Jul 17, 2021
Primary ballots are in mailboxes now! Today friend of the show, former mayor of Seattle, and Executive Director of America Walks Mike McGinn joins Crystal on the show to discuss the front runners in the mayor’s race, how candidates need to be making the case to the public in these remaining weeks before the primary, and the psychology and emotion that drives Seattle’s voting decisions. And Mike delivers a fundamental election rule: Message quality multiplied by message delivery equals impact.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @frinchfrii and find today’s co-host, Mike McGinn, at @mayormcginn. More info is available at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“No incumbent in Seattle mayoral race, but candidates still running against City Hall” by Daniel Beekman: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/no-incumbent-in-seattle-mayoral-race-but-candidates-still-running-against-city-hall/
“Poll shows many voters still undecided, Bruce Harrell leading race for Seattle mayor” by Daniel Beekman: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/poll-shows-many-voters-still-undecided-bruce-harrell-leading-race-for-seattle-mayor/
“For the first time in years, there are 2 serious candidates for the King County executive” by David Guttman: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/race-for-king-county-executive-pits-experienced-well-funded-candidates-against-each-other/
“Seattle’s mayoral candidates have plans for homelessness, but they’re staring at an uncertain future” by Scott Greenstone: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/seattles-mayoral-candidates-have-plans-for-homelessness-but-theyre-staring-at-an-uncertain-future/
“The C Is for Crank: Correcting the Record on Compassion Seattle” by Erica C. Barnett: https://publicola.com/2021/07/13/the-c-is-for-crank-correcting-the-record-on-compassion-seattle/
Publicola Elections Coverage: https://publicola.com/category/elections/
South Seattle Emerald Elections Coverage: https://southseattleemerald.com/tag/2021-elections/
We the People Power Voter Guide: https://www.wethepeoplepower.org/voter-guide-2021
Primary Elections Endorsements:
350 Seattle Action: https://350seattleaction.org/2021-elections
Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: activist, community leader, former mayor of Seattle, and Executive Director of America Walks - and a fire Twitter follow also, the excellent Mike McGinn.
Mike McGinn: [00:00:59] Yeah, you can find me on Twitter @mayormcginn. I just can't let go of that handle - it's just too good. But I'm really many years past it now, so thanks for having me on the show, Crystal.
Crystal Fincher: [00:01:11] No, absolutely. But you know what, you're always there to provide context and an informed opinion - and it's usually insightful, and useful, and often spicy. We get spicy McGinn a lot of times, and I like it.
Mike McGinn: [00:01:25] I'm not running for anything anymore so I'm just pure truthteller mode. No, 95% pure truthteller mode. I pull some punches. I do pull some punches still, Crystal.
Crystal Fincher: [00:01:35] Well, what I want to talk about is - ballots should be in your hands today, tomorrow. If you're listening to this, ballots are arriving in Washington State for primary elections. So it's a big deal. We've seen a wave of endorsements be released from major political organizations, media organizations - both The Times and The Stranger. So it is now time to vote - a lot that we've been talking about, all the candidates that we have been talking about - now the rubber is hitting the road and communication plans are in full effect. Mailers are hitting mailboxes, commercials are on TV, digital ads are all over the place, so how are you seeing this race standing right now, Mike?
Mike McGinn: [00:02:23] Mayor's race - I think at this point we're really down to three viable candidates - is where I would start. You can look at - fundraising numbers is one way to look at it, major endorsements is another. And Bruce Harrell has the Seattle Times and in early polling, he was what, at 17% or 18% or something like that, which is when you think about it, kind of low for an incumbent, somebody that the City knows. He's not incumbent in the office, but for being known.
Lorena González has The Stranger endorsement and lots of labor endorsements, got a big IEC from labor coming out. The theme of her campaign is her personal resume primarily is what she's running on. But she has the drag of being from the City Council. I don't know whether it's 29 or 39 City councilmembers that have run for mayor, and only Norm Rice actually pulled it off. And he had the tailwind of the Rainbow Coalition from Jesse Jackson running for president. And when he announced that coalition, that was the following year from the Jesse Jackson race, and he just vaulted in. And also a very skilled elected official. I mean, "Mayor Nice"? Who gets that nickname, "Mayor Nice"?
Crystal Fincher: [00:03:44] You didn't get that nickname?
Mike McGinn: [00:03:51] [Laughter]. And the other thing is - when you look at it is the right track, wrong track numbers in the City have been off the charts on all of the polls that have come out to date. And so if you're associated with what's been going on, that's going to give you a headwind.
I think that the third candidate in the race and full disclosure, I've endorsed Colleen Echohawk in the race. She's talking about the issue that people say is the most important one - homelessness - that comes out on top of almost every poll. That's the focus of her campaign. She organically raised a lot of money through vouchers - got there first, didn't have to hire people to collect them as opposed to the other candidates, and is the outsider.
