Week in Review: January 19, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank

Week in Review: January 19, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank!

Crystal and Robert dive into the open machinations of the big corporate donors to appoint their preferred candidate to a Seattle City Council vacancy and how the messy process has leached its way into Seattle School Board politics. They then discuss the qualification of a right-wing initiative to dismantle the state’s plan to take on the climate crisis.

Robert gives a rare kudos to The Seattle Times for their presentation of a debate over homeless encampments, they both are dismayed at the depressing and infuriating news that the Tacoma officers in the Manuel Ellis case are getting paid $500k each to voluntarily leave the police department, and the show rounds out with analysis of some media’s treatment of AG Ferguson’s lawsuit to block a merger between Kroger and Albertsons.

About the Guest

Robert Cruickshank

Robert Cruickshank is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle and a long-time communications & political strategist.

Find Robert Cruickshank on Twitter/X at @cruickshank.


RE-AIR: The Big Waterfront Bamboozle with Mike McGinn and Robert Cruickshank from Hacks & Wonks

Harrell Administration Consultant Tim Ceis Urges Businesses to Back Tanya Woo for Open Council Seat” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

Business, labor lobby for open seat on Seattle City Council” by David Kroman from The Seattle Times

Seattle City Council candidate has residency conflict in School Board role” by Claire Bryan from The Seattle Times

Initiative 2117 (repealing Washington's Climate Commitment Act) gets certified” by Andrew Villeneuve from The Cascadia Advocate

‘Should Seattle remove encampments?’ Advocates debate” by Greg Kim from The Seattle Times

Tacoma cops acquitted in death of Manuel Ellis will get $500K each to resign, city says” by Peter Talbot from The News Tribune

Kroger-Albertsons merger would hike grocery prices, create near monopolies in some Washington communities, AG says” by Helen Smith from KING 5

WA suit to block Kroger-Albertsons merger gets cheers, raised eyebrows” by Paul Roberts from The Seattle Times

Find stories that Crystal is reading here

Listen on your favorite podcast app to all our episodes here


[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 walks 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. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get full versions of our Tuesday topical show and our Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. 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 week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, one of our audience favorites, and today's co-host: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank.

[00:01:12] Robert Cruickshank: Hey - thanks for having me on again, Crystal.

[00:01:14] Crystal Fincher: Hey, excited to have you on again - here in 2024. Well, we've got a lot to talk about - things are getting spicy in the City of Seattle, with regards to this upcoming Seattle City Council appointment to replace Teresa Mosqueda's seat. Because Teresa was elected to the King County Council, which created a vacancy - so now it needs to be filled. So what happened this week?

[00:01:38] Robert Cruickshank: Well, I think a lot has happened with the machinations around this appointment process - and in fact, things we're learning about how the new regime at City Hall is conducting itself - and they come together. I think this is basically Tim Ceis - who is former deputy mayor to Greg Nickels back in the 2000s, corporate lobbyist, close to established power in Seattle - and Council President Sara Nelson, who, of course, just became council president after the new council with a bunch of her allies got sworn in at the beginning of the month. They seem to be conducting a purge of anyone progressive in the City Hall, in City staff, and are determined to consolidate power around what is actually, I think, a fairly radical agenda for the city that most voters didn't really actually select, especially when it comes to cutting taxes for big businesses and slashing public services. But in order to try to achieve that, they know that they need to try to push out and keep out anyone who might disagree, anyone who might even be remotely progressive on anything. I think it's a pretty significant misreading of the results of recent elections in Seattle - their candidates won often narrowly on questions of public safety, not on cutting taxes for big businesses. In fact, most of their candidates hedged on the questions of taxes when they were asked during the campaigns.

But I think you see a real desire to consolidate power around a small group of loyalists, no dissent allowed. And this is a approach to governance that I don't think Seattleites expect or want. I mean, most people in Seattle assume and want a fairly technocratic, go-along-to-get-along government where everyone is sort of driven by data, gets along with each other, and try to do things in the public interest. Now, you and I, a lot of our listeners, know that's not really how the city operates. But what we're seeing now is, I think, a much more aggressive and - in some ways, unprecedented for Seattle - attempt to impose a radical agenda on the city from the right.

