Week in Review: July 7, 2023 - with Robert Cruickshank

Week in Review: July 7, 2023 - 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!

They discuss Dave Reichert’s entry into the Washington gubernatorial race, whether fireworks are worth their consequences, observations about the motivation for and role of endorsements in local elections by powerful media outlets, a school governance model that renders school boards powerless, and Seattle Times poll results that challenge their usual narratives on homelessness and public safety.

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.


Former Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert files paperwork to run for WA governor” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times

Fireworks cause at least 2 building fires in Seattle, dozens of brush fires” by David Hyde from KUOW

@waDNR on Twitter: “(deep sigh) All six wildfires in the Pacific Cascade Region this weekend were caused by fireworks.

Seattle’s School Board Should Move Away from Student Outcomes Focused Governance” by Robert Cruickshank for The Stranger

1 in 3 Seattle residents is considering leaving. Costs, crime are to blame” by Alison Saldanha from The Seattle Times

Seattle police rated as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ by most residents, poll finds” by Mike Carter from The Seattle Times

Find stories that Crystal is reading 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 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 and today's co-host: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. Welcome.

[00:01:11] Robert Cruickshank: Thank you for having me back on, Crystal.

[00:01:14] Crystal Fincher: Very, very excited to have you back on. And as we start our news of the week, we see a new entry into the race for governor - Dave Reichert. What do you make of this?

[00:01:27] Robert Cruickshank: It's not that surprising, given that he had been apparently poking around the 2016 governor's race, the 2020 governor's race - Republicans didn't really have a leading candidate yet. I think corporate Democrat Mark Mullet was hoping he could de facto become the mainstream Republican candidate. But Reichert, I think, saw an opportunity here, realizing that the Republican candidates who have announced - people like Semi Bird or Raul Garcia - are much further to the right. Reichert himself has a very right wing record in Congress, of course, but he has 20+ years of presenting himself to the people of Western Washington, in particular, as someone who's more mainstream. And I think he saw his opportunity with Inslee retiring, an open seat. And open seat elections for governor in Washington - they're pretty rare these days - we've only had two this century. The first in 2004 was decided by 130 votes. And then in 2012, Inslee beat Rob McKenna, but it was pretty close - I think 51-49%. So Reichert saw his moment - I'm sure he had Republican leaders in the Legislature, corporate backers whispering in his ear, saying - Dude, we need you - there's no way we win otherwise. And even with Reichert in the race, it's still a pretty uphill climb for him, but he's going to have a ton of money and backing behind him for this.

[00:02:39] Crystal Fincher: He is going to have a ton of money and backing behind him, and I do think that it was really an opening. And I think the opening came because of how extreme the Republican candidates are. The leading candidate right now is endorsed by Joe Kent, notoriously so extreme that he lost a traditionally Republican district to a Democrat in Congress - one of the biggest upsets in the country - because he is unhinged. And we're seeing candidates like that bubble up - now it's a reflection of how extreme the base has actually become. So I'm very curious to see what the reaction from the base to Dave Reichert is, because what - the people who were certainly encouraging him to run are looking for a more moderate presence, someone who is not presenting themselves as extremely as some of the other candidates are. But are they going to get any traction in a crowded primary where there are other alternatives that seem closer to that base?

While at the same time, on the other side, I think Mark Mullet was really hoping to be able to capture moderate Republican votes - and has basically legislated as a moderate Republican, but still calls himself a Democrat because Republicans as a party have moved further to the right. But his policy certainly has not been consistent with Democrats in the Legislature or in the base. And so the concerning thing about him, from more progressive people, was that - Okay, if he makes it through against Bob Ferguson to the general election or against Hilary Franz in the general election, that he could siphon some Democratic votes for sure. But also pick up a ton of Republican votes, if Republicans don't feel like - Hey, we don't have one of our people in the general, but this guy is not as much of a Democrat as these other ones. That's a scary proposition in that situation. This really flips that and adds a whole new dimension to this race. So I'm curious - imagining what conversations are like in his camp - and what they're really considering as the impact on their campaigns and the path forward for each of them.

