Week in Review: December 9, 2022 - with Matt Driscoll

Week in Review: December 9, 2022 - with Matt Driscoll

For this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll! They start the show reviewing the criminal trial of elected Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer. Troyer is charged with false reporting and one count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant in relation to his alleged harassment of Black newspaper carrier Sedrick Altheimer. This week, the trial revealed discrepancies in Troyer's account of the incident compared to the police report. This case hinges on whether the state can prove Troyer's actions were criminal, and it’s anticipated that the trial will be sent to the jury next week.

Next, Crystal and Matt recap a new investigative report from ProPublica and The Seattle Times that reveals how deeply the state's schools are failing students with complex disabilities, sending many of them to for-profit entities with little oversight, leading to instances of mistreatment and abuse.

In housing news, the Pierce County Council will vote next Tuesday on an affordable housing sales tax. The county needs more funding for affordable housing, and even though a sales tax is a regressive tax, it’s the best available option the council has to generate additional revenue for affordable housing projects. The tax will require five votes to pass from the Council that includes four Democrats and three Republicans. In other Pierce County Council news, Crystal and Matt discuss the retirement of Council Chair Derek Young. They explore his political career, talk about his impact, and share their appreciation for how he handled the responsibility of being an elected leader.

The trend of dangerous, sometimes violent protests against drag shows and drag story time events came to Renton this week, which saw a local brewery get shot at before their Drag Queen Story Hour event on Thursday. It’s part of an increase of anti-LGBT and antisemitic hatred and violence happening across the country. The incident in Renton comes alongside concerning reporting from KUOW revealing that the electrical grid in Oregon and Western Washington has been attacked six times since mid-November, with at least two of the attacks resembling the incident in North Carolina last Saturday. It's a foreboding sign of the rise of domestic terrorism in this country fueled by right-wing hate.

About the Guest

Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll is metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma.

Find Matt Driscoll on Twitter/X at @mattsdriscoll.


TPD officer testifies that Troyer reported no death threat to him. Next, defense's turn.” by Jared Brown from The News Tribune

WA’s schools are failing students with complex disabilities. It’s happening in Tacoma too.” by Matt Driscoll from The News Tribune

“‘Kids Seem to Be a Paycheck’: How a Billion-Dollar Corporation Exploits Washington’s Special Education System” by Lulu Ramadan, Mike Reicher and Taylor Blatchford from ProPublica

At Washington special education schools, years of abuse complaints and lack of academics” by Mike Reicher & Lulu Ramadan from The Seattle Times

Pierce County needs an affordable housing sales tax. Will it get one next week?” by Matt Driscoll from The News Tribune

Pierce County Council Member Derek Young Retires from Politics for Unknown Future” by Sara Thompson from Key Peninsula News

Renton Brewery Shot Up before Drag Queen Story Hour” by Will Casey from The Stranger

String of electrical grid attacks in Pacific Northwest are unsolved” by Conrad Wilson & John Ryan from KUOW


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full text 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 with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's cohost: metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll.

[00:00:56] Matt Driscoll: Hello, thanks for having me - it's good to be back.

[00:00:59] Crystal Fincher: It's great to have you back - enjoyed your commentary and insight last time, excited for it today. Well, there's a lot of news that we need to get to this week. I think the first thing that we will start off with a recap of is the trial of Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer. What is he on trial for and what has happened so far?

[00:01:23] Matt Driscoll: Yeah. Well, first just a shout out to my colleague, Jared Brown, who's been in court covering this thing, following it on Twitter, and writing daily recaps - they've just been doing an incredible job in the courthouse. But yeah, our sheriff down here in Pierce County, Ed Troyer, he's on trial for two misdemeanor counts - one of false reporting and another of making a false or misleading statement. The reality of this - in general terms, if this was anyone else is - if convicted, he's facing maybe a little bit of community service and maybe a fine of some sort. It's not a big deal, in the sense of he was just an average person. But of course, it is a very big deal because he's our sheriff down here in Pierce County and there are a lot of complicated aspects of this case.

Just to - if folks aren't following the case or haven't heard, which I kind of doubt at this point, but basically this all stems from an interaction he had with a newspaper delivery carrier. It's been so long now - I don't even remember exactly when that was, but I guess it was January - looking it up now - of 2021. A Black newspaper carrier in his neighborhood - Troyer basically saw him, thought he looked suspicious, started following him around. Confrontation ensued, Troyer ended up summoning a police response saying he had been threatened. It sparked a massive response, which was quickly kind of downgraded to a smaller response. But still, the bottom line was you had a huge police response, guns-drawn situation with a Black newspaper carrier who felt in danger for his life. And so that story, thanks to the reporting of folks at The Seattle Times and then at The News Tribune, got a lot of attention and led to the governor calling for an investigation into it. And eventually it led from charges from the state AG's office. So there's no charges down here locally, but Bob Ferguson jumped in and filed these misdemeanor charges. And that was a long time ago, and we're finally at the trial now. So we've been following it here for a couple of weeks - jury selection took a while, and now we're into actual testimony. And actually, Ed Troyer was on the trial, or on the stand, yesterday. So that was the latest interesting event in an interesting case, that's probably the most high-profile misdemeanor trial I can recall.

