Week in Review: July 9, 2021 - with Erica Barnett

Week in Review: July 9, 2021 - with Erica Barnett

This week - with primary ballots starting to arrive in mailboxes next week! - Erica C. Barnett of PubliCola joins Crystal to discuss what’s going on in Seattle’s mayoral race. They discuss the unpredictability of a crowded primary, how funding caps get raised, and why primaries are really the time to vote your conscience. Additionally, they cover the potential firing of two Seattle Police Department officers who participated in the January 6th insurrection, and the harsh and punitive nature of Washington State’s work release program which renders it useless for the purposes of reintegrating the incarcerated back into society.

About the Guest

Erica Barnett

Erica Barnett is a Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola.

Find Erica Barnett on Twitter/X at @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com.

Podcast Transcript

Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work, with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost live shows where we review the news of the week. 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, which is now out in paperback. Erica Barnett.

Erica Barnett: [00:00:56] Great to be here, Crystal.

Crystal Fincher: [00:00:58] Great to be here, excited that you're now out in paperback, the book is popular. And so just want to encourage everyone to get that. It's great. I recommend it. You should get it. And now you have paperback option.

But in starting off the news of today, I wanted to just get started talking about the Mayoral race. You've been doing a fantastic series on PubliCola, the PubliCola Question series, interviewing candidates, especially ones for Mayor. So I guess I just wanted to start off talking about what has that process been like and are there any insights that you've gained into the candidates that you didn't have before doing that series?

Erica Barnett: [00:01:45] Thanks. Yeah, I think one thing that we really wanted to do with this series was ask some questions that people were not getting asked at all of these campaign forums and in other platforms. And so we asked about things like instead of do support Charter Amendment 29? Which is the Compassion Seattle initiative. Assuming it passes, what are you going to do? What are you going to cut to make up that 12% in the general fund that is mandated under this initiative. Everybody's focusing on downtown, what would you do to help other neighborhoods, non-downtown neighborhoods, with COVID 19 recovery? And so I think we've gotten some really interesting questions or answers rather. So far, we've published four of them so far. There are two more coming today with the six leading candidates.

Andrew Grant Houston had a really interesting answer to a question about public safety. He said that his first priority and the quickest thing that he could do to replace some functions with the police would be to expand access to bathrooms and running water. And Andrew is a candidate who has sort of a plan for everything, and it's all very much on paper at this point. And I think it's important to note that Mayors cannot act unilaterally on most issues, but I do think that his sort of white paper platforms point in a direction that is very, very different than what the city is doing right now. Casey Sixkiller, who supports Compassion Seattle was somewhat defensive on that issue. I believe he wants to pass a very large bond measure, a billion dollars, to build 3000 new apartments.

Again, Mayors cannot act unilaterally, but he really focused on the fact that Seattle's homelessness problem is not really Seattle's homelessness problem. It's a regional issue, which is the parroting, his former boss, Mayor Jenny Durkan to a certain extent, who points out all the time that 40% of the people who are homeless in Seattle did not become homeless in Seattle. Now, there's certainly a debate over whether that matters. I mean, they're here now, but that kind of speaks to just his approach on homelessness. So that's just a couple of them, I would encourage people to go read them all. We ask them all eight questions and the answers are pretty enlightening.

Crystal Fincher: [00:04:23] Yeah. And we will link to all of those interviews in the show notes and love the approach that you took to that with trying to expand the conversation to help inform voters and not just asking the stable questions that people hear, which obviously every organization is doing their best in these forums. And not everyone may have heard all of the prior answers. So it is not always bad to ask people the same questions again. But I do love that there's the opportunity to expand this conversation and get some of these answers and dive a little deeper into this. So you talked about there being some unique answers. How are you seeing the race, I guess, shape up overall at this point now that ballots are coming out in about a week next week and campaigns are starting to advertise and communicate directly with voters?

Erica Barnett: [00:05:19] Well, I mean, I've said on the show before, I am the worst at predicting how anything turns out. I mean, the common wisdom, the consensus answer to that is, "Well, it's going to be Bruce Harrell, followed by Lorena González, and they're going to make it through the primary." I mean, just in talking to people in my circles. I have seen a lot of folks supporting Colleen Echohawk. So I wouldn't count her out, and Jessyn Farrell is also a contender. I think she ran for Mayor four years ago and did not make it through the primary. So I'm not good at predicting. I have no idea how it's going to turn out, so I could parrot the conventional wisdom. And that may very well be right. But there does seem to be some momentum, particularly for Echohawk.