[00:04:43] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, Mullet's team is, I think, trying to win over that sort of centrist Democratic vote. The thing is - it's just not that extensive - there's not very many of them. If you're a Democrat who is somewhat cranky with the status quo, you're not that numerous. Ferguson has won three statewide elections, he's got a strong base of support in King County, and will do well outside of King County as well. Mullet has, I think, really no path at this point. Especially as Reichert left Congress in 2018, so that means he avoided having to be there during both of Trump's impeachments. He avoided having to be there on the insurrection on January 6, 2021. So he is a bit of a relic from the past in many respects. But one of the things is he didn't have to go on record around some of these things and he'll try to play that up.

But I think Bob Ferguson, who has not been running the greatest campaign - we should say, so far - running a front runner campaign, but really light on issues. He did hit pretty hard at Reichert - and correctly so - when he pointed out Reichert is a really right wing voting record on abortion rights in particular. And that matters here in Washington state, because the governor appoints Supreme Court justices in Washington state. And if you have a right wing governor who's trying to prove his anti-abortion cred to a suspicious base - he gets into office somehow - then I think we're going to have a real problem on the Washington Supreme Court. And we've seen what happens when you don't take Supreme Court nominations seriously. A lot of people, 2016, thought - Oh, they will never actually overturn Roe vs. Wade. Well, they did it. And you'll hear conversations here in Washington in 2024 saying - Oh, Reichert may be anti-abortion, he's got an anti-abortion record, but it's so safe here in Washington state, nothing could happen to it. I think we should know by now that anyone saying that is just deluded and has no real conception of the risk that a right wing anti-abortion candidate poses to abortion rights.

[00:06:40] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and that's such an important point. And lots of people think it's safe - it is only safe to the degree that we actively protect it. It is only safe because there have been appointments of our State Supreme Court justices - that follow the law, follow the precedent, and understand that that's critical for personal freedom and autonomy. And the blueprint for how this works, we saw with Trump. Yeah, parrot that - Oh, I'll protect women's rights. Oh, it's settled law. We're not going to mess with it. Meanwhile, just appoint all the judges to do that work for you. The base knows that's how it works on that side - they play along - Yeah, he'll say whatever he needs to say to get elected. Don't worry about it. We know he's going to appoint these judges. That's where really the fight for rights gets usurped, where things that are not publicly popular get entrenched, and get implemented. So it just is a big concern in terms of that. And he gets credit for being a moderate Republican based off of really him not being there while more extreme Republicans were acting more extreme. I don't know that it's a given that he's not that extreme. I'm going to be really curious, especially through campaign stops as he hears the base demand more from him. Does his rhetoric change? Does it become more extreme for that party's base of today, which is different? I'm really curious to see how that race unfolds.

[00:08:05] Robert Cruickshank: Reichert will have to campaign with Trump, either literally or figuratively. Trump will be on the same ballot and his rabid fan base, which is of course now the base of the entire Republican party, will be eager for restoration to power of Trump. And they're going to want to know where Reichert stands on that. And there's no way he actually gets around that. Now this is where - again, Ferguson has, I think, a gift here. He can run against an actual right wing Republican. But Ferguson's also going to have to learn the lessons of 2016, which is that you don't win solely by running against a right wing Republican. You have to have your own agenda that says - here's what I'm going to do differently as governor. Here's what I'm going to do to solve your problems. We haven't seen that from Ferguson so far. He seems content to run a traditional front runner campaign - where he has a poll lead, he touts his endorsements - but no real bold narrative to try to inspire people. He's going to have to do that. Because the lesson we learned in 2016 from Hillary's campaign was she didn't have that at all - she also ran a classic front runner campaign and narrowly lost. You have to have something that excites people about you yourself. Democrats have, for as long as I've been alive, tried to defeat the far right by pointing out how awful they are - sometimes works, but more often than not, it fails. Because the voters need to see from Democratic candidates those solutions to what they want.

[00:09:27] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, could not agree more - and we will keep our eye on that race.

Also this week, we had the July 4th Independence Day holiday. With that came fireworks celebrations - big publicly-funded fireworks celebrations from cities and counties. But also, just a ton of personal firework activity, although it is banned in several cities and counties around the state - that really doesn't seem to be consequential at all. What do you think about the use of fireworks, and is it worth the risk that they present now?

