Nov 26, 2021
Erica C. Barnett from Publicola joins Crystal this week to review the news of the week, including:
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“In a Move with Potential Funding Consequences, King County Won’t Count Homeless Population This Year” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2021/11/24/in-a-move-with-potential-funding-consequences-king-county-wont-count-homeless-population-this-year/
“Seattle City Council passes a 2022 budget that emphasizes funding for homelessness, affordable housing” by Sarah Grace Taylor from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattle-city-council-passes-a-2022-budget-that-emphasizes-funding-for-homelessness-affordable-housing/
“Council Declines to Fund Two Big-Ticket Asks from Homelessness Authority” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2021/11/17/council-declines-to-fund-two-big-ticket-asks-from-homelessness-authority/
“Q&A: Two years after her report on Seattle’s homelessness, how does Barbara Poppe grade the city?” by Vianna Davila from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/qa-two-years-after-her-report-on-seattles-homelessness-how-does-barbara-poppe-grade-the-city/
“An Interview with Homeless Consultant Barb Poppe” by Erica C. Barnett in The South Seattle Emerald: https://southseattleemerald.com/2017/03/16/an-interview-with-homelessness-consultant-barb-poppe/
“No Safe Street: A Survey of Violence Committed Against Homeless People” from The National Coalition for the Homeless: https://nationalhomeless.org/no-safe-place/
“Crosscut’s Opinion Section is Shutting Down. That’s Bad News.” by Katie Wilson from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2021/11/22/crosscuts-opinion-section-is-shutting-down-thats-bad-news/
“After Years of Debate, Still No Fix for Sound Transit’s Punitive Fare Enforcement Policy” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2021/11/23/after-years-of-debate-still-no-fix-for-sound-transits-punitive-fare-enforcement-policy/
“Mayor Wu Takes Steps to Expand Fare-Free Bus Service” from the City of Boston Mayor’s Office: https://www.boston.gov/news/mayor-wu-takes-steps-expand-fare-free-bus-service
“A look at last-minute deal-making in WA redistricting negotiations” by Melissa Santos from Crosscut: https://crosscut.com/politics/2021/11/look-last-minute-deal-making-wa-redistricting-negotiations
“Critics call for reform of WA redistricting process after commission failure” by Melissa Santos from Crosscut: https://crosscut.com/politics/2021/11/critics-call-reform-wa-redistricting-process-after-commission-failure
“Washington’s redistricting failure: What went wrong and what happens now?” by Jim Brunner from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/washingtons-redistricting-failure-what-went-wrong-and-what-happens-now/
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I am 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 are continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, and today's co-host, Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse and Recovery, Erica Barnett.
[00:00:55] Erica Barnett: Hi, Crystal.
[00:00:56] Crystal Fincher: Hey, glad to have you back. We've got a lot to talk about, and you've been covering a lot. So, I wanted to start off talking about what we have seen coming out of recent budgets - in one area in particular, which was a central issue in the elections that we just had - it, if you look at all the available polling, it's on the forefront of Seattle residents' minds and a very important issue - in that of homelessness. And there have been a couple of developments in terms of funding that have resulted. What has been going on in terms of funding, particularly with a County authority in the City of Seattle?
[00:01:41] Erica Barnett: Well, I believe you're referring to - well, first, let's start with the City of Seattle. Of course, the City just adopted its budget, as it does every year before Thanksgiving. And two, it basically funded everything that the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority requested - the City will be the primary funder for that authority.
And with two major exceptions - there was a request for the City to pay for 69 new peer navigators, which would be basically case managers with lived experience who would become sort of partners with people experiencing homelessness and walk with them through the entire process of getting services - like whether that's literally just, I need food today, to we have housing for you. And to just kind of be that case manager with actual experience with working in the same systems. That did not get funded. The City is going to do more study. And the second item was a high acuity shelter for people experiencing severe behavioral and physical health needs. The authority asked for full funding for that. The City decided to put in $5 million, which is about a quarter of what the authority wanted.
