Feb 18, 2023
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank! They discuss the landmark passage of Seattle’s Social Housing Initiative 135, what it says about Seattle voter preferences and expectations of candidates running for local office.
They also discuss the continuing candidate announcements for Seattle City Council, with two moderates announcing their intentions to run this week. Several candidates in the field have avoided sharing their positions on the issues most important to Seattle voters. Crystal and Robert analyze how that may impact their races and what voters are expecting from candidates this year.
In the wake of a pedestrian in a crosswalk being killed by an SPD officer who was responding to an overdose call, Robert and Crystal discuss whether it’s appropriate for police to respond to every overdose call in addition to the fire department, especially while the department says they are short-staffed. They also cover the advancing bipartisan legislation that aims to expand the conditions under which police can pursue fleeing vehicles despite their continued harm to innocent bystanders, while Democratic Reps. Reed and Farivar and Sen. Dhingra oppose this bill in favor of an evidence-based approach that prioritizes increased safety for everyone.
Robert and Crystal close the show with a discussion of the woeful state of education funding in Washington state. Despite the McCleary decision that affirmed Washington state’s paramount constitutional duty to fully fund public education, districts are still relying on levy funding to address existing funding shortfalls and considering closures of schools, while experiencing chronic understaffing in several areas and considering destabilizing school closures. As Robert discussed in The Urbanist op-Ed he wrote, this is a result of legislative inaction on school funding and the taxation of extreme wealth, the failure of all levels of government to address increasingly unaffordable housing, and too many school board directors who are failing to act in the interests of students with urgency.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Social Housing Is Winning by Rich Smith from The Stranger
Seattle Mayor and Majority of Council Mum on Social Housing by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger
Who's running for Seattle City Council in 2023 by Melissa Santos from Axios
Andrew Ashiofu Stresses Lived Experience in D3 Seattle Council Pitch by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
Tech Lawyer Rob Saka Announces Bid for Seattle City Council District 1 by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger
Seattle Subway Leader Efrain Hudnell Announces D3 City Council Bid by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
Twitter thread from Rep. Julia Reed (D-36) exposing the fault lines around police pursuit policy
Overdose Patients Can Become Violent”: Fire and Police Respond to Questions About Pedestrian Death by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola
In pursuit of good policy: Washington legislators debate validity of the data used to justify 2021 police reforms by Guy Oron from Real Change
Opinion: Everyone (Especially Urbanists) Should Care About the Crisis Facing Seattle Schools by Robert Cruickshank from The Urbanist
Gov. Inslee weighs in on potential Bellevue school consolidation by Farah Jadran from KING 5
Lawmakers in Olympia narrowing down which bills will move forward by News Staff from KIRO 7
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: 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. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast - get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
If you missed our Tuesday midweek show, transportation reporter Ryan Packer joined me to discuss regional transportation issues - including our traffic safety crisis, legislative bills and funding, the Washington-Oregon Interstate Bridge Replacement bailout, and the disconnect between and within our regional planning bodies.
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, today's cohost: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and one of the best political strategists on the West Coast, Robert Cruickshank.
[00:01:29] Robert Cruickshank: Oh thank you, Crystal, for having me. It's always an honor to be here and a pleasure to talk about all these issues happening locally with what I think is one of the smartest minds in Washington.
[00:01:38] Crystal Fincher: Thank you so much. I am very excited to talk about our first topic this week - big news locally, regionally, and really nationally. Initiative 135 in the City of Seattle for social housing is passing, will pass. What do you think of this? What will this do? And what does this mean for Seattle?
[00:02:02] Robert Cruickshank: As President Biden would say, I think this is a BFD. It, as you said, is watched around the country. There have been state legislators in California, Hawaii, New York, who have commented on this favorably, wanting to bring it to their states too. It is a crucial tool in the toolbox for solving our housing crisis. We need more housing. We need more affordable housing. And places in Europe - Vienna being a notable example - have shown that social housing can help solve that by having a publicly owned and operated system of housing that's available to people at affordable rents and also at middle income rents. And what that does is it helps have the system be self-supporting. And of course, the renters run the place themselves. They're responsible for self-governance, which I think is a huge missing piece that you see in at least American housing, where there's either the owner-occupier or you pay rent to a landlord and you don't really control your own surroundings. This is a great middle solution that works for so many people in the middle, in a city where we're losing our middle class. This is a way for teachers and nurses to be able to stay in Seattle as well as people working in the coffee shops and working in the bear-time industries.
It's also, I think, a huge victory for progressives in Seattle. This was not something that was championed by the City. In fact, the City did not want to fund this during the budget process last year. They got no support from established leaders until late in the process, really. This is something that came out of grassroots organizing - it started as a response to Charter Initiative 29 back in 2021, which was an attack on homeless folks. And a group of organizers led by Tiffani McCoy thought - let's do something better. Let's put a competing initiative on the ballot to actually solve this - that evolved into the social housing initiative. I also think it's a huge, huge defeat for The Seattle Times. There was no official No campaign. There was no well-funded organization or effort trying to stop this, so The Seattle Times became the de facto No campaign. Their editorials against it were the things that you'd hear on the doorsteps or on the phones when you're talking to undecided voters - who would cite those talking points - so they were easily debunked. But The Times really went all out to try to stop this from happening, and they lost in a low turnout election in February. I think a lot of people wouldn't have been surprised had this failed - thinking it's February, not enough progressive folks show up, maybe if it had been on the November ballot, it might have passed. But it's passing by a healthy margin now. Once the remaining ballots are counted that margin is almost certainly going to grow. So it's a strong mandate for building more housing and building affordable housing as a solution to our dire housing crisis.
