Week in Review: August 6, 2021 - with Essex Porter

Week in Review: August 6, 2021 - with Essex Porter

Today Crystal is joined by a very special co-host and KIRO 7 political reporter, Essex Porter! They cover what happened in this week’s primary elections, whether or not there were any real upsets or surprises, and we may see over the next few months heading into the November general election.

About the Guest

Find Essex on Twitter/X at @EssexKIRO7.

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 to the program - I'm extremely happy and excited to welcome today's co-host, KIRO-7 political reporter, Essex Porter. Hey Essex!

Essex Porter: [00:00:54] Hello, and good to be here.

Crystal Fincher: [00:00:57] Excellent to have you here. Well, I'm thrilled to have you on the program. You are known to everyone as the person who lets us know what's going on with politics here locally on TV. So we just had a big primary election earlier this week and we have vote-in-mail here in the state, so we don't get all of the results on Election Day. We get them in batches in the days - on Election Day and throughout the week. Usually most races are clear by the end of the week, and most races are clear with one or two hanging in the balance. So I guess, starting with the mayor's race, what was your feeling on just the result that we got?

Essex Porter: [00:01:45] The result was not surprising. We expected former City Council President Bruce Harrell to be in the lead on election night and he is. We pretty much expected current City Council President Lorena González to come in second and make the November ballot - and she did. The other two - three and four - Colleen Echohawk, number three, Jessyn Farrell, number four. That was pretty much expected as well. And the Northwest Progressive Institute poll pretty much nailed where they would come in. I think they were tied pretty much in that poll, or close to tied in that poll. And that's exactly the order they showed up in. So we have the November election matchup that we expected, but we'll see if there are surprises between now and November. It's a long time away.

Crystal Fincher: [00:02:41] It is a long time away - a lot of communication yet to go. Where we stand today, and today we're recording this Friday morning - people will be starting to listen to this on Friday afternoon. We still have yesterday's results. We don't have the Friday results in yet. There are probably going to be another 20,000-ish votes counted today in Seattle is what we're anticipating. But as it stands right now, Bruce Harrell is just shy of 37% - 36.9%. And then Lorena González is at just shy of 30%, so 29.6%. With Colleen Echohawk further behind, in third place, but at 9% - I think that's further behind than a lot of people expected her to be. Some of the polling showed that she was closer, that she had a potentially significant upside after people heard her message and how she talked about herself. Why do you think that that result didn't line up with expectations?

Essex Porter: [00:03:46] Well, yeah, interestingly and the only poll I'd really seen, was the public one by Northwest Progressive Institute, which had her roughly where she is ending up, as I recall. I think it had her right at 8%, but there was a large number of undecided people in the race. Perhaps for Colleen Echohawk, who has been a very strong candidate when you see her in person - but of course it's hard to meet everybody in person, and you really have to get a message out there when you are someone who has not been in the headlines of the public eye for as long as Councilmembers Harrell and González had been. Now Colleen Echohawk has a very public profile, she's just not as well-known. And I think the result can be heartening for her and her supporters, and can point certainly to a future in Seattle politics, even if she's not going to be on the ballot this November.

Crystal Fincher: [00:05:00] Absolutely, and I think you nailed it. It really is, for people who pay attention to politics - a number of people who listen to this podcast are more plugged-in than the average person when it comes to political news. So we can - we're more exposed, we're more in tune with all the news coming out - where the candidates stand, who they are, what their histories are. But the average Seattle voter is not us. We are abnormal. The biggest opponent for a candidate is not the person or people who they are running against. It's everything else in a voter's life that is competing for attention. There's a lot going on right now in the world. We're dealing with a pandemic, people are figuring out what they're doing with their kids and school and work and home and remote, and just a lot going on, in addition to everything else that's going on in life. And so lots of people don't start paying attention until they notice that they get their ballot in the mail and their voter's pamphlet. 

And in that time, you really have to communicate really effectively with a message that penetrates and captures people's attention. Certainly that's simpler to do when there's familiarity with a candidate. So people who had been Councilmembers and incumbents enjoyed that. They'd been on ballots before, voters were already familiar with them. People who voters weren't very familiar with in the mayor's race, they just didn't seem to - their message didn't seem to penetrate. So, but as we've seen with a lot of other races, this can certainly set someone up for a future successful race, now that they're more widely known, more broadly known, and people have gotten a little bit more of a chance to get to know who they are.

Essex Porter: [00:06:44] I got to talk to a few voters on the day before the election and on Election Day. The sense I got from voters was certainly - coming out of this pandemic and having a nice weather summer, and for, at the time before the election - things were relaxing and people were enjoying getting out, enjoying maybe taking a little bit of a vacation trip. I talked to one person, I asked him why he was voting so late, "I'm voting so late because I just moved and I needed to get the ballot at the new address. Soon as I got it, I came and I voted." People have things going on in their lives.