On the other funding front, the County authority has decided this year not to do a Point-In-Time count of the region's unsheltered homeless population. You may recall that last year, because the pandemic, the existing County authority - which was a joint - the City and the County both did this count together. They skipped it last year because of COVID. And the thought was - and almost every other, in fact, I believe every other county or homeless counting authority is going to be doing a count in the rest of the state. King County will not be doing it next year, and that has funding implications going forward in terms of getting federal funding.
[00:03:45] Crystal Fincher: So, this count - there's been conversation about whether it's actually a useful tool, whether it's not a useful tool. What does it seem to be useful for? What have the critiques of it been and how has it helped?
[00:03:58] Erica Barnett: Yeah, the critiques of it have been that the methodology is not the greatest, in that it always results in an undercount. And this is absolutely true and it's a very well-known fact going back decades of this count, and one that people associated with the count have always acknowledged. They go out in January, typically, in the middle of the night - it's typically raining and cold. And you're just not going to see as many people out on the streets. So, there's a methodology they use - they assume a certain number of people in tents, a certain number of people in vehicles, etc, etc. So, they're not like knocking on people's tents, so to speak, to get an exact count.
So it's inexact, it's volunteers, who which - that's been criticized - that it's not people who are trained specifically for, I guess, a long period of time in doing this sort of count. But, I mean, with the acknowledgement that it's going to be an undercount, it is useful, year over year in looking at trends. So, if we see the count of unsheltered homeless people going up dramatically using the exact same methodology year after year, we can pretty reasonably say, there are more unsheltered homeless people living in King County this year than there were last year. So, it's useful for those purposes.
It's also useful in a very practical sense in getting money from the federal government, because HUD requires agencies like the King County Regional Homeless Authority to do the count every two years. And as I reported this week, because they skipped it last year - because the County skipped it last year - the regional authority actually is required to do it this year. And in deciding not to do so they are potentially going to make themselves less competitive for federal funding in the future.
[00:05:55] Crystal Fincher: So, we could be walking into another situation where we saw in the City of Seattle, there was federal money available that we - that the City, in particular the Mayor's office - didn't seem like they wanted to pursue. So, has the County addressed at all the possibility of being less competitive for, or not receiving the amount of funding that they could, what that would affect, and how they're planning on backfilling that - particularly when they're getting less funding, like we just talked about, for other elements of their plan that need to be addressed?
[00:06:33] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I mean, I think that, when I talked to the regional authority, what they said was, "Look, we're going to get dinged a point or so or something on our applications for future federal funding, but we feel pretty strongly that we can't do this count this year for various reasons. And one of them, I mean, which is very legitimate is that they are a new authority. As I said previously, I mean, this count has been done by a lot of different entities over the years - it was done by the Coalition on Homelessness, it was done by All Home, which is like a joint City-County venture. So, this is a new thing for them and they are a new agency, and they only have a couple dozen staff right now. So, I think that balancing it out, they decided that it was worth it. But I do think that the response that it's going to ding them a point is not entirely accurate or known yet. If you look at kind of the way that they apply for money, I mean, it does - they get dinged more than just a point. And there's a point system that determines how much money they get and how competitive they are with other agencies that are also fighting for very limited federal dollars. So, I think it could hurt them. I think we'll see - obviously, in a year, it's not going to affect them this year. But when they apply for federal funding for 2023, we'll see if this had an effect.
[00:07:57] Crystal Fincher: And I don't know if we know all of these details yet, but are they just planning on proceeding with existing estimates and basically saying, We're proceeding as if the data that we have had from a little while ago now is what we're operating on? Or is there a system or an estimation that they're planning on to take its place?
[00:08:18] Erica Barnett: No - so they are planning to, and we don't have the details yet, but they are planning to do a combination of qualitative data, which is also always been collected. But they say they're going to do a different kind of qualitative data collection, which is asking people questions like, "When did you become homeless? Where do you sleep most nights?" - those sorts of questions. And also, quantitative data through systems like the Homeless Management Information System, which is what you have to basically become part of if you seek any homelessness services - your information gets entered into this database. There's kind of this, and there has been for many years, this holy grail that's called a By-Name List, which is essentially a real-time - and it doesn't exist - so it would be essentially a real-time list with detailed information about every single person experiencing homelessness in the County on a day-to-day basis. This has been something that Barb Poppe, five years ago - she was a consultant that the City brought in to do a big study - that said the City was doing everything wrong on homelessness. And one of the things she said was, "You have to have a By-Name List." We don't have that yet. The County authority is saying that that's what they're going to do. But, I think again, it remains to be seen, whether that happens and how long it takes since it has been extremely challenging for built-up government entities like the City of Seattle, like King County to come up with this kind of list. There are By-Name Lists the individual homeless service providers have for their service areas, but it's a big undertaking, especially when you're talking about thousands and thousands of people and keeping that data in real time. It's a lot more work than just saying we need to get a By-Name List.
