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Hacks & Wonks

Feb 12, 2021

Today on the show co-host (and new dad!) Michael Charles of Upper Left Strategies joins Crystal to discuss the appointment of accused sexual assailant Joe Fain by Republicans to the redistricting commission, what may happen as we jump into mayoral and county council election season, and the kind of leadership Seattle and King County need right now. 

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today’s co-host, Michael Charles, at @mikeychuck. More info is available at


Articles Referenced:

Read about responses to Joe Fain’s appointment to the redistricting commission here: 

Learn more about the redistricting of Washington State here: 

Follow the South Seattle Emerald’s coverage of the mayoral race here:

Learn how to testify remotely before the legislature, and how to follow bills here:  



Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks and Wonks. I'm your host Crystal Fincher. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on politics in our state. And just a heads up this episode does include discussion of a public figure being accused of sexual assault. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program friend of the show and today's co-host political consulting and managing partner of Upper Left Strategies, Michael Charles. 

Michael Charles: [00:00:53] And brand new father, I might add now.

Crystal Fincher: [00:00:56] And brand new father! Congratulations!

Michael Charles: [00:00:59] Thank you. It's exciting to be back and get away for a little bit to come share in gossip a little bit with you. 

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:07] Yes. And I've seen the baby and she is adorable. So yeah. Congratulations. Good job. I'm sure you're short on sleep and all that kind of stuff, but how fun.

Michael Charles: [00:01:20] Aw, thank you - Team Girl Dad, enjoying every minute. 

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:23] Yes. Wonderful. Well, I just wanted to dive in and I guess we will start with one of the big stories we saw this week and, and kind of was surprising to hear it and not surprised to see how the state GOP has acted in the wake of it - but the story that Republicans decided to appoint Joe Fain, ex-Senator of the 47th Legislative District, who lost election in a seat that he was originally presumed to be safe in following allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman several years back. 

The allegation by all accounts seems very credible and thorough. This was not something that was just heard of right now - she told other people at the time and the recounts of what she said then versus now, you know, completely match up. There is not a reason to doubt her and of course, as we know that women don't come forward - almost never come forward with sexual assault allegations falsely. The percentage of false allegations are so minute. Meanwhile, the number of women who are sexually assaulted, 1 in 6 is the estimate, and the overwhelming majority don't even come forward at all because of the stigma and blowback and social, professional and mental health, and sometimes legal consequences attached to that. So just always doesn't help - to lay that out upfront. 

But wanted to talk about it in that vein and that these were credible allegations against him that were basically addressed by him being voted out and that you know, for all intents and purposes from Republicans' standpoint - they kind of tanked the investigation and brought that to a close in the Legislature because he was already gone. And so they decided and said, Hey, out of all the names that we had to choose from - Joe Fain is the one that we want to head our redistricting effort. And that was shocking and appalling to so many people across the state, including a number of organizations who wrote public letters condemning the action and asking that he be removed. The other Democrats on the commission have asked that he be removed. And that we don't provide platforms and promote people who have been credibly accused without a full and thorough investigation. What's your take on this, Michael? 

Michael Charles: [00:04:12] I mean, in short, it feels like it's trolling from the GOP and it feels like a reflection of kind of what's happening on the, you know, the national scale here with Marjorie Taylor Greene and some of this idea of cancel culture, and what role do we have in public life, and who gets canceled and why? And you know, I think seems like it's a weird cross to begin to have your discussion based on, but I feel like it was a move towards politics and not move toward that they thought was best for people. It was a very political decision that led - that's leading to a discussion. There's something about trolling the libs that conservatives get pleasure out of, I honestly feel . And it's unfortunate they don't have the same values and standards in their leadership and they don't hold their leadership to the same standards that we hold ours to.

You know, I think it's unfortunate that they chose that path. I think it's really good that we can continue to have these discussions about the values that we hold important to us as a community, as a party, as a region, like we should, we should not want this in our leadership and we should denounce and speak loudly against the party, the interests - that don't find this to be a problem. 