[00:04:01] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. So Ed Troyer is an elected sheriff, not an appointed sheriff, like currently exists in King County - also makes just the issue of accountability more challenging. It's not a situation where - in the midst of this, there were inconsistencies that were revealed between Ed Troyer's initial account and what actually seems to have taken place, or what ended up in the police report about this. And in those situations, often - I won't say oftentimes - but in other situations, sometimes that could lead to accountability or discipline locally. That's a whole different issue when you have an elected public official and not someone who is subject to interdepartmental discipline or anything like that. So this trial is basically the accountability lever and - to the point of independent oversight - had to be initiated externally, because it wasn't happening just from the agencies in the jurisdiction. The prosecution presented their case and rested. The defense is now presenting their case. There were questions about whether Ed Troyer would take the stand in his defense. He has done so. And up until this point, where we're recording on Friday morning, the defense questioned him and now he is getting ready to face questioning from the prosecution. So we will see how this turns out, we will continue to follow this along. I don't think the trial is expected to last more than a few more days before it goes to the jury. Is that correct?

[00:05:45] Matt Driscoll: It's been slow going - I think that's the expectation. They don't - there are no trials on Friday, no trial on Friday - so the next action will be Monday. You'll have the state cross-examining Troyer. And I should mention - that was a shoddy recap, I guess - because I've been living it down here in Pierce County for so long, it just feels like coming up. But the crux of this case basically is - when Troyer summoned police response, he said that his life had been threatened. And then when cops arrived, he told them that wasn't the case. So that's the crux of it - is whether he made a false statement, a false report that summoned this huge police response. It's almost like a swatting, mini-swatting situation. So it kind of hinges on that. At the end of the day, I think, there's going to be a big burden on the state to prove that this was more than - and I guess I'm a columnist, I can share these sorts of opinions - whether this was more than Ed Troyer being stupid, right? Like I think it's established that - what he, at least in my mind - his actions on that morning were not the smartest thing to do and were not what he should have done. But is that criminal or not? I think that's going to be that's kind of the crux of it. And I think it's going to be interesting to see what the jury decides there. My gut tells me it's going to be difficult, just given the nature of things to get all jurors to agree one way or the other, but we'll see. And that's why we follow it.

[00:07:20] Crystal Fincher: It is why we follow it. Certainly I'm sitting here as a Black woman, who has seen these situations unfold, and feels that this newsletter, newspaper carrier was fortunate to escape this situation with his life. The kind of call and the kind of accusation made initially in the call is the kind of pretext to death and shootings - shootings called justified because they felt that they were threatened, particularly from Black men. So this call was - if this indeed happened the way it's alleged to or appear to have happened, was a risk to this Black man's life. And by just doing his job - to have someone who felt uncomfortable with this Black person in their neighborhood - followed them, basically stalked them down the street, and then initiated a confrontation - is just beyond the pale. And one, for anyone in that situation - he could have been any other resident on the street calling and saying their life was threatened by this person, and it would invite a massive police response - certainly for the sheriff of the entire jurisdiction. And is this behavior that we want to see, that we are comfortable with from the head of all law enforcement in that jurisdiction - even in the most charitable interpretation of this possible, which you kind of recap, where he's just being ignorant and ridiculous. Do we want this ignorance leading this agency? Is this the head that we want? Regardless of the outcome of this trial, I think those are important questions to examine and ask - for us to ask ourself - where is the bar that we hold elected officials and public safety officials to? And I personally feel that Pierce County deserves better, but we'll see how this trial turns out and we'll continue to follow it throughout.

Also want to talk about a story that you talked about - that came from ProPublica, The Seattle Times also wrote about it - but about Washington schools failing students with complex disabilities. What's happening here and what have you seen in Tacoma?

[00:09:52] Matt Driscoll: Yeah. I mean, this is just an incredible story. And first and foremost - I guess I did this last time too - but credit where credit's due - the reporting team there on Seattle Times and ProPublica on this story. It's just a jaw-dropping story. This is one of those stories where my wife and I were sitting - because they'd hit on Saturdays - and we're sitting around in the living room and she's actually reading the excerpts from the story because we're in such disbelief of what's transpiring. But the long and short of it is basically the state is obligated to provide basic education to students with complex disabilities. They're required to require basic education to all students, but including those with disabilities. And in certain cases, you've got children, students with disabilities that make it really difficult, if not impossible, to do that in a standard classroom or a standard school building. Districts across the state have done a lot of work to try to integrate students with disabilities as much as possible into regular classrooms. As a parent of a child with disabilities, I know the system well. But in some cases, when you're talking about - sometimes severe behavior stuff, sometimes it's medical, feeding tubes - any number of things that can require a situation where - what the state needs to provide can't be done in a classroom.

