Week in Review: January 5, 2024 - with Lex Vaughn

Week in Review: January 5, 2024 - with Lex Vaughn

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Founder and Editor of The Needling, Lex Vaughn!

Crystal and Lex dive into the new year’s headlines with a debate over Space Needle NYE drone shows vs fireworks, a rundown of new Washington state laws taking effect, and a discussion of why it’s important to look past a poll’s summary headline. They then chat about the new Seattle City Council taking office, a lawsuit against the City of Burien over its homeless camping law, and a new entrant into the Attorney General’s race.

About the Guest

Lex Vaughn

Lex Vaughn is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Founder and Editor of The Needling.

Find Lex Vaughn on Twitter/X at @AlexaVaughn.


RE-AIR: Ending Youth Incarceration with Dr. Ben Danielson of AHSHAY Center from Hacks & Wonks

The new Washington state laws taking effect in January 2024” by Laurel Demkovich from Washington State Standard

Poll: Washington voters want to spend more — while cutting taxes” by Donna Gordon Blankinship from Crosscut

Crosscut - Elway Poll | 2024 Legislative Preview

Tammy Morales, Rob Saka To Chair Key Council Committees During Pivotal Year” by Ryan Packer and Doug Trumm from The Urbanist

Seattle politics shift as City Council gets new members, president” by Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times

New City Council Elects Former Conservative Outcast as President” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger

Council Vacancy | Office of the City Clerk

Unhoused people sue Burien over new homeless camping law” by Anna Patrick from The Seattle Times

Update: Eastern WA attorney who fought gun laws, COVID mandates plans run for state AG” by Eric Rosane from Tri-City Herald

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 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. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and 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.

If you missed our Tuesday topical show, we re-aired an important conversation I had with Dr. Ben Danielson, director of AHSHAY Center about ending youth incarceration. 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 and today's co-host: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder and editor of The Needling, Lex Vaughn.

[00:01:20] Lex Vaughn: Hey, nice to be back.

[00:01:21] Crystal Fincher: Hey, great to have you back - excited to have you back. I don't know that I'm excited to talk about everything on our list today, but we've got to get through it. But I do-

[00:01:33] Lex Vaughn: There's a lot.

[00:01:34] Crystal Fincher: There's a lot. And so - first show of the new year - we just had New Year's Eve, New Year's Day happen and we welcome that in in the greater Seattle area with a big Space Needle fireworks show. This year, it was a drone show pre-show and then a fireworks main show. And this year, there was a bit of a challenge with it - it was a smoky, hazy, kind of unintelligible soupy mess. What did you think about it?

[00:02:09] Lex Vaughn: I was like, what is this? It's 2024 - did someone read like the last part of the year backwards, like 420, and go - This is a 420-themed New Year's Eve celebration? I don't know - it was funny. I mean, I was celebrating out-of-state with family, but I immediately was getting messages from people like - Did you see this? Did you see this? I mean, honestly, I think that - I know that a lot of people are flipping out and going like, Something needs to be done - but this is Seattle. Come on - you know that the Space Needle thing doesn't always work as planned and that's part of the fun. And the look of it was definitely fun this last year.

[00:03:01] Crystal Fincher: You know, it was interesting - weather is always, always a factor in anything that happens in this region, whether it's 4th of July celebrations or New Year's Eve. I think for me, I have just been, I mean, I'm someone who has traditionally loved fireworks for most of my life and has enjoyed them. Yes, 100%. But I also, especially over the past couple of years, contending with the smoke generated by fireworks - not on New Year's Eve, but you know, July 4th, mostly, but I guess the neighborhoods on New Year's Eve - the fire hazard associated with it, which is definitely worse in the summer than it is in the winter. It just seems like now we have the option for drone shows and those seem like they're a bit more resilient - they don't create smoke. And part of the challenge of this current show was the way that the fireworks and the smoke interacted with the atmosphere, kind of making each other worse, making visibility worse. And it just seems like, okay - I am ready to move on from fireworks and to move on to drone shows. They seem like they can do everything the fireworks shows do and more. And it just seems like given where we are at with our climate, given where we are at with the volatility of just Seattle weather period, that it seems like it makes more sense to me to do that. But you know, I don't know if that's an option moving forward. You know, I don't know what's gonna happen with that. I'm not in any way affiliated with that. So it'll be interesting to see, but I wish we could move beyond fireworks personally.

[00:04:38] Lex Vaughn: I'll never be over fireworks. I want that - well, I don't know - it's like, I know there's a lot of debate over it. But I also think any attempt to lessen fireworks only increases fireworks. So honestly, the best plan for reducing fireworks all over a region is always like a big, you know, show that people can watch. And when I, you know, go back to my hometown in California for New Year's or July 4th - that city stopped doing a central fireworks show. And what happened is just a proliferation of fireworks all over the city. There's just like a fireworks show going on everywhere all night. So I always think it's worth it to have one big show or you're gonna get that.

