holmes is no longer on the ballot. The choice now is between a public defender with a firm grasp of both the civil and criminal sides of the city attorney’s office and a clear, full-speed ahead progressive agenda—and an unqualified activist and perennial candidate whose solution to homelessness and crime are the same: Lock ’em up. Of all the members of this year’s backlash slate, Davison is the most extreme, pushing a law-and-order agenda Seattle hasn’t seen the likes of since the voters returned Mark Sidran to private practice 20 years ago.

Davison conflates crime and homelessness but fails to understand that prosecuting homeless people does nothing to address the conditions that lead people to shoplift, sleep in parks, or buy and sell drugs. Like her supporters Scott Lindsay, Ed McKenna, and, yes, Sidran, she believes that Seattle is too soft on people whose crimes result from poverty, addiction, and homelessness, and wants to restore “order” to Seattle streets by delivering “disorderly” people, particularly “chronic offenders,” into the hands of the criminal justice system.

This simplistic, out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to complex problems is a pattern for Davison. In 2019, when she ran for city council against District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez, Davison proposed making people experiencing homelessness invisible by rounding them up and busing them to warehouses in North Seattle, Pierce County, and Renton. Her “plan” to warehouse up to 5,500 people, which Davison claimed she “meticulously priced out,” would have supposedly cost the city less than $1,500 per person, per year—an estimate that is profoundly out of touch with the reality of not only what shelter costs, but what shelter is.

Beyond her strange policy proposals, Davison appears to have a shaky grasp on what the city attorney’s office actually does. In campaign mailings and public statements, Davison has focused largely on felonies, like homicide, rape, and burglary, which are not handled by the city attorney’s office. To the extent she has articulated a vision for the city attorney’s office, her plan focuses on what she won’t do—allow people to sleep outside, in conditions she calls worse than “a UN Cambodian refugee camp”—than what she will. Perhaps that’s because Davison has almost no actual courtroom experience, representing just a handful of clients in low-level probate and arbitration cases, most of them more than a decade ago. The region’s coalition of minority bar associations recently gave Davison its lowest rating: “Not qualified.”

Seattle voters, known for electing leaders with generally progressive values, should be alarmed by the fact that Davison not only joined the Republican party during the Trump Administration, but ran for office as a Republican when Trump was at the top of the ticket. (Davison now claims she is a nonpartisan, “independent thinker.”) Although Davison says she voted for Biden, she has not said whether she supported “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theorist Loren Culp, the Republicans’ choice for governor last year. Davison’s platform was a classic Republican stunt: Elect me, and I’ll abolish the office.

The city attorney is not primarily a prosecutor; the criminal division makes up about a third of the office, while the bulk of the work takes place over in the civil division. Mostly, the job involves working far outside the spotlight: Ensuring that legislation passes legal muster, developing labor relations policy, enforcing local regulations, and representing the city in civil litigation. Seattle needs an attorney who is qualified, prepared, and understands the assignment.

While we’re a bit skeptical of Thomas-Kennedy’s plans to enlist the city attorney’s office in a dramatic overhaul of the entire criminal legal system, we are convinced she understands the job she’s applying for. As a public defender who’s had to advocate for people whose actions she didn’t agree with, she’s also well aware that the job will sometimes require her to put her personal views aside and provide the best possible representation for her clients. We’re not convinced that Davison, who has consistently advocated for a justice system based on punishment and retribution, has the perspective or the legal experience to do the same.

The PubliCola editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.