So, long story short, districts don't have a lot of money. We don't fund education anywhere near as much as we should, and they have this obligation to serve these students. So what has transpired basically is a system that we've created in the state where these students are often - that work is outsourced to other schools. Many times they're for-profit schools - they're publicly-funded private schools, so private entities that then receive state funding to do this work. Districts send their challenging students there, the students that need this there. But with the story, the ProPublica-Seattle Times piece really revealed is just the incredible lack of oversight that happens there. It's basically on the districts to monitor each of their students, and the oversight from the state as a whole is really lax. Maybe districts know what's going on with their individual kids. Maybe they've got a couple in these situations, but the full picture is really hard to see. And that's what this investigation revealed. And what it revealed, shockingly enough, is that when you welcome in for-profit entities to serve our most vulnerable children, bad stuff happens sometimes.

And there's some really bad stuff in this story. Some allegations of abuse and mistreatment, just some anecdotes that I won't - you should read the story, but some of the situations painted specifically in one of these schools, the Northwest, the acronym is SOIL - I'm going to of course forget what it stands for at the moment - but it's the largest one of these in the states. It's got three campuses, including one in Tacoma. Long story short, Tacoma has relied heavily on this school in particular over the years, going back to 2015. It has sent basically more funding to this Northwest SOIL school than any district in the state by a wide margin. And the unsatisfying answer here is - when talking to district officials, it's essentially - this is the system we have. It's not great. We would like to see it better, but we don't have the means to serve these students and we're reliant upon it. And so that's a really unsatisfying answer. It's an unsatisfying answer to parents, I'm sure, but I think the bigger picture is until we reimagine them and blow up this system we've created in this state, where we're essentially outsourcing this work to for-profit corporations and publicly-funded private schools where - we basically welcome situations like this, in my opinion. So that was a lot of rambling, but this story, it pissed me off. It makes me really, really mad.

[00:14:10] Crystal Fincher: It's a shame. And the state unquestionably has a responsibility to provide an appropriate education, in the least restrictive means possible, to all students - including those with disabilities and complex disabilities. Funding has been a continual conversation in this. And the fact is these programs don't currently exist in public schools to the degree they need to serve all the entire population of students, including those with complex disabilities, because they don't have the funding to implement and support those. And as we see too often in these situations, if you ask me, for-profit companies then are there to fill that gap, they say. But what we see is that when profit is a main driver and not an outcome from a student is the main driver - predictably, obviously - we're going to see profit prioritized ahead of these students. And we're seeing them in these situations with shocking and abhorrent and abusive and harmful consequences. And are we comfortable? In the column that you wrote, you asked a very appropriate question. Are we comfortable abdicating our responsibility as the state to for-profit entities who already have a record that is troubling? Are we comfortable with this? Because this is the system that we have and there are reasons, multiple reasons, to be uncomfortable. Are we prepared to confront the questions about funding that are related to this? Are we prepared to meet the responsibility as the state ourselves, or continue to check a box saying - oh, we handed the student over to the Northwest SOIL School, which seems like an appropriate acronym at this point in time.

[00:16:12] Matt Driscoll: School of Innovative Learning, that's what it is.

[00:16:16] Crystal Fincher: Yes, and so it's just really troubling. Right now, there are no other options - so families are faced with the prospect of their kids not getting their constitutionally mandated education, or sending them someplace where they're at risk - that's the plain truth - where they're at risk. They're certainly at greater risk than in the school setting and other settings for abuse. But if they're in another setting, they're at risk of not getting an appropriate education. That is a choice that no family should have or should face, and we have a responsibility to do better. We have to talk about revenue. We have to talk about funding as part of that. And I hope the Legislature takes this seriously and meaningfully addresses this deficit and these challenges, because it's going to take action there to help solve this. But man, this is troubling. I'm happy you wrote about it. I'm happy that ProPublica and The Seattle Times did this piece, with so much investigation and legwork that it took - just really troubling. We owe our kids, all of our kids, a better education than this. We can do better.