[00:05:02] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And the crisis is dire. I think a clear message sent is Seattle residents realize it. It is a crisis and they expect action. And in the absence of action that they were expecting from our local elected officials, who collectively have not done much - done enough, I should say - to address this crisis, they're willing to act themselves. I do want to just highlight and commend the House Our Neighbors coalition, which was the campaign behind this - from getting signatures and qualified on the ballot to passing this initiative - organizing, getting people together. Just really, really appreciate that. Appreciate the role of the King County Democrats played in helping this - I think that's a great model of seeing how local parties can impact their communities and local politics. To your point, this was not supported by really the Democratic establishment, right? This was not a conservative versus progressive issue. This was not a D versus R issue. This is one of those issues that we have seen in Seattle - where you have establishment Democrats versus more progressive, more community-led people. And we've seen that turn out less favorably than this many, many times. And so I just think we're seeing - we saw the Tukwila Initiative succeed, we saw this, we're watching Renton happen right now. We're looking at an era really where the community is coming together and demanding more and expecting more and a big deal.
And I think the message that elected officials and candidates need to take away from this is that they're behind where the public is. They are lagging and not understanding the urgency, the desperation, and the fear that so many people have. This was basically characterized by a lot of people as some fringe, super extreme, lefty initiative that lots of people didn't even feel like they needed to pay attention to because they just never took it seriously. And that was a mistake. And these are not wild lefty fringe beliefs - this is the mainstream. We saw in this first count where over just about half of the voters were over 55 years old - we're talking average age approaching 60 in this election - and over half of them wanted to see social housing. We're just in a different era and people need to wake up and smell the coffee here because - as I've said many times before, as have you - voters are expecting action. And especially in the context of so many of these local elections, especially in the City of Seattle, with the number of candidates declaring and being really vague about what they do or don't believe, and trying to not offend people - which has been a recipe for inaction over the past decade - in Seattle politics, definitely. That is at odds with where the entire Seattle electorate is - not just younger people, not just lefties, the entire electorate - and people need to recognize that.
[00:08:37] Robert Cruickshank: I think that's right. And I think that's particularly true of housing where - currently in City Hall, there seems to be an attitude among most, but not everyone, that we have to tread slowly and carefully when it comes to solving the housing crisis. There are some great leaders on the City Council - Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda - who are pretty bold about, we need to use a comprehensive plan to upzone huge swaths of the City. But the rest of the City government seems hesitant. But they're ignoring where the public's at - the polling statewide shows there's 71% support for the missing middle housing bill. That support is also high here in the City of Seattle. And what you're seeing with social housing, which isn't exactly upzones but it's dense housing that will be built for social housing, is strong, strong support for action. There is not anywhere close to a majority - in Seattle at least - among voters for maintaining this single-family, low-rise, low-density NIMBY attitude that seems to predominate certainly among the way the media talks about housing and too often the way the City talks about housing.
I think this vote is going to resonate throughout 2023. Obviously, what I-135 did is not fully fund social housing - they weren't able to do that at the same time the initiative for fear of running afoul of the single subject rule. So they went ahead and created the authority, gave a little bit of money to start that authority up. And then they're going to work with the City to try to get it funded. And if City Hall doesn't try to fund construction of social housing, they'll come back to the ballot again. All these council candidates who are declaring in the last few weeks, even the last few days, are going to have to be on the spot now because voters went ahead of them and said, No, we actually want social housing to happen. Now we expect you to deliver. And this is going to be an issue throughout 2023 and all these campaigns, and that's a good thing, right? They're having to now respond to where the public actually is, not responding to a Seattle times narrative of - Oh, people are cranky, they don't want new density, we want NIMBYism everywhere. That's not where the public is at, at all.
[00:10:39] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and I'm excited to see where this is going to go. I'm excited to see these candidates and elected officials be put on the spot and have to answer. And I'm trying to have some grace - it is early in the campaign cycle, they're working on this stuff - but if this were to continue later in the cycle, as we've seen in previous cycles, there's really an arrogance about it. It's really feeling that you're not accountable to the voters and really being straight with them about what you believe, who you are, what you're doing, or that you have an obligation to act on their behalf, and to deliver on the mandate that they have provided. So I'm eager to see how this continues. I'm eager to see that now that this has passed - we saw Tammy Morales attempt to provide some funding that the rest of the council, many of the rest of the council, did not agree with. But with this new council coming up, assuming Tammy is reelected - is this something that she can lead on and helping to provide funding and making this happen?