But what's one of the thoughts I have is that - I wonder if the atmosphere will be changing. Because in the last few days of the election and this week and continuing on, there is more concern about COVID. There is more of a restrictive attitude as the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID begins to impact our lives here in the Seattle area and the Northwest. There is a concern that the psychological, if not physical opening we have, will be closing back down. That may also be on voters' minds as they go into November. That will be one of the things that's overhanging that vote as they make choices.

Crystal Fincher: [00:08:12] The Delta variant is here and prevalent. So we'll see how that continues to line up. Another interesting thing I was looking at is obviously - we have the Compassion Seattle initiative coming up on the November ballot, and we had the major candidates basically all line up on one side or the other of the initiative. And that acted as a dividing line between where candidates stood. Are they more of a law and order-focus candidate, looking at issues that may bring more criminalization or certainly codify some criminalization of homelessness into the City Charter with sweeps, in addition to some other elements and in that -

Essex Porter: [00:09:01] And I have to say, that's one of the arguments over Compassion Seattle - as to whether it does criminalize homelessness and poverty. Whether it does make it more likely and give more approval to sweeps. I mean that's going to be one of the big debating points. There are supporters of Compassion Seattle who don't necessarily see it that particular way.

Crystal Fincher: [00:09:27] Absolutely. And certainly the language about it, right? Compassion Seattle - this is a compassionate solution to this challenge that we're facing. Everyone seems to agree that it's a problem. Which part of that they find to be the problem is up in the air. Is it that they have to see and deal with people being homeless? Is it that they are feeling uncomfortable about it and wanting them to be removed, or swept, or other things happen? Is it an issue of services? Certainly the initiative does address services. People talk about how effective that is and is it really more than what we're doing now? And many people say that it is 1% more perhaps, but perhaps more restrictive, but -

Essex Porter: [00:10:18] And as I talk to voters - and again, this is a small number of voters I'm talking with, as I'm working on deadline and meeting people at random at the ballot box. But as I talked to voters, when they mentioned homelessness, all the voters I talked with started out with a feeling of compassion for those who are homeless, who may be forced to sleep on the streets, or camp in a tent. And then as you listened to them, even if they didn't say who they liked in the mayor's race, it was clear that they kind of divided. There were people who spoke compassionately about those who are homeless, who felt to me - is that they would be more inclined to support Bruce Harrell. There are others who talked very much the same way, who felt to me - they would be more inclined to support Lorena González or Colleen Echohawk. The Northwest Progressive Institute poll has Compassion Seattle at, I think, it's 61% support. So it just seems to me, there's a lot of people across the mayoral candidate spectrum who support Compassion Seattle. It may not be that a vote for one person as mayor is a vote against Compassion Seattle. That's what it will be interesting to see work out in November.

Crystal Fincher: [00:11:48] It'll be interesting to see it work out in November. And interesting to see how the vote share was turned out based on where the candidates were at. Candidates who supported Compassion Seattle got more votes than candidates who didn't in the primary. But we do have Bruce Harrell who said that he is supportive of Charter Amendment 29 and Lorena González who opposes it.

Essex Porter: [00:12:16] Yeah, that's going to be one of the key things that differentiates those candidates, because there's actually a lot that's alike about those two candidates. But we'll be looking for what the differences are.

Crystal Fincher: [00:12:24] Will be interesting to see how that turns out. We also got results in the City Council races. I don't think many people are too surprised to see Teresa Mosqueda, the incumbent, in Position 8 with 56%. Kenneth Wilson is going to also make it through to the general, at 17%, but that race is looking pretty settled. In the Position 9 race, Sara Nelson is in the lead as we speak, with 42%, followed by Nikkita Oliver - they have 36%. And then Brianna Thomas in third place, with just about 14%. So it looks like Nikkita Oliver and Sara Nelson are making it through to the general - two very different candidates. Two other candidates who line up on opposite sides of the Compassion Seattle debate, they're on different sides on the JumpStart tax, the head tax, many different things. So that certainly is going to be a race where voters have a clear choice.

Essex Porter: [00:13:31] Yeah. Now that is absolutely true, and I talked briefly with Sara Nelson before the election, because by total coincidence, she doorbelled my house. And you look through the doorbell camera and think, "Hey, that's somebody I recognize," but when we talked, at least the public polling did not have her in the lead in this race. She sounded very concerned, and while I haven't spoken with her after the election, I suspect there are few people as surprised as she is, that she did so well in this race - that she has a strong lead at over 40% of the vote. And this race, I think, will be probably more for the folks who are interested in policy, and follow policy - because they do differ so much on policy. They are both seasoned at creating policy, and evaluating policy, and taking stance on policy. So it's going to be going to be a very policy-oriented City Council race. Because they diverge very much, ideologically, people are going to have that choice you're talking about.