The other candidates in the race are credible and have been treated as credible, but I think at this stage when you look at the fundraising numbers and the endorsements, I think it's going to be very hard for Andrew Grant Houston or Jessyn Farrell or Casey Sixkiller to come out of this primary with where they stand right now - the combination of institutional endorsers, dollars, message and political base that they're bringing into it.
Crystal Fincher: [00:05:10] So based on the polling that's come out, a number of people are looking at this as, okay, on the - conservative and progressive are different when used in Seattle than when used in outside of Seattle-
Mike McGinn: [00:05:24] Let's use right lane, left lane.
Crystal Fincher: [00:05:26] Right lane candidate being - looks like it's going to be Bruce Harrell, by polling and indications there, it appears to be that he is leading the right lane. And the left lane as you just talked about, it looks to be Lorena González, with potential Colleen Echohawk on her heels. How are both making the case that they can run against a right lane candidate and when?
Mike McGinn: [00:05:59] Well, and that's interesting. Part of the reason I think Bruce - well, the right lane always consolidates more than the left lane. It's like that Will Roger's joke about, "I don't belong to any organized party. I'm a Democrat." So the left is never powerfully organized and the right tends to consolidate. The other right lane candidates didn't really take off. And the left lane candidates all have a little more juice in them. And actually, given that Jessyn decided to endorse the Compassion Seattle Initiative, I'm not sure what lane she's in at this point, but both.
Crystal Fincher: [00:06:32] Well, and I think that's been a problem for her.
Mike McGinn: [00:06:34] Yeah, I think that's been a problem for her because this is a year that unlike prior years in which you had the Chamber of Commerce uniting with the King County Labor Council to decide on a candidate - that's what they did with Durkan, that's what they did with Murray. We're now back to - that's what they did with Mallahan, as I think about it. Right, and I got some union support but the Labor Council and a lot more of the unions went with Mallahan because labor was for the tunnel. Labor was for the tunnel and I actually heard from service worker unions that ended up endorsing him and they said, "We're taking a risk, all of our brothers and sisters are mad at us for supporting you because they really want the tunnel."
Crystal Fincher: [00:07:15] That tunnel.
Mike McGinn: [00:07:17] Yeah, that tunnel. So even though I was clearly the candidate for transit and working people against what I believed was a corporate bureaucrat who was running in the right lane, they still went with him. You still see that happening in politics today. The construction unions still have a lot of influence. So do the firefighters - they're quite conservative. And the Labor Council.
In this case, we don't have that - where the Labor Council and the Chamber are ordaining a leader. So we're seeing a business backing Bruce - they're consolidating behind Bruce. You're seeing labor consolidating behind Lorena, but you're not seeing all of the progressive left consolidating behind Lorena. You see it breaking up into more pieces there. So the argument as to, against Bruce, is insider versus outsider.
And I think that's going to be a huge challenge for Lorena in the general - right track, wrong track numbers. It's about the mayor but it's also about the Council. I ran in 2013 and I wanted the electorate to say, "Well, if you see conflict between the mayor and Council, look at what people are advocating and pick the person on the right side. By the way, that's me." That was my argument. But if you're close to City Hall, you might be able to do that - but people who are further away, they paint everybody with the same broad brush and it can be hard to distinguish yourself. And I just think that when you look at the polling to date and how low Lorena's numbers have been for somebody who's run city-wide multiple times, it really suggests she still has to go out and get a lot of votes. You probably got to get to 25% or so to get out of the electorate. So she's got to get from wherever she's starting - a long way. Everybody does, and Bruce has a shorter path to get there, but everybody's got to go a long way and the question becomes, does Lorena have a ceiling because of the negativity towards the City Council?
Crystal Fincher: [00:09:34] That's a really interesting question. I guess the variable that I'm also looking at in this is looking at candidates independently. It's always a different scenario than looking at them head-to-head with another candidate. Bruce, also being an insider, does that neutralize that whole insider argument? Really, and to be real, Colleen is a former head of the Downtown Seattle Association-ider. So it's not like she's a radical outsider.
Mike McGinn: [00:10:03] I don't think she was the head of the Downtown Seattle Association.
Crystal Fincher: [00:10:05] Was previously.
Mike McGinn: [00:10:07] I think she was just on the Board, but maybe I'm wrong.
Crystal Fincher: [00:10:09] On the Board, on the Board.
Mike McGinn: [00:10:10] She was on the Board, right. But just for the record, that's a spot that's given to the Chief Seattle Club. They are automatically on it because they are downtown and the DSA wanted a homeless provider on their Board.