I just think my final thought on this for now is really another explicit message that Seattle residents expect government to be part of the solution. This is - we hear so many times that - the market needs to take care of itself. We can't step in and do this. This is really big and really problematic - I don't know that government can address this. It has before. It is elsewhere. And if we don't interrupt the cycle of what's currently happening, we're just going to price everyone out of Seattle. We have a lot of people who have been laid off recently, who are fearing being laid off soon, who are making well into the six figures - who are largely saying, We don't know that we can continue to afford to live in Seattle. Even for those who haven't lost their jobs - looking at the prospect of potential instability financially saying, Is this responsible? Do we need to preemptively leave? Because without a massive - making $200,000+ - can you responsibly afford to live in Seattle? It's really a challenging situation that is long past time needing a response to and Seattle residents acting on that.
[00:13:05] Robert Cruickshank: And it wasn't that long ago that it was affordable to live here. 10 years ago - housing prices - you could buy a house in Seattle for less than $400,000, three, four bedrooms. You could rent a two bedroom apartment for $1,200 or less. It was relatively affordable. And it just happened rapidly because we hadn't kept up with building enough housing. We hadn't been providing enough affordable housing. And I think voters are fed up. They want their government to act. And I think one of the big takeaways from I-135's passing is - voters are going to solve this if our government doesn't.
[00:13:37] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I do want to talk more about the candidates that are running, particularly in the City of Seattle and in King County. We saw a few new announcements this week. Who has thrown their hat in the race and what are they talking about?
[00:13:51] Robert Cruickshank: So it feels like January, early February was when the progressive candidates jumped out and we saw people from Maren Costa - who's a climate activist coming out of Amazon, and fought Amazon, was fired by Amazon - running in District 1. A number of great people jumping in in District 3, people like Ron Davis in District 4. But now we're starting to see the empire strike back a little bit. Rob Saka announced this week for District 1 in West Seattle - he's a tech lawyer perceived to be pretty close to the Harrell administration. A couple of days later, we had Tanya Woo announce for District 2 against Tammy Morales - running, try to be a more corporate-friendly, business-friendly candidate. What's interesting is these candidates are trying to have it both ways. They are clearly saying things that they think will appeal to the business community, will appeal to the political establishment, but also trying to say things that sound somewhat progressive. But the result is it's a word salad. All these, all of their launch documents - you go to their websites, their press releases - they're not really saying anything of substance. They're just trying to say a bunch of words that they think will get voters to like them.
And that's alarming to me because as we just talked about, we're facing multiple crises in the city and we need candidates who are willing to step up and provide bold solutions. And instead, what we're starting to get are candidates who were hemming and hawing and tried to be super vague about what they really believe - sound progressive enough, but also really business-friendly. And all these candidates remind me of is Jenny Durkan - when she ran in 2017 with the same type of messaging - very clearly corporate-friendly, but also would say a few things that sounded progressive, just enough to get the progressive voters comfortable with her. We elected her and it was a disaster. So I think as these candidates start to announce and they'll have a ton of money behind them, it's going to be really, really important for the voters to push them pretty hard, to say - no, we're not looking for nice words, we're looking for actual solutions that'll help end the problems that we're facing in the city.
[00:16:08] Crystal Fincher: I felt disappointed - really, personally - at a lot of these announcements. We are talking - these things are crises now because they've been building for years. They've been getting worse for years. We're not dealing with new issues. We're dealing with neglected issues. It's no secret how communities felt. We've been talking about, debating about, having a public discourse about homelessness, about taxation, about public health, public safety for years. Very few people are undecided fundamentally on these issues. What really is the differentiator is - where do you stand and what do you want to do? What might make you more effective at doing what you want to do than others who want to do that thing? But instead, we're not hearing people who have participated in this discourse over several years - at least they're acting as if they haven't - some of them have. But we're hearing them just say, Did you vote for initiative I-135? Are you planning to? Well, it's interesting and I haven't decided yet. Okay - after several months and coming to the point where you are going to run, you know how you're going to vote. If you don't know that, you don't know so many other things that are required for running in this city. There's no special knowledge that you get once you get elected and there's no enlightenment that rains down upon you. It just is more accountability.
And so I want to know where someone stands. You talked about Jenny Durkan. We heard that from Jenny Durkan, the same kind of - Well, I'm interested. I'm not sure. I want to convene community and listen to what they have to say and then I'll make a decision. I want to evaluate where our taxes are being spent and see where we can cut and blah, blah, blah, blah. We heard that from Ed Murray. We heard that from the leadership that we have been frustrated with, and that have led to this situation where issues have been neglected because of inaction for so long that now they are crises. Ed Murray talked about the homelessness crisis. Jenny Durkan did. Bruce Harrell did. But in the same kind of way. And so I'm just wondering - after seeing this so many times, are they banking on - well, it worked for Ed Murray. It worked for Jenny Durkan. Seems to be working for Bruce Harrell in some things where he seemed to sound more progressive on the campaign trail than how he's governed on certainly some issues. Are they thinking - well, it worked for them. It can work for me too. And let me just try not to offend the majority of Seattleites who are progressive while still making my high-earning corporate supporters - keeping them comfortable and winking and nodding that, Yeah, everything will be fine. I'll be good for you. I just need to say this stuff to make sure that I don't freak out the rest of the voters. And voters deserve better. The City deserves better. And we can't continue to do this same thing over and over again. I think voters are getting hip to that fact, which is why we see election results like we saw this week.