Crystal Fincher: [00:05:43] Yeah, absolutely. And I also want to, you know, Republicans have clearly invited this, but this is opposition to people being promoted and platformed who have been credibly accused of sexual assault without there being a full investigation and accounting for what happened. That's not partisan - the desire to want that is not partisan. And also a reminder - Joe Fain was known as one of the most, I guess, centrist and bipartisan legislators out there. He had actually enjoyed the endorsement of a number of Democrats in addition to Republicans on a local level. And had worked in a variety of ways, had voted against some of the more egregious social policies. And so, one - suggesting that the opposition against him was solely partisan and Democrats just trying to get rid of a Republican flies in the face of him actually  having more Democratic support than almost every other Republican in the state at the time. And that the opposition to him is a reflection of our values collectively as a society. This isn't political - many of the people, including myself , have taken the same stance, whether someone is a Democrat or a Republican accused of sexual assault. That is not okay to just act like that's not a thing and to move on like it's not an issue or a problem. 

And then as we saw in the articles this week, Republican leadership getting very upset just because they were asked - you know, getting irate and  insulting and belligerent in response to reporters inquiring about this. To have the audacity to think that no one was going to notice, care, or follow up - how detached do you have to be? How detached is Republican leadership that they thought it was cool enough to just be like, Oh, they're, they're going to get real mad about this and that was entertaining, as opposed to people being fundamentally offended at how brazenly they seem to be able to disregard the suffering and victimization of women by their own. And even if they want to stand on the side of, Hey, this is an accusation - let's let due process take its course. Then let it take its course and don't move preemptively, or work around the process, or prevent an investigation and then say, Well, no investigation happened - one wasn't warranted and we can move on like it, wasn't a thing that doesn't exist. Real accountability is needed and demanded, and people are not going to be quiet because they feel it's inconvenient or the one person who they felt tolerable was there. And my goodness, what does it say about the quality of people they have available if this was the best they could choose? Which is what they said. They had a long list of names and Joe Fain was who they felt was the best. I don't think that is being heard like they intended it to be heard, but we hear what they're actually saying. And maybe it's kind of in line with what happened with Loren Culp - man, if that's the best you have to offer, you are in trouble. And if Joe Fain is the best you can do in this capacity, they're hurting. 

Michael Charles: [00:09:17] Yeah, I think you're spot on. It's indicative of a party that's dying. I think we're seeing the early stages of what took place in California in the Democratic.. err.. the Republican party dying essentially and no longer being even a player in statewide issues. So, I mean, we're just watching the same thing where a party that's trying to reflect itself of a national party and the values of a national party that just don't reflect the values of the state and people in our state. And they do, but to such a almost radical extent at this point, it's hard to even take them seriously.

Although when it comes to something like redistricting, it's harder to dismiss the importance and the reality of the role that putting those boundaries in place play in representing our communities. So it just shows that we need to rethink a process of redistricting ultimately, too, if we're going to think about how - if we're giving a party that does this kind of things fair shot at determining what our state boundaries look like? I mean, I think that just gives greater credence to the case we should be moving to an even more neutral source of establishing these boundaries. Because if we can just put anybody in there with absolutely no recourse, then I mean, if we haven't noticed anything from the Trump era, it's - we should identify these holes in our democracy and our Constitutions and begin to plug them so that we don't continue to just allow people that don't share our values, the stated values, to make big decisions so that, you know, we're in a once in a decade opportunity here and there's nothing we can do about somebody being in there. I think that that's a - again, a reflection of a system that's broken. 

Crystal Fincher: [00:11:05] I agree with that and I'm concerned about the re-districting - the redistricting process. You know, it is extremely consequential in the drawing of all of our political boundaries. We hear about terms like gerrymandering and basically drawing boundaries in a way that protects your own folks. And you know, in many cases - in cases that we've seen here, disenfranchises votes that you don't want to count and they do that in a variety of ways. They, you know - and we see it, frankly, right now in South King County. We see it in Yakima County where instead of keeping communities whole, cities whole, and political subdivisions, like cities and counties and different things like that intact - they will divide up these cities and these districts in ways that, you know, include some communities here and excluded there, and they're shaped really weird, and they don't seem to follow any rhyme or reason. And the result is that instead of communities being able to vote together in favor of their interests, they're all split apart into neighboring districts. And instead of being , you know, cohesive in one area, they're split among other areas. So for example, cities of Kent and Renton , Auburn , SeaTac are - Burien - split between several districts. I think Kent has four legislative districts. Renton has several, Burien has several. 