[00:05:31] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I do think that a big show that the community can come to is important. In the absence of that, people are definitely going to celebrate on their own. I'm just thinking the big show can be a drone show. We saw a pretty successful pre-show - I thought -

[00:05:45] Lex Vaughn: The drone show is a good backup. I mean, especially in Seattle, 'cause it's like, you know, you might be excited about a show and then, something about the weather happens and it's - Oh, you're not gonna see anything. So it's like the drone show is the only thing that can be guaranteed if it can move to a little space where it's free from smoke or clouds or whatever.

[00:06:09] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Well, also wanna talk about a few more things this new year is ushering in, and that's a number of new state laws taking effect as of January 1st. One of them includes marijuana testing and changing in how that can be used by employers. Under the new law, employers are blocked from conducting drug tests for cannabis when making hiring decisions. They can still test for other drugs before hiring and they can still test employees for cannabis in certain situations, like after accidents or if they suspect someone's impaired. There are also some exemptions for companies that need to test for federal requirements and other workers potentially - including police, airline crews, corrections officers - may still have to test. But it's a pretty significant change in just kind of pre-employment testing overall - that's done with a lot of lower wage jobs, certainly not so much predominant and higher wage jobs. But it does, there has been a tension for quite some time in going - Okay, well, if it's legal, then why are you testing for it? And so this seems to bring things more in line. Do you think that makes sense?

[00:07:21] Lex Vaughn: Yeah, and I hope the message of a law like this is it's not worth it because you could be breaking the law and you can get sued. Like it's a liability for you now to try to judge people this way - If you haven't like sped up with the times here and realize that it's generally not that big of a deal to use cannabis.

[00:07:46] Crystal Fincher: Another law that took place is a - that is taking effect - is a 10-day gun waiting period. So as of now, those wishing to buy a firearm in Washington need to complete a background check and then wait 10 business days before they can complete that purchase. We've seen this referred to as kind of a cooling off period before wanting to purchase a gun and actually owning one. We have certainly seen a number of examples from mass shootings to domestic violence situations where people use guns to murder people immediately after purchasing them. And so while no gun reform is going to solve everything - usually no anything solves anything for everything - and it really is gonna take a patchwork of policies and laws to move forward. And this seems like a positive one to me that has some evidence behind it.

[00:08:39] Lex Vaughn: Yeah, honestly, this is like, I think the most positive new law of this next year that I'm really looking forward to seeing put in place and I hope becomes more commonplace because like you said - yeah, there's a lot of reform that needs to happen to make this country safer from gun violence. But this cooling off period is a major one. When I was a reporter at The Seattle Times, I definitely covered some very tragic situations where it was very clear that a young man or something was distraught over somebody breaking up with them and made a horrible decision really quickly. And it's like in a lot of these cases, it's - what could have happened if this person had just been held to a few more days of thought before pulling that off.

[00:09:31] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Another law taking effect impacts hospital staffing. Hospitals in Washington need to establish staffing committees made up of nursing staff and administrators. This is in response to years of advocacy really by healthcare workers saying that - Hey, these staffing ratios have gotten way out of whack. We're not able to provide adequate care to patients, patient care quality is suffering and we need to get back to staffing ratios - happening during a time where we're losing healthcare workers. There's been a lot of attrition. The pandemic only has made that worse. And so this is trying to still allow hospitals to have their say, but to do it with the input of nurses and hospital staff to say - Let's put patient safety first. Let's really work on these ratios and make sure that we're moving in the right direction and really putting patients at the center of this year. And I think this is a step forward in this direction that will bring a little bit more transparency and accountability to the process.

[00:10:43] Lex Vaughn: And it's awesome that hospital staff is getting this extra leverage to make that happen. Because I mean, obviously they've been pressing for stuff like that as unions and all. But it's crazy the way they have to fight to give us quality care. Increasingly, unfortunately, in our health systems here in the US, it's like a lot of hospital administrators are more focused on turning hospitals into these profit machines without as much thought about what's happening to staff and their patients. And those staff - those are the ones rooting for us and protecting quality of care.

[00:11:30] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. So there's a new voting rights law. It's intended to address situations where there are signs of polarized voting among different groups in a community, and where there are risks to some groups having their votes diluted so they don't have a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. It makes it easier to try and address this with a couple different mechanisms - it allows organizations to sue on behalf of their members, it allows local governments to voluntarily reform their election systems to be more representative of their populations, and for lawsuits to be filed if the locality refused to take such steps. So it hopefully can bring the cost down. I mean, sometimes there are clear violations, but it has been very costly - prohibitively costly - for someone to pursue it if they feel they have been wrong and want to bring that in court. So this seeks to try and address that and provide a pathway for people to be able to sue without that cost prohibitive element involved and to recover costs they incur when researching those possible legal challenges. What are your thoughts on this one?