[00:17:34] Matt Driscoll: No, you're exactly right. And I think your prescription for what needs to happen is exactly right too - that's one of the frustrating things - talking to the local district. I felt obligated to call Tacoma and basically be like - you read this story, WTF. But you do that, right? And it's not a problem that they can solve by themselves - they can't, given the current structure, provide the services that they need to because they don't have the money and they don't have the staffing and they don't have the resources to do it. So Tacoma can't solve it alone. The Seattle schools can't solve it alone. It really does require a state response and really a complete rethinking of the way we serve these students - and most of all, bags and bags of money. And you would hope that reading something like this would inspire us to have those difficult conversations and would inspire that change. But the political realities of it make me fear that we're going to take half measures, we're going to increase our oversight of these - when what I really think we need to do is blow it up and work on the thing. Because the only option is not just for-profit. There are schools that do this work that are not for-profit. There are other ways to do this. So there's a school in Puyallup - I think it's the Olympic Academy or Olympic something or other, and this is really wonky stuff - but basically there are education regions and they can band together and they can create these schools - and it's not a for-profit thing, there's more oversight, there's more involvement, there's more district involvement. So it's not an unsolvable problem - what it takes is political will and a lot of money.

[00:19:25] Crystal Fincher: That is true. And once again to reinforce, they're constitutionally mandated to provide this. If our constitution means anything, then that should motivate working to fix this problem.

Also want to cover an issue that you also wrote about - Pierce County needs an affordable housing tax. It is going to be up for a vote in front of the Pierce County Council next week. What will this do? And is it going to pass?

[00:19:57] Matt Driscoll: No, I don't think so. But first I want to just get your - as a King County person, are you shocked by the fact Pierce County does not have this tax? Because most people, many counties do. This is not like some rare thing. Is it mind-boggling to you to hear that we're still fighting in Pierce County about whether or not we should build affordable housing?

[00:20:20] Crystal Fincher: Well, I may be a bit more familiar with Pierce County than a lot of people, so I find it not surprising at all in any kind of way. I think Pierce County is moving closer to there. Are they at the point where they're ready to pass this now? Questionable. But this problem is just getting so much worse for everybody that it's getting undeniable. And we are seeing, more and more, that voters are voting for people who are saying that they're going to take action. And seeing pressure even from entities who traditionally rail against any kind of taxes - no matter what kind of benefits they have, especially if people with money need to pay more taxes - that they're feeling pressure to at least come up with rhetoric saying that they want to address this problem. Because before, several years ago, I think people were comfortable not addressing this at all, or maybe not characterizing this as a problem for everyone. That's not possible anymore. This is a problem for everyone. And so now it's just the question, what are they going to do about it? And is this something that they feel moved to do? But just backing up a little bit -

[00:21:34] Matt Driscoll: Let me answer your original question - I apologize. But yeah, so basically, it's a one-tenth of 1% sales tax in Pierce County, which would raise about $20 million a year - estimated - cost the average Pierce County resident about $16 a year, that then that money could be used for affordable housing or related services. Tacoma already has this tax, so we already do it here in Tacoma. A number of cities and counties across the state already do it - conservative and liberal - I don't know the exact numbers off the top of my head, but I know Wenatchee has it. Ellensburg has it. Spokane has it. Snohomish has it. Thurston has it. As you pointed out, I think we've passed the point of this being a problem that elected leaders feel comfortable ignoring. I think they know they can't ignore it.

So in Pierce County, to pass this tax, what it's going to take is a supermajority on the Pierce County Council. So current makeup on the council is four Democrats, three Republicans. In my opinion, as a columnist, the reason that you've seen Pierce County move closer, as you alluded to, is because we do have a Democratic majority on the Pierce County Council now. So I think that's sped up some of these talks, some of this action. We do have a Republican Executive in Bruce Dammeier. But regardless, it's going to take five votes, by our charter, to get a tax passed - so they're going to need a Republican to side with the Democrats to pass this tax. It was passed out of committee last Tuesday. It'll be voted on on the 13th if it all goes as scheduled. And I anticipate a split vote - I think this is going to be a 4-3 vote. I think this is going to be very similar, for those who follow it - in Pierce County, our long trod towards enacting a behavioral health sales tax, which is very similar. It was a very similar situation. Counties, cities across the state already had it. It's money that goes to behavioral health services, mental health and addiction services. Pierce County drug our feet for years. We literally debated it for years and years and years. And we finally were able to get that fifth vote on the council to make it happen in 2021. So it took a very long time. I anticipate this is going to be a very similar thing.

I think what's going to happen is, Democrats are going to make the case next week. It's going to be a rock solid case because anyone who looks around, I think, can see where home prices are, where housing prices are, our lack of affordable housing. I think the estimate by the county's own plan to address housing is they need something like 50,000 units affordable to those at 50% of area median income or below by 2044 just to meet the need, which doesn't even consider the housing that's needed to meet those above 50% of area median income, which is very low. I don't know Pierce County area median income off the top of my head, but it's it's usually around $50,000-60,000 depending on whether you're looking at individuals or families. This is not a wealthy county. This is hitting us hard. This is hitting us in Tacoma. This is hitting us in rural places. It's clear we need some sort of answer from the county - both to build the housing itself, and to help get federal money to address the problem. But no, I don't think it's going to pass yet. I think it's going to take a long time. I think the Republicans are going to express the things they're uneasy about, and they're going to go through the process of trying to answer those questions. I also anticipate it becoming more of a political football.