[00:10:14] Crystal Fincher: Well, it's a lot more work, and I can absolutely see how people are looking at that and saying, "Wow, that would be really helpful, useful information." And we might be able to get or track services to people effectively over time with that. There are also reasons that people may not want to be on that kind of list, especially in today's climate. Have any conversations happened about that?
[00:10:42] Erica Barnett: Well, this is always part of the conversation. Is it - there's trade-offs with people's privacy. I mean, I remember seeing - there was sort of a private enterprise that may still exist, that had little beacons that people could wear. And if you were walking by a person wearing one of these beacons with your smartphone, it would alert you and you could give them $10, or a coffee card, or whatever. And I'm not saying - that's not what the homelessness authority is proposing - but you can see how having a lot of information about people or collecting a lot of information about people could rub people the wrong way. I mean, I think that people who receive services from the government are still entitled to a measure of privacy. And one of the reasons that the one-night count every year does not go around unzipping people's tents is because that is an invasion of their dignity and their privacy. And so, I mean, depending on how much information you gather on people and how much you track them, again, in real time, on a day-to-day basis - did this person check in at such and such soup kitchen, or rehab program, or parole officer, or whatever? I mean, these are all questions that I would personally have if I was being asked to participate in such a program as a condition of receiving services to which I'm entitled. So, I think there are always going to be privacy questions and those are always going to weigh against how good of data do we actually need to have, not how good can we have, but how good do we need in order to effectively provide services to people?
[00:12:29] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's a really important question to be asking, particularly as a number of people in our unhoused population have been targets of hostility, of harassment, of violence. With a Republican City Attorney - who we don't know what approach they're going to take to homelessness, but certainly has indicated a more criminalized approach. Having someone's specific whereabouts and being in a database can be a very worrisome thing for the people in there. And just for thinking about how our unhoused neighbors might be targeted or affected by that, or how that could follow people for the rest of their lives depending on what happened. So, I hope those questions and issues are being considered and to your point - asking what do we need, not what can we get. Because unfortunately, we have seen many situations when people are looking to access services that again, they're entitled to, that comes with so many strings attached that aren't necessary, that we don't need, but that just act as other barriers or can act as challenges for them in the future. And I just think we need to examine that more as we move forward.
[00:13:56] Erica Barnett: Yeah, and the last thing I'd say about that, I mean, think about too - I mean, homeless service providers right now are incredibly understaffed like everybody - every entity that pays somewhat poor wages in the country. And so, a lot of that is going to be put on them, right? I mean, does the Compass Housing lunch provider program next to my office need to take everybody's information in every single time they give them a plate of food? And that is an additional burden on homeless service providers that are already really, really strapped for employees and where morale is low because people are being asked to work too hard for too little money.
[00:14:43] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely true. And appreciate your continued coverage of this - always encourage people to read PubliCola, but particularly because you continue to do detailed reporting on issues like this that are so critical, and asking questions and examining the several dimensions of these issues and policies that are so useful and necessary to consider.
Now, I want to talk about another issue that you addressed in PubliCola or that Katie Wilson, specifically addressed, but that you published in PubliCola. Crosscut is shutting down its Opinion column section. What happened?
[00:15:26] Erica Barnett: That is such a great question. And I mean, the answer is we don't know exactly what happened behind the scenes, but Crosscut got a new Executive Editor in charge of news. And the first thing that he announced was that the Opinion section was going away, and that it will be replaced by some new form of direct engagement with the community. And that is the part that we do not know what it will look like at this point. I will say, though, having read Crosscut over the years since it was founded, there have been a lot of kind of iterations of editors coming in saying we're going to do direct engagement with the community. I mean, I remember there was a very similar announcement when Crosscut got rid of its comments sections - which mazel tov - I think comment sections are pretty useless in 2021, or 2017, or whenever they did that. But it's always supposedly to benefit direct engagement with the community. And I haven't seen a model for that in Crosscut or anywhere that replaces the good, old fashioned, well-informed opinion piece by somebody with expertise and a stake in what they're writing about. So, I think it's a loss.