[00:12:42] Lex Vaughn: I have to admit, I was like, when I, you know, just kind of heard about this one and got a general sense of it, I was like - wait, what? This sounds a little bit confusing to me. The motivation of it is just that like, if someone is feeling outnumbered in a community, that they have strength and power to - I have to admit like this one, I didn't totally get, 'cause I don't know if I've seen a law like that before.

[00:13:11] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it is in line with previous voting rights act laws. And we have passed legislation in the same vein - I think five years ago, we passed a voting rights act in the same vein. But it's really an issue of like - we see a challenge when it comes to districting that's happening right now in Yakima, or issues where it looks like - Okay, a community's overwhelmingly voting in the same way if you look at it geographically, but things are sliced up and that's not turning out the way it is in government. I mean, there's a case to be made in a city I'm pretty familiar with - the city of Kent, the largest city in the state that doesn't have any council districts, no form of districted government, which makes the government certainly less representative than it is in other areas. But to try and bring a case or bring a suit and rectify this has been prohibitively expensive. You can see something being wrong, but whether you can pursue any remedy or whether there's any recourse is a whole different subject. And so it's like - okay, we see that there are problems happening, but we don't have the tools and power to make it realistic to expect something to be done about it.

And if someone doesn't expect something to be done about a violation, if they see that there's no consequence for bad actions, it makes it more likely that that's going to happen. So this makes it more likely that - hey, if you are violating the law, if there are violations happening here, you can expect more of a consequence for that than you did before. So hopefully one that prevents further violations from happening, but for those that currently are, it makes them easier to remedy and rectify. So I think that's a positive step. Will it solve anything? Will it immediately change anything? I don't think this is like an immediately transformative piece of policy - we're going to see something that flips from night to day in this. But I do think that it's part of, again, patchwork of legislation like most things that makes it easier to hold people and entities that are violating voting rights laws accountable and to give people more tools to fix it.

[00:15:25] Lex Vaughn: And maybe like slow the role of people who were planning on exploiting people in new ways or something like that.

[00:15:31] Crystal Fincher: Yes. Because there's a lot of that happening right now. Okay. Absolutely.

Another law that a lot of cities have been dealing with is one that addresses street racing. So this law imposes tougher penalties for street racing. If you're caught, you can have your car impounded for three days on the first offense and forfeited on the second one. It also increases penalties for those who are found to be aiding and abetting street racers. I don't know if this is going to get there. I mean, that seems like a really tough penalty. I am not personally familiar with how these laws have resulted in any changes, or whether they've resulted in any changes. But it seems like they're trying to do more. That people are seeing that this is a problem - and it is a problem - it's a problem for a variety of reasons. And they're trying to do something to address it - and hopefully it does help. We will see.

[00:16:28] Lex Vaughn: Honestly, I think it's - of course this is dangerous. I mean, whenever I hear something like this happened - I can't believe sometimes I hear this happened in Seattle sometimes. I'm like - What street are you on? Oh my God. This is horrible. This is not the place. But I think the thing is - there is a culture for this that will always be there. And no matter what law you put in place, I mean, you're just going to make it sexier. So, I mean, honestly, I wish that there was some way to - I don't know - give people a space to do this more safely or something. That's the real solution, 'cause it is going to keep happening.

[00:17:11] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think you're onto something there. I mean, clearly you're right - there's a culture around that - and I mean, it's so interesting. And it's kind of an offshoot of car culture. There are car enthusiasts and this is a subset of that. And it's kind of tangential, but we, as a community, as a society have been reducing the number of just alternative, recreational opportunities in spaces, particularly for younger people. And then criminalizing a lot of activity there. Some of that, you know, may be warranted. Not all activity is positive. Like we said, there's a lot of danger associated with street racing, but what are we doing to give people options to do safer activities? Whether it's racing activities or others, if we aren't providing positive, affirmative options, particularly for younger people - places for people to congregate and share that don't require an entry fee, that don't require purchase necessarily, that are places where people can congregate and recreate and do things that are meaningful to them together - that we're moving in the wrong direction overall. I think that's a valid concern and one we need to do better with as a community and society.

[00:18:28] Lex Vaughn: But it's not going away. So it's - we just need a more proactive approach.

[00:18:35] Crystal Fincher: Yep, and so we will keep our eye on how these laws pan out, on new laws as they pass. We have a new legislative session starting on Monday, and we'll be following along with what happens there. But we're seeing these results now and we'll keep paying attention.

