Tag: Election 2022

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to resurrect many of the punitive policies of previous eras, tossing aside years of prosecutorial reform in favor of outdated 1990s-style approaches to crime and punishment.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.

For Seattle Municipal Court Position 3, PubliCola Picks: No Endorsement

Incumbent Seattle Municipal Court Presiding Judge Adam Eisenberg has done important work to create alternatives to incarceration for people who commit certain serious misdemeanor crimes. But his commitment to reforming the judicial system comes with some alarming asterisks.

PubliCola Picks graphicIn 2018, Eisenberg led the effort to established an individualized intervention program for perpetrators of domestic violence who were willing to admit they were at fault and wanted help. This court-based intervention, known as the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) represents a commendable improvement over programs that focused on punishment at the expense of rehabilitation, but it’s still unclear whether DVIP participants (and their partners) benefit from the intervention long-term. Eisenberg wants to expand DVIP to be more inclusive, and wants to create new programs that teach empathy and communication skills to people who commit low-level domestic-violence crimes.

But Eisenberg also supports programs that reinforce a punitive status quo. In addition to signing on to City Attorney Ann Davison’s effort to exclude a list of about 120 “high utilizers” from community court, he also told PubliCola he supports requiring some defendants to undergo drug and alcohol treatment inside the county jail, rather than in community-based programs, because people in jail can’t just walk away from treatment. This approach, supported by controversial former judge Ed McKenna (who is backing Eisenberg), is not evidence-based and could infringe on civil liberties, particularly for people being held in jail while awaiting trial.

Eisenberg’s opponent, Pooja Vaddadi, says she felt compelled to run against the judge after working inside the municipal court system for 10 months as an attorney for the King County Department of Public Defense, where she said she witnessed a “toxic and biased judiciary acting against the interest of public safety and undermining the institution of the court.”

While Vaddadi makes a compelling case against many of the court’s current practices, including some of Eisenberg’s decisions involving domestic violence protection orders, she has not made a strong argument that she’s qualified (or has specific policy solutions) to reform the system from within. We agree with most of Vaddadi’s positions, from the need for alternatives to expensive home monitoring to the need to replace bail with a more equitable accountability system. But we aren’t convinced that her work as a public defender has prepared her for a position that involves impartially administering justice in hundreds of cases a year. PubliCola makes no endorsement in this race.

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.

Anti-Election Reform Campaign Emerges, Next Year’s Election Starts Shaping Up, New SDOT Director Says He’ll Take Vision Zero Down to the Studs

Map of fatal and serious crashes in Seattle from June 2022 SDOT presentation.
Map of fatal and serious crashes in Seattle from June 2022 SDOT presentation.

1. Next year, all seven district-based city council positions will be on the ballot, and several names have already begun to circulate as potential contenders.

In District 1 (West Seattle), Meta (and former Microsoft) attorney Rob Saka, who served on the King County Council redistricting committee, is reportedly considering a bid against incumbent Lisa Herbold if she runs again next year.

Saka told PubliCola he hasn’t decided yet whether he will run, but confirmed he has met with Harrell as well as “fellow daycare and public school parents, early childhood education providers, leaders in the Black community I used to work with when I served on the boards of the Urban League and the Loren Miller Bar Association (civil rights organization of Black lawyers in Washington State), through my work in policing and legal reforms, and with current and former elected leaders throughout the region.

“I have nothing to announce or confirm, and I remain 100% focused on current obligations — from my legal practice in a new role in my ‘day job’ to the Police Chief search, to helping my kids get back to school,” Saka continued. “That said, I am grateful for the initial discussions—and strong encouragement—from so many as I think about potential longer term next steps in my career and public service.”

In District 2, Tammy Morales (who filled Harrell’s council position when he declined to run for reelection in 2019) could see a challenge from community advocate Chukundi Salisbury, who ran for state representative in the 37th District and was defeated by Kirsten Harris-Talley in 2020; Salisbury did not return an email seeking comment.

