Jan 15, 2022
On this week-in-review, Crosscut reporter covering state politics and the Legislature, Melissa Santos, joins Crystal to discuss Governor Inslee attempting to make it illegal for politicians to lie about election fraud and ending the ban on affirmative action, bills to watch this legislative session, Seattle and Burien extending their eviction moratoriums, Kent's mayor saying that she didn't think the public would get upset about a Nazi cop, and parents and schools struggling though COVID.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“Inslee will support bill to make lying by elected officials, candidates about election results punishable by law” by Joseph O’Sullivan and Jim Brunner from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/gov-jay-inslee-to-support-bill-to-make-lies-by-elected-officials-candidates-about-election-results-a-gross-misdemeanor/
“Inslee rescinds directive banning affirmative action in Washington state government” by Joseph O’Sullivan, Jim Brunner and Heidi Groover from The Seattle Times:
“7 things WA Legislature is expected to address in 2022” by Melissa Santos from Crosscut: https://crosscut.com/politics/2022/01/7-things-wa-legislature-expected-address-2022
“Bills to Watch in the 2022 Washington State Legislative Session” by Stephen Fesler, Doug Trumm, Ryan Packer and Natalie Bicknell Argerious from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/01/11/bills-to-watch-in-the-2022-washington-state-legislative-session/
Burien City Council extends eviction moratorium through COVID-19 state of emergency by Nicholas Johnson from The B-Town (Burien) Blog: https://b-townblog.com/2022/01/13/burien-city-council-extends-eviction-moratorium-through-covid-19-state-of-emergency/
“Mayor Harrell Extends Seattle's Eviction Moratorium until February 14th” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/01/12/mayor-harrell-extends-seattles-eviction-moratorium-until-february-14th/
“As Harrell Extends Seattle's Eviction Moratorium, Cracks Begin to Show in the Statewide Eviction Prevention Programs” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger:
“Email Reveals Even City Officials Fell Victim to 2020 Proud Boys Hoax” by Carolyn Bick from South Seattle Emerald: https://southseattleemerald.com/2022/01/12/breaking-email-reveals-even-city-officials-fell-victim-to-2020-proud-boys-hoax/
“Kent badly underestimated outrage over assistant police chief’s Nazi insignia, mayor says” by Mike Carter from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/kent-mayor-city-badly-underestimated-outrage-over-assistant-police-chief-who-embraced-nazi-rank-insignia/
“Facing dire staff shortages, some schools are asking parents to step in” by Marisa Iati from The Washington Post for The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation/facing-dire-staff-shortages-some-u-s-schools-are-asking-parents-to-step-in/
“Teachers confront half-empty classrooms as virus surges” by Carolyn Thompson from The Associated Press for The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation/teachers-confront-half-empty-classrooms-as-virus-surges/
“Seattle students plan sickout, demand COVID tests and masks as school closures climb” by Monica Velez from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/education-lab/seattle-students-demand-masks-and-tests-plan-sickout-as-school-closures-climb/
“What Seattle Public Schools Needs to Say Right Now” by Ray Dubicki from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/01/13/sps-letter-to-families/
[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. 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 today's co-host, Crosscut staff reporter covering state politics and the legislature, Melissa Santos.
[00:00:54] Melissa Santos: Hi Crystal.
[00:00:55] Crystal Fincher: Hey, welcome back. How are you?
[00:00:58] Melissa Santos: Doing as well as anyone can be doing at this moment in time and history probably.
[00:01:03] Crystal Fincher: I feel that. Well, I guess we should start off by talking about a couple of actions that Inslee took over the past week. One is a move that he's trying to make to make it illegal for politicians to lie about election fraud. What is he doing there?
[00:01:23] Melissa Santos: Well, it's hard to say precisely because I still haven't seen the text of a bill and a lot is dependent on that, but basically the Governor said he wants it to make it a gross misdemeanor for politicians to lie about election fraud. The part that some reporters immediately went, "Wait, wait, wait - we know in our state that our Supreme Court has said that basically lying as a politician is okay. There was a ruling almost 15 years ago now that said lying about your opponent is free speech essentially, for the most part, so we're wondering how can you make this work?" The Governor's argument is that this is speech lying about election fraud, and lying about the results of elections can lead to violence, and that's like calling "Fire" in a crowded theater. So that is something he believes can be regulated.
I'm waiting to see how the text of that actually falls into place. Some other legislators that happen to be lawyers, including House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, said to me, "It really depends on how it's written, if it's constitutional," but the Governor made this announcement on January 6, the anniversary of the insurrection at the US Capitol and the anniversary of people actually storming the grounds of his, the governor's mansion in Olympia, over some of these claims of election fraud. I'm just interested to see how it plays out, and whether it could actually be passed, and whether it can actually uphold or be upheld in court.
[00:02:53] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and that seems to be the stance of a lot of people - just waiting to see what the text is. But frankly, not just lawyers in the legislature, but also other constitutional lawyers who, with both conservative and progressive backgrounds, have said that this can be really dicey and whether or not this can be constitutionally constructed is a big question. I think Inslee - his response to that was, "Yes, this may draw some legal attention and challenge," but he's feeling that the rhetoric has gotten so inflamed that the truth - that misinformation and disinformation is actually damaging to our democracy and society - and we're paying a price. And he feels compelled to act to try to do something. And is ready for the fight. And I think he has almost acknowledged that he's not sure how it will ultimately turn out. He's going to do his best to craft it constitutionally, but he doesn't know. He just feels that this is worth the fight.