If you follow Pierce County - listeners - clearly, you're very familiar with Pierce County, so I don't mean to suggest you're not - but for listeners, I know sometimes it seems like a weird, far off place. There's a micro home village for the chronically homeless that Republican County Executive Bruce Dammeier and his team very much wants to build. There are some questions about what the funding would look like for that. The current plan, as it's been described as basically a one-time investment of ARPA funds and then hands it over to private folks and donations. I think one thing that's going to - that you might see - is Democrats saying, if you want to build this, we need the tax. I wouldn't be surprised to see that. I also think it's just going to be one of those long bureaucratic processes where the Republicans need to prove to their base that they're not gung ho for a new tax, and they need to be won over, and they need all these guardrails that we talk about to ensure that the money is spent wisely and yada, yada, yada. I think eventually we'll get there, but I don't anticipate it Tuesday. So it was a long answer, but I think that's where things stand.

[00:26:21] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think that's a decent read of the situation. What I would say -

[00:26:25] Matt Driscoll: Decent, decent!

[00:26:26] Crystal Fincher: I think it's a great, accurate read of the situation. I was about to say - I think you nailed it with its parallel to the behavioral health tax issue and debate, and how lengthy that was. And I think that's also instructive - for those who do want to see this implemented - on how to get that passed. As you talked about in your column, the pressure from the public was instrumental in getting that tax passed. And I think it will be instrumental in addressing this issue. And so for those who are listening, for the public out there - it is really important to contact your County councilmembers, to contact your elected leaders - even if you feel they're not inclined to vote for this, or if they are, to let them know what your situation and circumstance are, to let them hear your story. Anecdotes actually go a far way, a long way in addressing issues like this. A lot of times people don't understand the specific pain that is being felt by people put in these situations - how it impacts seniors on fixed incomes, veterans, those who are dealing with families with complex needs, the disabled community. People who are among the most vulnerable and in need of protection, who are some of the people who are least likely to be able to just meet an increase with a raise at work - if they're not working, if they're retired, if they're in different industries that are not keeping up with this kind of thing.

A sales tax, I think across the board, you will find it's no one's favorite tax to implement. To be clear, it is a regressive tax. It is also the only lever that the county is afforded in this situation to be able to solve this. And until there are different avenues opened up at the state level, this is what the county is left with to be able to address this problem. And I think my read of the situation - a lot of people's read - is that this is the time to do everything possible at all levels to address this crisis, because it is a crisis. So it'll be interesting to see how this unfolds. It'll be interesting to hear, particularly what the Republican members of the council do say, as they deliberate this and discuss this in their meeting and in the public - and how they answer the concerns that their residents have. So we'll continue to follow this story also.

[00:29:02] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I agree. And just one quick point on that process - this is Hacks & Wonks. I was talking to some folks about the - why now, why we're doing it. And I think there is an importance, even if the tax isn't - even if it's not going to pass this time, I think it's helpful from a political standpoint to get the folks on that council on the record to say what their position is and why they're either supporting it or in some cases not supporting it, because that's exactly what we saw with the behavioral health sales tax is - once you publicly have that conversation and say what you would need to - because again, no one can deny the problem. Say what you would need to get there to support something like this - that kind of gets the ball rolling and you can start answering some of those questions. So I think it's, even if it doesn't pass next week, I think it's a starting point and it's a good first step.

[00:29:56] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely agree. Another item I want to talk about today is with someone who the listeners of Hacks & Wonks are probably familiar with, because he has been a prior guest - is Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young is about to complete his final term on the Pierce County Council. He is being term-limited out and is stepping down and away from public life. And so I just wanted to just take a moment and see what your reflections on Derek and his term have been. How did you find his time in office to be?

[00:30:37] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, it's an interesting discussion for me, in comparison for me, because he's been on the council for eight years now. So basically he arrived at his position about the same time that I arrived as a metro news columnist at The News Tribune. I'd been working at The Seattle Weekly previous to that, still lived down here - but so basically our tenure overlaps. So I basically covered him the whole eight years of his time on the council. And for Derek, for those who don't know - maybe it's been mentioned on the show - but he was essentially like the Parks and Rec's boy mayor of Gig Harbor on the council. I forget how young he was when he was first elected to the Gig Harbor City Council, but he was quite young. He did that and then later he ran for Pierce County Council and he's been there for eight years. So listen, from a journalism perspective, from a news perspective, I think we like to keep sources at an arm's length. We need to maintain skepticism, right? We can't become best friends with the people we cover. And certainly, Derek and I are not best friends by any means - but I will say - you interact with a lot of people in this job and you talk to a lot of people and you talk to a lot of politicians. And a lot of times they are, you can tell they're just feeding you soundbites, feeding you hot air, feeding you what the research says they should say. And Derek, I have just always found to be - one, he's really sharp on the policy stuff. He's one of those people that - I think it takes a special kind of person to get really into the mechanics of governments and just be really into it - excited about the procedures and the policy, but he's one of those people. He's really smart at that stuff and I just think he's really reasonable and really sensible, and those are things I appreciate in a leader.