Crystal Fincher: [00:10:22] Which is the case for a lot of different organizations. They have different spots there but also not known as a left-leaning organization at the same time. So looking at their policies and being associated with that from a policy standpoint does not quite paint the picture of an outsider in the way that a lot of people think of outsiders in terms of politics. A lot of people would view that as a more establishment qualification on the resume, but neither here nor there.
I think the bigger point I was making is that - does the fact that Bruce was formerly a Seattle City Council member, briefly mayor also - does that negate an insider argument if both people are former Councilmembers within Seattle-elected government, or does that more even the playing field and get to more of an issue-based stuff, or does the insider versus outsider argument still carry?
Mike McGinn: [00:11:22] I think that Bruce carries that baggage too. He's helped by the fact that he's been off the Council a couple of years, but he does carry that baggage too. There's no question about that. I think if the question is how would Lorena - if Bruce has consolidated the right lane and people are fighting for the left lane, the question becomes how would Lorena do against Bruce in a head-to-head and how would Colleen Echohawk do in a head-to-head? And I'll bet you, that in those types of heads, Colleen would do a lot better than Lorena. I would bet you that. But of course, we're only going to get to run one of these. That's the way it works. But if there were polling done, I bet you what those head-to-heads would show as well.
Crystal Fincher: [00:12:10] Always an interesting conversation on if there was polling done. And one of the things that we both have browsers refreshing right now is that the Northwest Progressive Institute, NPI, is actually going to be releasing public polling in the Seattle City Council, the mayoral races, several Seattle races. So that's going to be interesting to see actual public polling come out. They anticipated it being near the end of this week. Let's see if that actually comes out today. It wouldn't surprise me if it wound up being early next week, but we certainly are keeping our eyes on it.
Mike McGinn: [00:12:47] I also think you have to take a look at the messaging of the candidates. Bruce's messaging is, "I'm a decisive leader. I know how to get things done." That's also Lorena's messaging - "I'm a decisive leader, I know how to bring people together to get things done. And look at my resume, I'm a progressive." Colleen's message is, "I've dedicated my life to helping homeless people in Seattle, and I'm an expert on homelessness which is the most important issue in the city." And I think that the headwind that both Lorena and Bruce face in the general is that they're saying that they know how to get things done, but the public says, "Yeah, but you had your shot." And that's the biggest headwind that both of them will face in the general election.
Crystal Fincher: [00:13:35] Yeah. I'm also curious to see how much attention is paid to their donors and what their donors say. Because one, I think - continuing issue that we have in Seattle elections is ignoring that, and then being surprised that candidates vote pretty consistently in line with where many of their donors are at. That does not mean that their votes are necessarily bought. It just may mean that, "Hey, people see someone who has values that they feel are similar, that they feel is representing them." Not necessarily that they're buying it but that they see kinship there. And it really is telling where corporate interests see their candidate, and where labor and progressive interests see their candidate. And looking at the overlap between where major donors to Ed Murray, major donors to Jenny Durkan - and then look to see where those are at in the current races - a lot of them with Bruce Harrell. So is what we're signing up for really different if the traditional backers, if the coalition of donors looked similar to a profile of prior coalitions of donors? I wish we paid more attention to that in Seattle politics.
Mike McGinn: [00:14:58] I agree. And clearly the kind of the business side donor class is consolidating behind Bruce and they're going to have an independent expenditure for him. Labor is consolidating behind Lorena and they're going to have a big independent expenditure campaign for her. And it's hard to cross your base. It's hard to tell your base they're wrong. That's like an axiom of politics and you're absolutely right. It's not that it's pre-negotiated or bought, but it becomes hard.
And we saw that in play with Lorena when the police contract came up and the King County Labor Council urged a Yes vote on the contract, Lorena voted Yes on the contract because that's what labor wanted at the time, and the Community Police Commission wanted a No vote on that. We saw it very recently with the vehicle license fee. A stakeholder group came forward and said 75% of the $20 vehicle license fund, like $7 million a year - real money, but not big money in infrastructure. And the climate advocates and the alternative transportation advocates asked for, so the Council respect that. And labor said, "No, put it into bridges." The laborers, the carpenters and the King County Labor Council went down and said, "Nope, take the money from walking, biking and transit, put it into a bond for bridge repair." And that's basically what Lorena did on that one as well.
So you get the situation where the base, the people that pay for your elections - it gets hard to cross them on tough issues, on high profile issues.
Crystal Fincher: [00:16:47] I would just ask that as people are voting, consider that. Consider where their base is and what their history is of voting in line or not in line with those considerations. And certainly I know a number of people who agree with Lorena on a number of issues and that issue for a lot of people is the most challenging one. It's like, "Oh, but that police contract vote." is a sticking point for a number of - particularly further left-leaning progressives and where they're having a challenge in there.