[00:03:57] Melissa Santos: And I guess for me, I'm wondering if it just depends on whether you have to have violence result and then can go back and prosecute, because that might be a situation in which I think - I'm not a lawyer - and I haven't talked to as many people about this as I want to to make this claim. But I think potentially if you actually see violence that erupts that could be traced to someone's statements, maybe that's more legally defensible to have a penalty against a speech, than if it's just speculative, like this could lead to violence. So, I guess that's one of the things I'm wondering - if that will be specified clearly in what he puts out.
[00:04:32] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I mean the impression I got is that it wasn't going to be tied to violence - just the act of lying and knowingly spreading misinformation would be illegal and punishable by law. But again as you said, we haven't seen the text of this. So, this is a big stay tuned, but a big announcement and that has a lot of people interested in what the next steps are going to be. And then the other action that he took this week was ending the ban on affirmative action. What happened here?
[00:05:05] Melissa Santos: Well, essentially this is something that, as you know, has come up at the ballot box a few times in, oh 2019, which seems like a very long time ago somehow now. The legislature did rescind Initiative 200, a 20-plus now year old ban on affirmative action that voters approved in our state. And then voters reinstated the ban essentially in the fall of that year. Yes, that's essentially how it played out. You can get talking about referendums in a way that are very confusing, but that's essentially what happened. But what was interesting and during that campaign, I remember people - even Gary Locke, the former governor - saying a lot of the stuff we actually think we can do under current law - things like targeting, hiring of people from minority groups for state contracting roles and state contracts, and some recruiting - targeted recruiting - of people who are people of color for certain jobs and focusing on those efforts. Those things actually - there's a disagreement even at the time whether you could do that already, even with the ban in place. Because essentially boiling down, you're not hiring someone just based on your race - you're hiring people that are perfectly qualified for these, well, for these jobs, right? I mean that was always what the idea was, and that was said to be possibly allowed already. And then the State Attorney General put out something saying, "Yeah, you can do this. It's legal," and that was different advice than Governor Locke 20 years ago received.
So this has opened the door for the Governor, now Inslee, to basically change this just by executive order, or changing it through his own practices at state agencies without a change of law. I know this will be somewhat controversial for those who were like, "Wait, wait, didn't we just vote this down, et cetera," but I really recall - it was really such a healthy debate about, honestly even among supporters of rescinding the affirmative action ban - do we even need to do this, or can we just do it without any of this legal back and forth? And so that dates back a few years. And so the Governor, with advice from the Attorney General of our state, basically said, "Yeah, no, we can try to proactively recruit and hire people for state positions and state contracts that are from underrepresented groups." That's what he did just through his own authority without the action of the legislature, or vote of the people.
The one thing I'm not totally clear on - I'm not sure it extends to university admissions. I think it's more within the Governor's purview of hiring, but I'm not 100% sure on how this applies to university admissions and whether universities can give extra weight between two equally qualified candidates - to someone who is from an underrepresented group when they're doing admissions, admitting students. I'm not sure how the Governor extends to that. I'm not sure if you know, Crystal, if it extends that far.
[00:08:10] Crystal Fincher: I don't know, and I actually read an article by Joseph O'Sullivan, Jim Brunner and Heidi Groover about this and I don't think that's addressed in the article. I don't recall that being addressed in the article. They basically described exactly what you said - that there was a 2017 opinion by our current Attorney General Bob Ferguson that was different than prior attorney general saying that, "Hey, actually at the moment, race and sex conscious measures are not prohibited. You can do more. This isn't a blanket ban." And so, Inslee's executive order is instructing, within the next 10 days for that specifically, he'll issue a replacement executive order replacing the one Gary Locke put in place - to move forward "with achieving equity while still complying with essentially the law," which is restrictive. So, it's going to be interesting to see how he threads this needle and what results of it are going to be. I don't see that it impacts admissions, but I'm sure we're going to be hearing more about that.
[00:09:27] Melissa Santos: Yeah, and -
[00:09:27] Crystal Fincher: But it's really interesting.
[00:09:28] Melissa Santos: Yeah and I will say that when I looked at this and when other reporters have looked at this, there was a really stark decline in the percentage of state contracts going toward businesses and firms owned by women and people of color after the passage of I-200, which passed in 1998. There really was - I mean going back to one my old stories right now - in 1998, when race conscious measures weren't expressly prohibited by I-200 that had not yet passed, more than 13% of the money spent by state agencies and/or state educational institutions went towards certified minority and women-owned businesses. But in 2017, that was below 3%. So, we saw a more than 10 percentage point decline after I-200 passed in hiring and contracts going to minority-owned businesses. There's some dispute about whether women-owned businesses should be all grouped in the same way, but you saw a clear decline there, at least in that form of measure. There was an effect, I guess, of I-200 passing and whether it can be reversed by what the Governor has just done, I guess remains to be seen.