[00:03:26] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, this isn't what voters thought they were signing up for. This isn't what anyone campaigned on. Voters are looking at what the candidates are saying, they're looking at the mail, the commercials - again, definitely talked about public safety, talked about homelessness. But what we saw in Sara Nelson's first statement was austerity - we're cutting taxes for business. But voters didn't weigh in on this at all. And I don't think people are going to have a great reaction to this.

[00:03:55] Robert Cruickshank: When Seattle voters weigh in on questions of taxes, Seattleites pass almost every tax put in front of them. When it comes to state ballot initiatives to tax the rich - they might fail statewide as they did in 2010, but they pass with wide support in Seattle. When it comes to money in politics, Seattleites approved taxing themselves - raising their property taxes slightly - to create the Democracy Voucher program. This is a city that does not want corporate money in politics and yet, that is exactly what's happened here. The reason we're talking about all this right now is not just because there's a council appointment, but because Tim Ceis, this aforementioned corporate lobbyist, sent out an email at the beginning of the week urging all of the people - whether they're wealthy individuals or from big corporations - who donated to the independent expenditure campaigns to help get a lot of these councilmembers elected last year, telling them - Hey, we need you to mobilize right now to stop Vivian Song, who is currently on the Seattle School Board, who's seeking the appointment - Ceis says, We got to stop her. She held a fundraiser for Teresa Mosqueda. She endorsed Ron Davis. She's friendly to unions. And gosh, we can't have that on our council.

And the way Ceis put it was to basically act as if these wealthy interests had bought the council. They now own the council - it is theirs, not ours. Not ours in the sense of "we the people." And they can do whatever they want with it. So Ceis' attitude - and I think Sara Nelson shares this - is that it's theirs now, nobody else can tell them what to do with the city council. They have the absolute right to pick whoever they want to and impose this agenda on the city. I think both that attitude and a policy agenda they want are not what the city wants at all, and they are going to run into a big backlash real fast.

[00:05:30] Crystal Fincher: Real fast. And the brazenness with which he stated this was wild. This is from the email that Tim Ceis sent - "While it's been a great two weeks watching the outcome of our effort as the new City Council has taken office, the independent expenditure success earned you the right to let the Council know not to offer the left the consolation prize of this Council seat." Okay, they're just admitting that they bought this seat. They're just admitting that - Hey, yeah, it was our effort that got these people onto the council. And we spent a million dollars plus in this independent expenditure effort and that gives us the right - he said the "right" - to tell the council what to do, which I don't recall seeing something this overtly stated before.

[00:06:17] Robert Cruickshank: There's an important contrast we can draw - both Bruce Harrell and Eric Adams, mayor of New York, were elected in 2021. And at the time, Eric Adams was hailed as some sort of future of the Democratic Party - center right, tough on crime, pushing back against progressives. Well, here we are at the beginning of 2024 - Eric Adams has a 28% approval rating in New York - highly unlikely to win a re-election at this point. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of the primary reasons is cuts to public services - libraries, schools, parks, all sorts of things. And the public is just clearly rejecting that. Bruce Harrell is up for re-election next year. And I think Harrell's going to have to decide for himself - does he want to be the one to get all the blame for this? Or maybe he just thinks Sara Nelson takes all the blame. Who knows? Maybe there's a good cop, bad cop approach being planned here - with Sara Nelson being the bad cop pushing austerity and Harrell's try to be the good cop, try to bring everybody together. Who knows? But I think what you see in New York is what you're going to see in Seattle - a significant backlash.

I also want to mention - you quoted Ceis' letter talking about giving a prize to the left. Vivian Song is not a leftist. This is the part that just blows my mind about all this. She's as mainstream a Seattle Democrat as it gets. If you read her application letter for the council appointment, she talks about hiring more cops, being careful with city spending. She's honestly probably a little bit to the right of most of the previous city council that just got voted out. But to Ceis and Nelson, she's unacceptable because she's friendly with unions, was friendly with some progressives - what that shows me is that they only want extremists like themselves or who will just do their own bidding. And I think they're setting themselves up for a significant backlash.

[00:07:58] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and the final point - in looking at this, there were so many applicants to this - all across the spectrum, right? There weren't just progressive applicants for the seat. There were dozens and dozens of people from across the spectrum - and good choices - people who had experience, who have the right intentions from across the spectrum. This isn't about - Well, we just don't want an extreme leftist from these corporate interests. This is about - You're going to pick our person. Because there are several other choices on there - they're talking about Tanya Woo. Why aren't they talking about Phil Tavel, right? Why aren't they talking about anyone else that seems to align with their interests? They want loyalists - that's the bottom line. It goes beyond what the ideology is. It's - are you going to be loyal to me? Are you going to back me on what I'm doing? And without that assurance - We're not backing you. With that assurance, you're in and we're going to fight. And hey, we spent a million plus to get these other folks in. Now we're using our muscle to get you in too. And we're telling people - Hey, this was our show. We elected these people. It was our effort and that gives us the right to dictate what's going to happen.