[00:16:43] Crystal Fincher: I absolutely think it's a loss. One, we are a city that has one big paper of record in The Seattle Times. And that paper's Editorial Board certainly has its own perspective, which has been pretty consistent over time. That perspective, when you just look at people who Seattle elects and polling, frequently isn't shared by the majority of people in Seattle. So, particularly for Seattle - in looking at policy solutions, electoral opinions, and issues that are being examined - having something else is useful. Certainly, there's The Stranger, but it's helpful to have a number of venues who can broadcast ideas to substantial platforms.
Crosscut has been excellent, in my opinion, because - some of the feedback throughout this, that we've heard, is that there may have been some concern that the Crosscut Opinion section may have been too left-leaning. They certainly had a number of Republican and conservative contributors, but it is a different stance than the more consistently conservative or corporately friendly perspective that a lot of times we see from The Seattle Times Editorial Board. But to say that it didn't reflect Seattle would be false.
And one of the things I think is important is - so many times, if we're having a Republican conservative, or traditional left-right conversation, it's about, especially these days, whether or not something should be done. Or two very, very different viewpoints on how something should be addressed. But even if you agree something should be addressed, the question isn't necessarily should it be addressed or not? It's how do we address it. And there's so much to explore in the how, and that's one of the reasons why I enjoy having conversations with people like you on this show, is that there's a lot to explore and discuss and dissect and examine and talk about within each broad policy area. Yes, we should address homelessness. Yes, even if you are of the opinion that we shouldn't criminalize homelessness and we should treat root causes - wow, there are lots of different ways to do that, and lots of things that we can debate about that, and lots of policies to address that. And I think Crosscut, in their Opinion section, did an excellent job of getting into the meat of ideas to a degree that we sometimes don't see with this kind of platform. So, I definitely feel the loss. I hope that they bear that in mind and keep it moving forward. But it's a challenge and it feels like a loss particularly because that makes one particular editorial voice seem even louder and overpowering now. How does that inform - just your view of it, and how you approach it with PubliCola?
[00:19:50] Erica Barnett: Well, I mean, PubliCola does not have a massive platform the way The Seattle Times does, but we do publish opinion pieces. We publish opinion pieces that I, as the editor, personally disagree with. We don't - I was going to say all the time, but we don't publish them all the time, in part because we have a limited capacity just to pay people and Crosscut's opinion writers were paid, which I think is notable. I'm curious to see if this new iteration of community voices includes people who are being paid for their voices and opinions, or if it's just kind of soliciting opinions from unpaid contributors. And - but it definitely does, I mean, we published Katie Wilson's piece about the demise of the opinion section of which she was a major, and I would say the best part - she's a great writer, head of the Transit Riders Union, and I think just really added a lot to Crosscut. And, I mean, it was the main reason I went there, to be honest, was to read her columns. And of course, to read Melissa Santos and David Kroman, who's no longer there - their news writing.
But, I mean, I think, going back to this question of balance, right? I mean, PubliCola - we're pretty unabashedly left-leaning website. I would say that probably people on the far left in Seattle would disagree with that. But Crosscut, I think, encountered the same problem that PubliCola has encountered in the past, when we've tried to include more conservative voices, and that The Stranger has encountered in the past, when I was there. And I imagine now - it is hard - it's just hard to find those great centrist writers, that sort of mythical idea of the great centrist, David Brooks of Seattle point of view.
[00:21:47] Crystal Fincher: Oh my God.