In District 3 (Central Seattle), represented since 2015 by socialist Kshama Sawant, cannabis entrepreneur and Jackson Place Community Council leader Alex Cooley told PubliCola he’s “strongly considering” a run against Sawant, who he says has “never been interested in so the problems of the district or the city.” Cooley owns the SoDo-based company Solstice, which grows and processes cannabis that’s sold in stores across the region; he said that it’s “kind of a neighborhood joke [in the district] that you will never hear back from Councilmember Sawant.”

“The city has been on a pretty long decline for at least the past five years—really about 10—and I don’t see Councilmember Sawant solving the problems that the city’s dealing with, [and] is actually part of that decline and lack of progress,” Cooley said.

As a business owner in SoDo, Cooley said he’s seen his share of half-implemented solutions to the problem of homelessness, which in industrial areas often means people living in RVs. Seattle has “fits and starts of good ideas” but fails to commit to them, Cooley said. “We  tried to do the experiment of an RV safe lot, which I’m a huge proponent of, but no one managed it, no one ran it, and so it evolved into chaos.”

Cooley said he’ll take the next few months to make a decision before filing for council races starts in January. Including her first citywide race in 2013, Sawant has won three elections by increasingly narrow margins; she narrowly beat back a recall effort last year.

This item has been corrected to reflect the fact that Chukundi Salisbury lives in District 2, not District 3, and updated with comments from Rob Saka.

2. In November, voters will get to decide whether and how to replace the city’s current first-past-the-post primary elections by saying yes to ranked choice voting or approval voting or no to both. Ranked-choice voting gives voters the option to rank candidates in order of preference, while approval voting allows voters to “approve” as many candidates that they like, with the top two candidates moving forward to the general election.

Advocates for both proposals say their system would result in elected officials who better represent the views and interests of voters, by allowing them to choose a whole slate of acceptable candidates instead of betting their entire vote on a single person. Advocates for the status quo say the alternatives are confusing and open the system to new forms of gamemanship.

Now, a group of business owners, organized as Seattle for Election Simplicity, has formed to make the case for the status quo. Campaign filings show the group has raised around $35,000 in contributions, all of it (so far) from people who represent business and banking interests in and around Seattle. Among the contributors are HomeStreet Bank and its CEO, Mark Mason ($5,000 total), Costco co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal ($5,000), telecom billionaire and Mariners co-owner John Stanton ($5,000), developer Jon Runstad ($5,000), Space Needle chairman Jeffrey Wright ($5,000), and former Starbucks president Howard Behar ($2,500).

So far, almost half of the contributions to Seattle for Election Simplicity, over $15,000, come from outside Seattle. This actually compares favorably to Seattle Approves, which has obtained 87 percent of its almost $500,000 in contributions from outside city limits. The campaign for ranked-choice voting has only reported one contribution so far.

Spotts said he would start work on Vision Zero by doing a detailed assessment of which “interventions” (a category that might include protected and unprotected bike lanes, bus bulbs, road diets, and pedestrian-first stop lights) are working to reduce casualties and which ones aren’t. “We know we have some corridors that are very vehicular-oriented,” Spotts said.

3. The city council’s transportation committee unanimously recommended approving Mayor Bruce Harrell’s nominee to direct the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) on Tuesday, after a brief volley of questions focusing on issues like pedestrian safety and tree canopy in South Seattle, bridge maintenance, and Seattle’s lack of progress on Vision Zero, a plan to end all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

Spotts said he would start work on Vision Zero by doing a detailed assessment of which “interventions” (a category that might include protected and unprotected bike lanes, bus bulbs, road diets, and pedestrian-first stop lights) are working to reduce casualties and which ones aren’t. “We know we have some corridors that are very vehicular-oriented,” Spotts said.