[00:10:38] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I think the effect is going to be - I don't know that we're going to see immediate action by a lot of places, but my goodness, I used to do economic development work in this area - increasing minority business, contracting and relationships - and the amount of people who were like, "Yeah, we want to do that, but the law prohibits it." And sometimes people say that - it's not in good faith - but there were people who were doing it before, who specifically felt handcuffed and they would get in trouble if they attempted to do anything in that realm and felt like they would be scrutinized for choosing to work with companies of color, being accused of giving preferential treatment. There are certainly those who lob that accusation, no matter what the qualifications or reputation of the firm is. So it definitely had a chilling effect, and what this does is it really frees up those types of localities who had an interest in it, and people who do have an interest to act immediately. And others, it may take more external pressure, lobbying, and accountability measures to make sure that something that is prioritized, but this is an area where the law had an impact. This ban had an impact and a negative one. Especially given everything we're looking at now, as much as possible needs to be happening to make sure that everyone can participate in our economy, to make sure everyone is given a fair shot with public contracts. All of our dollars are going into this, and it needs to be flowing in an equitable way to all of us.
[00:12:24] Melissa Santos: Yeah. And one other thing that I think is interesting about this, the Governor's budget proposal and I don't know if - he actually has a small amount of money for giving extra money to people who are of underrepresented backgrounds, or specifically I guess it says low income, to serve on state boards and commissions - recognizing that there maybe is an opportunity cost, or that people who are not rich basically can't participate in state government and have their perspective valued and incorporated into state policy making. So, he's pursuing different avenues of trying to get people who maybe haven't traditionally been involved in state government to have their perspectives. And the language is interesting because it's really saying people who basically are not wealthy, people who have lots of spare time to do this out of the goodness of their hearts - have a lot of valuable perspective they can add, and we need that perspective and we should pay for it. There's some interesting things happening with this across Inslee's administration.
[00:13:24] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, definitely. We'll keep an eye on how that plays out. You have been doing a fantastic job over several years covering the legislature. We just had this legislative session start last week. So, what is on tap? What are the top bills that they're working on, or things that we should be keeping our eyes on?
[00:13:48] Melissa Santos: I mean one of the things that they're moving really quick on which I think you've discussed a lot on your show, so I don't think we need to go deep into it, but changes to this Long-term Care Act, which is this program that was passed a couple years ago to provide people help with paying for nursing care and other things that could help them even age in place in their homes. It looks like the State House is going to vote to delay the payroll tax that pays for this program and delay it a little bit, and make some tweaks. And so that's moving through quickly. The other things that they're really focused on are some changes to the police accountability measures they passed - wow, I guess it was just last year. It feels like it was two years ago now, but at 20, 20 -
[00:14:31] Crystal Fincher: 2021 session, yeah.
[00:14:32] Melissa Santos: Wow, okay. Yeah, so there's going to be some tweaks - there's some bills introduced essentially, mostly focused on the changes that were made last year to use of force standards for police. The bill they passed last year set a higher standard for when police can use force. It's pretty detailed and nuanced, but essentially requiring more use of de-escalation and limits on when you can use force when in situations that aren't a dire danger kind of thing. And there was some concern that, "Hey, does this ban us from using less..."
Okay, that's a different bill, but there were some concern that they cannot transport people who are suffering mental health crisis - that there were police who raised the concern like, "Hey, we don't know if under this, if someone's not an imminent danger to hurting us, or killing us, or killing themselves. Can we still transport them to the hospital when they need mental health treatment?" And the legislator says, "Yeah, you can, you absolutely can," but there seem to be enough confusion about that aspect that they'll have a bill that would clarify - yeah, you can still help with mental health issues if you're police, even under this use of force bill that we passed last year. So, that's one thing.
And there's also some other changes. There were limits to police tactics passed in a wide-ranging bill last year and the concern that arose was, "Hey, can we still use less-lethal weapons - bean bag launchers and stuff - if we got those through military surplus programs," which there's some contradictory stuff potentially saying no military weapons will be used by police. I'm oversimplifying it, but then sometimes they use military grade launchers and stuff for less-lethal weapons. So, just making it clear you can still do things short of killing people that use launchers and things like that to launch bean bags and things like that. So, there's some tweaks like that.
There's Republicans wanting more bigger repeals, but I just don't see the Democratic legislature doing - completely rolling back what they did last year.
[00:16:36] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I mean, and I want to talk a little bit more about you say, "There were concerns raised." Certainly throughout the legislative process, there were concerns raised. To that point, legislators attempted and felt they had addressed those concerns in the legislation and gave clear guidance that, Yes, you can still intervene. This is just limiting when you can use force, which was responsive to what protests were demanding, what voters across King County voted for with the King County Charter Amendments, an action that was taken by elected leadership in Seattle and around the county - moving towards mental health officers, non-armed officers to respond to a variety of these other things - recognizing that focus on de-escalation, focus on trying to actually address the problem without introducing a big risk of violence is beneficial to everyone.
Police revolted in some situations - refused to respond to some calls, refused to intervene in mental health crisis calls. This went far beyond just a, "Hey we're concerned, we're not sure how to do this." They said, "Hey, we can't do this. We can't do our jobs," in a way that seemed that they were very unhappy with the fact that there was any legislation passed at all, and basically said it was all hindering their ability to do the job. And so some of this legislation is aimed at saying, "Fine. If this is really about a concern about responding to a mental health call, sure, we'll clarify that." And there are some clarifying bills, but obviously you've reported on this and this is me editorializing, but it seems like not all of those concerns have been raised in good faith and certainly the way that they were raised has been very contentious.