Crystal Fincher: [00:06:11] I would agree with that. I'm also not a fan of making predictions. I like looking at what the available data is and listening to what's going on within campaigns. I guess I would say within my circles, I've heard a lot of the same, but at the same time, this is still a crowded primary and crowded primaries can get real unpredictable, real quick. I have heard the same conventional wisdom that you have and results of some internal polling probably has backed that up. But in crowded primaries, I mean, Mike McGinn was on the program before and reminded people, "Hey, six weeks out of the primary, where he eventually won the election to become Mayor, he was polling at 7%." A lot has to do with how you wind up communicating with voters, how you make your case, how people make a case against you.

So there still is some jostling that can happen in the race. So sometimes I will get people asking me, "Well, if my candidate is not in the lead, is it going to be throwing a vote away on someone if I vote for someone who's not in the lead?" I would continue to say, "No, it's absolutely not." Primaries are the time that's most appropriate to vote your conscience to vote for the candidate who you feel most closely aligns with your values. I still think it is very, very important to do that regardless of whether you feel like they're in the lead or not. Because right now, the lead is all theoretical. The only lead that matters is the one on election day in a crowded primary where there's a lot of people jostling and trying to determine what lane they're going to be in and running it. You know, lots, lots of interesting things can happen. Mike McGinn was certainly one of those interesting things. So there certainly are candidates with momentum who can wind up breaking into the top two. We'll see how this turns out.

Erica Barnett: [00:08:19] Let me just push back a tiny bit on that McGinn analysis. I mean, obviously self-serving analysis on his part, which I understand, but what's really interesting about this primary and what actually I think makes it more competitive and less predictable is that there are a lot of candidates who could potentially actually be Mayor and in McGinn's primary. I mean, besides Mayor, then Mayor Greg Nichols, who lost in the primary, there were not a lot of major, major candidates or candidates who were particularly viable. In this race, I mean, you've got a lot of real contenders, people who have served in office, people who you know, Lorena González , council president, Jessyn Farrell, former state legislator, Colleen Echohawk, who ran the Chief Seattle Club, a homelessness organization. It's an impressive, dare I say, field, and I think that's kind of a contrast to 2009 where you had McGinn running against Joe Mallahan, who was a T-Mobile guy who had never held public office and I think didn't really light the world on fire.

Crystal Fincher: [00:09:30] I mean, there was Joe Mallahan. There was Jan Drago. Remember Jan Drago?

Erica Barnett: [00:09:35] I do. We share a pea patch.

Crystal Fincher: [00:09:39] Do you share a pea patch?

Erica Barnett: [00:09:40] Well, we're in the same pea patch, yeah. Yes. I see her all the time.

Crystal Fincher: [00:09:43] Elizabeth Campbell. I mean, I don't know. I think a really interesting thing is the conversation of who could become mayor. That really is, it's so subjective, right? But I think it's interesting. I do think that at the time, an unpopular incumbent... At that time, the incumbent was running for reelection, which certainly inhibits a lot of other people from running and can impact the field. Certainly did then, I think, and took people who almost by definition viewed themselves as outsiders who were not part of the Nickels crew to say, "Hey, we can actually stand up and challenge this guy," where this dynamic is not happening in this mayoral race, because Jenny Durkan is not running for reelection. So it's an open field and has brought in a lot of people who maybe would not have run against Durkan, but now that the field is open, they're here.

So it'll be interesting to see, but I do think that people should still get educated about the candidates, vote for who you feel most closely aligns to your values. Because even if your candidate doesn't finish on top, people are still going to be analyzing and looking at, okay, where does the vote distribution per issue fall? And it's going to be consequential if... For something like charter amendment 29, if there's overwhelming support against that, and, hey, one person who gets through the primary got 30%, but the other 70% of votes went against that. That's going to be a bit telling and how the candidates approach their support or opposition of something like that charter amendment campaign. So vote your conscience. Let's see what we have going on there.

The other news that is interesting is that the fundraising race just, I guess, got a new dimension with Andrew Grant Houston being granted a democracy voucher fundraising lift. How did that happen?