[00:19:28] Robert Cruickshank: I think that's right. And I think there's a common political strategy that consultants will tell their candidates - Don't offend your, don't say anything that might alienate some voters. Be wishy-washy. Don't take a bold stand. That's pretty traditional advice. And it tends to be wrong. You tend to see that in fact, the people who win are the ones willing to take a stand, and willing to talk directly to voters, and show voters that they are willing to fight for what's right. And I think you're going to see that here in 2023. I think coming out of the pandemic, coming out of the rebellions of 2020, I think that City Hall has become very skittish and hesitant. They've been through a lot, but they're also not really stepping up to lead - aside from a few exceptions here and there. And unfortunately, starting to see some candidates who are trying to align themselves with certainly the mayor's office - adopting that same sort of wishy-washy - We're not going to stick our necks out. I don't think that's where the public's at, at all. I think the public wants to see solutions. They want progressive solutions to housing, to homelessness, to public safety. And I think candidates who understand that and are willing to talk in a smart, approachable, sensible way about these things will do really well in 2023. It might surprise some in the established class, it might surprise some of the media, but it shouldn't surprise voters who are clearly asking for that.
[00:20:58] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I think another dynamic that is interesting is that we heard the leaked comments from Mayor Harrell in that police department briefing, where he basically said he was recruiting against existing councilmembers. What he wasn't banking on, it sounds like, is the number of open seats that were there. So we have a number of candidates who I think were recruited and started off trying to run as clearly opposition candidates to the candidates that they thought that they were going to be running against. And so I'm wondering if they thought that they would be able to get away with being more moderate, conservative - in opposition to some of the incumbents. That's not what ended up happening. These are open seats. And when having - I will also say, just as a consultant watching this happen over and over again, as you've probably seen - if you have one loud oppositional person, especially who's a moderate or conservative, running against someone who's more progressive, pretty often they will get through primary just because they oftentimes consolidate their base more effectively than several other candidates there. And so they'll get through a lot of times, they won't make it through to the general, but we see that dynamic.
Things turned out to be different - there are open seats. And so they don't have someone that they can just say, No, I don't like that. I don't like this. I don't like that. They have more pressure to come out with their own vision, to define who they are and what they want to do, and paint a positive vision, lay out a plan for what they want to do. Seems like some of them weren't prepared to do that. And in a primary, being in the middle is not a good place to be - especially in an open seat, crowded primary. You need to talk about who you are and what you're doing - because lower turnout elections, really consolidating a base in a primary is really important. And people have to be able to know who you are, number one, and then identify what you stand for to see if they align with you. If everyone sounds kind of the same, that becomes a really difficult job and you see big vote splits there.
So it's going to be interesting - just in this open seat context - to see how this plays out, how many more people wind up getting into the races. I think we'll see a number of other announcements in these various districts and for King County Council. But it's going to be really interesting to see the results of who stands up and defines themself - really interesting just in the lead up to Initiative 135 - seeing the difference in Seattle City Council candidates and King County Council candidates for people who were willing to say yes or no to whether they were going to vote for Initiative 135 and the ones who just wouldn't give an answer. And for so many other issues - Do you think we need to hire more police? Yeah, maybe, perhaps. We need to look at it. We need to explore and examine. We probably need more. How many more? I don't know. I'll check with community. All these really, like you said, mealy-mouthed wishy-washy things. They got to do better and they got to do better soon.
[00:24:31] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, a couple of quick thoughts on that. I think that this is going to be a change election, and some of these candidates were running expecting it to be a change election that would work in their favor - that they would be, that the sort of moderate center would be the opposition bringing change. The fact that so many people are leaving the City Council totally undoes that strategy. And now it's a change election, potentially, with the change people seek as a way from a City Hall that isn't solving their problems. And that is a huge opening to progressive candidates who can now run as change agents without having the baggage of being in office during four really turbulent, difficult years. So I feel like progressive candidates have a huge opening here in 2023 to offer genuine, concrete, specific solutions, to not be afraid to speak directly to voters, to not be afraid to put themselves out there. And I think voters will respond really well to that.
You also mentioned police. And I think - 'cause I know this is something we wanted to talk about today as well. It's clear that one of the strategies that these more centrist moderate corporate candidates are planning to run is - we need to hire more cops. In fact, there's been reports out there that those folks are cooking up a ballot initiative potentially for November - to try to force the City to hire, spend even more money hiring even more cops. And it just flies in the face of the facts. There's a national shortage of officers. Even in cities that fell all over themselves to shower love on the police departments during the middle of 2020 while the rest of us were trying to hold them accountable, they're facing shortages too. And it's not because people said unpleasant things about the cops, not because people are holding them accountable, it's not because we're not paying them enough. For the last two years, City Hall has been showering potential recruits with money and they're not coming in the door - they're not coming in the door anywhere in the country.