But there's issues with that with every single candidate almost - although I did - someone referred to Andrew Grant Houston as - what did they call him - the Elizabeth Warren of the race because he has a plan for everything, like well thought out and well organized. But I would say, aside from him, most - just anecdotally, a lot of people are like, "I love this candidate except for major issue where there was a problematic vote or a problematic issue." Jessyn, it's Compassion Seattle. With Lorena, it's that police vote. People got stuck with Colleen on the initial indication of support for Compassion Seattle, which she later said she's not going to be voting for and she does not support. But that gave people a lot of pause. So there's a number of those with candidates.
Mike McGinn: [00:18:16] And I think over on the progressive side, that's absolutely right, and there's a little bit of - kind of arguing over who's in fact the most progressive. Although I think we can say that all of them have very strong progressive credentials. You don't represent homeless downtown, or come from Lorena's background and she's done great things in other areas.
But clearly, your point about labor is good. By the way, Bruce Harrell voted for that contract too. And Colleen asked for them to vote No. It's an interesting thing getting elected as I did in '09 without a lot of institutional endorsements. It meant that I actually had a lot more freedom of movement. Everybody was trying to figure out where I would land. At the same time, I also didn't have a whole cadre of people behind me who were looking to back me up and stand up for me when I got in.
Crystal Fincher: [00:19:14] That is the thing.
Mike McGinn: [00:19:15] It's an interesting mix. But it really did - people were really wondering when I got in, in 2010, well, where is he going to land? Because in the primary-
Crystal Fincher: [00:19:25] I was one of those wondering in 2010 where you were going to land.
Mike McGinn: [00:19:25] On the other hand, it gave me - it meant that I didn't - this is going to sound a little trite, but honestly, my biggest concern was responding to the voters because I had gone around the institutional endorsers for the most part to get to win. The Stranger endorsement was big, and I picked up some service worker unions and other individual endorsements but nothing like anybody else in the race did. So that makes a difference in governance as well as you pointed out.
Crystal Fincher: [00:20:01] Yeah, absolutely. And to be clear, the City of Seattle races are not the only races happening. We have a number of races. One, King County Executive race where certainly the two front runners are Dow Constantine, the incumbent who's been there and certainly in a strong position, versus Senator Joe Nguyen. What's you're read on where that stands right now?
Mike McGinn: [00:20:23] It's hard to say. I think that Dow, after 12 years in office, is going to be facing the same time for a change sentiment. But I think Joe has to make the case for change. I think if you look at - and Joe Nguyen has got a great progressive record in the legislature and you can hear his values when he speaks. Dow has to explain the Youth Jail, he has to explain the Mariners Skyboxes, he has to explain the bailout of the Convention Center. He's got to defend his record and explain why he is the agent of making things happen now after 12 years based on where things stand. So I think that's going to be a big challenge for him.
I think that is somewhat of a lower profile race. It doesn't necessarily deserve to be a lower profile race. It just is - the mayor's race is going to use up a lot more of the media coverage than the County Exec race will. So Joe has to make the case. He's got to aggressively pursue the change argument and what his values were. But it can happen. Look at Girmay vs Larry Gossett - it can happen. People can make a decision that it's time for a change even if they're not particularly angry at the incumbent, but they just think that the incumbent isn't delivering to their expectations of what they want to see at that time.
Crystal Fincher: [00:21:59] Yeah. This is going to be an interesting race to see, especially at the primary point. I think looking at the point where Joe Nguyen got into this Executive's race - before he got in, Dow, obviously incumbent not challenged by major Democratic candidate before that, was running away with all of the endorsements. After Joe declared, they've really split most of the endorsements. It has not been strong one way or the other. They've really been splitting a lot or just blocking each other's endorsements. There isn't enough for a consensus in a lot of places.
So I think the insider, more activist, more involved, and people who pay attention to those stuff all the time - which is a small percentage of people - are indicating that they view this certainly as a race. It's a whole different thing than communicating with voters who don't pay attention across an entire county. That's a heavy lift, a really heavy lift. And so for me, the question is can Joe Nguyen communicate that same kind of thing that makes the insider race competitive county-wide before the primary? Certainly, they have a lot more time for the general, assuming he makes it through which he should. But man, that's a lot of communication to people who don't pay attention.
Mike McGinn: [00:23:29] Who will be low information voters, right - which is why that kind of background, that insider or outsider thing takes on a larger influence in races like this. It comes in and they already have a frame for deciding the race. And what you were just talking about is something I call the "perception primary". Some people might call it the "money primary". But it's not just money - it's a perception and it's spread by the insiders.
And the thing about the perception primary is that people can be entirely wrong, in the perception primary. And that's, I think, one of the things you're highlighting here. Again, I'll go back to my own experience. In 2009, Greg Nickels had almost all the major endorsements and a lot of money. And the idea that he was vulnerable was actually the reason that I could get in the race. Nobody else would get in the race. He couldn't be beat. So the perception primary was keeping people out of the race. They said, "Well, we can't win the perception primary. We can't even get out of the perception primary." So I think that's always a challenge for a candidate is - can you survive the perception primary and I barely did. I barely did, let's be really clear about that. But I did survive it, but then once you got into the actual primary, I took first place.