[00:10:02] Robert Cruickshank: I don't know about you, but I remember - as a kid in Southern California - looking forward to the Fourth and lighting up the fireworks in the street and you think not much of it. You think about personal safety - Don't blow off your hand, kid. But I think what we're seeing here is there's a much larger policy problem with these personal fireworks. People talk about the way in which they cause post-traumatic stress revival in combat veterans, people worried about their kids and pets - that all matters. There's an even bigger problem though with the effect on our climate and on air. I think it was the Washington Department of Natural Resources pointed out that all six of the wildfires currently burning in Washington state were caused by fireworks. And Crystal, you've posted in the last couple of days on social media great before-and-after shots from downtown Tacoma - crystal clear blue sky shot of Mount Rainier, and then the day after the Fourth obscured by all the smoke. And we all woke up yesterday to all this smoke, which was caused in one part or another by people lighting off fireworks - whether it's just the actual smoke from the fireworks themselves or the wildfire smoke that it caused.

And I think we have to look really seriously at whether, especially in a climate crisis, we want to be doing this. Our forests in Western Washington are especially dry this year. You go to campgrounds and they will soon, if they're not already, be under a burn ban - and rangers will come and enforce that. But a lot of cities like Seattle have fireworks bans - they're unenforced. And I remember - I think it was in 2011, I was working with Mike McGinn when he was mayor - I used to sit in occasionally on the meetings he had with SPD command staff. And I remember - I think it was July 4th, 2011 - when just fireworks went off all night and we just got flooded in the mayor's office with complaints - This is illegal, mayor, you should be enforcing it. And so the next day happened to be a command staff. And so I went in to help compose our response from the mayor's office and McGinn asked the commanders - What do we do about this? And the SPD brass all said - Yeah, it's illegal, but we have so many other things we're dealing with on the Fourth. We have to make sure that people aren't driving drunk, we're worried about people congregating in big crowds and causing problems, worried about gun violence. And Mr. Mayor, we can't respond to all of these calls. And people know that. Everyone knows that the prohibition on fireworks is never enforced. So we have to figure out what we're going to do about this. I don't think we want cops rolling up and down every street on the night of the Fourth. But is there some way we can more effectively limit the sale and use of fireworks? Because I think this is a clear climate problem. And it's not just the risk of someone blowing off a hand, which is bad enough. Now it's a risk to all of us and our air quality and our lungs. We don't want yet another smoke-filled summer just because people shot off fireworks unsafely.

[00:12:44] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I'm someone like you - especially growing up, when I was young in Southern California - loved fireworks. I loved fireworks here, I loved fireworks displays. There was - probably about 10 years ago, now 15 years ago - where it was similar kind of to the Blue Angels conversation - Yeah, I may enjoy it, but it does have negative impacts on others. Pets are freaked out, it's a nightmare to manage pets with the things. And people - because we have sent so many people to war, there are a lot of people dealing with PTSD and complex issues surrounding things that sound like very large explosions, especially when they're unplanned. And I don't know what things are like where you're at, but where I'm at in South King County, fireworks start long before the Fourth and they last long after the Fourth. And they're random. It just can sound like a random - six o'clock this morning - sounded like a random explosion happening - Did a bomb just go off? No, it's fireworks. And so they do just, themselves, have a lot of challenges.

But they're compounding other huge problems that we're dealing with. You talked about the wildfire smoke that we're already dealing with - we're adding smoke on top of smoke in this situation, when we've learned so much more about how important air quality is to health. We're adding fires on top of fires, when we have our fire departments and our state fire officials trying to fight so many fires already. Skamania County residents were dealing with a water shortage because so much water was being used to fight fires. Is it really worth jeopardizing people's access to water here in Washington state? Is it really worth the days - plural - of horrible air quality directly attributed to that? And on days like today, and this week, when it's really hot out - Okay, we are a state that has very low rates of air conditioning inside, people have to go outside to keep from baking while they're in the house inside and now they've got to breathe dangerous air. I don't know that the cost is worth it.