[00:21:47] Erica Barnett: And because, first of all, a lot of times, you can't back up those opinions with facts. And I don't like publishing opinions that are not backed up with facts, or that are contradicted by the facts. And particularly after Trump, as you know, we all know what's happened to conservatives in this country. Seattle is not exempt. It is very hard to find those voices. And I'm sure Crosscut tried to some success, but you have a lot of - frankly, you had a lot of pretty milquetoast pieces from people like former gubernatorial candidate, Bill Bryant, former gubernatorial candidate, Rob McKenna. Pretty partisan, if you ask me - first of all, because those are both Republican guys. But, I'm guessing people were not just blowing up the clicks over there - whatever the metaphor is - just blowing up their site, wanting to read those pieces. So, you can blame the Crosscut - their board may or may not believe that it has been too left-leaning. But frankly, that is a challenge that we have all faced in trying to find good conservative writers.
[00:23:10] Crystal Fincher: It is, and I appreciate the approach that you take in having editorials that are backed up by facts. I think that's really important, and I wish other publications would be more rigorous about that. Because my goodness, some of the pieces that have been published even recently are just, just shameful.
[00:23:37] Erica Barnett: Yeah, well it's easy to be The Seattle Times editorial page, frankly - I mean, you just have to not fact check anything and you're golden.
[00:23:46] Crystal Fincher: It's a challenge.
[00:23:48] Erica Barnett: That's me saying that and not Crystal. But I do stand by that.
[00:23:55] Crystal Fincher: Well, I do also want to talk about one other update this week, and that is a non-update update, I suppose. And that's with Sound Transit and their fare enforcement policies, which have come under consistent fire and criticism, for years now, really. What is happening or what decision was made recently in terms of Sound Transit and their fare enforcement?
[00:24:23] Erica Barnett: Well, I mean, I guess the answer to what is happening is not a lot, as far as we know, really. There was a presentation last week, I believe, about the latest kind of round of rider surveys and community feedback. And just to set the context - the issue of Sound Transit's fare enforcement has been for many years, I mean, both A), that it is incredibly punitive to anyone who gets a ticket for not paying the approximately $3 fare. Fines have historically been up to $140 - I might be getting that exact number wrong, but over $100. Initially, you used to have to drive to Shoreline if you wanted to challenge your ticket. They got rid of that eventually, but not very long ago. And the other issue is that it's racially biased - that the people that are most likely to get ticketed are Black people and homeless people. And so, these are major problems, major outstanding and long-standing problems with Sound Transit's fare enforcement that they have chosen to address by doing a series of studies and surveys and asking people what they would like to prioritize in a new fare enforcement policy.
In contrast, King County Metro has completely decriminalized its fare enforcement policy. I should add that, if you don't pay a Sound Transit ticket, you can eventually go to court and theoretically even to jail. But you can get a criminal record for not paying that $3 fare and then not paying your fine. Metro decriminalized it - they found all these ways to sort of mitigate when people do get tickets - giving them ORCA passes, giving them alternative dispute resolutions, and decriminalizing it.
So now, Sound Transit - they've got a new survey out that they presented last week. They're going to be supposedly coming up with a plan by January - and I only say supposedly, and I only sound skeptical, because this has happened many times in the past where they've said they'll have a plan, a new fare enforcement plan in a set number of months and on such a date, and it doesn't happen. So, we'll see if this is real. But I would also say that whatever the policy ends up being, I doubt it's going to be as sort of forward looking as Metro's, because Sound Transit is very, very wedded to the idea that it needs to recover 40% of Link Light Rail's budget, for example, from farebox revenues. And so, they are very wedded to the idea that if we don't penalize people for not paying their fares, then people are just not going to pay their fares and they're going to ride for free, and we're going to run out of money and everything's going to be a disaster. So, that point of view - that's not what Metro has experienced - but that's what Sound Transit predicts if they don't have some sort of penalty for not paying fares.
[00:27:26] Crystal Fincher: Well, and that's really interesting. Did I see before that the fines and penalties that people get from tickets from Sound Transit, don't go to Sound Transit?
[00:27:38] Erica Barnett: Oh, that's a really good question, and I'm going take a pass on that one, because I do not - I assume that you are probably right. But I'm drawing a blank on exactly where they go.
[00:27:50] Crystal Fincher: No worries - I thought I read, I mean, this is like a year ago at this point in time. So I quasi-recall reading that, but what I appreciate in you is that you are not going to verify something if you don't have the facts. So, yeah -
[00:28:01] Erica Barnett: I believe that a lot of it goes to the court, but I'm not - I can't say the exact percentage, so I'm not going to go on record with numbers that are wrong.