So I think there's a thing that happens where we all get sucked into the perception of the race. So clearly, Joe has political insiders or the politicos, whatever you want to call them. People are like, "Yeah, Joe has got a shot." But now, he's got to take his case to the voters. That's a very perceptive observation.
And the same thing is true - I'll circle back to the mayor's race. There was a whole lot, I was doing a whole lot of - same thing happened in my '09 race. Remember when Jan Drago, a longtime City Councilmember got in the race, it was almost literally a headline of "Now it's a real race". Well, her highest polling numbers were the day she got in. And the two highest vote getters in the primary were two people who had never been in office before, me and Mallahan. So that was a case where the perception primary was just way off. And mayor's race, there's been a perception primary but this is a remarkably wide open race, more wide open than I think we've ever seen in my time watching.
Crystal Fincher: [00:25:57] It's pretty wide open. One thing that we talked about in terms of, hey, who appears to be leading here based on polling - the leading vote getter in polling is Undecided, really at this point-
Mike McGinn: [00:26:10] By a lot. We are engaging in some of that perception primary stuff too by saying message, dollars, institutional support should lead to votes based on what we know. But we could be wrong - because the nature - yeah. The biggest leader right now is Undecided.
So, once the paid media lands and once the media decides how they're going to frame up the race in the last few weeks - will really decide which candidates can propel a little bit and get to that finish line. Maybe they're starting in a different place to get to the finish line. I think two weeks before the ballots drop, I was polling 7% in the mayor's race, ended up at 28%. And Greg Nickels was polling at 22% and he ended up at 25%. So, he spent a lot of money, it just didn't move his numbers because he was in a context where he just couldn't. And I was.
And in 2017, I said, "I'm going to do this again," and the exact opposite happened. I started with a higher number and I went down because these people heard about the other candidates and they wanted someone new. So, it really drove home to me just how important the context of the race is, not what the early polls show. It all happens when the money drops and when the voters start paying attention - what movement do you start seeing then? That really happens.
Crystal Fincher: [00:27:48] Yeah. Now is when the race for real regular people begins. A lot of people realize that the race is happening once they get their ballot in the mail. It's like, "Oh, this is a thing." And usually along with their ballots, they're getting four mailers a day from here on out most of the time. So, it's going to be real interesting to see how effectively people can get their message across. And that's not an easy thing to do. It takes - you have to penetrate people's consciousness at multiple points, multiple times - in order to make a real impression. And so that takes - certainly a significant budget and just good message execution.
Mike McGinn: [00:28:40] Well, good message too. That was part of the point I was making about '09. But I really learned it in 2007 when I worked on the - Roads and Transit campaign. So, to refresh people's memory, the legislature decided to - that a regional Roads and Transit ballot would go in front of the public in 2007. And it included money for light rail but it also included money for highway expansion. And the Sierra Club - we decided to fight it because we believed it was bad for global warming. And I think we got the Cascade Bicycle Club with us and no other institutional endorsers. A few elected officials joined us late. But it was all the elected officials, business, labor, most of the environmental groups supported the Roads and Transit ballot measure. They said it's the only chance to get light rail. They had $5 million to spend and the polling had them at like 56%. They ended up, I think, at 44% on election night. And we spent about $50,000. We had no money, but we had a really good message. And they spent $5 million, they didn't have a good message.
So, here you go. I now feel like I'm in Marco Lowe's Politics class. It's a mathematical equation, it's really simple. It's Message x Message Delivery = Impact. And if your message is - it's the only math you have to know in this. If you got an awesome message and zero delivery, no impact. And if you got a billion dollars of delivery and your message is a zero, zero times a billion dollars is still zero impact. It's both. You got to have a good message. You got to deliver it. And now, we're going to find out who's got the message in these races that actually moves voters.
Crystal Fincher: [00:30:40] Yeah. And a lot to learn from it and that will certainly inform how the message is developed in a general election. Certainly, your race - a number of races - have been instructive just for me personally in terms of how effective a message can be. But in a singular rallying issue, certainly you and transit-
Mike McGinn: [00:31:02] Kshama and 15 in her race-
Crystal Fincher: [00:31:06] Yeah. And Kshama was the other one - 15 Now.
Mike McGinn: [00:31:10] 15 Now, yeah. And I think that-
Crystal Fincher: [00:31:12] That was huge. That was very instructional for me.