But also - one, you'd be surprised how many people who are progressive in many ways would like cops driving down every street enforcing fireworks bans. But I think what we've learned from all of these bans is that if the supply issue isn't addressed, I don't know that we get beyond this problem. And we've got to figure out a better way, just community-wise, to work on this. It feels like the cat is so far out of the bag. It feels like, whether it's cars or guns or other things that people just feel such an emotional attachment, and some ties to patriotism - which, if your patriotism relies on fireworks, it's not patriotism. But it's just a big challenge. I certainly am so tired of fireworks at this point in time, but I'm not sure what an effective path forward is.

[00:15:39] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, and one thing to note is that the sale of fireworks is banned in much of Western Washington, but one notable exception is tribal lands. And I think people have the experience of driving through tribal lands and seeing these enormous stands where fireworks go on sale two weeks before the Fourth. And Native Americans have, as we all know, been denied their rights for so long, you don't want to come in and try to pass some ban. At the same time, I think it's worth having some conversation with those communities and say - What can we do about this? How can we find a way to bring down the number that are being sold and really try to crack down on the abuse of privately owned fireworks?

[00:16:18] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. You will not find me advocating for telling tribal communities what to do, sovereign governments what to do. But I do think there is a place for conversation among everyone to try and figure out how can we better manage this, at least.

Also want to talk about some races going on right now. We are coming up on the primary election, which will be on August 1st. We're seeing some endorsements begin to trickle out from a number of outlets. Are there any endorsements that have caught your eye to this point?

[00:16:54] Robert Cruickshank: There's one that came out yesterday, which was completely unsurprising - but still notable, I think - which is The Seattle Times not really endorsing Sofia Aragon for King County Council, but really endorsing against Teresa Mosqueda, who they just seem to loathe. And reading their editorial yesterday, the thing to know is that they don't tell you precisely why they loathe Teresa. They talk about - Oh, defunding police, she doesn't take public safety seriously - none of which is true. The real reason they don't like her is because she's incredibly effective at standing up for working people, standing up for their unions, and especially taxing big corporations. JumpStart, the tax on big corporations here in Seattle, would not have happened without Teresa Mosqueda's leadership. The Times is so anti-tax and wants to cut taxes on big corporations - that's what they really care about.

And one of the reasons why this endorsement matters is because it's a tell - it shows what's really going on when The Times makes their endorsements this year. And you see the pattern across these races in Seattle City Council, they'll say - Oh, we're endorsing this person because they sound good and they have experience, and they're going to crack down on public safety, and they're going to outlaw drug use, and resume the War on Drugs - that's their surface level messaging, because they know that's what resonates with their section of the electorate. But the truth here is they want a city council that will repeal the JumpStart Tax. They want a city council that will either slow walk, or undermine, or not even do a capital gains tax - that is what the Blethen family's cared about, above all else - is taxes. And they're furious that someone like Teresa Mosqueda was able to finally get the JumpStart Tax through, and they want to see her defeated because they don't want her going on the King County Council and continuing her successful advocacy for taxing the rich and big corporations. So I think it's important to read Times endorsements with that lens in mind.

[00:18:44] Crystal Fincher: The corporate money in Seattle politics, I think, is pretty safe to say that it's primarily motivated by anti-tax sentiments. We have talked for years and years about Washington state, Seattle included, having the most regressive tax system in the country - meaning that the people at the bottom spend much more of their money on taxes than the people at the top. We have no income tax, and we're light on a lot of other taxes for the most wealthy individuals and businesses here in the state. They want to maintain that. They love the status quo. Now everyone else is suffering under it - we've seen how that impacts homelessness, poverty, education, other services, seniors - everything else is starved because these people want to maintain their wealth and profits to the detriment of the rest of the community. So when we hear these things and when you hear these wedge issues, the cruelty sometimes that comes to those conversations is absolutely there - but that corporate money really is motivated by who's going to ensure that we're not going to pay more taxes.