[00:18:41] Melissa Santos: I think there was some exaggeration in the first weeks that these new laws went to effect, which was in July of 2021. I feel like there might have been some genuine confusion about some of the smaller points like, "Oh, wait what about these..." Maybe the less-lethal weapons thing - I think that maybe there was some genuine like, "Oh, we want to make sure we don't get in trouble for using our rocket launchers for something that maybe wasn't considered, or clearly outlined in this bill. You know - that we aren't trying to kill people with rocket launchers, we're trying to not kill people with rocket launchers." Fine, okay.
But I do think there was some exaggeration and there were police chiefs that came out and said this is ridiculous, including Adrian Diaz from the Seattle Police saying, "The idea that..." - I think he called it ridiculous or something like that - the idea that you couldn't respond to mental health calls, because the assumption being that you're going to have to use physical force whenever you respond is where Adrian Diaz said, "I don't really see with the logic there." And also to be clear, you can use force when you see a crime happening or something. Police always, even under these laws, could pursue people, and they could pursue people. There was a lot of dispute about that, and I talked to a lot of chiefs who said, "I would definitely pursue someone in that situation if I saw them running away after I saw them under a car stealing a catalytic converter, and they ran off. I would not feel hamstrung by these laws. I think that's bunk." So, there was some, definitely even people within the law enforcement community saying, "I don't actually think that's how this works at all." That led me to think - Aaaahhh, I mean, is there genuine confusion in all cases, or is it also just resistance? And I think there was a mixture certainly of political resistance a little bit to some of the reforms. I think that was certainly true, and that might have caused people to interpret some aspects as being - people being - the police agencies to say I don't want to mess with this more than maybe what was necessary in certain cases.
Yeah. I mean I talked to the Director of the state Criminal Justice Training Commission who also said some of these claims that were being made by police were overwrought. "People seem to be in a panic that maybe was unnecessary," is what she said, and I put in my story. That made me think, Okay, this isn't a clear cut, we can no longer do our jobs as police. Anyway, that's a discussion that the legislature is now having about - sorting through what is a legitimate concern, what is more just we don't want the legislature telling us how to do our jobs as police. And that's something the legislators are sorting through now.
And I did personally have questions about the idea you can pursue certain people who are suspected of violent crimes, or people that you - one thing that someone from King County actually told me is that some police maybe have not had to distinguish that clearly between probable cause and reasonable suspicion, which are these thresholds for which you can do - super technical, but by which the standards you can do stuff under these bills basically. And there was a change in threshold, but to be honest, probable cause, some of the cops have told me, is not that high of a standard. If it sometimes -
[00:22:00] Crystal Fincher: It clearly is not.
[00:22:02] Melissa Santos: Some of the cops are saying, "Well, we have to do a full investigation of everything before we can even detain anyone," or say, "Hey, can you stop right there because we're investigating this and you're suspicious basically," but some police have said, "Actually, you know, probable cause is pretty low evidentiary standards. Even if you need probable cause to tackle someone to the ground and beat them, which is what some of these new laws do - it used to be reasonable suspicion which is lower - that's not that high of a threshold." I'm not saying police should be going straight to beating people, but the idea that they couldn't stop people ever, even when they saw someone fleeing the scene of a murder or something, was something that other police also questioned as being like, "Hmm, I don't know if that -."
[00:22:46] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, there were plenty in the law enforcement community who said that this did not prohibit them from doing the job that they thought they should be doing. And even, I want to say it was the Renton Police Department, but I'm not precisely sure. There was a chase that they said - that they couldn't pursue someone who had fled because of this new law, which was just absolutely ridiculous, and that was their way of protesting that.
But I mean we'll keep an eye on that legislation. We'll see how it proceeds, and I'm wondering if there is ever anything short of no action that they will find acceptable. And I think as you mentioned before, there are some Republicans who just want to repeal everything. But I think most people, the majority of people - and polling back that up and elections have backed that up - feel that changes do need to fundamentally happen to add protections and, at minimum, reforms. Now, how much those reforms need to be - it is another subject, but there's broad popular agreement that changes need to happen. And also, I just need to say, I don't see any situation in which I feel a police entity needs to have a rocket launcher, but evidently they do for some reason.
But I do want to shift and talk about some local stuff. And Seattle and Burien extending their eviction moratoriums, which was something that a lot of people have been lobbying for. I certainly have - we've talked about this on this program, but especially with the rise with Omicron - the Omicron variant - people being unsure, not wanting to be exposed, or being sick with other folks. It was unthinkable and obviously extremely stressful for a lot of people to think, "Hey, just when this virus is once again surging, which is the reason why we had an eviction moratorium in the first place, why would we end it when we are basically hitting pandemic-high numbers for infections, hospitalizations? Putting someone out on the street during this time seems to just go against all of the reasoning for why it is currently in place."
Bruce Harrell - this is one of the first decisions that he's made policy-wise since he's been mayor - decided to extend the moratorium for 30 days. Burien decided to extend their moratorium for as long as Governor Inslee has his COVID-19 emergency designation established, although they will revisit it for 90 days. In Seattle, lots of people are thinking, "Oh, 30 days, it could be longer." It is a good thing that the eviction moratorium was extended, and I'm very glad Mayor Harrell did that, and that the City of Burien is following, I know other cities are doing that. But it's absolutely necessary.