Mike McGinn: [00:31:15] I think that Bernie Sanders got into that first race against Hillary Clinton, thinking he was just going to be a message candidate. I mean somebody to carry this message and use the race as a way to distribute a message. And he discovered his message about the power of Wall Street and the power of billionaires was really powerful. And all of a sudden, he was in a real race. The reporters say he didn't think that was going to happen and maybe if he'd realized that sooner, he might have won that one. Because you want to race differently when you're trying to deliver a message and when you're trying to win. But it's another example of how someone can have tremendous amount of institutional support, but somebody can come in with a better message and lap 'em, or at least give them a good run.
Crystal Fincher: [00:32:04] Well, Obama versus Hillary was message versus establishment.
Mike McGinn: [00:32:08] Great example of that. And so it's not necessarily about experience, or resume. It's about what the voters are looking for right then in a candidate. And you can run a race that - it's the context that's going to decide it, ultimately, more than the candidates.
Crystal Fincher: [00:32:33] Voting is an emotional decision. Voting is not a logical decision. And to your point, it really is about how you can connect, how your message and the vision that you're painting connects with voters. And if you can tap into what they're feeling, both their frustrations and their aspirations, that is the key. Like - "We don't have to be here. We can be in a better place. I can bridge that gap and get us there." Make that connection to the voters - that sticks.
And helping to have, I think, in your case and Kshama's case and certainly looking nationally in Obama's case, but on a local level with a number of people, to be able to paint a very clear image of where you can go. You were very clear on your vision. Kshama was very clear on her vision, to the point like other people have no problem repeating and defining where you stand. And I actually think that's kind of the crux of where people have challenges with candidates. It's like, "Okay, explain the candidate to me." And if they have a hard problem doing that, that's a problem for the candidate. They need to be able to say, "Oh, Kshama is 15 Now candidate. Mike is the transit candidate."
Mike McGinn: [00:33:56] The fact that I rode a bike actually delivered a lot of message. I was an environmentalist who cared about transit and walking and biking and alternatives. Those things really mattered. And if your supporters can't explain why you're running, you have a problem because so many votes are actually gained by your supporters carrying the message on your behalf. So, it's got to be really simple - people complain about sound bites and I understand, because they feel like it oversimplifies the issues, but the reality of somebody running for office or running an advocacy campaign is they have to be able to boil their message down and express it in a way that actually has impact and conveys meaning to people. It's a lot harder than it looks to do that. It's a lot harder and I think people don't fully appreciate the role that a few words can play in delivering a message that moves voters, or moves people to action in an advocacy campaign.
I think of "Defund the Police", everybody is picking on Defund the Police - that it hurts Democrats, and it may well hurt Democrats. But that wasn't a message invented by Democrats to a bunch of people in swing districts. That was a message invented by activists to call attention to the role of policing America. And by that measure, it seemed like a whole lot of people were repeating their message. And again-
Crystal Fincher: [00:35:38] A whole lot of people repeating the message functionally. In several areas, including here in Seattle, more movement both in rhetoric and in policy than we have seen in the past 20 to 30 years in most instances. And a clear delineation between action that is inconsequential and what is just rhetoric - like a reform conversation - versus Defund is a clear bright line of if we aren't addressing the resources involved with this, if we're just tinkering around the edges of maybe some trading and stuff, that that actually is not getting us where we need to go.
Mike McGinn: [00:36:17] And I think that is just completely on point, Crystal. It came from a constituency that's been yelling for decades, if not longer, at not being heard. And somebody is now hearing the message and having to confront it and respond to it - the criticism that, "Well, it's not a perfect message and it might hurt somebody else over there," that's kind of a secondary concern to the activist who's been ignored already.
Crystal Fincher: [00:36:45] 100%. 100%.
Mike McGinn: [00:36:47] Now having said that, I've noticed that that's not a prominent phrase in this year's City Council or mayoral elections.
Crystal Fincher: [00:36:57] No - no it's not.
Mike McGinn: [00:36:58] But it served its purpose in the moment and now people have to move and find a different way to try to move the debate. And actually, I think that is-
Crystal Fincher: [00:37:05] But it actually set the stage for the debate that we're having now - and determine the lanes and set the parameters. So now, there are discussions about what percentage of funding, how're we going to divert. And so it's not an explicitly Defund conversation - but starts with where are the resources, what are we doing with the actual funds, what are the budget numbers and items. And so kind of like talking about the bridge, or the tunnel - the tunnel, the tunnel, the tunnel was an issue that stood for a whole set of policies.
Mike McGinn: [00:37:43] It stood for climate. It stood for using tax dollars wisely. It stood for equity - that transit was a better investment than highways. All of that was in play there. Boy, it kind of takes me to another topic I hesitate to bring it up, but there's a little bit of a test. This year is a test. Two years ago was a test too of where is the electorate right now on a lot of these things. The Compassion Seattle Initiative is an example of that. Now, it's written in such a way that people can see things in it that aren't there or not see things in it that are there. The vote is happening. It's become a little bit of a litmus test for left to right, but not completely. I saw former City Attorney Mark Sidran speaking up - I saw an article he was speaking up at a Belltown forum - saying you can't support Compassion Seattle, it's too lenient on the homeless.