Also wanna talk this week about a new Crosscut poll that was just released - part of the poll at least. And the headline of this poll is - Washington voters want to spend more - while cutting taxes. Also another headline saying that 57% of people are in favor of repealing the state's new capital gains tax. Now this is interesting. We've talked about this before in the podcast, but polls are very interesting things. And it's very important to pay attention to the questions asked, who they're being asked of, and what the particulars are in this. And this one - I think there are some interesting findings in this poll, I think that you have to dig a lot deeper than these headlines. And I think that this doesn't actually tell us much about what voters' likelihood of voting for or against some of these questions asked in here. And one of the reasons why this is being asked is because there is likely to be an initiative, a statewide initiative, to repeal this tax.

But it's very important to actually read the poll, to go beyond the synopsis in the article and to take a look at the actual poll. And when we do that, we see that these questions were asked in a way that they aren't asked when people are invested in, where like people working, right - if you're actually working on this thing, you would not trust this. You're not asking questions in this way. Usually when you're trying to figure out what happens - one, kind of the most important thing, you wanna ask the question in the same way that it's gonna be asked to voters on their ballot. Now we're kind of before that point, right? So a lot of times you'll hear - Well, is it the ballot title? Is it the ballot language? We don't have that yet, but you wanna get close to that. You wanna describe it in a way that you feel that they're gonna encounter it in the real world with voters. You also with this, it's very important understanding, particularly with something like this - there's gonna be a lot of money, there's gonna be a lot of communication in these campaigns. So people are gonna hear messages in favor of it. People are gonna hear messages opposed to it. They're gonna be getting mail in their mailboxes, they're gonna see digital ads, they're gonna be seeing political commercials about this - and they're gonna be getting a lot of messages. You want to expose the people you're asking those questions of of likely messages that they're gonna hear so that - okay, afterwards, is it more likely or less likely that they're going to support it? - or that you're coming closer to the conditions under which they're gonna make their decision. That's really informative and really predictive and a pretty accurate way of figuring out where support really lies.

And really in those things, when you have a poll, you're asking those questions - there's a lot learned by asking the initial question before they hear any pro and con arguments. And then asking that final question - the question again - having heard all that, are you still in favor of, more likely to support, less likely to support this initiative or this law? And seeing who that moves and who different arguments influence is all part of how people put together these campaigns. None of that was in here. This was asked in kind of a kludgy way, actually, kind of a muddled way in how they did this. They kind of asked - Hey, they're expected to have a surplus from a capital gains tax and a carbon pricing trade system. What should we do with this money? And so it's just - Okay, we should put it into schools. And actually the majority of people did not say they want to keep spending at the current level or reduce taxes somehow. They were saying - majority 55% said put more money into schools, reducing homelessness, mental health programs, and combating effects of climate change.

Then they asked - Okay, the following are some proposals that the legislature is expected to discuss in the coming weeks. As I read each of these, please indicate whether you favor, strongly favor, oppose, or strongly oppose each one. And so all it says is - Repeal the state's new capital gains tax. And that's it. And the other ones are - Eliminate some restrictions on when police can pursue criminal suspects in cars. Put more money into mental - like they're just asking the sentence. Now, if there's one thing, especially people involved in politics, involved in reporting know - it's that people do not have the context for this at all when you just ask that.

[00:23:23] Lex Vaughn: In just a general sense, the average person is like - less taxes. Like no context, like what is it?

[00:23:32] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, sure, it's a tax - repeal it. What is that?

[00:23:32] Lex Vaughn: Are you taking more money from me? And it's like, if this does end up on the ballot, you know, again, like this year, the main message that I know we've kept saying to defend that capital gains tax is - it affects such a small number of people. It's probably definitely not you.

[00:23:51] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, exactly. [laughing] It is such a small percentage of people. And when people are like - Oh, okay, you're not talking about something that applies to me and I'm already struggling and trying to figure this out.

[00:24:02] Lex Vaughn: Honestly, that thing needs like a rebrand or something - capital gains tax.

[00:24:05] Crystal Fincher: Well, and I don't even - you know, I don't know.

[00:24:08] Lex Vaughn: The 1% tax - I mean, I think it's even smaller than 1%. It's like - tippity-top.

[00:24:13] Crystal Fincher: I would question whether it even needs a rebrand because the other thing about this is that we have seen a lot of high quality polling that turned out to look like it was pretty accurate when it came to this. And basically the numbers look flipped. When people actually are asked a reasonably composed question, when they - after they hear pro and con messages, they're more likely to support the capital gains tax. It has actually been a popular policy in polling that we've seen till now. And, you know, the questions were asked more comprehensively and differently than they were here. It'll be interesting to see as this continues - I mean, certainly this is going to produce a great headline, which in today's media environment is a goal for many people. Most people don't read beyond headlines. So if you can get a great headline, that is a win because then that gives people an impression of something, even though it may not be completely accurate or there's not other contexts surrounding it. But it'll be interesting to see where this comes out.