When you have the primary concern, the primary litmus test being loyalty and not is this going to help the residents of the city? Do they have experience? Can they credibly lead and do this? Wow, we get into a lot of trouble if it's just - Are you going to back me? Are you not going to question anything I'm doing? Are you going to rubber stamp this? So this appointment process is really going to be an opportunity to see where the loyalties lie. Are they serving their constituents or are they serving the business community? Because again, there are lots of picks if they wanted to go with a conservative person, right? I think they probably will. But the point is, it's got to be the one handpicked by business. This is going to tell us a lot about where the heads of these new councilmembers are at.

Yeah, it

[00:09:49] Robert Cruickshank: will. And I think it's also setting up 2024 - not just in terms of the policy discussions we'll see in City Hall, but the campaigns. This seat that gets filled in this appointment process later this month will be on the November 2024 ballot citywide. And I think Tanya Woo would likely run for that seat if she's appointed to it. If so, then she's going to have to go to voters - not as someone picked for her qualifications, at least in the way the public will see it. The public will see it as - she was picked by business because she's loyal to business. Vivian Song may want to run for that seat too - last night got endorsed by the King County Labor Council to hold that appointment. It sets up a very interesting - not just 10 days between now and when this appointment gets made, but 10 months between now and the November election, where I think you're going to see real contests over the future of the city.

[00:10:35] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Another interesting dimension with this about Vivian Song is about her residency and her existing Seattle School Board position. What's going on here?

[00:10:45] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, so we'll go back to 2021 - where there was an article that appeared in The Stranger when Vivian was running for the school board, questioning her residency - that she had changed residencies and changed voter registration - and questioning whether she was eligible to run for the District 4 seat for the school board. Now, the school board districts don't line up exactly with the city council districts, so listeners should keep that in mind - but Vivian won, won citywide. Because in school board, you are first elected out of the primary in just the district. Then the top two from that district go on to a citywide election in the school board. So Vivian won citywide in 2021. Last summer, it emerges that some of her critics and opponents on school board were questioning where she lives now - that she might not actually live in the district she technically represents. This is brought to the school board legal department, which looked at it and did not see a need to kick her off the school board, or declare her seat vacant and force an election.

People move around for personal reasons, and they don't have to be told to tell those personal reasons in public. But Vivian is not someone who is manipulating the system for political gain - there are legitimate reasons she was moving. And yet this comes out in a Seattle Times article this week and gets mentioned at a board meeting last night - the only board meeting during this entire council appointment process. This has been under discussion behind the scenes at the school district for months. But why does it emerge now? I think it's the obvious reason why it emerges now - because some of Vivian's critics on the school board, whether they're working directly with Tim Ceis and Sara Nelson or not, are certainly helping Tim Ceis and Sara Nelson try to torpedo Vivian Song's candidacy. Now, from a progressive perspective, this doesn't necessarily mean that Vivian's the right pick for the appointment process. We should take a look at everybody. But I think the relentless efforts to destroy her, both in her position on the school board and to keep her out of the city council, suggest to me some real problems with the way both the city council and the school board are now being governed by small little cliques determined to hold on to their own power, to push austerity, unfriendly to labor, and hostile to public input. I think it's a really shocking and disturbing development that we're seeing in our city. Away from small-d democratic governance. I think everyone in the city should be really concerned about these developments.

[00:13:05] Crystal Fincher: Completely agree. And statewide news - big news - it's going to impact our November 2024 ballot. The second right-wing initiative qualified for the 2024 ballot. What does this do and what does this mean?