So, I think this why I'm laughing because there's such a swirl around this issue. But I think that's kind of one of the issues out here - is homelessness is clearly the most important issue in the city right now. That's what's showing up on the polls, and that's what people care about. But then you have to dig a layer deeper, what does that mean? What kind of city are we? Do we go to, "Yeah, so we need to build more housing," or do we get to, "We need to kick them off the streets and parks"? And that's the other thing that's kind of really very much in play this year. And the fact that Compassion Seattle is on the ballot and who's backing it - now that we see who's backing it, now that its contours become a little more clear - you can see that in a way it's designed to try to boost voter turnout of those who might vote for the right lane candidate.
Crystal Fincher: [00:39:50] Absolutely.
Mike McGinn: [00:39:50] That's what it feels like to me. This is a political ploy more than a reasoned solution. And we declared an emergency on these six years ago, for crying out loud, but we haven't really treated it like an emergency in that six years. It was just - and there's only so many task forces or government structures and emergency resolutions you can pass before the public goes, "Well, what the hell are you going to do?" And that's really a big issue. Is it a progressive response to homelessness or not a progressive response to homelessness? That's going to be a task for the Seattle electorate in the City this year. I know which side I come out on, and I hope the City comes out on the right side of that too.
Crystal Fincher: [00:40:34] Yeah. I mean it is in reality. And Erica Barnett, in PubliCola, actually did a great piece this week on - what do its advocates say versus what does the text actually say? They're very different things. It is clearly not a progressive policy. It is clearly being, trying to be - it's dressed up in progressive clothing - from the name on down and what they're saying. So, it will be very interesting to see, but that's one of those where the simple messaging on that - the easiest way to message, the simplest way to message is very deceptive and it makes it seem like, "Hey, this is finally going to do something and take care of something and people who don't just want to see people swept. But hey, there's money for this and they're going to help." You can message all of that in a way that a lot of media organizations are carrying without question, and the text doesn't jive with what their messaging is.
Mike McGinn: [00:41:38] I have a sense that the confusion about what it really means will hurt it in the same way that it hurts many initiatives. That initiatives always often suffer from the public response if it's not well thought out, it's not well-thought through, that the legislative process enables things to be a more nuanced approach. And I think that that is going to be a drag for the proponents of this getting it through, which is good, from my perspective.
But even so, its level of popularity overall even without those negatives of we're not quite - maybe it's not built right, maybe it's got some bad provisions in it, maybe it's not well-thought through. I still think the level of support is going to be so high, even if it fails, that it kind of shows how fed up people are with no action from government on this issue.
Crystal Fincher: [00:42:37] I agree with that. The issue is that people are so tired of this problem not being taken care of. It's been declared a crisis in overlapping jurisdictions - that it's been the top priority - and people have seen the issue get worse, not better. So, it is something. It's doing something, and some people I think are just willing to say, "Well, it's time to do something, and we've seen politicians dither for years. And so we have to do something." That is the challenge, I think the biggest challenge.
Mike McGinn: [00:43:10] I don't know whether it passes or fails. Even though I was kind of leaning on it, I think it might fail, but I also think it might pass. Back then, maybe here's a close. Maybe we've reached the end. I think that that we have to do something kind of feeds back to the County Exec race we talked about, feeds back to the mayor's race - how that will affect people that were more in the position to do something and those that weren't. And even how it affects the race between Nikkita, Sara Nelson, and Brianna Thomas. Granted, none of them are incumbents but one worked for a City Councilmember and one is clearly the right lane and one is clearly the left lane.
Crystal Fincher: [00:43:52] Technically, two have worked for City Councilmembers, but Brianna currently-
Mike McGinn: [00:43:56] Oh that's true - Sara did for many years. I shouldn't say that, but Brianna more recently. Actually true - Sara worked for City Councilmembers for quite a long time and was working for Councilmember Conlin when I was mayor and we interacted with her quite a bit.
So, yeah, I think that this overarching sense is something that's going to be feeding into all of the races and what's the power of that - given the specific people in the race and their personalities and their platforms and their supporters and their messaging - remains to be determined in each one. But I think it's a powerful driver in all of the races.
Crystal Fincher: [00:44:32] Yeah, I agree with that. I think people are fed up and impatient at the moment. For what is the question - they are unhappy with where things are at. Most people do feel like things are on the wrong track for one reason or another. And so what to do with that is the question.
Mike McGinn: [00:44:53] Never seen wrong track numbers this high, never seen them this high in my years of following it. It's really astounding numbers on the wrong track.