I would just be leery about these results based on the way that these questions are asked, based on the fact that it does contradict other publicly available polling that we've seen. And it'll be interesting to see, but I am taking this with a grain of salt - for these results. I do think that there are - just looking, polls are always interesting things. And even if it's not the number one thing that the poll may have been designed to elicit, it'll be interesting. There's this larger discourse, kind of want to say Stancil-ized discourse - discourse about the economy, and whether people are happy, and what this means for Joe Biden, and like where people are at. And that there are a lot of economic indicators that seem positive, but people are kind of sour on the economy overall - more sour than traditional economic indicators would indicate is logical. But these questions, there's a question asked here - Hey, what's your outlook for the country? - basically - do you expect things will - in general terms, get better over the next year or get worse? Much better, somewhat better, somewhat worse, or much worse. And in these, what we saw is that people said - Okay - and it was asked four ways in four categories. Do you think this for the United States, for Washington State, in your community, and in your household? And across the board, people gave, you know, majority of people said - Hey, things are actually gonna get better for my household. Majorities across the board there. And then slightly less for their community, and then less for Washington State, and then less for the United States. So there's this difference where if you look and you ask people individually - Hey, do you think the next year for you in general terms is gonna be better or worse? Most people say better. But if you ask people - Okay, generally for the United States, do you think the next year is gonna be better or worse? Most people say worse. And the further out it gets from them, the less likely they are to think that it gets positive. There are lots of theories for why this is, there are lots of people's views - but it's an interesting dynamic that is there. And it's not a new dynamic - we've seen this before, but it certainly is more pronounced. It's very pronounced and there's a very wide gulf, wider than we've seen in quite some time. The other interesting thing about that is when you look at the crosstabs broken up there - younger people are actually more optimistic than older people, which is interesting.

[00:27:52] Lex Vaughn: Now I don't trust anything in this poll.

[00:27:54] Crystal Fincher: [laughs] What I don't have at my fingertips right now is enough data on this asked in different polls in a variety of different ways to immediately be suspicious and wanna look into more. Like with that question about the capital gains tax, it's just at odds with other polls that we have seen - certainly publicly available, certainly at odds with a lot of private polling.

[00:28:21] Lex Vaughn: But young people being optimistic - about anything political - hmm.

[00:28:24] Crystal Fincher: In some ways, right? And about like, does it, are you more optimistic about your own prospects? Like looking at the personal, 'cause the further away you get, the more politically influenced it is. But looking at the personal, it's really interesting. And I just find that very, very interesting in what that means and the difference there. And to me, when I see those things, the interest is in wanting to dive down and - okay, what explains that difference? Who is experiencing kind of in that zone between you thinking things getting better for yourself and worse overall? You know, who is in that category? Who are the people who move? What's influencing that movement is interesting to look at.

So we'll link this poll. And like generally, I would just say for people, when you're consuming polls, there's usually a whole article breakdown, and then there should be in each article - there is in this article - a link to the actual poll. Always read the actual poll. Always read the questions. Because a lot of times, some of these challenges or things that seem non-standard or problematic are often visible to a layperson if they read it. Like, okay, that's a weird way to ask the question. Or, you know, if you ask me that, I might be confused. Or like, what does that even mean? So there's a lot there, but that was an interesting finding. But we're certainly hearing about this today - we're recording this on Thursday - and we'll be hearing a lot more about it. What did you think just generally about it?

[00:29:53] Lex Vaughn: First of all, I have to admit - I think a lot of times I don't click on that kind of external PDF like there is here with a breakdown of who was interviewed, breakdown of landlines, cell phone, text. I'll say at least this poll does a very good breakdown of exactly who they interviewed. But in general, I don't take a lot of reporting on polls very seriously. I usually think it reveals the bias of a media organization or a polling organization. And I'm - that's informative. That's what I'm taking from this.

[00:30:36] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's, you know, polling is an interesting thing. Polling is - not all polling is predictive. Not everybody is polling likely voters or trying to mimic an election result. Some polls are just trying to take the pulse of where people are at. This, you know, is asking some things that they're gonna be dealing with in the legislature. And it's not like there's gonna be an immediate vote up and down on proposed legislation, but it could indicate people's general satisfaction of the legislation or not.