[00:13:21] Robert Cruickshank: So background here is that the far right chair of the state Republican Party, State Representative Jim Walsh - hardcore MAGA Trump guy - became State Party Chair last year and is working with a wealthy mega-donor, a guy named Brian Heywood, to try to repeal the main accomplishments of the Democratic majority in the legislature of the last few years. So we've got six initiatives so far that they've submitted to the state to qualify - two of them have made it to the ballot. One of them you just mentioned, which will be Initiative 2117 to try to destroy our state's climate action plan. They want to repeal the carbon pricing piece of it - sometimes known as cap and trade, cap and invest, whatever you want to call it. Their argument is - Oh, it's why gas prices are so high in Washington state. Well, no. One, we on the West Coast have always had higher gas prices than the rest of the country. And in fact, the reason Washington has high gas prices is because of King County. I did an analysis a few weeks ago that shows - if you cross the river from Portland to Vancouver, Washington, the average cost of gas is the same. If you are in Tacoma, you're paying less than you pay in Portland, Oregon. So if carbon pricing was causing gas prices to soar across Washington state, you'd see it everywhere - but you don't. What that suggests to me is you might actually be seeing oil companies gouging King County - that's worth investigation, which the oil companies don't want.

But point being - Jim Walsh, who's a Trump guy, Brian Heywood, who's the wealthy funder, want to destroy our ability to tackle the climate crisis. They want to destroy our ability to fund the things that are needed to help people get off of fossil fuel. And so they're putting this on the ballot. They're going to put some other initiatives on the ballot to try to repeal our capital gains tax on the rich, that funds schools and early learning. And this is going to be one of the big battles that we're seeing this year - an effort to impose, again, a far-right agenda on the state of Washington. And I think that progressive organizations, the State Democratic Party are maybe a little slow to respond to this - I think they will engage, but now's the time to start letting people know what's happening here, what this attack is, how dangerous it could be, and the importance of stopping all six of these initiatives.

[00:15:30] Crystal Fincher: We've seen Republicans have an increasingly hard time winning statewide and legislatively over the past few years - they've lost power, they tried the courts. The Supreme Court actually just rejected a case trying to come to the Supreme Court about the capital gains tax. So this is their only recourse now. And unfortunately, because of the way our political system is, money gets you really far. And so if you have these multi-hundred millionaires, these billionaires who come in and say - You know what, this is what I want - they're able to basically make us go through this whole charade. And so we have to fight against it. It's here. We have to do this. But it really is important to talk to people about - not to fall for these cheap lines that, Oh, this is another gas tax. It's the hidden gas tax, as they say. But we've had this price gouging conversation before - I think more people are seeing it, which is encouraging. But we're going to have to go through this whole campaign.

[00:16:29] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, and I think that it's worth noting there are reasonable discussions to be had about how to do carbon pricing right and what it should fund. And there were very intense conversations and disagreements about that when this was passed in 2021. And I think it makes sense to take a look and say - Okay, how do we make sure we're doing this right? That's not what this initiative does. This initiative uses voter concern about gas prices to totally destroy our ability to tackle the climate crisis. This is coming from people who don't believe the climate crisis is real. Or if they do believe it's real, they don't really want to do anything to stop it because they think driving and keeping oil companies happy is more important. We see wild weather all across the region - we remember that super hot heat wave from the summer of 2021, we remember the long droughts of 2022 - this is not a time to mess around. If we want to look at how to address needs to ensure that carbon pricing works - great. If we want to take a look at what it's funding - great. But to totally destroy the system entirely because a bunch of right-wingers and wealthy donors want it, I think, is a disaster.

[00:17:30] Crystal Fincher: Absolute disaster. I was certainly one of those people who had criticisms of the Climate Commitment Act. There are certainly tweaks that should be made. There are some better ways that we can go about some of these processes. But the option isn't - do nothing. That's unacceptable. It isn't just dismantle and repeal everything. Just like with Social Security, just like with Medicare - these big, important pieces of legislation - that do come with benefits. We're going to have to tweak them. We're going to have to get information back, get data back, and respond to that with some technical fixes, some tweaks to make sure that we steer it onto the best path that it can be. But wow, we cannot afford to do nothing. We can't afford to dismantle this at this point in time. This is one of the most hopeful opportunities we have - really in the country - to show how states can lead and come together to get this done. We can't dismantle this at this point in time.

Also want to talk about a debate that we saw, on the pages of The Seattle Times, among homeless advocates that reflects a lot of the conversation going on in communities about how to handle encampments. What was talked about here and what's important to understand?