Crystal Fincher: [00:15:05] Yeah, I mean, Nikkita has certainly talked a lot about policy. And one of the nice things about that race is that it has been so policy-focused - in their debates, especially with Brianna Thomas, there were definitive policies, plans laid out. I think it's going to be interesting to see the contrast between Nikkita and Sara. I interviewed both of them earlier, we'll link both of those interviews in the show notes to this show, but very different approaches. It feels like they're taking different stances to even the conversation about policy.

Essex Porter: [00:15:45] I think Sara Nelson will be running a message that, "I'm a business woman. I've been at City Hall. I've worked policy in City Hall. I'm a business woman too. So I know how what happens at City Hall impacts business. I don't necessarily have all the answers, but you can be comfortable with my approach and my thought process." I suspect that's the kind of message that she'll be trying to get out there.

Crystal Fincher: [00:16:17] I anticipate the same, and I anticipate to see a lot of the downtown and business interests that have traditionally been associated with the Chamber to consolidate around her. And to see a lot of the more progressive interests consolidate around Nikkita. We'll see how that goes.

Essex Porter: [00:16:38] That might be the race that's not going to be settled by Friday after the November election.

Crystal Fincher: [00:16:43] After the November election, that may be tight, but we'll see. Now there is a race that, as we sit here on Friday morning, still is not decided. Not enough for either, for any of the candidates, to have definitively declared victory or conceded and that is the City Attorney's race. And my goodness, is this a race? So as we are sitting here, after the results release on Thursday - Ann Davison is at 34.5%, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy is at 33.19%, Pete Holmes is at 32.02%. Talking to the campaigns, it looks like they're anticipating 25,000-40,000 more ballots perhaps. But this is an unusual situation, in that the incumbent Pete Holmes is now trailing - unless he significantly improves his vote share in today's count, it's looking like he's not going to make it through the primary.

Essex Porter: [00:17:54] This is, at the moment, the classic example of late votes lean left. The total on election night had Holmes in third place. The total on Wednesday night had Holmes moving up just barely to second place. And now, the total on Thursday night, where the late ballots are finally counted - those ballots that went in the mail on Monday maybe, or went in the mail on Sunday, some of the ballots that went into drop boxes late on Tuesday - those are the ballots that have been counted. And they push Nicole Thomas-Kennedy ahead of Pete Holmes again. We both have seen it often - once that trend gets started, it doesn't reverse - the Friday ballots just confirm it.

Crystal Fincher: [00:18:49] Yeah, they do. So it is looking highly unlikely that Pete Holmes is going to end up making it through. The other thing is that they're strongly trending for Nicole Thomas-Kennedy in yesterday's count. If you look at just yesterday's count, there were just over 28,000 ballots counted yesterday. Nicole Thomas-Kennedy got 37% of those ballots, Ann Davison 33%, and Pete Holmes 29%. So it's just - that trend is going to have to move sharply. And when you start thinking about what it's going to take to close that gap, you start looking at numbers, he's going to have to clear 35% to closer to 40% of the remaining ballots to look like he has a shot. That just doesn't seem consistent with anything that we've seen so far.

Essex Porter: [00:19:45] Yes, exactly. So now we have to contemplate what happened to Pete Holmes? Here's a three term incumbent, taking a position on criminalizing poverty, basically, that a lot of people favor. I mean, his criticism is that he is not tough enough on people for petty crimes like shoplifting or petty theft. But his stance has been to focus on those he perceives as true dangers in society, and that's not most of the people who come across for misdemeanors. Most of those are not necessarily violent crimes. So he's taken a stance that a lot of people on the left would support, but somehow that wasn't enough?

Crystal Fincher: [00:20:40] Well, it's interesting, because he certainly, when he came into office, he certainly came in as someone who was more reform-minded from his predecessor - in talking about stopping prosecuting some marijuana, crimes, stopping - being more friendly to nightlife and entertainment venues, that kind of thing. But what Nicole Thomas-Kennedy spent a lot of time talking about was there have been certain areas where they stopped that focus, but my goodness, there's still a lot of criminalization of poverty. And prosecutions of what seemed to be misdemeanors that are so minor that it's certainly costing the City more to prosecute it, than they're getting from the prosecution. And that criminalizing people in that situation actually is more likely to make the problem worse and more expensive to solve, than to fix it. So she has talked more about addressing root causes, taking an approach that helps get people on the right track, as opposed to just criminalize people and have them going in and out.