And so what I think we've increasingly seen, and I'm definitely noticing this cycle, is that these candidates really are not on record about much. And when you read this endorsements, they don't point to - hardly any specifics - you see things like, They seem like they can bring people together. They have a perspective that can reach lots of people. But what are the details? What have they done? And usually that's not included in these endorsements. And so what is it really about? Not what they're talking about in that article - it's about the taxes. And Teresa Mosqueda has been so extremely effective at figuring out what the community needs, responding to what the community actually desires, and putting together a coalition and a revenue package that addresses the most critical needs that we have in the City. It was extremely popular - so popular that it passed and has been really resilient. People not only liked it before passage, they love it now. And on top of that, it was put together so well and so soundly that the JumpStart Tax bailed us out of an economic shortfall. The JumpStart Tax prevented austerity in the City of Seattle. Bruce Harrell used JumpStart money to help stabilize a lot of his priorities. This has been very helpful to everyone with all interests, because it was there to backstop the volatility that comes with not having more stable progressive revenue.

So it is really disappointing to see that. And it feels like they're talking out of two sides of their mouth because they have benefited from that tax. But it's a tax, so it must be bad. And Teresa Mosqueda understands budgets - she understands where to find money, where money needs to be invested to get the biggest benefit - and is looking to take that to the King County Council, which it's desperately needed there. I don't know if many people pay attention to how opaque the King County budget is, but it is really hard for - even legislators - coming out there to understand. And for the public to engage with, it's really difficult. And Teresa Mosqueda has proven that that's her forte, that she can bring more transparency and accountability to the tax money that's being spent - because I do think there are legitimate questions about - Where is this money being spent? How is it being spent? How does this compare to other times? And I think she's in a unique position to do that. It's just wild to see someone do something that a lot of people thought was impossible, and do it so successfully that it's literally benefited everyone in the City, and have that just not be acknowledged.

[00:22:31] Robert Cruickshank: Your point about what corporate money really wants is anti-tax policy - I know that the Seattle Chamber of Commerce was asking city council candidates this year a question that basically went - Do you agree that we should be wisely spending City money and look to cut spending before we raise taxes elsewhere? It's a very leading question that clearly states their goal. They want to roll back as much of JumpStart as they can. And what they're seeing with JumpStart, as well is the state capital gains tax - it's popular. Not only is it effective at raising money, it raises more money than people thought it would. There's a lot of money to be gained through taxing corporations, through taxing the capital gains of wealthy people. It's popular, it works. Teresa Mosqueda could bring that to King County, where there's a huge crisis with transit - we're losing routes, having a hard time retaining operators, need to pay them better, give them better benefits, put more buses out there. That all costs money. And King County usually goes to property taxes or sales taxes to fund transit. Well, put Teresa Mosqueda on that council and you could see something much more progressive in terms of revenue for our transit system - that sends shivers down the spines of every Seattle Times editorial board member, and that's why you saw this absurd attack on Mosqueda in their editorial yesterday.

[00:23:51] Crystal Fincher: What do you think about the role of endorsements - in Seattle, particularly - so far?

[00:23:58] Robert Cruickshank: It's interesting - I've been talking to a few candidates about this. And a couple candidates - some who have just not really done the political thing before, but who have paid attention to politics. Like most of us who are progressive - we don't know much about a candidate or a race - we open The Stranger and look at their endorsements. I first moved here in 2001. I had no idea about anything related to local politics, but I read The Stranger and I'm - Okay, yeah, this makes sense. And ever since, that's usually how I voted until I started paying close attention to things myself. But talking to candidates, and some of these folks are - Gosh, you know, if I don't get a Stranger endorsement, I'm sunk. My campaign's over. And I try and say - No, that's not true at all - I've worked with candidates, local, state, federal candidates around the country who lose a key endorsement and go on to win anyway because they run a great campaign that gets their message out to voters and talks about things that people really care about. But I think here in Seattle, we've gotten to a place where - even though I strongly agree with The Stranger endorsements 9 times out of 10 - I think these newspaper endorsements - The Stranger, The Times, in particular - have become too influential.