I think part of that is because we haven't reformed the departments. I think you see a lot of potential recruits look at policing and say, I don't want to work in an institution where violent racism is not only tolerated, it's expected. You look at the rank and file of the current Seattle Police Department - these are people who elected Mike Solan, a far-right Trump acolyte, as their president for SPOG in January of 2020 - well before the George Floyd protests began. It's a department that has resisted reform for years. So obviously this is where the defund the police movement came out of - if they will resist reform, we have to go to more extreme solutions. The public has said - Well, we don't really want that. Although the public has still very consistently said, We also want funding for alternatives to policing. There's a huge opening here again for progressives to come in and say, Look, we need to be using our police resources more smartly than we are right now. They shouldn't be chasing after people in mental health crisis - that's where King County's Crisis Care Centers Levy coming up in April is also hugely important - to stand some of that up. But we have to be smart and have an honest conversation that we can't just shower money on recruits who aren't showing up, because fundamental problems in the way policing in the city and in this country is done and we haven't tackled it. And you're not going to solve those problems just by try to get more officers into a broken institution. Your potential officers are saying, No, I'm going to go do something else with my life.
[00:27:59] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And we aren't reckoning with what's coming from police. We have had several instances, including number from SPD officers, saying the money isn't the problem. The money isn't the problem - coming from them. Yeah, sure. You can try giving us more of a signing bonus, but that's not going to help. And irresponsibly - when someone's saying money's not the problem and you have a shortage of money - spending it on something that is not going to get results, hearing from the horse's mouth that it's not going to get results is really confounding and confusing.
I think that - to your point, we have to look at using the resources more effectively, more efficiently. We talk about efficiency and driving best practices in lots of other areas of government and business, but we seem to exempt police from that. Is patrol really the most appropriate place? The City's own studies - lots of City studies - have shown that the majority of time that patrol officers are spending is not on addressing unlawful activity. They've shown that a majority of calls that they're responding to are not critical emergency calls. So why do we continue to act as if that's the case, to deploy as if that's the case? We need to be more effective in how we utilize our existing resources. And it seems like there's an unwillingness to even entertain that conversation. There is an explicit unwillingness that has come out of - it seems like the Seattle Executive's office - for that in ignoring their own studies and research that they had started. And really not engaging with - we need to look at how officers respond, what they're responding to, and responding to the mandate from Seattle residents to have more appropriate responses to different things. And when we're not doing that, we see everybody unhappy for all of the reasons. You're not responding effectively to anything because you aren't looking at how you can be more effective. Where if we were looking at that, we could potentially be doing really well in some areas and supplementing other areas with resources that have a better chance of solving the root cause.
But we keep on entertaining this revolving door, very punitive approach where - Okay, someone is in a behavioral health crisis, but we're going to go ahead and arrest them, put them in jail, which is going to further destabilize them. They're getting out - they still don't have a home, they still don't have a job, they have less of a likelihood to get that. And now a lot of ways and ticky tack things that they have to now adhere to. And if they don't then they just continue in that spiral. We have to get smarter about public safety. We have to talk about public safety more comprehensively. It's more than policing, even for those who are saying it definitely includes policing. You can't say it isn't only policing. It's very shortsighted. It flies in the face of all the data we see. And we admit that all the time. We talk about how important education is. We talk about how important addressing poverty is for good outcomes. We talk about how important all that is and putting people on a correct footing - because we understand that that has a direct correlation to how people are able to build a life, participate productively in society, whatever that means, and to not have to resort to illegal activity, or have options so limited that that's what they choose.
We know what to do. It's just a willingness to do it. And we need to stop allowing people who are not invested in the health of our communities dictate this narrative that runs counter to the health of our communities and the safety of our communities. Listen to the people who are there - they're telling you what they need, but our leaders and our media - lots of our media - continues to ignore that.
[00:32:12] Robert Cruickshank: It's like housing. We talked earlier that the public - in both polling and now the results of I-135 - clearly support solving the housing crisis with things like social housing. They want something done that's positive and constructive. The polls show the same thing on public safety. I think we'll see, in the Crisis Care Centers Levy that King County is running in April, the same thing. That is setting up a system where you see someone on the street, or on the bus, or wherever in mental health crisis - a danger to themselves, maybe danger to others, you call it in. And rather than a cop showing up, you get trained professionals who understand how to handle mental health crisis show up - and take them not to jail, but to a crisis care center where they're going to get treatment. It works even in states like Arizona - like a purple state like that - the system works really well. Bringing it to King County is essential because then not only are people going to get the care they need rather than being dumped in jail where their situation is going to get so much worse, they might even pass away as we've seen in recent months. But you also free up the police to respond to things that you want them to respond to. You want cops responding to someone breaking the glass door of your local small business. You want cops showing up to a domestic violence incident. You don't want cops showing up to someone in mental health crisis. And you don't want cops necessarily showing up to every time someone has an overdose.
And I know this is something else that's been in the news this week. The Community Police Commission, after the horrific incident a few weeks ago where an officer struck and killed someone speeding in their vehicle near Westlake on their way to an overdose call. It turns out that Seattle Fire has a policy where they want an officer at every overdose call. The Community Police Commission said, Where does this policy exist? Why do you have this? What is your justification for this? It doesn't make sense. It is a waste of police resources. And as we're seeing, it's a danger to the community. Someone who's overdosing, someone who's in crisis - they need help. And Fire Department responding is exactly what you want. If for some unknown reason there's a need for police backup, because something else is happening in that situation - case-by-case basis, sure. But to have a policy where you're going to take an officer off of patrol, or off of something more important and go to a call on an overdose - an overdose call is important. It doesn't need an officer there. It doesn't need a guy with a gun showing up. It's usually a guy, as we know, showing up to this. It's a waste of resources. It's dangerous to the community. People are getting killed now because of this policy. It's time to reevaluate that as a part of a larger reevaluation of where are we using our police resources?