And I hope during this time, all government agencies and entities really focus on getting the available financial help to renters, to landlords, just following through with that process and making sure all of the help that's available for people to get is made available and accessible, and it actually gets to people. There's a report that there are a backlog of 10,000 rental assistance applications at King County - that King County can't get to because they've run out of money. That's another element in the backdrop of this moratorium extension, in that help that was supposed to be available for people has not materialized. So, hopefully everyone at all levels of government gets their acts together to get help to people who need it on the ground. Otherwise, a lot of this COVID mitigation stuff feels like, "Hey, we're trying to get over the hump." Money to get people through this thing, and it seems like some folks are giving up when it is the hardest and the worst. And a lot of the outcomes that we've been trying to avoid look like they're more pressing than ever, so I just hope people coordinate and get money to the people who need it.
[00:27:20] Melissa Santos: Well, I'm wondering, I'll have to look back at the Governor's proposal budget, but there is $1.3 billion in unspent COVID relief money at the state level, that's from the federal government, that still is sitting around. So, I'm wondering if maybe the legislature sends more money to some of the counties to help with this - even though the state eviction moratorium already expired - but I mean at least rental assistance is still something that many people need. Especially with Omicron, people - I mean again the economy, I think - restaurant workers and a lot of people in service industry jobs are underemployed or not employed. And that's still a huge issue and it's easy for people who are able to work remotely successfully and without a huge impact to their job, which is a lot of my colleagues and such. I mean to be honest, it's easy to underestimate how bad these surges create problems for people who are in other positions - when businesses have to downsize their staffs again because they just don't have people coming through the door. So that's something - I think I do wonder if maybe the legislature will send more money out to some of the counties to assist, relaying more of those unspent federal dollars. I'm not sure if they will. I think they probably will do some.
[00:28:38] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I mean it seems like that certainly should be an urgent priority for them to do, hopefully doing it as quickly as possible to enable help to get to people who need it the most, but I mean certainly people are sounding the alarm that more help is needed to keep people in their homes. And as lots of people have concerns about just general affordability - not just inflation, but housing prices - as people are trying to figure out, especially with a number of the reductions and COVID protections and isolation and mitigation, just what kind of effect that is having on people and their families, that that help is needed now and the legislature can certainly, excuse me, impact that.
Again, this is another one to keep their eye on, but also one to talk to your legislator about and say, "Hey, people still need help. The number one way to address homelessness is to make sure people don't wind up homeless in the first place." That is actually the least expensive, most effective way to address it. Don't let people get out on the street - every problem becomes much harder to address once they do. I mean I was happy to hear Bruce Harrell talking about looking at also preventing utility shutoffs, looking at people who are behind, and trying to connect them with services intentionally because that's a leading indicator of a risk for eviction. There's still a big issue brewing here that we're going to feel the effects of in very painful and negative ways if more help isn't provided.
[00:30:28] Melissa Santos: And this really is a statewide issue now. I mean, if you looked at the housing prices in Chelan County, they've gone up 20% year-over-year for instance. So, this is something that even though King County has a high concentration and super high housing prices that really compound it, here as an issue for folks, but I mean it really is something that other counties and other places in our state are experiencing acutely as well.
[00:30:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and let's go ahead and revisit Kent's Nazi cop, which - wow, wouldn't it be amazing if that was hyperbole, but it's not, that's a literal statement. We talked about this a bit last week. An assistant police chief in the City of Kent made Holocaust jokes, shaved a Hitler mustache - and this is over time - and posted Nazi insignias, literal Nazi insignias, on his door at work above his nameplate. A detective thankfully after four days of that happening - one detective who saw that out of everybody passing by - reported, filed a complaint, reported it. It was investigated - he, after the fact, said, "Hey, he didn't know that those were actual Nazi insignias. And the Hitler mustache was a joke. And the other joke was just unfortunate and poor taste, but he doesn't have a racist, anti-Semitic bone in his body, la-di-da-di-dah." Clearly highly unacceptable. The investigation found that he did knowingly post it, even though they technically said that they didn't sustain a finding of officially lying. They said that his version of events is not what happened. He did knowingly post, that he did make those jokes, he did shave a Hitler mustache - that all happened, that's not in dispute. And the punishment that they came up with was two weeks suspension.
And during this entire time, while he was under investigation, he wasn't suspended. He was still working. He was participating in personnel decisions, policy decisions. It's just beyond. So now he's on paid administrative leave and the mayor has - initially went along with the 2-week finding. Then after public outcry, because a group thankfully, called No Secret Police, put in public disclosure requests, found all of this information, and they're the ones who actually broke the story that we have a Nazi cop. The Seattle Times has been writing about it. But two weeks suspended after public outcry and revulsion. In response to that, the mayor, Mayor Dana Ralph, announced that she will be asking the union for that officer's resignation - not firing him, not doing any of that, but asking for his resignation.