And I don't think this is necessarily the fault of the papers themselves. Newspapers do endorsements all the time around the country. And there are other media outlets here in Seattle that do endorsements - South Seattle Emerald does, PubliCola, Urbanist. But it's these two in particular, Stranger and Times, have outsized influence. And I think we, who are progressive activists, voters, people who - I don't know about you, but I'm the type where family and friends say - Robert, I don't know how to vote on this. What should I do? We need to start doing a better job steering people towards other sources of information, in addition to these newspaper endorsements. One of the reasons being they're small-d undemocratic - you can have candidates that have done great work in their community, who've built up a strong network of support, who've really gone out there and hustled to build grassroots backing, who are running a progressive campaign. And if they don't have a great day in an interview, or they aren't buddies with the Blethens - they don't get an endorsement and their campaign's sunk. You can get around that.

And I think we, who are the progressive activists, need to do a bit better job of helping campaigns and helping inform voters how to run smart campaigns, how to get messages out there, and what those messages are. Because there are great candidates who are going to be overlooked in some of these endorsements. And though, again, I'm assuming I'll agree with 9 out of the 10 endorsements that we see in The Stranger when they come out later this month, I still want to see voters look to other sources as well. And I want campaigns to know that they can still win, even if they don't get this or that endorsement. We're finishing up our endorsement process at the Sierra Club - I want people to look at Sierra Club endorsements and think that they matter, and I think they do. But I also want to be part of a campaign - I wouldn't want anyone to look at the endorsements we're doing and have that be the final word. It all needs to be part of building a movement that's grassroots in nature behind campaigns, rather than having people who we might agree with - or not agree with, in the case of The Times - anointing winners and losers. I don't think that's healthy for a progressive movement.

[00:26:58] Crystal Fincher: I agree with that. And I think endorsements are useful as a piece of information as a data point, not as the determining factor. And it is bad for small-d democracy. To your point, it's not necessarily the fault of the papers. But like with The Stranger - The Stranger is batting a thousand in its endorsed candidates getting through the primary. So basically, if you're a progressive candidate and you don't get The Stranger endorsement in your primary, it's bleak. It is that bleak at this point in time. I think part of it is due to us losing so many reporters at so many other outlets, the decline of local media. We used to have a ton of papers in South King County - now we have a few, and those few are dramatically understaffed. And that's the case throughout the City. We used to have more hyperlocal blogs even in the City than we do today - even that is hard. The revenue needs, it's harder to support yourself as an independent journalist, it's harder for newsrooms to afford to put the amount of reporters on things. And I think what I've seen is there's been a decline in the amount of political reporters. There's been a decline in the amount of coverage overall. And that coverage used to do a better job of informing the editorial policies and the endorsements. Hard to ignore something that was covered on the hard side of your paper that was reported and just not address it, or gloss over it, or not acknowledge it's a problem. That's much easier to do when you just aren't able to cover the things, but the coverage isn't happening. So you get these really ideologically focused endorsements - it's not like they weren't ideological before, but now there's not even reporting to back that up in so many situations.

And really one of the reasons why I started moderating debates was because I just want those endorsements to reflect who those candidates really are. I want voters to understand what the candidates really believe, what they're on record voting for, what they're on record doing. Because so many times these days, these endorsements happen that don't talk about anything that is on the record. People read that, they believe it because it's coming from a trusted paper. Then they get into office and govern consistently with their record and people have the surprise Pikachu face like - I never knew this was going to happen. When it's just like - if endorsements and editorial boards would have done a better job of making sure that endorsement reflected who that candidate was, we wouldn't be in this situation. And so I just think it's a disservice, really, to voters to not have who a candidate is and what they've actually done - good and bad, wherever that falls. Just have it be based in reality, and be based on what they've said and what they've done. And that just seems to be playing less of a role in some of these major endorsements, understandably, because there isn't a lot of coverage there. You have people doing their best to interview people in these situations, but it's a big challenge.

[00:29:56] Robert Cruickshank: We also need to draw distinctions between The Stranger and The Times - not just on ideology, but an approach. Like at least at The Stranger, you've got the reporters themselves, comprising their Election Control Board, doing the interviews themselves. And those interviews are tough - tough in a good way. They ask really good hard-hitting, probing questions and they follow up with hard-hitting probing responses - they don't let people wiggle out of something. They're coming in there with some background, they've done research there, and they're coming at it trying to get a sense of who's going to be the most progressive, who's going to fight for us, who's going to be a champion. I like that and I respect that - that's good. The Times is coming in there with a clear bent and an agenda - 9 times out of 10, they know who their candidate is going to be well in advance. And they're just looking for things in the endorsement interview at The Times that they can quote in the editorial, or they want to get the candidate they really don't like and oppose to say something in the interview they can quote from and bash them over the head with it in the editorial of the other person. So I think those are fundamental differences there.