[00:34:51] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's based on no data. And in the midst of what they're characterizing as a shortage of police, why are they sending them out to these calls? There's no evidence showing that people who are coming out of an overdose situation are inherently dangerous. If that was the case, we'd be seeing that in hospitals around the country. But in the same way that hospitals treat that - and if they need backup, then they call for it - why wouldn't the Fire Department be doing the same thing? It looks like the Fire Department has been complicit in this thing and saying, Well, we've seen that. But in response to being asked, Really, we have seen people be violent? That's a regular problem? Can you show us any data demonstrating that? None of that has been provided to date. So why are we doing that? And again, looking at how we deploy our existing resources in the midst of a shortage, why is that a priority? We've been making that decision while we were also making the decision to not investigate sexual assaults of adults. How does that make sense - that we're going to rush to and respond to an overdose that's already being handled, that most other cities handle with just a Fire response - this seems to be really outside of best practices and what is generally accepted as normal across the state. It's just really confusing to see why this is happening. And I hope that's something else that is being examined.
Also being examined is - how appropriate and when it is appropriate to pursue people in police chases - this is a conversation in the Legislature that has been ongoing. We've talked about this on the program before, but this legislation looks to be advancing. And it's really interesting - we saw this week a pursuit in Kent that ended in a crash, we saw two pursuits in the last two days in California end in fatalities - one of an innocent pedestrian standing by, a number of others ending in crashes. We seem to not be reckoning with how frequently these things are ending in property damage, and in loss of life, or severe injury to people innocently standing by. And we have to acknowledge that the impact is the same as if some external person came and murdered them, or someone came and stole their car. This is harmful to people in the community. And what has never happened has been saying - You can't pursue vehicles. They can pursue. They have been pursuing. They pursue quite frequently, as we've been paying attention to this in the news more closely recently. But this is a debate that they're currently having. What's your view on this?
[00:37:56] Robert Cruickshank: When I'm out on the streets myself, sometimes I'll notice that an ambulance comes by and they're speeding to a call, someone's life is in danger. But they're driving quickly, but deliberately and safely - they're taking care to not endanger anyone around them. If I hear a siren - it's a police car coming by - I notice they drive much more aggressively, much more quickly, with apparent less regard for people around them. I think that just speaks to the cultural problems we see in policing - a lack of care and commitment to public safety for anyone other than the officers themselves. And I think it speaks to the larger problem we face here. You have a concern created by right-wing media and by some police themselves who just don't like the idea of being held accountable, or having any restrictions on their operations - who are complaining about laws passed in 2021 governing police pursuits. And as you said, they don't prevent police from pursuing. It has to be a specific situation where certain criteria are met - how it should be. And they're trying to loosen that.
And in fact, just yesterday, a bill to loosen rules around police pursuits made it out of a House committee. There are a few people who stood up against that. I want to shout out to them. Newly elected Representative Darya Farivar, from here in the 46th, was the lone Democrat to vote against it - kudos to her. Newly elected Representative Julia Reed is not on that committee - she's from the 36th district - but she had a really good series of tweets yesterday where she called us out and said, This isn't just coming from Republicans, it's coming from some of my fellow Democrats - and I'm not okay with this. We need to continue the fight for fixing things that are broken in our public safety process. So kudos to Representatives Reed and Farivar - it just seems to me that we need more leadership like that. Too many people go to Olympia to play the game, but they showed up to win. And I really appreciate that. They may not be able to stop this bill from going through and weakening important rules around police pursuits, but at least they're standing up and speaking up publicly and trying. And we need to see more of that in Olympia.
[00:40:02] Crystal Fincher: We absolutely do. I thank you for bringing them up. I also want to highlight Senator Manka Dhingra, who we've talked about on this show and we interviewed her before. She's talked about - in a lot of areas - that this flies in the face of evidence and of data that show this is dangerous. And an increase in crime, an increase in vehicle deaths are not at all related to whether or not police can pursue people in different instances. Really it looks like the increase in car thefts is really tied to an increase in the value of used cars. But we're really seeing a lot of data flying back and forth, accusations, and people saying - Well, it's for this reason, it's for that reason. Why are we trying to expand this when we don't have solid data or evidence on anything? And to Manka Dhingra's credit, what she has said is that she does not want to bring this up for a hearing on the Senate side, but she is proposing that - Hey, we're hearing a lot of things fly back and forth. We do need to determine what best practices are across the country - what is happening, what is working. And so we can study this and find out what the facts are, particularly for us on the ground here in the state. But standing strong and saying - Look, I know that people want to do this in the law enforcement community, in some elements of the law enforcement community - because to be clear, others have already taken steps to limit police pursuits because this is a best practice and they have recognized that it not only puts the public at risk, but it also puts their officers at risk - to have just a no holds barred, chase everyone whenever you want, even if they just steal some toilet paper from the corner store.