And so the city of Kent, which I'm very familiar with - a city of over 120,000 people , a large population of people of color, immigrants, Black people, lots of people call it the Kent-ral District because this is where a lot of people have been displaced to, who used to live in the Central District. And, but it is hard to have anyone pay attention to what's going on here - you rarely hear about this area, this economy, the people here, the needs, because they aren't represented by a Senator, a legislator - there's four or five in the districts and the needs get covered up and overshadowed by several other cities, several other agendas. And it just makes it harder for people to organize and advocate for the issues that affect them and their neighbors because they're in effect separated. 

Michael Charles: [00:13:38] And on top of that, it feels like they - especially in these communities, like you mentioned, that are so diverse, made up of so many different groups of people, communities - they'll make it so that the people of color are there enough so that you can't win without getting some of that white population that may or may not agree with your community at all, but they're dependent upon that population in order to get a representative that even agrees with your interests. And so they're in effect like falsely moderating a lot of these districts that would otherwise be, you know, a lot stronger voices, especially around progressive change that actually impacts the communities that live in these districts, you know? 

Crystal Fincher: [00:14:22] And so I know I have concerns about these issues being surfaced in the redistricting process and hope that they are, hope that they do follow through on promises to make the process more inclusive. Hopefully, people's comfort with remote technology and remote testimony and outreach now because of the pandemic helps them in reaching out to more people in more locations to get an understanding of how redistricting has impacted them. You know, another example, city of Yakima is not a big city geographically, and in the middle of a very rural area. There is no reason why the city of Yakima needs to be cut in half and one half in one legislative district and another in another half. The only result of that is diluting the power of the vote that people in Yakima have. And when we look at the majority of the population who is Latino or Hispanic in that area and the push to remove and, I guess, destroy the power that they have been working to build - that's one way to do it. And that has been an effect. It makes it harder to advocate for a community, and everyone in that community, and no one should be left behind. And those kinds of tactics that are used to dilute power of people who oftentimes have the least - it's not fair, it's not right, and it has no place in the redistricting process. And it shouldn't be used as a negotiating tool either. This should be a fundamental value that the Democratic party, certainly, and that everyone should stand up for - for the good of democracy and to not allow communities to be separated and torn apart in this redistricting process. Because that's going to continue to have an impact for the next decade and the policy that is passed, and the people that we are able to put into office and whether they reflect us or they don't.

Michael Charles: [00:16:35] Agreed. Amazing. 

Crystal Fincher: [00:16:38] So we will stay tuned to see what continues to happen with redistricting and also keep an eye on ways that people can get involved and make their own voices heard as those come around. I guess we will move on to talking about the state of Seattle elections. We are in an election year. We have had a number of people announce for mayor so far. We've had a couple , I think - I guess I will say one official announcement for a re-election on the council side. But how , starting with the race for mayor, how do you see it shaping up? How do you see the positioning and I guess strength and the case that Lorena González and, you know, coming from the council and other candidates have made so far.

Michael Charles: [00:17:30] Yeah, I think we've seen in the past few weeks a couple of the first, what I would call high quality rollouts from some candidates. And I think we saw Colleen Echohawk, and then we saw Lorena González. And I think with those two now in the race, it's kind of beginning to see some lanes kind of take shape and see where people are kind of trying to jockey for position. And it's really interesting to see Lorena come in and kind of, you know , be what I would assume at this point, just due to her experience and position as a statewide - citywide council member, that's been elected twice as the favorite to - currently in the race . You know, Colleen Echohawk had a good rollout for a first time candidate - seemed to be - have a stance that was a little less clear, I guess, as far as policy points, but still strong and having lots of coverage and just like in excitement levels. 

And so it's kind of cool to see this is the first - the mayor's race that we've seen that has democracy vouchers. And I think that makes this situation unique relative to all the other races we've seen in the past. And it'll be interesting to see what role money plays in this process now that, you know, there's a little more strategy involved around getting direct contact to voters and you know, candidates that maybe traditionally wouldn't have been as strong of contenders now have an opportunity. I'm still interested to see - do we see somebody from the DSA/People's Party/Leftist part of Seattle run? I think that shakes a lot of things up , you know - with rumors of like Bruce Harrell getting in or Tim Burgess. I think that that also begins to kind of shake things up as well.