Erica Barnett: [00:11:56] Well, another candidate in the race, former city council member, Bruce Harrell, has a PAC... I mean, I shouldn't say he has. There is a PAC working on his behalf. And so they've raised a bunch of money, and in combination with Harrell's own fundraising, that is above the cap. And so what happens, the cap is $400,000 of basically how much a candidate can raise. When a candidate's fundraising combined with any outside fundraising is above $400,000, any candidate in that race can then say, I want the cap to be lifted. And once it's lifted, that candidate, and eventually most candidates will probably pile on and also ask for lifts, that candidate can spend any amount of money, just like a PAC. So it sort of defangs a major aspect, I think, of the Honest Elections Initiative that we passed a few years back because effectively it says that PACs... We know that PACs can spend unlimited amounts of money, but PACs unlimited spending can spur candidates' unlimited spending. So we sort of have a situation in every election now where basically the caps are meaningless.

Crystal Fincher: [00:13:11] Yeah, it is an interesting situation, because as you said, now for Andrew Grant Houston and for other candidates who come in following requesting the lift, there is no more fundraising limit in the primary. And certainly there've been some candidates who have stacked up their... Kind of been collecting but not cashing in additional democracy vouchers and additional money in anticipation of this being lifted. So it'll be real interesting to see how that then translates into communication because the other element is... I mean it's Friday, July 9th today. Ballots are coming out next week. So it's not like there's a ton of time left to do a lot of communications. So the planning of that had to have happened prior to this, and now it just becomes a matter of execution and seeing how much they're able to afford and expanding their communication plans.

Erica Barnett: [00:14:13] Sure. And I think we'll see even more of this in the general election because the caps are the same. It sort of resets and you can spend $400,000 in the mayor's race, and so when you just have two candidates... I mean, spending in the mayor's race in recent years has just gotten out of control, in my opinion, and I think we'll see that again.

Crystal Fincher: [00:14:35] Well, I think so. It is not cheap to communicate with an entire city full of people, but there really is no other way to do it than raising and spending this money in our current composition, but it would be interesting to examine what would it mean have a more tiered system or what other controls could be put into place to avoid just this all out fundraising blitz and air war that we get ourselves into that initially, talking to people, which I still think is helpful, to have to talk to people to get democracy vouchers. Talking to residents is never a bad thing when it comes to informing policy, but how do we prevent this from becoming just another unlimited spend-a-thon? I don't know.

I hope there is a way. I would like there to be a way, but I don't know if there's going to be a way. And to your point, we get into this situation every time now. So it seems like the residents voted to address this issue and kind of took a step one with the Honest Elections Initiative. Is there a step two to try and control this seemingly unlimited spending situation that we get ourselves in?

Erica Barnett: [00:15:57] Yeah, because it would be unfair, on the flip side, for PACs to be able to spend unlimited amounts of money and to limit the candidates. So there is a logic behind it. It's just an unfortunate logic that is based on the fact that PACs can spend any amount of money or independent expenditure campaigns can spend any amount of money.

Crystal Fincher: [00:16:16] Yep. So we will be keeping our eyes on the spending in coming weeks. If you, listeners, get any campaign collateral, mail, screenshot online ads, take pictures of mail, tag us in it. It's always interesting to see who is getting what and what the messages are. We've seen very creative, sometimes disingenuous, advertising in prior campaigns, and it's always interesting to see how candidates are making their own case and cases against other candidates. So please, just continue to stay informed. There is still a number of forums that are going to be happening. So tune in, and we'll certainly continue to talk about them here on the show.

Another issue I wanted to talk about was some news that just came out yesterday, and that an OPA investigation implicated two officers who participated in the January 6th riots and insurrection in Washington, DC. We'd previously known that there were at least six officers in attendance in DC, and a question that a lot of other people have, we've talked about before I think, that the fact that they were in DC for what was billed as a Stop the Steal event says a lot, really enough about their mind frame, that their ability to complete their job in a fair and honest way is seriously called into question. But there was a question about, did any actually participate in the insurrection? Were they on grounds that they should not have been on? Did they break any other laws? And the answer is yes. There were two officers who were found to have done that. So what actually was uncovered in that investigation?

Erica Barnett: [00:18:02] Well, essentially what they discovered, what the Office of Police Accountability discovered was that two officers, as you said, apparently a married couple, were trespassing in a restricted area. They did not breach the Capitol, as in actually going inside the building and the rotunda. But they were trespassing on the Capitol steps. And the Office of Police Accountability was not convinced that they just didn't know, which is what they claimed.