So it's going to be interesting to see how this proceeds, particularly in the Senate. But I do hope that people, that a lot of times - we are not bashful about telling our representatives and our electeds our opinions when we disagree with them. But I appreciate calling out ones who are fighting for us and ones who are representing where we stand and what we want - and let them know that you appreciate that, that you have their back - because right now, they're being bombarded by other people and by other lobbies who don't feel the same and who are trying to pressure them with tactics - threatening, battles in the media, challenging that, all that kind of stuff. So make sure that you are engaged in these. We will include links in the show notes to help you see where you can get involved, help contact them. But this is a really important thing that is happening. I hope that is not successful, but don't know. We'll see, because to your point - this is a bipartisan effort. And it's just hard to understand why, particularly after we saw residents across the state reject the kind of reasoning in last year's November elections - voters provided a pretty clear mandate and Republicans tried to make these arguments and actually ran on reversing this. And voters said no across the board to a degree that they rarely do. It's just really confusing to me that - especially the Democrats who support this - would then turn around and say, Okay, but we need to do this anyway. Another example of what we talked about earlier of our elected officials being behind where the public is at.
[00:43:44] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, and I think we see this often in the Legislature, unfortunately - a leadership in the Democratic Party in Olympia that is out of touch, unwilling to step up and solve problems. I think you just flagged it correctly. They won an election in 2022, despite being hammered on these issues. They not only protected their swing seats, they picked up a few more. So there's no real urgent mandate from voters, there's no threat to their position for doing this - from making it easier for cops to drive unsafely in police pursuits, but they're doing it anyway.
We also see - in education - where the Legislature is really falling down. Thankfully, Marysville's passed a school levy this week - if they hadn't, they're talking about having to dissolve the district. But then the whole McCleary case was designed to make it so you don't have to rely on the local levy anymore. What's turned out is that the Legislature continues to underfund schools. Schools are potentially closing in Seattle, Bellevue - I think we're going to hear about more districts facing this. And the Democratic leadership just isn't engaged on this. There is a bill to try to fully fund special education. There's a cap on the number of students who can receive special education services, even if - that the Legislature will fund, at least. The State Legislature has a cap on how much funding they'll provide for special education. If your district has more than 13.5% of its students who need special education services, the Legislature will not fund above that. In Seattle, 16% of students need services. In rural districts, it's as high as 20%. And those are undercounts. The district is pitted - pits students against each other - says effectively, In order to serve special education students, we got to take money from somewhere else. And so 25 legislators sponsored a bill in the House to eliminate that cap and fund that this year. And a number of people showed up to the House Appropriations Committee hearing last week - myself included, at least virtually - to testify in support - all of a sudden to discover a proposed substitute bill that guts all of that. Says actually, We'll raise it slowly and we'll only implement it over five years. So they're not going to solve the financial problems that schools face. A large part of school deficits is because of underfunding of special education. But the legislative leadership of the Democratic Party is just - it's not a priority for them. They don't seem to really care about public education, even though, once again - polls show the public cares about it.
So you have a Democratic leadership in Olympia that feels pressure to change laws around police pursuits because of media pressure, but not really pressure from the public. Certainly not a majority of the public. A few loud voices on the right, but that's not a majority. But the things that the public really does care about, especially education, are just not getting solved. And it's a sad state of affairs in Olympia where the leadership - and I think it's a leadership problem - isn't in touch with what the voters want or need.
[00:46:47] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's a real challenge. I appreciate that you had an excellent piece that ran in The Urbanist earlier this week talking about this, but this is really a comprehensive problem that's been a while in the making that has a lot of different causes. And you talked about a number of issues that are contributing to this - including housing, including our tax system - but really looking at the responsibility of our Legislature to handle this. What needs to happen at various levels of government now to address this, and what impact might this have on school district elections that are coming up?
[00:47:27] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, excellent question. The problems facing our schools - it's like a perfect storm of three different things. The Legislature underfunding our schools, cities making it hard for families to stay. When families get priced out and families leave, then your enrollment starts to drop. And then the school district itself is mismanaged, is very top-down - notorious for not responding to the public, notorious for not really caring about what parents and families want - of all backgrounds, of all income levels. So these are all coming together to create a real crisis. In Seattle, if you lose public schools - the schools and neighborhoods start to close, and that just accelerates decline. It accelerates families leaving. It accelerates people who say, I don't want to move to Seattle, right? It works against what we're trying to do at the city and state level in terms of making it easier to build housing and recruit more families and keep families here. If you're not going to provide schools for them, you're going to make them go out of their way to get their kids to school - you're undermining all of that work.