[00:18:42] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, I want to do something I don't always do, which is give credit to The Seattle Times for hosting this discussion. I think it was a really good way to do it - between two people - Tim Harris, who used to be the executive editor of Real Change, and Tiffani McCoy, a leader in the Initiative 135 House Our Neighbors Now social housing effort here in Seattle. These are two progressive people who have long records of advocacy for housing and for the needs of the homeless. So they didn't do the usual thing that media will do - is pit a progressive against some crazy right winger. These are two people, who I think come at this with the right intentions and the right values. And they both made some pretty good points about how we handle this issue of sweeps and encampments.

Sweeps - I believe they're awful. They're also popular. The public likes them. We saw the 2017 mayoral race, we saw in 2021 mayoral and city council races, city attorney race. We saw it last year in the city council races. Candidates who back sweeps almost always defeat candidates who oppose them - we're getting nowhere, and the people who are living in these encampments aren't getting help. Now, this doesn't mean we should embrace sweeps. And I thought that Tiffani McCoy did a really good job of laying out, again, the damage that sweeps do to not just the possessions of people who are living in tents, but to their own psychological state. And it often makes it harder for them to escape addiction, harder for them to find stability they need to get a home. I thought Tim Harris, though, made some good points about the problems that happen if you leave an encampment in place - how drug dealers eventually find it. And even the best managed encampments - it just takes one or two people with bad intentions to show up and the whole place kind of falls apart into violence. So leaving an encampment out there doesn't help the people who are living there, especially now we're in the extremely cold winter season.

But what happens is, too often, this gets framed as a discussion between - do we sweep or do we leave encampments indefinitely? And when that's the terms of the discussion, sweeps will win every single time. And we've seen that for years now. And I think progressives need to realize that that's the case. We are not going to stop sweeps by trying to argue against sweeps alone, and to argue essentially for leaving encampments indefinitely. We have to get out of that binary that we're losing and the people in those encampments are losing. And I think the only way out is to go to the solution, right? We need to build housing for people immediately. Bruce Harrell took office on a promise to build 2,000 units of housing for folks - homes, shelter, tiny homes, whatever - to get people out. Did that happen? Where did that go? You know, there are some tiny home villages that are out there. They do a great job. But why aren't we massively expanding those? Where are the safe RV sites? Where are other forms of shelter? Where's the permanent supportive housing that we need? Where are the new SROs that we need? I think that's where progressive energy needs to focus - is on getting people out of tents now - into real housing with a roof, with a door that locks that they like, where they can bring all their possessions, including their dog and their partner. And I think that's where the emphasis needs to go. I think if we get stuck in this sweeps versus indefinite encampments, we're just going to keep losing. The people who need help aren't going to get it. And so I thought that this debate that The Times hosted did a good job of really laying out why we need to go in that direction.

[00:21:59] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is another area where - just the classic communications issue - you can't just argue against something. You have to argue for the vision that you want - because it doesn't translate - what people do here is exactly what you said. Well, okay - if we aren't going to sweep, then they're going to just stay there and that's unacceptable too. And it's unacceptable to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons, right? Some people are those crazy right wingers who just, you know - Get them out of my sight type of thing. But there are people who are saying - We need to get these people into a better place. We have lethal cold in the winter. We have lethal heat in the summer. We have public safety concerns. People who are unhoused, who are in these encampments, are more likely to be victims of crime than just about anyone else. This is a hazard to their health, to everyone's health. This is a big challenge. We need to get them into housing. We need more shelter options. We can't have this conversation while we know there isn't the infrastructure to get everyone indoors. Until we have that infrastructure, what are we talking about? We have to build. We have to build more transitional housing. We have to build more single residence occupancy, or those SROs. We have to move forward with housing.

And I do believe in a Housing First approach. There's also this preemptive kind of argument that we're hearing from right wingers - Oh, we already tried that. Oh, we so have not tried that. We've never come close to trying that - on more than a trial with 20 people basis - that has never been a policy that the city has pursued overall. We have pursued these encampment sweeps and you can see they aren't getting us anywhere. The problem has actually gotten worse while we're doing this. So we have to make sure that we're speaking with unity and articulating what we want to see, what we're pursuing, what needs to get done.