Later, after District 2 Councilmember Tammy Morales noted that 56 percent of traffic fatalities happened in Southeast Seattle, Spotts added, “I want to spend some more time out on Rainier. I did do some walking and there are places where there’s a very wide crossing distance to get across unsignalized freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, which is a scary thing to get across.”

The safety problems with areas like Aurora Ave. N and Rainier Ave. S have been well-documented for decades (hell, I’ve been covering them myself since at least 2006), and the solutions that will work to address them are no mystery, either: When the city narrowed a portion of Rainier that runs through now-chichi Columbia City, people stopped driving their cars into businesses and there were fewer traffic collisions, because people could no longer drive at freeway speeds through the neighborhood.

North of Columbia City, where Seattle has continued to do almost nothing to slow traffic or provide opportunities for pedestrian to cross the street safely, the crashes, injuries, and deaths continued. Notably, the city has made almost no major changes to calm traffic along the speed-inducing corridor since approving the “road diet” (after almost a decade of opposition, including from then-council member Harrell) in 2015. Cutesy signs, “empowering” billboards, and slightly lower speed limits won’t cut it; more stoplights, signaled crosswalks, and a narrower travel path for people in cars can and will.

Democrats, Republicans, and “Nonpartisan Party” Candidate Face off for Secretary of State; Council Takes Up Abortion Bills

1. The race for Washington Secretary of State—a position to which no Democrat has been elected since the 1960s—has drawn eight candidates, among them two Republicans, two Democrats (including the appointed incumbent, former state Sen. Steve Hobbs), and four candidates with other affiliations, including Pierce County auditor and “nonpartisan party” candidate Julie Anderson. (One candidate, Tamborine Borelli, is running with an “America First (R)” affiliation).

At a virtual forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Washington last week, five of the eight candidates described what their priorities would be if elected. Three of the five—Hobbs, Anderson, and former Republican state legislator Mark Miloscia—have reported raising more than $50,000.

The other two candidates at the forum were Marquez Tiggs, a Democrat who said he would support in-person voting to increase turnout and require voter IDs at polling stations, and Bob Hagglund, a Republican who said he wants to require voter ID so that “the people who should not be voting don’t get their vote and don’t get their ballots counted.” Borelli, “Union Party” candidate Kurtis Engle, and Republican Keith Waggoner did not participate.

Hobbs and Anderson, the two top fundraisers and likely frontrunners, both emphasized their experience—Hobbs as an expert on disinformation from his training as a member of the US Army National Guard, and Anderson as Pierce County auditor for the past 12 years. Anderson said she would be the first Secretary of State to embrace nonpartisanship. “Political parties do not belong in the Secretary of State’s office,” she said, adding that she would support legislation to make the office officially nonpartisan. Hobbs said it doesn’t matter to him whether the office is partisan or not, because “it’s about the person that’s in the office, not the label.”

Among other claims, Republican Secretary of State candidate Mark Miloscia has argued that “perverts” on the left are “coming after our children,” denouncing abortion rights supporters, and accusing Democrats of “indoctrinating children with the demonic tenants of pagan radicalism.

The two candidates also differed on the issue of ranked choice voting (Anderson said she supports it as a matter of “local choice,” while Hobbs said it “just adds a new complicated element to elections” and “is vastly unfair to new Americans to come to this country where English is not their first language.” Both agreed that the state should do more to protect the security of elections, although Hobbs emphasized outreach and voter contact, including heightened efforts to reach voters when the signatures on their mail-in ballots are rejected while Anderson proposed a “statewide risk limiting audit” on a single race to test election security.

Since leaving office (and running unsuccessfully for state auditor in 2012 and 2016), Miloscia has been the director of the Family Institute of Washington, where he has written prolifically and conspiratorially about the decline of “traditional values.” Among other claims, Miloscia has argued that “perverts” on the left are “coming after our children,” denouncing abortion rights supporters, and accusing Democrats of “indoctrinating children with the demonic tenants of pagan radicalism.” (Also, he is positively obsessed with drag queens, who he says are tempting children with “lie[s] from the devil.”)