And then, while everybody's saying, "Okay, so why are we even here? Why does it take public outcry for you to reconsider that maybe two weeks suspension for a Nazi cop isn't appropriate, or it just really spits in the face of all of your residents?" And her response to that is she said her administration and that - I'm reading an article by Mike Carter in the Times - her administration badly underestimated the public outrage that would spring from the decision not to fire an assistant police chief who posted a Nazi insignia on his door, embraced the rank of an officer in Adolf Hitler's murderous - what, Schutzstaffel or SS - joked about the Holocaust. So, where is your mind at that this is not a big deal? Where is your mind at that you can't picture people getting upset? This is very concerning to me. How are you looking at this?
[00:34:50] Melissa Santos: Well, and I mean the thing that does hit me a little is Kent is such a diverse community with - I mean, it's majority people of color - I'm trying to look at the actual population, but I think - I mean you know better than I, Crystal, because I believe you actually live in Kent, I think-
[00:35:03] Crystal Fincher: I do live in Kent.
[00:35:04] Melissa Santos: - but it's 60% people of color I think. The police department, I don't know how their demographics match up with the actual city - I've not looked into this - but it strikes me as the only way you could underestimate that this would be offensive and highly offensive is if you have a large number of people that are not from groups that would be personally hurt or offended by this. I'm really at a little bit of a loss for how exactly that happened. This all was happening in the summer and I'm not sure if the election was on people's minds a little bit like, "Okay, we don't want..." If you fire a cop, it's more likely to make news. There is that too. I mean people will be like, "Hey, well if the assistant chief got fired, what happened there?" So I don't know if they just didn't want to draw attention to it. There were elections happening last year, municipal elections. I don't know if that's a factor or not. If there was ignorance -
[00:36:05] Crystal Fincher: Clearly they didn't want to draw attention to it. Yeah, clearly they did not.
[00:36:07] Melissa Santos: Yeah, I mean if there really was some element of ignorance - that I think speaks to the police department being a little out of touch with a community that they serve potentially.
[00:36:15] Crystal Fincher: Massively out of touch and a threat and a danger too, yes.
[00:36:20] Melissa Santos: And looking through lots and lots of police disciplinary records, I've been a little bit surprised over the last couple years that a 2-week suspension to an average person may not seem that big of - I mean, I would be unhappy if I got two weeks unpaid leave from work, but I go back to work and it's not the biggest of deals. But it's pretty rare for police to actually issue those kind of punishments is what I have seen. So, possibly just because police discipline is structured the way [Crystal: The bar is on the floor.] that they considered it to be a bigger penalty than the public does, because I do see a lot of - the idea that police cannot - they have to start with progressive discipline. I mean they start with something small. So maybe in some cases - I mean there are cities where I've written about, where they've given someone a written reprimand as the only penalty for punching someone - a citizen in the face without real provocation - and things like that. If that's a written reprimand in some communities, a 2-week suspension would be pretty significant by comparison, right? I don't want to say they thought it was significant, but they're just out of touch with what the public expectation would be about what a punishment for this would look like.
[00:37:42] Crystal Fincher: Yes, in my opinion, this is disqualifyingly out of touch. If the only thing that is in your mind and the justification that makes sense to you - and again, this is me editorializing, this is not reporting or anything - but if the only thing that makes sense is, Well, we barely punish cops anyway and for this Nazi behavior, got two weeks, that's a disciplinary finding, it'll be on his record, that's fine - is so far removed from understanding that this speaks a lot to the culture of the entire department. How this behavior - this behavior only stopped because a detective - one, finally, after this had endured for years evidently - said something because something was so blatant and actionable.
But to have - what you hear in the background is a Kent police siren right now in my house - you have to be so detached from the community that you're serving to think that - that at the minimum gives the appearance of a police force that is racist, anti-Semitic, biased, uses extremely poor judgment, is not connected to the community at all. And if you're talking about needing to rebuild trust, needing to maintain and rebuild trust - which Dana Ralph tried to give some of that rhetoric during last year, while she was campaigning - then wow, this flies in the face of that. This spits in the face of all of the residents of the city.
And to think that when someone is in total control of someone's civil rights, if someone has the power to detain you, if someone has the power to beat you and jail you and give you consequences that are going to last potentially for the remainder of your life - can impact whether or not you can hold a job, or have a job, get housing - that that standard should be higher than the average employee who may get paid for two weeks with discipline. But also, we hold average employees to such higher standards of conduct than we do our police. We require more de-escalation from our service workers when someone is yelling at them for not wanting to wear a mask than we do from police. We require people who are in the right, who have been detained by police, to conduct themselves with more decorum than the police are for fear of getting beat or detained unjustly. This is just so far, so unacceptable, so ridiculous, so absurd - a literal Nazi cop is just - obviously, you can hear that this is very frustrating to me. And the complicity of the mayor and the other one just really speaks to the culture, and it really says to the community that we don't care about you, we don't consider you, we don't think about, you're on your own, this is not a city where - to serve everyone. This is a city that is looking out for its own interests and putting the feelings of Nazi cops, and using tax dollars to support Nazi cops ahead of residents here in the city. And it's appalling.