To your point, I think the Seattle Police Union has said that it would be discriminatory to discipline any of the other four officers, at the very least because they're just expressing their political opinions and this is just free speech. But I think you also have to look at the question... OPA looks at things like professionalism, and I think it calls into question their professional judgment if they believe sincerely, and to the extent that they're willing to go to this rally, in a huge lie, in a huge political lie that the election was stolen, and that Donald Trump should rightly be president now.

That's a judgment call. And that speaks to their ability to make good judgments on the job. And so, in deciding that those officers were effectively exonerated, that is the city and the OPA saying, "We don't care about that aspect of their judgment. We agree, in a sense, that this was just an expression of a political view." And I think that it's obviously a political view. But we don't ban people from being cops for being conservative, but we do discipline them as a city for not being professional.

Crystal Fincher: [00:19:57] Yeah, absolutely. And clearly what they have to believe in is that, not only was there fraud, predominantly in Democratic cities, and among constituencies of color, predominantly among them. But to believe that to a degree that that would have flipped the election, and the dozens, upon dozens, upon dozens of court cases that have sought to challenge and pursue this in court that have been just flat out, both laughed out of court, and just rejected in every way.

This has played out. Again, people can appeal to different courts. Every court, from state courts and federal courts, to district courts and appeals courts, and the Supreme Court have taken up various election issues, and this has been found to just have no basis in reality. And to still persevere is really troubling to me, that someone within the system is in effect saying they don't trust it, they don't believe in it, they're acting in defiance of it, to the point of traveling to DC to make this stand and to make this point. Very, very troubling and concerning.

I would be highly concerned in discovering, and wondering if there are patterns of unfair treatment that have come specifically from these officers. It is a big question. But as for the two, the investigation was pretty unequivocal that there does not seem to be a question that these two officers just flat out lied. The investigation said that they lied. That they said they weren't aware that they were in an area where they shouldn't have been.

Evidently, video provided by the FBI clearly shows that not only was there plenty of signage indicating that they shouldn't have been there, there were police officers there who not only were directing people away, who were using force in various capacities to try and get people away. And these officers witnessed that, and witnessed their fellow rioters using force against the officers, and did not intervene, did not do anything. Which is really curious, talking about supporting officers, and you have officers standing by watching other officers actually get beaten by this insurrectionist mob.

So, they just seem to have been busted from A to Z. And the chief had previously said, if there was someone found to be taking part in those activities, they would be fired. So it's going to be interesting to see if the chief follows through on that. And then what SPOG does to try and address that.

Erica Barnett: [00:23:02] One aspect of the story that PubliCola covered that I want to just point out, reporter Paul Keifer did a story on this, is that although Chief Adrian Diaz did order these officers to turn over information, receipts and bank records, photographs and texts from January 6th, and they did comply, except for one who still has not complied. The police union is fighting that, and they believe that this was a violation of their rights. They have filed a grievance.

And so, the question of whether the OPA, the accountability office, has the authority to subpoena and to demand these records is still very much on the table. So, we could see a scenario in the future, hopefully not as dramatic as the January 6th insurrection, but a scenario in the future where police officers refuse to hand over this information, or this kind of information, and the public could just be in the dark.

Crystal Fincher: [00:24:08] And we're already in the dark about so much already. It's very, very troubling. And I hope, as we continue to have these conversations with a new perspective mayors, and council members in the city of Seattle, and in other cities, that this is talked about. That transparency and accountability, apart from people loving to ask, "Do you support or oppose defund?", there's so much more in this conversation that we need to talk about in detail. And I hope this continues to be centered in those conversations, because really it's just unacceptable.

Erica Barnett: [00:24:46] Absolutely.

Crystal Fincher: [00:24:48] And with that, and related in our criminal legal system, there was an excellent PubliCola story this week about the work-release program. We'll link to it in our show notes. I highly encourage everyone to read it. But do you want to give us a rundown on what that story was about?

Erica Barnett: [00:25:08] Yeah. Paul Keifer, again, our police accountability reporter, did a story about work-release violations, and how they are used, how the violations of the terms of work release, which is a program where people get released from prison, but they live in a facility. They participate in programs, including job programs. And it's essentially, it's a little like parole. And so they have to comply with a bunch of different rules. And lack of compliance can send you back to prison.

And so, what Paul's story revealed is that in a lot of cases, very small violations of the conditions of work release, which is supposed to prepare you to get along, and be a productive citizen in the outside world. But these very small violations were being used to send people back to prison for things as small as having... One woman had a drill bit, a small drill bit in her bag that she said was her boyfriend's, and she was sent back to prison for that.