2. The city council will take up three different bills aimed at addressing access to abortion, two of them delayed because one of their sponsors, Councilmember Tammy Morales, contracted COVID.

The first, sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, aims to turn Seattle into a “sanctuary city” for abortion providers by directing the City Attorney’s Office and police not to cooperate with investigations, subpoenas, or search or arrest warrants by out-of-state authorities seeking to prosecute abortion providers who take refuge in Seattle. “If people break the unjust anti-abortion laws in their own state and believe they will be caught, they can come to Seattle to stave off prosecution,” Sawant said at a Monday afternoon council briefing.

The legislation also says that if Washington state bans or restricts abortion in the future, the police must make cooperation with other law enforcement authorities among its lowest law-enforcement priorities, along with marijuana-related offenses.

The second, from Morales and Councilmember Lisa Herbold, incorporates a 1993 state law that makes it a gross misdemeanor to interfere with a patient’s access to health care facilities, such as clinics and hospitals that provide abortions, by blocking entrances, disturbing the peace, and harassing or threatening patients or clinic employees. And the third, also sponsored by Morales and Herbold, would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s perceived pregnancy outcomes; for example, an employer could not fire or penalize an employee because the employer believed she had an abortion.

Although both proposals seem likely to pass, they also illustrate the limitations of what blue cities in blue states can do to mitigate the impact of abortion bans nationwide—it’s unlikely, for example, that abortion providers from across the country will resettle in Seattle en masse to avoid pursuit and prosecution by anti-choice judges and law enforcement officials in their home states.

Statewide efforts to fund abortion providers who will be inundated with out-of-state patients would be more impactful, as would restrictions on additional mergers between secular and Catholic hospitals, which not only refuse to provide abortions but often refuse to manage miscarriages in progress or provide tubal ligations or birth control. Earlier this year, a state bill that would have required some transparency when health care systems merge failed to make it out of committee.

Social Housing Initiative Pushes Forward, Fact-Checking Harrell on Homelessness

1. The campaign for Initiative 135, which would create a new public development authority to build publicly owned “social housing,” announced on Wednesday that it had just turned in 29,000 signatures to qualify their citywide initiative for the November 2022 ballot.

The House Our Neighbors campaign, led by the advocacy group Real Change, used paid signature gatherers to give their effort a boost in its final weeks, but the final count leaves little room for chance: To get on the ballot, a measure must be backed by signatures representing 10 percent of the voters in the last mayoral election, or about 26,500 names. Because many signatures are typically invalid, campaigns often try to collect as many signatures as possible; House Our Neighbors had hoped to collect around 35,000 names.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Real Change policy director Tiffany McCoy said the campaign combed over its signatures to eliminate as many as possible with non-Seattle addresses or information that was otherwise unclear. “If for some reason we come up five [signatures] short or 100, we do have a 20-day window to gather those requisite signatures and turn those in get on the ballot,” McCoy said. “Even if we don’t succeed this time, we will succeed in the future,” McCoy added. “This is happening one way or another.”

2. During a question-and-answer session sponsored by the business-backed homelessness nonprofit We Are In Tuesday evening, Mayor Bruce Harrell stuck to talking points about “treatment,” “data,” and “compassion” in response to questions about his administration’s progress on homelessness. Instead of covering all his responses to We Are In director Felicia Salcedo’s friendly questions, we thought it would be useful to provide a short fact check on a few of the mayor’s key talking points from Tuesday’s event.

“Housing and Treatment”

As he has at many press events involving homelessness, Harrell said the city’s response to homelessness would focus on ensuring people get the “treatment” they need. Responding to a question about the increase in encampment removals, Harrell said, “I lead with housing and I lead with treatment.”