One thing about Derek is - there was a time when he was a Republican. And then he has since become a Democrat - now he's been a Democrat for many years now - but Pierce County is an interesting place, right? We've got Tacoma, which is this urban, progressive hub, and then you've got the rest of the county. And the bottom line with the rest of the county is it is either very moderate or red. And Derek is one of these people that can walk the line, that can get progressive things done in a county like Pierce County. And I think there's something to be said for that. I think we talked about the behavioral health tax already. I think Derek's a key reason that we got that. I think we're bringing up the affordable housing tax now, in part, because Derek's ending his term and they want to get a vote with him, even though his predecessor will likely - or the person who, I don't know, I always get those words mixed up - but the person who's filling his seat will likely vote the same way. I think it's as an honor to him - just the work he's done - they want to get a vote in before he leaves. So I think he's accomplished a lot.

I think a lot of what he's accomplished has been behind closed doors in that kind of wonky way, that government work. I don't know how long we have to talk about this, but I was talking to Derek just last week about - I had an issue with a vote he took back in 2015 that would have allowed big box retailers up in Fredrickson. And I was all ready to rip him up on it because I was writing about Canyon Road and the way that has sprawl that's created. And I called him up and he was like - well, actually two years later we reversed that. It didn't get a lot of promotion because I didn't want to spike the football, but we were able to reverse that through just basic government maneuvering, the kind of stuff that most people don't see. And he's really good at that kind of stuff. So I think it's been a successful tenure and it'll be interesting to see what he does from here.

[00:34:50] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And from my perspective, especially looking at the politics of things, I think Derek is one of the forces most responsible for the Democratic representation and the increase in Democratic representation that we've seen in Pierce County, certainly on the Pierce County Council. He has always prioritized developing leaders, recruiting leaders, and supporting other leaders. Like you said, a lot of his work has been done behind the scenes, which is absolutely true. And I don't think people really understand how much work he has done, both to build Democratic leadership in Pierce County and just on the nuts and bolts of building better communities. One of the cities doing the best job in the state, actually, in meeting their comprehensive plan goals to accept density is Gig Harbor. It's not an accident that that comes in the wake of the work that Derek Young did in Gig Harbor. And just understanding the nuts and bolts of building community, of understanding how you have to adequately plan for growth - or else there are lots of consequences - how regional planning is important to local outcomes and results in feeling that responsibility.

Absolutely, I don't think the behavioral health tax would have passed without him. And doing meaningful stuff - he has taken his responsibility as a steward of public health for the county seriously. And has had to fight against a lot of opposition and weird forces, including through the pandemic, to maintain the capacity and ability to deliver on that responsibility. So I just appreciate his thoughtfulness. We don't agree on everything, but the one thing that I always find is that he's coming with a great understanding after a lot of conversations with folks in and throughout the community, that he is not making decisions simply based on emotion or rhetoric or what's popular, that he's really thoughtful and processes information and community needs in a really serious way, and really focused on outcomes and accountability - and I think that has shown. And so as I see him leaving, it certainly leaves a legacy that I think he can be proud of and that others are building upon. I think Gig Harbor and Pierce County are better off for Derek Young having served. So I just wanted to take a moment to talk about that and say I personally appreciate what he has done, and see him as an example for others to follow as they look at being an elected official in public leadership.

[00:38:02] Matt Driscoll: Well said. I'm not going to gush about the guy on record - I just think that I'd lose street cred as a journalist if I just, if I just gushed. But yeah, he's very thoughtful and I've enjoyed covering it. It's been - it's funny to see - eight years of the overlap that we've had, but I've enjoyed talking to him. He's been a good source. You can always call him and he'll explain something to you, which I always appreciate because I do the Columbo thing, right - where it's - oh, walk me through this. And he'll always walk you through it. And those land use things, he's really sharp on those sorts of things. So yeah, I agree 100%.

[00:38:36] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And he's younger than a lot of people who wind up long political careers, because he did start at 21 in Gig Harbor. So excited to see what is next for him.