[00:41:25] Melissa Santos: Well, your point about one officer bringing it up, or a detective raising the issue makes me think a little bit about - our state just passed a law last year. One of - another police law they passed was about establishing a duty to intervene, and most departments have this on the books already. A lot of departments saying that if you witness misconduct as a cop, you're obligated to report it, but what if cops don't? What if a bunch of cops don't view this as reportable misconduct? That's what this brings to mind to me. I'm assuming there are other people who were offended and had misgivings about it, but maybe didn't say anything about the Nazi insignia on the door, but then only one person did. So, there are some established things that under our state's new law - if you've witnessed successive force, you have to report it, or else you can be punished kind of thing, but this -
[00:42:10] Crystal Fincher: It's limited to force because that's what I was thinking. I'm like, "How does this not fall under that new law?" Went back and looked at the text of the new law, and it must involve force. So, just general misconduct, they still don't have a duty to report which clearly needs to change, but yeah.
[00:42:29] Melissa Santos: Yeah. I mean what if that officer, that detective had not reported it, would it... I mean -
[00:42:35] Crystal Fincher: If that detective hadn't reported it, if we didn't have No Secret Police - that organization in Kent doing these PDR requests - they couldn't do that. If we didn't have those, we wouldn't know about this. We straight up would not know.
[00:42:54] Melissa Santos: Yeah, I mean I think that -
[00:42:55] Crystal Fincher: Which is appalling.
[00:42:55] Melissa Santos: So I mean that's the thing - I'm actually looking at that law too - they have to report wrongdoing, but wrongdoing is defined as contact that is contrary to law, or contrary to the policies of the witnessing officer's agency. I mean there's still a lot dependent on police recognizing that this is a violation, right? And if people did not recognize that, or thought it was a gray area of some sort for whatever reason, which I think that most people who read the stories about this do not think it's a gray area in any way, shape, or form. But I mean that's still the cultural issue. This brings that to light to me a little bit about what if other cops don't see this as big of a deal as everyone else does, and that's what gives me pause.
[00:43:38] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. It gives me huge pause. Clearly. If the Holocaust jokes didn't do it, the Hitler stache didn't do it - this is an assistant chief, this is someone who is dictating the culture, setting the policy, hiring, training, disciplining, guiding the department. People are following his example. He is there for that purpose, and he's a Nazi.
[00:44:05] Melissa Santos: That also actually brings - I shouldn't assume what the motivations of the cops - but is it more, are our forces structured so it's very difficult for underlings to report the misconduct of a superior? I don't know if we've addressed that in law and policy. This is me assuming that there were people who wanted to report it and did not, because I have to in my mind, but anyway.
[00:44:28] Crystal Fincher: Well, I mean, also we've heard about the - what is it, what a blue line of silence, whatever they call it - or issues in any general workplace where, "Hey, are you going to report your boss for misconduct?" That comes with the threat of physical force retaliation, maybe we're not going to back you up in police contexts, and just what a tainted and spoiled culture that must be. There was a statement made that, Clearly this is the action of a cop, we still have confidence in the department. I don't. How can you? I question you if you have confidence in this department. I question how you can see literal Nazi behavior tolerated and think that that's okay.
[00:45:22] Melissa Santos: We probably could talk about this forever, but again, it would have been very different if in July of last year, the chief and the mayor come out saying, "Someone reported this. We've looked into it and we think it's horrendous. And we're going to demote, fire this police assistant chief." That did not happen - coming out by the work of an advocacy group, by a group who's making records requests and not the police department itself - it does not look good.
[00:45:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it does not look good. There's a lot to talk about including how - there's a lot to talk about with this. We could talk forever, but we will leave it here actually for the day.
We have time coming up, but also I just want to speak quickly about schools, just being - parents are just trying to figure out - I have talked to a number of parents and they're like, "I don't even know at this point whether it's better to send the kids to school or send them at home, but I don't feel like they're safe anywhere. I feel like every situation is suboptimal. I feel like the communication from the school districts is confusing and contradictory and late." And even for people with privilege who can stay home, they're trying to figure out how to navigate around this. And to have two parents who are working outside the home, who can't stay home and deal with all of this, or who may not be very online to get all of this information that's dictated for the next day at 10 p.m. sometimes. It's just a lot to deal with. People are afraid for the safety and health of their kids. Quarantining rules are changing and different. And just no one knows what's going on.
Lots of calls for "schools to stay open." And I don't think there's anyone who disagrees that in a perfect world, yes, having people in school is ideal, but with the mitigating factors is that the case and they need to be socialized. And it's about the quality of education. But now so many people are out with COVID that they're asking parents to staff classrooms, they're asking lunch workers to staff classrooms, just any adult over 18. Some districts are changing qualifications to remove any qualification, but being an adult over 18 who can pass a background check. Clearly, we're out of the realm of talking about the quality of education and what's ideally best for the kids. And you've got to wonder just what is going into these decisions. It just doesn't seem like the health of the students is the guiding factor. I think a lot of people feel like, with the CDC, the health of Americans isn't the guiding factor. There seems to be a lot of profit motives at stake, and just people trying to force this to work in a way that makes people real uncomfortable about the health impacts.