In fact, even in the handful of cases where the city has done months of focused outreach before sweeping an area, sweeps almost never lead directly to housing or treatment. Instead, the city’s HOPE Team provides referrals to available shelter beds, which include everything from congregate “enhanced” shelter to tiny house villages. (Less than half of shelter referrals, generally speaking, result in someone actually showing up and staying at a shelter for at least one night). The city of Seattle provides very limited funding for programs that can lead to treatment, such as community court, with the overwhelming majority of local treatment dollars coming out of the King County budget.

“An unprecedented level of transparency” 

Earlier this month, Harrell rolled out what he described as an unprecedented public dashboard containing information about where people are living unsheltered, what kind of shelter or housing the city is offering people prior to encampment removals, and new shelter and housing units that are opening up.

Asked about the dashboard, Harrell said that it includes not just “a heat map” of “where people are living [and] where we’re offering people shelter” but a detailed breakdown of what the city is spending on homelessness and information to help the public “as we track our police and fire responses” to encampments.

In reality, the website Harrell announced shows only very high-level and partial information about the state of homelessness in Seattle. For example, the information on emergency responses consists of three high-level, citywide numbers representing information available through April, and the “heat map” includes an obviously incomplete count of tents and RVs by neighborhood; as an example, the map says there are no tents or RVs in the entire University District, and just one in Beacon Hill and South Beacon Hill combined. The information is also incomplete (many former encampments the map highlights include the note “outreach data not available”) and out of date; the most recent update came from information available in mid-May, and the website does not allow viewers to download any data themselves.

Information about what the city spends on homelessness, meanwhile, is misleading; a pie chart and several slides meant to illustrate the city’s contribution to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s budget includes tens of millions of dollars in federal emergency funds that do not come directly from the city, which contributed just under $70 million—not $118 million—to the authority last year.

Suburban Cities

Asked about the role suburban areas can or should be playing in addressing homelessness, Harrell said he would continue helping people who are “not from Seattle” but are moving here because the areas where they live are less “compassionate” toward people experiencing homelessness. Continue reading “Social Housing Initiative Pushes Forward, Fact-Checking Harrell on Homelessness”

What Is Social Housing?

Photo depicting the exterior top half of renovated and renewed complex of block of flats with a colorful facade.

By Erica C. Barnett

Later this year, Seattle voters could take a first step toward building a new kind of permanently affordable, mixed-income public housing known as “social housing.” The House Our Neighbors! Coalition — a project of the housing advocacy organization Real Change — is collecting signatures for Initiative 135 (I-135), which would create a new public development authority (PDA) to build and operate new housing; funding for the PDA would come later, through future State or local legislation.

What Is Social Housing? 

In the U.S., most affordable housing is either public housing (built and maintained by government authorities) or housing built or purchased, and operated, by private nonprofits that receive government funding. (Housing subsidies, such as Section 8 vouchers, are aimed at helping renters afford market-rate housing.) In other parts of the world, including Europe and South America, “social housing” refers broadly to a type of housing that’s permanently affordable, with rents capped at a percentage of renters’ income.

The umbrella term “social housing” can refer to many different models, including some that incorporate private and nonprofit developers into a public funding scheme, and the term does not refer exclusively to low-income housing. The Vancouver, British Columbia, definition of “social housing” has been a source of recent controversy, because it serves people making up to six figures, as would Seattle’s.

How Would It Work in Seattle? 

Initiative 135 would achieve a social housing model by creating a public developer to build, acquire, and operate housing that would be funded by State or local revenues, including bonds. This publicly owned housing would have to be permanently affordable (costing less than 30% of monthly income) to a mix of people earning between 0% and 120% of Seattle’s area median income — as of last April, $81,000 for one person living alone, or $115,700 for a family of four. Under the authority’s charter, renters could not be kicked out if their income rises; their rent would simply rise accordingly.