Now, a troubling story this week. One of a few troubling stories, frankly, but there was a Renton brewery that was shot up before a drag queen story hour. This is a story that we're seeing unfold across the country, and we're not immune from it here in Washington state. There are a number of drag queen story hours. This one in Renton was one that caught people's attention, that actually had a lot of chatter online about it from right-wing sources railing against this. There's been a lot of unfortunate, inaccurate characterization of people who are just existing as trans people in the drag community - and characterizing them and people who patronize, support, associate with them - as "groomers" or "pedophiles," or somehow degenerate, morally unfit - blah, blah, blah, blah. This being used as a political tool by many people - attracting a lot of hate speech, threats of violence, dehumanizing speech - which we all know incites violence. And predictably, this has incited violence. Now there's no absolute clear tie. We don't know who did fire this shot into this brewery, but we are seeing a familiar pattern of hateful rhetoric, violent rhetoric - followed by violent action. We've seen it at hospitals that treat the trans community and trans children. We've seen it at other drag story, drag queen story hours, and now we're seeing it here. To be clear, these stories - it is literally a story hour - it's just a drag queen reading some stories.

There is this assertion by right-wing forces that basically just existing as a drag queen - and they also say for the trans community and it's extending to the entire gay community really - that just existing in drag is inherently sexual and immoral, which is not the case. That's like saying just existing in a heterosexual existence and in particular type of clothing is inherently sexual. It is not, but that is the assertion here and it's being used to pass laws in different states to basically keep people from being able to fully participate in society and to ostracize them. This is part of a coordinated effort and goal that we are seeing, and it looks like violence and really this is terrorism. This is politically motivated violence, is part of the overall strategies and tactics that are being used by right-wing forces to fight against this. This happened in Renton. This attracted a lot of sympathy and support obviously from the community coming together to say this is unacceptable. We support you. There's a talk about a rally to support that in the community. There's no question that the broader community finds this unacceptable and abhorrent.

The question is - how diligent are we going to be as a society and are investigative and law enforcement entities going to be in combating this? I think that's the question before us right now as a community - how intense are we going to be in standing against this? But it's unacceptable. I am not shocked certainly, but dismayed to see this happen locally in Renton, as it's happening across the country. And I'm dismayed at the acceptance of blatant hate and dehumanization of certain groups, whether it's the drag community, folks within the LGBTQ community - principally the trans community at this point in time. I think this is absolutely related to the rise in anti-Semitic talk that we see openly, and accepted, and that's being platformed around this country. Openly racist talk - we are seeing a renaissance of hate, and it is really dismaying. And it's going to take people not tolerating this in all of the spaces that they are in. If someone's making a joke as you're at the gym, if you're talking with your friends, if you're at work - wherever you're at, we can't tolerate jokes. We can't tolerate casual statements of hate. We can't tolerate dehumanization and othering and we have to make it absolutely clear that it's unacceptable to say that in our presence. People who espouse hate should be more uncomfortable doing that than they currently are, and we all have a role to play in that happening. Wondering what your take is on this, Matt?

[00:44:18] Matt Driscoll: Well, just a hard pro sign I guess on everything you just said. I think you summed it up really well. I guess I feel obligated to note that I've read the story about this. I don't know everything about this specific instance, but I think broadly speaking - the picture you paint is 100% accurate. You see hate, I think you see it fomenting online. I think you see the way that that turns into real action and real harm and real danger and real terrorism. I do think that this constitutes as terrorism when things like this happen. And going back to a conversation we had before we started recording - obviously, you alluded to other places across the country where you've seen laws passed and those sorts of things and certainly those things are happening, but I think a big part of this is - you called it a renaissance of hate and I think these are desperate actions by people who are losing. I mean I think they're losing, and I think they know it and they feel it - and I think that this leads to - and this doesn't excuse any of it, just in case that's not incredibly clear - but I think they're desperate and it generates hate speech. And when you add in the internet where people are able to silo themselves off and the stuff just grows and grows and grows and grows, it eventually - and none of us should be shocked by this - it eventually jumps off the screen and moves into real life. And people get hurt, and people get killed, and lives are altered, and lives are taken. So yeah, I agree with you. I think the general level of acceptance of this sort of stuff in our society, and the way we talk about it, and the way we report on it, and the way we discuss it, and the way we think about it - needs to be more clear just how unacceptable it is.

[00:46:27] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely agree. And to the point you were just discussing and we discussed earlier - they are losing. They are absolutely losing. I think one thing that we do need to recognize is that when it comes to marginalized populations gaining rights in this country - and there are another number of countries where this precedent has been set, but we don't need to look any further than this country - terrorism has been employed as a response to that. Okay, we can't do it at the ballot box, we're losing - so we're just going to enact violence to attempt to fulfill our needs. I mean there was a statement made in North Carolina that these acts of violence and terrorism will continue to happen as long as drag queen story hours exist - it's a pretty clear statement of motivation and intent. And we need to not be surprised by this, but be prepared for it. And to effectively fight against it at all levels - to hold our elected officials accountable for fighting against it, to hold our institutions accountable for fighting against it, and to hold ourselves accountable for fighting against it - in all of the spaces that we inhabit, all the places that we are, and the people who we associate with in any way. That this is unacceptable in all of its forms because we're not done with this. It's predictable that it was going to happen. We know that rhetoric like this results in violence and it's escalating. And either we're gonna take steps to counteract it or we're in for a lot more. We have to address this. And related to that - seemingly, are stories about attacks on our electrical grid here in the Pacific Northwest as we saw back East. We have had attacks on our electrical grid here in the Pacific Northwest. What has happened with these attacks?