[00:28:09] Crystal Fincher: I appreciate it. But in looking at this, I think it is also notable that other cities are moving in the opposite direction. We, throughout this election and the conversation in the Seattle mayoral race, was not centered on how to make sure and do we punish people? How do we find them if they don't pay? It was, why are we asking people to pay for transit, which we're also, for a number of reasons, for a number of goals, in just sound management of the city, reduction of traffic, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants. We want more people on transit and to make it easier and less friction in that process. So, we actually are moving towards conversations and actual policies of just removing fares in so many places. And we just saw an announcement in Boston, with a new mayor that was just elected there, where they're removing fares on several lines there. We've certainly talked about that here. That seems to be where the conversation is going. Because frankly, we need, and the Downtown Seattle Association even acknowledges, we need more people on transit, particularly within the City. We need it all over the place. But for just not burning up our planet. But we also need it to address parking issues, to address traffic issues, just to address people being able to move safely even if you're on other modes of transportation, whether you're on a bike or walking. Having less cars just makes life easier within cities like Seattle. So, I hope we continue to move further in that direction. Sound Transit seems like it has just been in a completely different place in this conversation than most other transit agencies in the region, but we'll continue to follow how this goes along, and I'm with you - I'm not expecting too much from the continued study and information.
[00:30:18] Erica Barnett: Well, I mean, one of the things that they found is that riders would really like more attention paid to racial bias. I mean, it's paying people to find out things we already know. I will say, just very quickly, about what your excellent point is about, needing to get people onto transit. I mean, I think there is kind of a bit of a divide between the way the bus agency thinks and the way that the rail agency thinks - that has to do, and I'm not absolving Metro of having sort of the same bias too - but there's this thing called non-destinational riders, which is basically people who use the buses and the trains as shelter because we don't have adequate shelter in this region.
And I mean, frankly, transit agencies do not want those riders. And we should have a shelter system. We should have a system where everybody is housed, but we don't. And so, a lot of the people that are not paying fare are people who are experiencing homelessness and they're getting on the buses and trains to get warm, particularly in the winter. And so, I think we have to also keep that in mind that - right now, transit agencies are not just transportation agencies. They are also social service agencies. And that is just kind of, like it or not, and ideal or not, that is part of their function. And that's part of what this fight is about.
[00:31:47] Crystal Fincher: Yes, it certainly is, and thank you for that. And I just wanted to quickly, before we go, just cover the update on the mess that is the redistricting process that we have here in Washington right now. We certainly talked last week about our current challenge in our redistricting process - what was supposed to happen was that a bipartisan commission that had appointees from the Democratic and Republican parties were supposed to get together, produce maps like they have successfully done since 1983. Except for this year, they didn't. They did not complete their job by the deadline, which was Monday before last. And in addition to just not achieving their deadline, they also looked like they violated Open Meeting requirements and transparency requirements to hold their deliberations and meetings in public after they met for several hours in private - seemingly two at a time, but somehow after that, they came to some tentative agreement that they tried to codify, but didn't make a deadline. So that has basically kicked this process over to the Washington State Supreme Court. Because if the Redistricting Commission doesn't meet its obligation by its deadline, then the responsibility becomes the Court and they have until April 30th to produce a new redistricting plan with new congressional and legislative district maps.
That's where we stand right now. That's all we know. We don't yet know what process the Supreme Court will take to go about this. This isn't their main job, they don't really do this. So, certainly a lot of people are looking to a few other states that have similar processes through their courts, to draw upon what they're doing for a system and addressing some of the issues, particularly surrounding the Voting Rights Act that have been addressed with some of the prior maps that were produced by the Redistricting Commission and the one that they produced after their deadline that they said had been agreed to after the deadline. But we're in a bit of a mess here.
And so, Melissa Santos with Crosscut, has been doing an excellent job covering all of this. And there was conversation about, "Hey, do we need to change this process to prevent this from happening again and to address some of the deficits and discrepancies that we saw on this?" What did you see in terms of the conversation on what we can do to keep this from happening again?