After an initial startup period, the PDA’s 13-member governing board, which would manage the authority, would include a seven-member renter majority elected by residents. Each building would also have its own elected governing board, a kind of public HOA that would advocate to the board on behalf of residents and make building-level decisions, like how to spend the annual budget for common areas.

How Would It Be Funded?

Supporters of I-135 say they deliberately did not include a funding source in the initiative in order to avoid violating the State “single-subject rule,” which limits ballot initiatives (and State laws) to a single issue.

The initiative would simply set up the development authority and get it going, creating a temporary board and requiring the City to provide “in-kind” support to get the authority ready to build new housing or buy existing buildings once funding is in place. Other public development authorities in Seattle, such as the Pike Place Market PDA, also started without a funding source and pay for the market’s operating budget and capital improvements through rents, investments, and a 2008 ballot measure that increased property taxes to pay for $73 million in improvements.

Supporters have been vague about where future funding might come from, saying all potential sources are on the table, including State- and City-backed bonds, the State capital budget, and private philanthropy. “We are working on identifying progressive revenue sources,” Real Change Advocacy Director Tiffani McCoy said, “but we wanted to put together the structure and the vision and build up that startup support” first.

Seattle is currently facing a budget shortfall brought on by the end of COVID-era federal support but could be in better financial shape by the time the PDA comes to the City Council seeking funding through the City budget or Council-issued bonds. Continue reading “What Is Social Housing?”

Initiative Would Pave the Way for Social Housing in Seattle

Wohnpark Alterlaa, a social housing project in Vienna
Social housing in Vienna; photo by Thomas Ledl, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Erica C. Barnett

The House Our Neighbors coalition, a project of the homeless advocacy group Real Change, will file a ballot initiative on Monday to create a new public development authority (PDA) to build publicly owned, permanently affordable housing—also known as social housing—in Seattle. Funding for the PDA would come later, through future state or local legislation.

Social housing, according to Real Change advocacy director Tiffani McCoy, differs from other types of affordable housing because it’s permanently affordable, including to people whose income changes; because it gives renters a say in policies that impact them; and because it’s publicly owned, rather than subsidized or operated by a private nonprofit, like much of the affordable housing in Seattle.

“Developments MUST be permanently protected from being sold or transferred to a private entity or public-private partnership,” the proposed ordinance says.

McCoy says the coalition backing the initiative “didn’t want to just advocate for more money for the [Seattle] Office of Housing or affordable housing in general, because while those are obviously very, very important programs, they can be very restrictive in terms of what [income levels] you can serve. The proposed new authority would build housing for people earning between 0 and 120 percent of Seattle’s Area Median Income, currently $81,000 for a single person or $115,700 for a family of four.

The initiative would set up a PDA—a type of public developer—and require the city of Seattle to provide “in-kind” startup support to run it for the first 18 months; funding to actually build new housing would come later and could require the state legislature to approve a new funding mechanism, as it has for other large local projects like Sound Transit. State Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43), a longtime advocate for affordable housing, is supporting the initiative and could be instrumental in creating a funding source for the authority, if the measure passes; he did not immediately return a call for comment last week.

The initiative would also require the city to do a feasibility study before selling off public land to determine whether it could be developed as social housing and transferred to the PDA. In 2019, the city sold a three-acre piece of land in South Lake Union known as the “Mercer Megablock” to a real estate equity firm for $143 million; the sale required the buyer, Alexandria Real Estate, to build 175 units of affordable housing and a make a one-time $5 million contribution to help the city address homelessness. Affordable housing advocates criticized the sale as a missed opportunity to build a much larger number of permanently affordable units on the site.

By adding the requirement that the city study the feasibility of affordable housing before selling off public land, “we just wanted to set up some accountability mechanism,” McCoy said: “A record of [the city] saying why they want this land to go to a private developer, as opposed to being for for public use.”

Initiative backers will have to collect around 26,500 valid signatures to get the measure on the November ballot; since some signatures are always ruled invalid, that means collecting around 35,000 signatures total.