So he took heat for not being progressive enough and for criminalizing poverty too much on one end. On the other end was for people who think he's just been too soft on crime, look at everything happening, you've got people going for that, "Seattle is dying" narrative. And just on the hard side saying, "Oh, he's a liberal and letting everyone off, and crime is running rampant." But then there's also people saying, "I just see ..." I think it doesn't help that a lot of people associate, wrongly, I should point out, wrongly associate homelessness with criminality. People who are unhoused are more likely to be victims of crimes, than they are to perpetrate them. 

I also think a lot of people don't understand that he is dealing with misdemeanors and that felonies, or most serious crime, is handled from the King County Prosecutor. So I think he's also taking heat for a lot of people's perception that crime is up, and some types of crimes are up. Overall crime is down, some violent crimes are up. So he's also taking heat for that perception. And then also, he just didn't really seem to care about campaigning for a while, until it became clear he was in danger. And then it seemed to be too little too late, with some faux pas added in some late interviews and statements.

Essex Porter: [00:23:20] Yeah, I haven't taken a look at the crime numbers, even for the non-violent crime, so I can't immediately confirm that overall crime is down. And it may not matter, unfortunately, exactly what the numbers are, because it is what the feeling is, right?

Crystal Fincher: [00:23:45] The perception - exactly.

Essex Porter: [00:23:47] It's the perception. I spoke with Ann Davison after the election, and one of the phrases that she uses and I think is going to be at center of her campaign, is that she's going to, "Center the victims," and that's the language she uses. It's going to be a victim-centered approach. I think that's the kind of approach on public safety issues - because we're going to have public safety issues that are going to be headlines about some terribly unfortunate things that happen between now and November, that will be happening every week. 

When she talks about centering victims, I think that is going to be a strong counter to Nicole Thomas-Kennedy if she is in the November election, who is going to be talking about a wholesale change. She calls it abolition, and people are going to be weighing again, the stark contrast between Ann Davison, who maybe will take a more conservative approach than many people would like, and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, who may be taking a more progressive approach than many people feel comfortable with. It's going to be which person can make people feel comfortable with their approach to public safety.

Crystal Fincher: [00:25:22] Yeah, absolutely. And basically, Pete Holmes not making it through the primary, as looks likely - certainly we'll have a much clearer idea about that after today's results. But if you're asking me, it doesn't look good for Pete Holmes. It's - there's an admission that what is going on now hasn't worked. And so people want a new approach - is that new approach more of a, "Hey, let's just crack down on people and arrest them, get them in jail," or is it, "Let's treat some of the root causes." And I think, as you articulated, Ann Davison's position and what she may be talking about. I think Nicole Thomas-Kennedy is going to be focusing a lot on what we have done hasn't worked. And what we hear proposed is more of exactly what has not worked on this level. A lot of clarifying and educating that we aren't talking about violent crimes. And that's where a lot of the disdain and discomfort comes, when people think, "Well, we can't just have people assaulting people on the street and facing no penalty. And what are we doing?" And that's a scary prospect for a lot of people. So I think hearing her talk about, "Okay, what does this mean in the role of City Attorney. And how do we change our approach?" I think that's going to be a really interesting and enlightening dialogue. I think people are going to hear some things from both candidates that are different than what they were expecting. So it'll be interesting to see how this continues to evolve through the general, but I'm excited about the conversation that will happen because of this race.

Essex Porter: [00:27:11] Yeah, and I think it's going to get some national attention as well, because I think, more than the mayor's race, it'll be a clearer choice of where Seattle wants to go.

Crystal Fincher: [00:27:23] Absolutely. And I mean, Hey, we're in the City who has a socialist on the City Council, who the DSA is not just a synonym for the Downtown Seattle Association, it's the Democratic Socialist. And they are a significant force here. We have a candidate who identifies as an abolitionist proudly, who is making it through a primary, beating the incumbent. So, I mean, this is, even for people in a primary election, which is usually a more conservative voting group compared to a general election voting group, there's a lot of receptivity to Nicole Thomas-Kennedy's message, which I think was surprising to a number of people. But I think people need to understand that there is a feeling that what has happened isn't working. And people do want reductions in crime, people do want to feel safer. But it's just, what is it that actually does make us safer? And that conversation and the details and the contours of it are one I'm excited to have.

Essex Porter: [00:28:39] Yeah.

Crystal Fincher: [00:28:41] Well, I think we are coming up on our time. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to join us today, Essex on July ... Geez, listen to me -

Essex Porter: [00:28:52] It's already August.

Crystal Fincher: [00:28:52] I'm going to edit that.

Essex Porter: [00:28:55] Don't edit that.

Crystal Fincher: [00:28:57] I'm totally editing that. Maybe I'm editing that. I'm all over the place, but I appreciate you listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, August 6th, 2021. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and our wonderful co-host today was KIRO-7 political reporter, Essex Porter. You can find Essex on Twitter @EssexKIRO7. 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 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 podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in. We'll talk to you next time.

Essex Porter: [00:29:50] Bye-bye.