I think with these things, it is important to read the actual poll. I will say - just for here - it's important to read the poll 'cause I have seen more than one misleading breakdown of a poll, or things that omit some significant or even contradictory findings. And so I think it's important to look for yourself to - okay, not a synopsis, but if we're really talking about how important this is about policy or what people think, let me look at everything people ask and let me look at this whole poll and see what happens - because we can't always trust the breakdowns. But also just understanding what polls do and don't do. A poll that - things can change massively in either direction, right, between now and the election. These are a snapshot in time. Something, especially at this point in time, is not predictive. They're very early. There's usually - if you're asking about a specific candidate or policy, a lot of people who aren't familiar with it yet, or who don't have all of the context - there's still a lot of pro and con arguments and a lot of communication that's gonna happen. So they're not determinative, certainly. They're not absolutely predictive. But they can be useful information points. And usually they're most useful - not in the horse race sense - but in the who does something appeal to and why, if it's done well. And just understanding that - certainly from a campaign perspective is really important - Even if you set aside the - ultimate who's likely to vote for this or not type of questions. So just another interesting one. I'm sure we're gonna see other ones. I think this is part one of two that they've released, so we're going to see some more from this soon. And that was a Crosscut poll.

Also this week, Seattle City Council - councils all across the state, really were sworn in - the new Seattle City Council was sworn in. And so we have a new council. We have committees that were assigned. We have Sara Nelson, who is now the council president. Sara Nelson, who is a moderate conservative, who is now seeming to be very aligned with the mayor and leading a council that is much more aligned with the mayor's office - that is much more moderate to conservative. And so we're going to see a new council and seemingly a new direction here in the state. We saw one of Sara Nelson's first actions as council president was to disband the Renters' Rights Committee, which former Seattle City Councilmember, Kshama Sawant, had chaired since 2019 - disbanded that committee, and which is not that surprising. More than half of the residents of Seattle are renters, so it seems like that is applicable to the majority of people - it would be useful and helpful. But Sara has indicated distrust and hostility of several of those efforts before, has hosted landlord support groups before. And so it is not surprising, even though it may be really unfortunate.

[00:34:18] Lex Vaughn: Yeah.

[00:34:20] Crystal Fincher: But we're gonna see. What do you think about this whole thing?

[00:34:24] Lex Vaughn: It's really unfortunate that a whole slate of people was elected that are probably gonna just kinda be in lockstep with the mayor. And I see all of them as like, faux-gressive - they know how to kinda have the facade of progressive to fit into Seattle, but their policies that they're rooting for are just so obviously conservative and Republican to me. Like making your first order of business disbanding a Renters' Rights Committee. [laughs] It's like, it's just amazing. And it just kind of adds to the cognitive dissonance of the whole identity of the city - who these council people are and what they're probably gonna do legally this year, the policies they're gonna enact - just makes me laugh that anyone thinks the city is liberal. 'Cause it's - unfortunately, these people that were just elected are probably going to move forward with basically a lot of conservative policies on a local level.

[00:35:33] Crystal Fincher: It's gonna be really interesting to see. And for me, there's a lot that they're going to be dealing with. And just so people know - that for committee chairs, the people who are going to decide the general direction of these areas, what kind of legislation they pursue within their committees. Rob Saka will be chairing the Transportation Committee. Tammy Morales will chair the Land Use Committee. Joy Hollingsworth will chair the Parks, Public Utilities and Technology Committee. Maritza Rivera will chair Libraries, Education and Neighborhoods. Cathy Moore will chair Housing and Human Services. Dan Strauss will chair Finance, which will handle the budget, Native Communities and Tribal Governments. Bob Kettle will chair Public Safety. And the vacant Position 8 position - the person who will be appointed to the council - will chair Sustainability, City Light, Arts and Culture. Sara Nelson will chair Governance, Accountability and Economic Development. Within those, there's a lot that's gonna happen.

And I think one thing that some people discount or don't expect is just how much practically they're going to have to deal with. Now it's kind of like - Okay, strip the progressive or conservative, whatever labels. There are serious issues that people have to deal with and a range of options, like a range that could be under the progressive label, a range that could be under the moderate label, right? But they're going to have to chart - well, they don't have to - their job is to chart a path forward for lots of this. Rob Saka, Chair of Transportation, which, you know, there's certainly a lot at stake - when it comes to transportation, there's gonna be a new Move Seattle Levy. He's overseeing the $700 million annual budget. We see a lot of asks and needs from the community. He's talked about getting back to the basics and being "the pothole king." And there, and it'll just be interesting to see. There's a lot of practical daily things that have to be dealt with. How is he going to do that? What approach are they going to take to a lot of things? We've seen Bob Kettle, Chair of Public Safety, talk about a lot of law and order oriented things, building a better relationship, promoting respect. We heard Sara Nelson talk about - one of her other first acts was proposing another pay increase for SPD, which is, you know, without anything changes, would deepen the budget deficit that the city is facing, barring any new revenue on the heels of other additions to that budget and elements of pay.