One of the things I think we need is leadership in the Legislature, and it strikes me that - we have great leaders on housing in the Legislature - you can look at Jessica Bateman, Nicole Macri. They are champions on housing, and that's great - I like that. There are champions on the environment. We don't seem to have a champion on public education in the Legislature right now. There are people who support it and care about it, but no one really has made it their core issue that they're going to fight on no matter what happens. And that's weird to me, because public education touches so many of their constituents. It's well-liked, universally popular. Polls show that the public wants it. So we need to have champions step up to save our public schools to prevent these closures. I think there's an attitude in Olympia right now that says, Well, enrollment's declining - not much we can do about that. That's terrible, right? We should want everyone in the public system. That is where - we not only educate all of our kids, that's where we do the work of building a better society. We want to undermine racism and privilege and inequity? Bring all the kids into the public system, teach them all together how to be anti-racist - rather than turning the public schools into a de facto safety net, which is what's happening.
The other thing the Legislature can do is pass a wealth tax. It has widespread public support - two-thirds of Washington voters want to tax the rich to fund things, including public schools. Do that this year. But that's a situation where a Senate Democrat - in this case Christine Rolfes, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee - hasn't brought that bill up for a hearing yet. She is someone who's thinking about running for statewide office next year. Does she really want to go statewide having blocked a wealth tax? That seems unwise. But we'll see what the Democratic leadership in Olympia wants to do. Do they take public education seriously or not?
[00:50:21] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it seems very unwise. And this is another issue that Democrats, especially in battleground districts, ran talking about public education, ran talking about how important it is. This is following a number of teacher strikes that happened at the beginning of the year, where they called out how critical these issues are and they're at nearly unsustainable levels now. They are short staffed when it comes to special education. As you talked about, there are situations where even in a fire drill, there wasn't enough staff to safely evacuate all of their students. This is hazardous in many different ways.
And I also want to call out, just as we are looking at this - this is 2023. And this year, not only are we going to be seeing city council elections and mayoral elections, but school board elections - which so often get overlooked, but are absolutely critical to addressing this issue. I hope that we see a deeper examination of school board races across the board - in Seattle, across the state. This is critical. And I also want to call out - it's also critical because our public schools are where a number of - I don't just want to say conservatives, but like fascists, have designated a battleground. We're seeing attacks on trans people existing across the country, and absolutely here too. We're seeing efforts to ban books on everything - from issues that address the LGBTQ community to BIPOC communities. They are really trying to use the schools to outlaw people, to make it illegal to exist. And this has worked in so many other places. We have districts - I'm here in Kent, the Kent School District - candidates who were endorsed by Democrats, one former Chair of the 33rd District Democrats voting against teachers' unions, voting to take them to court, voting to ban books, right? This is something that's happening in these elections because they go so unnoticed. Lots of people do not pay attention or examine, so someone with really extreme, harmful ideologies who does not want to acknowledge the humanity or the right of everybody to exist and learn and thrive are flourishing. And this is how they're getting their foothold into power and into local government. And then they make it onto city councils and into the Legislature and into Congress. We have to pay attention to these things. What's your take on what's at stake in these elections?
[00:53:10] Robert Cruickshank: I appreciate you saying that, because school board is hugely important. And it is something that I think the progressive movement generally isn't paying enough attention to - school boards in particular, but also public education. And I think we need to change that here in 2023 for the reasons you mentioned. I think it's also true in Seattle where thankfully we're not seeing efforts to ban books. The previous school board did in 2015 think about trying to sue teachers when they went out on strike - thankfully they got strong public pushback against that. But I think the problem we have in Seattle, for example, is a school board that is disengaged - that isn't really willing to step up and do the work to fix the district, to take on persistent mismanagement, and to rebuild the district in a way that power devolves to the community in ways that are equitable. And I think you have four seats here in Seattle that are up for re-election this year - that's the majority of the board. And there are a few of us parents who are working to try to figure out - who's out there, who's willing to step up and run. And it's hard - it's an underpaid job. You get $4,000 a year, essentially, with no real support and a lot of work. But it's important and rewarding work that has to be done because public education is just one of those absolutely crucial things to the future of our society.
And the right understands this. They get that very, very clearly. The corporations understand - that's why they want to privatize the system - because there's a lot of money in it. The right understands because there's a lot of power in it. And I think progressives need to make 2023 the year that - in Washington State, at least - they really deeply engage on this. We saw around the country last year in 2022 - where progressives did engage on school board races, they did really well. A lot of parents in places like North Carolina or Michigan, Texas mobilized to stop these right-wingers who wanted to use school districts and school boards to attack other kids. And those progressive candidates by and large did well. I think it's important for us in Washington State, whether you are in a district where those anti-trans, anti-critical race theory people are coming in, or whether you're in Seattle where the problems are different - you just have a school board that isn't really focused on doing the job properly. We as progressives need to really get our act in gear on this and take public education and school boards super seriously this year.
[00:55:28] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And issues like special education, issues about letting police back into schools are on the docket this year. And if we don't step in and make our voices heard, make our preferences heard, other people certainly will. Like you said, conservatives have understood for a long time. They've understood the importance of the courts at a more fundamental level than progressives have traditionally. And they understand the role of public education - in just our society and how it shapes - so I hope we continue to pay attention to that. Appreciate all of your insight here. We'll also link that op-ed that you wrote and include that in the show notes.
And I just want to thank everybody for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, February 17th, 2023 - this year continues to evaporate. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter @cruikshank, that's C-R-U-I-C-K S-H-A-N-K. You can follow me on Twitter @finchfrii. Follow Hacks & Wonks @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.