[00:48:35] Matt Driscoll: Yeah. Certainly I've just been - I think this is one of the - I know as a news person you get this weird kind of callous nature where you're like - oh man, this is a really interesting story - when it's actually a terrifying story, a really alarming story. But yeah, this story is all of those things, and I've just followed it like anyone - but basically, what we're seeing is what appear to be at least somewhat coordinated attacks on power grids across the country. I forget - where was the, was it Carolinas that - yeah. So and then we've had some up in this area as well - I think it was - KUOW did a really good kind of look into what's happening. And again - similar - going back to your point, I've just read the stories everyone else read, but certainly what seems to be happening - at least to some extent - is extremist online groups being involved with encouraging and instructing folks how to do this. And the people who follow online extremist groups then going out and doing it. And I want to be careful - because I, again, I've just read this item - we don't have an exact answer to what's going on yet, so I don't want to jump to conclusions. But I do think we can say that you know there does seem to be some online extremist group involvement with this to - helping to perpetuate it - and people are doing it across the country. And it's terrifying, not just because of the prospect of losing power and what that could do - and when we talk about losing power, we're talking about a whole lot more than just your lights going off. There's a lot of fairly obvious reasons why electricity is very - it's crucial to a lot of folks, including in medical situations and what have you, but it's again - it's just terrifying for the way you see just belligerent hate, the kind of hate that if you encountered it in-person, it would be like one person ranting lunacy on a corner. But online, the way people can self-select and can group, it becomes incredibly, incredibly dangerous. So yeah, I think there are similarities between this story and the one we just talked about in the way that online extremism seems to be playing a role in it.

[00:51:08] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And it was in North Carolina - after gunfire attacks on two electrical substations - resulted in tens of thousands of people being out of power for days. This was not a brief interruption - schools were closed, traffic lights were dark, people who relied on refrigerated medication had it spoil. It is a horribly disruptive situation - our society runs on power at this point in time, and this was an attack on that. Here locally, there were six separate attacks in Washington and Oregon - the Bonneville Power Administration, Puget Sound Energy, Cowlitz County Public Utility have reported different attacks involving cutting through fences into these facilities, attacking infrastructure with gunfire, setting fires - really seems to be employing a number of the same tactics that we saw in North Carolina. And across these six different attacks here in Washington and Oregon - employing similar tactics across those attacks - so this seems to be a coordinated effort that we're seeing. Some of these resulted in more disruptive power losses than others. This doesn't seem to be some super sophisticated entity doing sophisticated things to disrupt this - these are people crudely breaking in, shooting up these facilities. It does invite questions about what can be done to harden the security of these facilities, where else may we be vulnerable - there are lots of conversations about just our infrastructure in our community for basic services and what can be done to better protect those, because evidently there are groups that are seeing those as principal and primary targets, no matter how many people it impacts. And it does seem like this tactic has now shifted to - we're targeting specific communities, but we're willing to make sure everyone feels pain in order to try and help achieve our goals. And it's causing pain, and we're - this is the tip of the iceberg, it seems. And either we do something to intervene right now, or we see this get a lot worse. The FBI has declined to comment on whether or not they're investigating these, but it's an issue and we've had several attacks here locally and it's just troubling.

[00:54:08] Matt Driscoll: It's, yeah - troubling is the word for it, I would say. It's just, it's so fascinating on a lot of levels because as you mentioned, sometimes you see terrorism and it has a really specific target - and kind of the purpose of it can - you see it. With this, it's almost just chaos. It's almost just like the unraveling of society around us. I think you're right - the sole purpose of it is to inflict just damage, just widespread damage and it's almost - it's not specific, it's just trying to disrupt and harm people and create havoc and chaos for - from a small, small minority of people - assuming what we have is accurate with the ties that - again, feel desperate and are led to do desperate things. So yeah, the year 2022 - the year we had to start guarding our electric grids.

[00:55:17] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely.

[00:55:18] Matt Driscoll: If you had that on your bingo card, I guess, you win.

[00:55:22] Crystal Fincher: I hope we don't have it on the 2023 bingo card - I will tell you that much - I would love to nip this in the bud and get real clear that this is unacceptable everywhere.

And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, December 9th, 2022. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today is metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll. You can find Matt on Twitter at @mattsdriscoll - that's two L's at the end. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter at @HacksWonks, and you can find me at @finchfrii, with two I's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. 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.