It'll just be really interesting to see, because these things are having practical effects. They're all going to impact the budget that they're all going to have to deal with, with a major budget deficit coming up. They were all, most of these people who are new on the council were very hesitant to discuss what their actual practical plans were for dealing with this budget deficit, most hesitant to put support behind any new taxation, progressive taxation, proposals from the work group that the mayor convened on this that came up with options. But they have talked about cutting in areas. They have talked about the need to trim overall, but were hesitant or unwilling to talk about what specifically that would be. They're going to have to get into specifics now. They're going to have to deal with the things that they were hesitant to talk about during the campaign. It's going to be really interesting to see how this, how this carries out.

Also, this is a very new council overall. They're going to have to get their feet underneath them. Sara Nelson announced that they are not going to be having regular committee meetings for most of this month to allow people to get up to speed - there's a lot of that that needs to happen - and that their first council meeting of the month will be on the 23rd to appoint the new councilmember that is going to take over for Teresa Mosqueda, who is, was just elected to the county. So it's going to be really interesting and just FYI - applications for that vacancy, if anyone is interested, are being accepted until January 9th. And that is Tuesday and the appointment will take place on the 23rd. Certainly a lot of talk about who might potentially take those places. We have heard a couple names bandied about, one of them being Tanya Woo, who lost -

[00:40:10] Lex Vaughn: Yeah, how about not Tanya Woo? [laughing]

[00:40:13] Crystal Fincher: You know, I just have a hard time - you're representing all of Seattle. It is a city that has made a strong stance and has made strong statements - fortunately - when it comes to protecting all members of the LGBTQ community, including trans people. And there's an interview with Hacks & Wonks, it's been covered elsewhere where Tanya Woo did not fully support the ability of trans people to participate in regular everyday life like everyone else, expressed reservations about trans people participating on sports teams - said if they wanted to exclude them, she would be willing to support that in a position on the city council - which just to me, there are policy differences, but then there are issues of just basic humanity and support of people and residents of the city. And that, to me, is one of those that's automatically disqualifying in my personal evaluation of that. And so it looks like that is not necessarily disqualifying for some people who might be considering this on the council, but I certainly think it should be considered with this. Now I do understand that she, I think, made an Instagram post apologizing for that and trying to clarify their position. I would just suggest that, you know, and lots of people evolve over that. So I'm not saying that that is what she thinks or believes for the rest of her life. Maybe she has changed and maybe she has learned more, and I hope that she has and that other people are on that journey. I just think that when it comes to appointing someone responsible for the city, we can appoint someone who is further along in that journey and not learning about the humanity of people at the same time that they're having to learn about all of these policies and operations that they're now having to. So it's gonna be really interesting to see. There are certainly other people who have held various elected office, school board candidates that have had exposure and that may be able to be really positive additions to the council, particularly with a number of councilmembers that have not served in elective office before - having someone who had in whatever capacity could be a very positive, helpful thing for this council. It'll be interesting to see. I think that there are - certainly there have been some names that have been talked about publicly. I think there are more names that are circulating privately. It'll be really interesting to see how this shakes out. But either way, I also don't think that's gonna tip the balance of this council. I do think that it could help with policy formation and general operational items. But I think just, you know, it's not gonna tip the balance of power of the council.

[00:42:55] Lex Vaughn: Yeah, I think the direction the council is gonna go is pretty well set.

[00:43:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah.

[00:43:01] Lex Vaughn: Yeah.

[00:43:02] Crystal Fincher: Yep, so we will see. Also this week, news of a lawsuit against the City of Burien over their new homeless camping law that - we have heard about the saga of Burien for quite some time. There was also an independent report this week that came out really chastising the city manager for not handling some of the major issues that they're doing with due care and seriousness. But this is a lawsuit being brought on behalf of unhoused people by a regional advocacy organization suing the city, claiming that it banishes homeless people, inflicts cruel punishment, and it violates Washington's constitution. The Northwest Justice Project filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in King County Superior Court on behalf of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness and three individual plaintiffs. What were your thoughts on this?

[00:43:56] Lex Vaughn: I mean, it seems like this is the next step in inevitable plan to get this in the Supreme Court. I think there's probably a variety of cities, not just Burien, who have been wanting to challenge this. So this is another showdown that'll go to a higher court. But in general, I think it's just sad that it's happening because it's - we're talking about people's right to exist. It's not just a right to be homeless or something. It's a right to exist. There are people who cannot afford shelter. We as a society are not providing them enough aid in a dark period of their life. And you can't just ask people to go poof. Like, there's no magic wand that makes them just dissipate in air overnight. They have to exist somewhere. And to criminalize that is incredibly inhumane.