[00:23:50] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, and I think there is another reason for urgency here. Sweeps, under rulings of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals - federal - in the case against the City of Boise, Idaho, and a similar case against the City of Grants Pass, Oregon. The appeals court ruled that you cannot sweep an encampment without offering shelter to the people living there. A lot of cities, including San Francisco and others, have wanted to get out of that. They appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in the last few days. The Supreme Court has said - Yes, we will take up those cases. It is highly likely then, perhaps by this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will say - You can sweep whenever you want to. You can eliminate an encampment without having to offer shelter at all. And I think a lot of advocates will point out that those offers of shelter, you know, are maybe a fig leaf at best. That fig leaf is going to go away very soon. So I think that just creates even more urgency to push really hard to get the city and the state to step up and provide housing, whether it's, you know, buying more hotels to get people out of tents or put up more tiny home villages. Whatever it takes, we have to do it, and we have to do it now because there is now an actual ticking clock at the U.S. Supreme Court on this.

[00:24:57] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And you know what? I do want to recognize what Dow Constantine has been doing with leaning on this issue - with the buying the hotels, working in concert with different cities in the county, offering - even in the Burien debacle, it was really the county who provided the light at the end of the tunnel and real tangible assistance to actually deal with the issue and get people into housing. So, you know, more of that - more of what we've seen from Dow Constantine, more of focusing on getting people housed. Absolutely want to see it.

And just absolutely dejecting news - where I wasn't shocked, but certainly dismayed. The Tacoma cops from the Manuel Ellis case are getting $500,000 to voluntarily leave the department. What are your thoughts on this?

[00:25:47] Robert Cruickshank: I mean, it's unsurprising and appalling that they're getting half a million dollars after killing Manuel Ellis and getting away with it. I mean, getting away with it was bad enough - the way that the jury ruled in that case a few weeks back. Now they're literally getting money in their pocket after this - being waved goodbye. And I'm sure that this does not come with any stipulations that would make it difficult for them to get a new job anywhere else. I remember when McGinn was mayor in the early 2010s, the Ian Birk case. Ian Birk, the Seattle officer who shot and killed Native American woodcarver John T. Williams. Birk was not really prosecuted. There was an inquest. But Birk left the department, got a job somewhere else. Well, one of the things McGinn did was pursue legal remedies to make it impossible for Birk to get another job as an officer. I do not see any such thing happening here in the Tacoma case. These officers are getting a payday and getting away with it. But I think what this shows, yet again, is the importance of having real teeth in police accountability. And I think it also shows that the criminal justice system is not a substitute for that. We can't assume that the criminal justice system alone is going to hold cops accountable, as we saw in this case - yet again, it didn't. We need reforms at the state level to remove officer accountability from bargaining. We need to make it easier for cities to hold cops accountable who break the law, who commit murder, things like that. And that's where this needs to go, because what has happened here is injustice upon injustice upon injustice. And if this doesn't spur us to act, then what's going to?

[00:27:32] Crystal Fincher: There's currently a federal review going on by the U.S. attorney for Western Washington. The family of Manny Ellis is calling for a consent decree for the City of Tacoma's police department with this. So those levers are turning. This issue to me is really - my goodness, this is not a pro-cop or an anti-cop thing, right? How do we hold people accountable who violate the standards that we set for them, who violate the standards that are already in place? This reminds me of what happened in the City of Kent with the assistant chief who had Nazi memorabilia, Hitler mustache, Nazi signs at work - and then got paid a ton, got rich to leave voluntarily. What are we doing when there's no mechanism to fire a Nazi in the workplace? For people who are absolutely in favor of more police, why are you tolerating this? That's my question. Why are we allowing this to fall into the - Well, either you love cops or you hate cops and you're evil if you want to do anything attached to accountability. What are we even doing? I could go on about this for a long time, but this just falls into - What are we even doing? What is the point of anything if we have to pay people who violate our standard to leave?

[00:28:53] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah. I mean, we've been told since the summer of 2020 - Oh, we can't defund the police. Okay, then what are we going to do? Because we can't allow this sort of behavior, whether it is Nazi memorabilia in the actual work office in Kent or killing Manuel Ellis on the streets of Tacoma to continue - which is what I fear is actually what critics of police accountability want. They just want cops to be able to do as they please without consequences because in their minds - and these are mostly white folks like me who are saying these things - they don't think they're ever going to have to face those consequences. They want to maintain their hierarchy, their place at the top as much as they can. They see police as part of that. It's really toxic. And I think that it just shows, once again, the urgency of fixing this - including at the state level, to get the legislature out of this idea that some legislators have that - Oh, somehow it undermines labor unions and labor rights if we take accountability out of police bargaining.