Well, let's Crystal, you and me, we're trying to get the City on the right track in our own ways. And maybe not everybody agrees with our ways, but I'm for all the people out there fighting to make it get it back on the right track. So, maybe we'll lead back with everybody.
Crystal Fincher: [00:45:21] Yeah, I'm with you. Getting things on the right track, taking action. I do think people have to - I do think people owe an explanation, who have been in power - an accounting of what they have done with that power. And I think that we are seeing in a lot of different places - certainly, with - Republicans are not hesitant to use whatever power they have and wield it in whatever way they can. I think a lot of frustration with Democrats is that a lot of people say, "Hey, you have the power to enact so much change and not much is happening," and feeling frustration with that. Certainly, that's not universal. Republican inaction is notorious. But people have to account for the power that they have. And I think people are like, "Dude, I'm electing you to use your power to do something." And I think people who can make the case that they will do something with the power that they have will fare well if they can communicate that effectively.
Mike McGinn: [00:46:23] And I'm not running for office, so I'll say this. I think the voters too, have to hold themselves accountable as well. There's a little bit of, it's not easy to cut through all the rhetoric and the misrepresentations and all the rest. But ultimately, get out and vote this time - like we get the elected leaders sometimes that they get past us or they get in. And it's up to the voters to really hold them accountable. So, take your time. You don't have to take my word for who the right candidate is, or Crystal's, or any endorsers. Take your time to dig in and definitely take your time to vote. It's a low turnout election year. Sorry for just being - but it's a low turnout year. And what we know is people are calibrating their arguments and their policy positions based on who they think is going to vote this year. So, you get out there and you vote and upset the applecart a little bit. Maybe you can get some people in there who are more progressive.
Crystal Fincher: [00:47:26] Yeah. And I think I said it in another show - vote your conscience. For me, I am a strong believer that in primary elections, a lot of people are like, "Well, am I throwing away my vote if I vote for someone who I feel is not in the lead?" And that's a whole host of people because right now, there's lots of talk about who's in the lead - although to be clear, Undecided voters are the plurality of voters right now.
But vote for the candidate who you feel most closely matches your values because whether or not that candidate makes it through, that is a statement of values and that's a statement that all other candidates pay attention to. If X candidate that stands for a range of values doesn't make it through, but they're 15% of voters, especially in a general election where more than likely no candidate is going to be approaching 50%, probably not 40%, probably closer to 30%. They're going to have to put together a cohesive platform that can consolidate the other voters.
And if they see that, "Oh, man, I am not going to get out of this without addressing climate. I'm not going to get out of this without meaningfully making sure people feel safe, without meaningfully addressing the issue of unhoused people on our streets." Make sure that they take notice of where you actually stand in terms of your values. And you don't have to compromise in a primary election. The choice in the general will be between two people and that's where you have to kind of look at, "Okay, what's the better choice, neither of them probably are going to be ideal on everything but the best choice." But vote your values now, please.
Mike McGinn: [00:49:11] Let me put it this way - 90% of the elections, I'm with you. And boy, would I love some ranked-choice voting in a race like this. I would love to see ranked-choice voting in - so order the ones you want. So, you won'thave to worry about the strategic vote.
But I think there are sometimes some races you want to vote for the person who you think stands the best chance of winning the general too. And I think this might be one of those as we talked about earlier. I think sometimes you have to look at that one too. And that certainly I think was a factor in getting Biden through the election. I think one of the reasons that the Black voter supported Biden so much, in addition to having a relationship with him and knowing where he stood, was also knowing they didn't want to take a chance on Trump. And they thought Biden had the best shot.
Crystal Fincher: [00:50:03] And mistrust of other voters that they would vote progressively and not betray the vote that people might take if they voted their conscience. Yes, yeah.
Mike McGinn: [00:50:13] Yeah, and so it's a tricky one. I wish strategic voting weren't a thing. I think there are sometimes when it is. And so that may be where we are this time too, but you can't and you shouldn't vote for somebody if you don't feel good that they're going to advance the causes you believe in at the end of the day. That's the thing that matters. So, do your homework, folks.
Crystal Fincher: [00:50:38] Do your homework. We'll certainly include a lot of links - lots of organizations have endorsed - we'll include links from a variety of organizations - Times, Stranger, Urbanist, PubliCola, Transit RIders Union. There are a number of organizations and you can read through their rationale about why they made the decisions that they made. I find that helpful in sometimes trying to wade between which candidates I'm debating on. But please do that.
We thank you so much for taking the time to listen to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, July 16th, 2021. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was activist, former Seattle mayor, Mike McGinn. You can find Mike on Twitter @mayormcginn - that's M-C-G-I-N-N. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. And now you can follow Hacks & 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 the full versions of our Friday almost-live show and our mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get the full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show today at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in. We'll talk to you next time.