[00:48:32] Melissa Santos: So, I don't have a kid that's school age. I have a kid in daycare and whenever there is a COVID closure, it's very disruptive. And I understand that for parents and this is even when I - I mean, you can't really get work done at home with a toddler, it's very difficult. So, I understand, and even if you have the ability to work from home. So, I understand that's a huge stress around parents. At the same time, I mean it seems like there should have been a backup plan. There's been remote learning for a long time now, and no one thinks that's ideal for most kids. Although in some cases, I know some students thrive with it more than others, and they can avoid other issues they run into school through remote learning. But it seems like there should have been a backup plan a little bit saying, "Okay, we will go remote if we have reached this threshold." And then again - because it's not like we don't have experience with this now, and it just seems like this patchwork closures of school here and there creates problems and confusion for parents that are dealing with that right now.
[00:49:37] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and just the level of anxiety and confusion and just feeling abandoned by the people who were supposed to be responsible for this, who were supposed to plan, is unfortunate. A lot of anger from a lot of corners coming to teachers who are just in the middle of this whole thing, not in control of any of the district decisions, not in control of this pandemic - trying to stay healthy, trying to help their kids, and navigate through this whole thing. I think lots of people are choosing from a menu of bad choices. I think that's where people are at. It does not feel good, but we need better from leadership, we need better from elected leaders, we need at least better communication, right? Communicate clearly with notice, frequently understand that people's lives are upended day-by-day when this is happening. And it's just a lot, and I think that people are frustrated at levels that we haven't seen before, period.
[00:50:54] Melissa Santos: Yeah. I mean and I will say I guess for Seattle, they do have a threshold, but it's very high. It says in this one Seattle Times story the district will consider shifting to remote learning for 10 days if the student absence rate is approaching 50% at elementary schools. That's very high and it does seem like there's individual schools that are getting announced that they're closing. And then what does that mean for those students at one school over? That's a confusing situation that's developed, where last minute notifications that one school is closed, but then district-wide, it's not uniform. I think that makes it hard for people, and I don't think it's easy for the district. I don't think it's easy for the teachers. I don't think it's easy for the parents or the kids. It's all very bad. I mean every choice is not great. Okay, that's not much of an observation. Everyone knows this, but -
[00:51:47] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I mean it's a thing, but I also think that while leaders better get to addressing this, people are feeling this in an acute way on a daily basis right now, and to ignore that is not wise. And understanding that speaking to it, trying to do anything possible to let people know that you actually are trying to help them, and not that you've just moved on, is necessary.
[00:52:20] Melissa Santos: And I noticed the Governor - this is the state level and that's something the districts say is - we're required to stay open as much as we can right now under state policy. And I don't know at what point the state changes its view, and I don't know - I haven't been keeping up as closely with what the specific requirements down from the state are now, but that's something that districts have said, is that they're hamstrung a little bit by the state. The governor as recently as last week, this week probably, has said we need to do whatever we can to keep schools open. But we have State Senators, it seems like a couple a day practically, or at least - testing positive for COVID. I mean at one point on Monday, it seemed like almost 10% of the State Senate had contracted COVID, and that was just on the first day of legislative session.
[00:53:01] Crystal Fincher: And one State Senator died of COVID.
[00:53:04] Melissa Santos: And one State Senator died of COVID. Oh well, technically his family will not confirm it was of COVID, but he died after contracting COVID. And he was in the hospital, where he had been airlifted with COVID, so that seems to be the logical conclusion that he died of COVID last month. I don't think anyone disagrees in person is better -
[00:53:25] Crystal Fincher: Well, there's some legislators saying, "No, we absolutely should be in person." It's just like, "Well, there might be..." Of course, ideally, people want it in person and I always get this sense, sometimes get this sense from some people, where they think that people are enjoying these mitigation factors, or enjoying being at home, or enjoying schools being shut down, and this is just all a big obviously conspiracy ploy and this is a joyful thing. This is painful for everyone. These are all bad choices that people are faced with. But the bottom line is - if we try and be careful today that minimizes the irreversible damage for a lot of people. I mean, people have died, people are dying, people have long COVID, people are becoming disabled with chronic illness because of this. And if that can be avoided, that is a factor in this. We can't ignore that that is a thing that is happening.
[00:54:33] Melissa Santos: And I see the research about how - I mean, especially kids - a year or two years is so long of their life, that the damage of their effects on their socialization and education, I completely get that. I think about it with my kid, but he's also in a class of 6, and not 30 in school. I mean so I don't know. I worry about my kid's language development as well, even though he's mostly in school. And I understand that these are all things that have to be weighed, but I also think that we're peaking with Omicron apparently. Maybe this would really - would be just a month of doing what we've been doing for another... All right. You know what, I don't even know. I don't envy anyone who has to make these choices.
[00:55:19] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think that's where everybody's at. I think that's where everybody's at, but it's rough. I feel for all of you dealing with all of this, and I just beg people who are making policy, influence policy, that you really connect with what people are going through on the ground every day, and just try to help that. If we help that, we help everyone. If we ignore that, a lot of bad things happen.
With that, I appreciate all of you listening to Hacks & Wonks today, January 14th - Friday, January 14, 2022. These dates are so weird. My goodness -
[00:56:05] Melissa Santos: 2022...
[00:56:06] Crystal Fincher: - it's January of 2022. This is wild. Anyway, that's because I'm old. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. And our wonderful co-host today is Crosscut staff reporter covering state politics and the legislature, Melissa Santos. You can find Melissa on Twitter @Melissasantos1. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii. Now, you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast. Just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar, be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced within a couple days of the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in, talk to you next time.