Well, military soldiers can't bargain, they can't form a union. They have a strict uniform code of military justice. They're held, in many cases, to much higher standards than police officers. I think we could point out ways in which even the military needs to be held to higher standards, but at least there are some. They exist and they operate. Police - they are convinced that they have the right to do as they please and to get away with it - and to be paid well for it, even when they do horrific things. And that is what we have to reject. And I think at this point - cities, we need to hold them accountable and push them. But the state needs to step in and we need to see changes to state law to make it easier to have real accountability at the local level.

[00:30:25] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. Final thing I want to talk about today is a lawsuit announced by Attorney General Bob Ferguson to stop the Kroger-Albertsons merger that they have announced their intention to do, saying that this is going to be bad for competition, creating grocery monopolies. Grocery prices are already sky high - this would make it worse. What do you think about this?

[00:30:49] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, I think it's absolutely the right thing to do and well within Attorney General Ferguson's right to protect local business and to protect consumers. And people notice that Fred Meyer and QFC are owned by the Kroger company already, and there's not enough competition there - prices there are higher than they should be. You add in Albertsons to the mix, and that's even less competition. I think people understand that more competition helps bring prices down, it's good for consumers. More local ownership - good for consumers. And this is popular, right? I think the public likes it. What's interesting to me is the way this gets covered. There's an article in The Seattle Times today about Ferguson's lawsuit. And to read the body of the article, it makes it very clear that the public loves it, that there's a legitimate reason for Ferguson to sue to protect the particular needs of Washington businesses and Washington consumers - because our grocery market industry is not always the same as other states. And we need to have our attorney general in there fighting for our interests. People get that.

The Federal Trade Commission under Lina Khan is doing a great job really finally reinvigorating antitrust law and taking on mergers like this. And she's fantastic. But the article opens with this weird frame, questioning whether this is all a political stunt and saying - Oh, well, Ferguson jumped out and filed a lawsuit before the FTC did. Maybe he's trying to undermine the FTC or going rogue. Maybe it's just a political stunt. Yet the rest of the article makes it super clear that that's not the case at all. The article shows that the FTC says - No, we can work with Washington. They don't seem to be worried about this. In fact, the FTC regularly works with attorneys general around the country in multi-state lawsuits, in partnership with the federal government. So it struck me as a case where the second two-thirds of that article was really useful, but the top of it seemed to be The Times going out of their way to try to spin this against Ferguson.

And I think it's a real lesson to the State Democratic Party and to Ferguson's campaign that they cannot trust the media to give him a fair shake here in 2024. The media is going to be hostile. The media is going to try to take things that look potentially helpful for Ferguson and spin them against him. So they're going to have to be ahead of that game and prepare for that, as well as make sure they're doing their own comms, using social media really well to get the story out there. Because the public gets it - the public doesn't want to see Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC all owned by the same company. They know it's either going to raise higher prices, fewer staff in stores, or fewer stores outright. We've already seen some stores close across the region. You're going to get more of those bad outcomes. So thank you, Bob Ferguson, for stepping up. And Bob, watch your back, because the media is coming for you.

[00:33:28] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. This is a positive thing. This is consumer protection. This is what we ask him to do as our attorney general. We have seen the direction that things go when there's consolidation. There's a lot of people who order delivery now. I don't know if many people have been in stores lately, but it is a miserable experience because they've reduced staff to untenable amounts where you have to wait for someone to unlock half the thing or stand in a special section and a special line. It's just - this is the wrong direction that we're going in. We've already seen this as a result of consolidation. We don't want to see any more.

[00:34:03] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, and you can look at another act of consolidation that I wish someone had sued to stop, which is when Rite Aid bought Bartell Drugs in 2020. Everyone knows that's been a disaster. Bartell, locally owned store - you had great locally owned products for sale. You could go and get your prescription filled really quickly and easily. Once that merger happened, all of a sudden people's prescriptions got lost, lines got really long, took you hours to get your prescription filled. And then all of a sudden, stores started closing all over the place. Now Walgreens is closing stores because there's not a lot of competition. There's no incentive for them to keep these stores open. And now we're going to see the same things happen with grocery stores - those trends that are already kind of lurking, accelerating if this merger goes through. So kudos to Bob Ferguson, but he's got to watch out for the people who are coming for him, especially in the media.

[00:34:52] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, January 19th, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is the Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter, or X, @cruickshank. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter. You can find me on all platforms - BlueSky, Threads, anything - @finchfrii. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. 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 - talk to you next time.