So , one of the interesting observations from the last council races that we saw a couple of years ago was that there wasn't a lot of room in the middle for folks post-primary. And what we saw in the primaries was the most ideological candidates ended up getting through, or perceived ideological candidates, due to endorsements, et cetera. Specifically Stranger versus Seattle Times endorsements - kind of seemed like that was the factor. And so there's only two of those lanes to pick. And so it's somebody kind of making it not as clear what those two moderate candidates, or seemingly moderate, relative to a Tim Burgess or a DSA, or, you know, whatever - Socialist Alternative People's Party candidate. I think that if that gets in, then we, I mean, the dynamics of the race change tremendously and the arithmetic to getting through a primary changes what the race looks like. 

Crystal Fincher: [00:20:24] Yeah. You know, and that primary math is going to be interesting and does completely depend on who's in the race and how they're trying to position themselves. And what I always find interesting is to look at what candidates say as they're coming in and to see if and how that changes as they continue to run. And see, Okay, maybe I'm not getting as much traction with the supporters and base that I thought when I started. Let me just change my tune a little bit and modify these couple positions and, you know, pick up some support from these other interests that say they're interested and, you know, donating significantly to my campaign.

There have - in every Seattle election that I've seen in the past 12 years. It's been a long time. I - there has been at least one candidate who has done that. And, and there often isn't much coverage that - certainly not that people continue to refer to. And so lots of times they get away with that changing of their positions and policies, but it is going to be interesting to see who does that, who is leading , you know, in saying things they actually believe and will be consistent with. And to see what candidates are willing to fight for. 

I talked about it a little bit in an article this week, but I do think that this whole idea of, you know - a lot of times the candidate for who is supported by the Chamber and those interests, will come in and they'll be talking about, you know, we're going to find consensus and we're going to bring everyone to the table. And we're gonna make sure that we don't move forward unless we have agreement and my feedback to that is consensus is not a policy. And consensus is not a benefit in and of itself. And we have seen two prior mayors, frankly, with Mayor Durkan and Ed Murray before her, who ran hard on this idea of consensus, and being a bridge builder and just someone who can bring people together - as if that was the goal. And as if that is the benefit and that's a virtue - and it seems to be a recipe for inaction based on what we've seen for them. That they are trying to please so many people and to wait for everyone to agree, which just isn't going to happen, that they wind up doing a lot of nothing and contradicting themselves and announcing big plans that aren't really executed and implemented well, because keeping people together and everyone in agreement is a challenging thing to do. So I think - 

Michael Charles: [00:23:17] Yeah, totally. And we saw some of this with like, just even more recently with Reagan Dunn and his comments on homelessness and the fact this guy is serving on the lived experiences council making policy around how to solve homelessness in the region. And people say, Well, we need to have a Republican at the table. I mean, you ask, Well, how is that productive to helping achieve what we want which is ending homelessness if what they want is in direct competition to the very facts and policy discussions - in direct conflict with that, what is the point to having that? Like, how is moral leadership being exhibited if it's more about having somebody have a seat at the table, rather than it is actually solving the problem at hand?

Crystal Fincher: [00:24:03] Exactly. And I think people are so frustrated and so fed up at seeing problems not get solved. Yet, seeing some elected officials acting like, Well, we did get everyone together. Look at this wonderful task force. Look at, you know, all these people smiling in the picture that I have announcing this policy. Or, Oh, we passed a bill, but then don't see that it's implemented correctly. They're tired of seeing people act like things are okay and like they are doing a good job when they are seeing things around them not change one bit. And if anything, just get worse. 