So, the story reveals that it's a system that sets people up to fail in many cases because it's more about following the minutiae of rules than actually getting rehabilitated, and getting ready to succeed in society in the outside world.

Crystal Fincher: [00:26:36] Yeah. And the story detailed a lot of instances, people being sent back to prison for missing a bus. And for that being used, basically, in retaliation for personal issues that people working for the Department of Corrections had with various people. A couple had made complaints about potential abuses of power and were retaliated against. There was someone who appears to have been retaliated against because their family members were in a protest. Just very, very punitive, choosing to exercise extremely harsh judgment to take away someone's freedom. And if we are really sitting here trying to act like this system is about rehabilitation for everything from non-violent seemingly... Whether it's some possession of a controlled substance or whatever the case may be, they have served their sentence.

This is a kind of midway point, like you said, to prepare people to live, in regular life. For a lot of people who wind up in prison, they may not have had the most stable life. They may have made a mistake, got caught up in the system and they may not have the best tools for coping. This is billed, supposed to be at, "Okay, this is to help you reintegrate into society." To help you build positive habits, positive routine, get a job, get on your feet, get some money coming in the door so that when you do get ultimately released and are free of all supervision, that you are prepared to live on your own and in society.

And coping with the everyday challenges of life is part of preparing to be back in society and managing through that. Because Lord knows, all of the rest of us make mistakes. All of the rest of us has missed a bus at some point in time, or forgotten to take something with us, or have been late to a meeting. That is regular life stuff. So to expect people to live more perfectly than everyone else on the outside is just not a realistic expectation. Then to tie sending someone back to prison, losing a job, losing progress, losing momentum, when that is the difference between someone potentially being back on their feet and not repeating any offenses, is, like you said, it's setting people up for failure. It's absolutely unacceptable. And this system is a trap. It is a trap. And-

Erica Barnett: [00:29:26] Yeah it is teaching people to essentially, to learn compliance. And that is not the skill that is most important in life to succeed. Because if you're sending people back to prison over and over again, or even once, for one of these minor violations... And note, the missing the bus issue or the bus doesn't show up, one reason people have to take the bus is they're not allowed to own cars in work release. It's really forcing people to run a race in a full leg cast.

Then you learn through that process that you're supposed to be compliant no matter what. There's so many reasons that that is not a great lesson to learn, to succeed in life. But one is just that discrimination exists in the world and if you're being taught to be compliant with it, that is a racist system. One of the people that Paul talked about was a woman who said that she was retaliated against for filing a sexual harassment complaint. So again, the lesson there is, "Whatever happens, don't complain because you'll be punished."

Crystal Fincher: [00:30:49] Absolutely. And it's a system that is primed for abuse when that situation and circumstance occurs. There were recommendations made by this working group or task force that was predominantly made up of Department of Corrections people, had a couple of people on there who were related to people who were formerly incarcerated and in the work release program, no one directly impacted. There was resistance to even rewriting a mission and vision statement that really centered, "Hey, our job is to rehabilitate people and not to teach them compliance to Department of Corrections rules." They did agree to some retraining, to some standards and standardization of some policies, but my goodness, is there just such a long way to go to fix this.

It just underscores that beyond just how things are handled and initial contacts with police, and whether or not someone is arrested and how that happens, what they're charged with and how they're sentenced and how that happens, on the other end, how they're treated while they are incarcerated. Then on their path to getting out is there are just so many traps in there. You marvel, looking at all of these different elements in the system, about how anyone makes it out unscathed. And if not unscathed, just the ability to successfully reintegrate because so much is working against them.

The overwhelming majority of people who go to jail or prison are coming back out. We have an interest as a society, one, because they're people and we don't throw away people, we shouldn't throw away people, but they're also going to be reintegrating into our community. So let's make sure that people are prepared to become thriving members of our community and not set them up for failure, or have them constantly deal with, "If I sneeze the wrong way, I can wind up back in prison." We have to do better to rehabilitate people and to really focus on restoring them and their ability to be a thriving member of our communities.

And with that, that's our time today. But we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, July 9th, 2021. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler, 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", and on PubliCola. And you can buy her book, Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, now on paperback.

You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I, and now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts, just type Hacks & Wonks into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost live shows and our mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. While you're there, leave a review, it really helps out. You can get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com, and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in and we'll talk to you next time.