[00:34:45] Erica Barnett: Yeah, well, I too, am relying on Melissa's excellent reporting, to sort of inform what I know about this. I mean, I think that it seems like it's a little premature to say we need to adopt X, Y or Z process from another state. For a few reasons, I mean, one, we need to diagnose beyond the obvious and glaring public meetings problems and potential violations that went on. We need to diagnose exactly what went wrong, and I think that's going to require some post mortem analysis that has not been done yet. And two, I mean, I think that some are kind of leaping to this idea that we can find a nonpartisan set of people with no partisan leanings whatsoever to create non-partisan maps that are completely nonpartisan. I'm going to say partisan, like 10 more times. Because the thing is - it's just, you're not going to find people who are going to participate in this kind of process who do not have some sort of leaning, first of all, in terms of how they would like for elections to go. Unless you find completely uninformed people who don't understand how elections work. You're going to find people with biases, because people have biases. So, I'm not sure that some of the solutions that are proposed of just appointing citizens who say that they are non-partisan to do this is necessarily going to work. I think that a certain level of expertise would probably be a better criterium.
But yeah, I mean, I am sort of just an observer in this and watched with shock and awe as this whole thing went down a couple of weeks ago. And particularly, the lack of public - the apparent violation of public meetings law - I struggle to just sort of visualize how that would happen if we were not meeting on Zoom and if these meetings were something that a lot of people were going to in person. The closest comparison I can think of is like when the Republicans and Democrats go into caucus. But I just, I kind of wonder if part of this is just a function of where we're at right now with COVID and with kind of democracy in the time of COVID.
[00:37:14] Crystal Fincher: And I think we talked about this last week - the point was raised that three of the four appointees to the commission were former legislators. So, they certainly had more comfort with discussing things privately than other people may have, which certainly does not in any way, excuse them for appearing as if they violated public meeting requirements. But that may explain their comfort with not doing that, which certainly needs to be addressed. And a similar criticism of this process popped up, following this, that we've heard sometimes at the end of legislative sessions where - do we actually know what they're voting on? Do they know what they're voting on? But certainly, it would be nice if we had the opportunity to examine what their final process is. And I know Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig brought up, "Hey, as we move forward, we need to look at addressing the final agreement sitting in public view before they vote."
[00:38:24] Erica Barnett: I thought that was such a good point. Yeah
[00:38:25] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, which I appreciate and completely agree with and think it would be positive and increase trust in this process. I also think you raise an excellent point in that we need to find out exactly what happened. This past Monday, the Chair of the Commission had to certify, according to their understanding, what happened throughout this process. They ended up verifying that the voting process did not take place in time. There were also some statements made by commissioners that suggested that they deliberated on some legislative maps after the deadline and after the voting had taken place. That's still a question there, but part of what this reveals and continues to reveal is that we don't know what happened yet because so much seemingly happened outside of the public view, which should never have happened, but appears to. And so they're just a bunch of question marks, and it's hard to examine exactly what happened exactly when, because it wasn't transparent. So hopefully, I know that there are a ton of public records requests that have been submitted, and hopefully we get more information about what was deliberated, what iterations of maps did they go through and discuss? Exactly what some points of contention are, which Melissa Santos has another article about - some of the challenges that they address, particularly in some legislative districts that look like they were the final points of negotiation and conversation in this process. But again, this is not from any information that has been sitting in public view. And we need that in this process.
So, I hope that as we move forward, we continue to learn more and that the Commission and the people involved are very forthright about what they did discuss and turning over all relevant information to be examined. And that we move forward in a more transparent way, including giving the public a chance to see what these agreements are, and provide comment on them before a final vote takes place. And with that, I mean, I think that's all we have time to discuss today. But every week, I so appreciate you and your expertise in not just looking at issues, but looking at them thoroughly and continuing to follow up on them on PubliCola. So, I just continue to appreciate your reporting and your publication.
And thank you, listeners, for tuning into Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, November 26, 2021. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. And our wonderful co-host today was Seattle political reporter and founder of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @ericacbarnett, that's Erica with a C, followed by a C, and then Barnett and on publicola.com. And you can buy her book Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. And now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you prefer to get your podcast - just type "Hacks & 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. While you're there, please leave a review, it helps us out. 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.