Someone is going to have to make a case for fixing problems and in a way that people can see and feel in their neighborhood, on their street. They're, you know, as they go to work, to the store and back - that they can see that things are improving meaningfully, not just moving people who don't have homes from one place to another. Or, you know, putting a navigation program in that actually doesn't navigate anyone anywhere. And just seem to have been a way to say I'm doing something without actually doing anything. They, I think, Seattle is ready for someone to make a case for some strong leadership - and not that consensus isn't important, but strong leadership builds a coalition around getting a problem solved and Hey, this is a plan - we are moving towards fixing it. And when people see that you follow through, and that you will move towards getting something done, and that you won't wait for everyone to agree because no one ever will, and actually fixing something - they'll hop on board quickly. And so coalitions are a result of trust and belief in your ability to solve problems. They are not a benefit in and of themselves just to have. Coalitions don't solve problems, coalitions are there to fix problems. And if someone takes that view of it, then I think they will be in a good position to make progress in this race. It'll be interesting to see, but you know, I do want to talk -

Michael Charles: [00:26:25] And I think that just on top of just Seattle, I think the whole region - I mean, we're in a unique moment period where I think people are looking to not just Seattle, but really like all their leaders across all - regardless whether they're Democrat, Republican - people just want to get shit done. And it feels like we're - you know, as we've approached the year 10 of the War on Homelessness - you know, the emergency declaration on homelessness and all these things. When does performative become no longer acceptable from our leadership and like really the rubber meets the road? And not that I think anywhere on the West Coast has really particularly done a great job of this. And somehow we're unique in our approaches to these challenges. However, I think we have the people, the energy, the ability to actually solve these big problems if we take the time to find leaders that are willing to build a consensus with people that actually want to achieve something, not just maintaining the status quo or making it - you know, happiness in our region is determined upon the average wealth per person. Like there's just - there's gotta be other determinants we're using and figuring out how do we make life more livable for - especially those that are being left behind.

Crystal Fincher: [00:27:43] I completely agree with that. And we have a few minutes left and I actually wanted to talk about the King County Council and politics at the King County level. Those elections are up this year too and there's some real issues that are probably going to be consequential in the election and definitely consequential policy-wise. And for all residents of King County - you just talked about Reagan Dunn and you know, recent issues that he's had and that people have had with his comments. What did happen there? 

Michael Charles: [00:28:21] Totally. You know, I - so there's just - he's made comments about the way in which we can solve homelessness and taking very conservative approaches of - you know, we should give people bus tickets and send them outta here. And you know, my idea is putting them out on an island and have everybody live together and - you know, just some of these wildly conservative, based out of zero reality kind of proclamations of what simple, you know, answer there is to solving homelessness, rather than taking into consideration all the facts and analysis and reality of the situation at hand.

So I think because of that , we're seeing - and I think what's really interesting in King County, especially over the last four years of our tremendous growth - has not only been tremendous growth and incoming of new populations. And - but also just kind of the, the shifting of our suburban, especially, population from being even moderately Republican to Democrat and, you know, moderately Democrat of the huge, tremendous shifts. And so what we're seeing for the first time is areas that have been strongholds for Republicans in King County, at least as far as the district levels go with King County Council, we're seeing these areas begin to shift and be more Democrat. And I think we're going to see for the first time, all three of the seats held by Republicans are likely going to face very strong and realistic challenges to their seats on the council this year. And a lot of that is due to demographics, but a lot of it is due to this - what we're beginning to see - like this nationalized attitude of the GOP of defending Joe Fains. You remember - Kathy Lambert was very vocal in supporting Joe Fain before. Like I just - I think the shift in values and understanding of what the GOP actually stands for - and I think they're all in trouble out on the East King County and South King County. The other member of that being at risk, you know, Pete von Reichbauer who's been in South King County, but served in that position for a really long time. And, you know, from, 'cause I believe it's your district is, you know, you -

Crystal Fincher: [00:30:38] Just south -

Michael Charles: [00:30:38] Just south of your district, but you know, I mean, you know, that area has seen tremendous change over the past 8-12 years as well. So I think we're seeing the demographics and timing of what could be a tremendous change.

Crystal Fincher: [00:30:53] Well, we are going to keep an eye on that and we'll definitely be talking more about that when you're on again. And we're happy that you are a regular co-host who rotates in here. So appreciate the time that you've taken. And we appreciate everyone listening to Hacks and Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM this Friday, February 12th, 2021. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones, Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler and our insightful co-host today was Michael Charles, Managing Partner at Upper Left Strategies and new dad. You can find Michael on Twitter @mikeychuck and you can follow his podcast, Cold Brews and Voting Blue on your favorite podcatcher. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, and now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts, just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to resources referenced in the show at And in the podcast episode notes. 

Thanks for tuning in and we'll talk to you next time.