[00:45:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I mean, they have nowhere to go. Homelessness is a housing problem - it's the lack of housing. There has certainly been a lot of talk and skewed coverage presenting the homeless population as basically criminals and violent drug abusers. And one - homeless people are more likely to be victimized by crime than any other group. And if we were looking at facts and data, we would start from that point - they are not more violent than the general population.

[00:45:35] Lex Vaughn: A lot of people are escaping violence. I mean, especially homeless youth, you know?

[00:45:41] Crystal Fincher: 100%.

[00:45:42] Lex Vaughn: Yeah.

[00:45:42] Crystal Fincher: But, you know, criminalizing - it doesn't help that. Sending someone to jail because they don't have shelter doesn't help them to get shelter - it moves them further away from it. It destabilizes people. And it's just incredibly expensive.

[00:45:58] Lex Vaughn: Yeah.

[00:45:59] Crystal Fincher: There is just-

[00:46:00] Lex Vaughn: So ineffective.

[00:46:01] Crystal Fincher: Yes - so really expensive and ineffective. Seems like - okay, that should be the thing not to do. But that's the thing that they are rushing to do. Interesting about this lawsuit is it doesn't cite Martin v. Boise, which is a previous 2018 decision that came out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, saying that homeless people can't be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are no adequate alternatives to offer them. Doesn't cite that, and it is also citing that it's a violation of Washington State's Constitution. So this, you know, which to me is notable because we'll see if Martin v. Boise stands. I don't think there's absolute confidence that that's going to continue to stand, although I certainly believe it should. But this could be something else that could prevent the large-scale just criminalization of homelessness without there being any place for anyone to go. No surprise to listeners of the program - I do believe we have an obligation to provide shelter and housing for people and that we have done a poor job of that, we have not kept up with the demand. And we continue to spend tons of money on these criminalized solutions that could go so much further if we invested them in ways that have shown they're more likely to reduce homelessness. There's been lots of coverage about Housing First models, which have been under attack, and there's actually an article recently about a very coordinated, conservative attack on these models. Just anecdotally, I've seen lots of people - Housing First policies have failed - when the truth is they haven't been tried yet. We've done a lot of criminalization. We have not done that - and man, we would love to, but suggestions that they don't work and that they failed are just false and not rooted. In reality, we haven't tried them. We have tried criminalization, and that's what's gotten us here.

[00:47:53] Lex Vaughn: Criminalization, another word for addiction to punishment. Doesn't matter that there's just mounds of research showing that these old techniques of criminalization don't reduce homelessness, they don't make us safer. It's just frustrating to continue to see this happen when it's like there's so much evidence and research showing that criminalization is an expensive and ineffective strategy for solving A) homelessness, and B) making us a safer community in general.

[00:48:33] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. The last item on our list today is there is a new entrant into the race for attorney general - a Republican from central Washington, an attorney named Pete Serrano, is the first major Republican to toss his name into the ring for Washington Attorney General. So he joins former US attorney Nick Brown, senior King County Deputy Prosecutor and State Senator Manka Dhingra in the race - who are both Democrats. So if he was elected, he would be the first Republican to hold the office since Rob McKenna vacated the seat in 2012. He's running on pretty standard conservative policies right now, which are kind of out there. He announced his candidacy with the host of the Washington Gun Law blog, if that gives you any hint - he is not in favor of any kind of gun control or gun laws. He, I believe, fought against vaccine mandates, filed legal challenges against the state's COVID-19 emergency order, fought against gun control legislation, and wants to bring more of that to the AG's race. What do you think of this?

[00:49:48] Lex Vaughn: I think it's interesting that the first person he was coming out swinging against is Bob Ferguson. And I think as he campaigns, he'll probably keep his aim there because even though Bob Ferguson isn't running for AG again, he's running for governor. I guess this guy is gonna sell himself as like the check on Bob Ferguson if he wins the governor's race. I think - hopefully this guy won't stand a chance - but he will make these campaigns a little bit more colorful.

[00:50:21] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, certainly a new dimension in this race. There were - the main people in the race, two well-known Democratic candidates or fairly well-known Democratic candidates. This being the first Republican candidate is a new dimension in the race. We will continue to follow it. We're gonna have a lot of very interesting statewide races, which is not an unusual thing - except in Washington State for the past decade, basically, where we haven't had much change there. So will be interesting to follow, and we'll keep our eyes peeled on what happens there.

And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, January 5th, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder and editor of The Needling, Lex Vaughn. You can find Lex on Twitter @AlexaVaughn - you can also find her on several other platforms, as well as me. I'm everywhere @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 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.