But I think you said, as usual, a lot of really good things here - one of which is the lack of reporting. And I think we've seen local reporting just fall apart, not just in Seattle, but it's even worse once you get outside Seattle. These smaller towns like Burien or Bothell or Kent or Federal Way or whatever it is, the local coverage is almost non-existent. Or when it does exist, it comes from the right wing. And that's not helpful either when there are huge populations in these cities that are progressive and want a progressive solution. And so I think the lack of reporting on a day-to-day basis really just undermines a lot of our ability to run the democracy the way we want to.

I also want to close by saying I think it's a little bit incumbent on candidates and campaigns and consultants themselves to do a better job running smart campaigns. I think here in Seattle, in particular, some folks have become a little too reliant on getting a Stranger endorsement - counting on that to get them through the primary, counting on that to get them through a general election. Yeah, if you get that endorsement, clearly it's worth a lot. It's valuable. I don't know that Mike McGinn would have been mayor without getting The Stranger in 2009, so that worked out. But I think at the same time, you have to run a smart campaign - McGinn ran a really good campaign in 2009. Stranger endorsement might get you through the primary - doesn't always get you through the general election. You have to have a really sharp ability to get your message out there, mobilize your voters, and talk about things that voters care about in a progressive way. I worry that with the dominance of just a couple endorsement sources, that people aren't running as insightful or smart campaigns as they might in other parts of the country.

[00:32:25] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree with that. I also want to talk about a piece about Seattle Public Schools in The Stranger this week by none other than Robert Cruickshank.

[00:32:38] Robert Cruickshank: It comes back to this question of local reporting. And I was looking at some articles a few months ago about the strike that happened at Seattle Public Schools in 2015 - and just the amount of coverage from so many different reporters and so many different outlets, compared to what we have today, was striking. There's very little coverage now happening in the media about what's going on at Seattle Public Schools. The Times will cover it occasionally, but there's a bent to it. The Stranger rarely - and again, they don't have the resources they need to cover everything they want to cover. It's not their fault. It's - the ecosystem is eroded by corporations and private equity and all of that.

But what I wanted to draw attention to is this issue around how the schools are governed. And there is an effort out there, funded by the Gates Foundation through something called the Council for Great City Schools, to impose a model of governance on the school board and the school district that is rooted in corporations and nonprofit governance - where a school board is really the school district's version of the city council, or the legislature, or Congress, right? That's how it works today and how it should work - they're the elected representatives of the democracy to make sure that everything's going properly, that if there's a problem the board can step in and fix it, to hold the bureaucracy accountable. Bureaucrats hate that, and so do the corporate education reformers at the Gates Foundation - they've always been trying to find ways to limit or eliminate the public's oversight and influence in operations of the school district.

And so what they've come up with lately is this thing called Student Outcome Focused Governance, which sounds great - we all want good student outcomes. But in practice, what it means is this tendency - which already existed - to have the board do less and less work and have less and less oversight over district operations. It now locks the board into a really rigid system where the board essentially becomes rubber stamps. The idea is that they give goals to the superintendent - we want a certain amount of third graders to score well on a test. And guardrails - Oh well, you agree you're not going to violate community norms by doing this. It's all really vague stuff, but there's no enforcement mechanism. And ultimately, what happens is that when a school community comes to the board saying - We have a problem here. You're cutting our jazz program at Washington Middle School - which is nearly a third Black students at Washington Middle School. Franklin High School - You're eliminating our mock trial program - the student body at Franklin, about a third Black. A year ago, the district fired the principal at Cleveland High School, who had done a great job hiring a faculty that looked like the diverse community that attends Cleveland, that had done a great job raising graduation rates, especially among Black students. And they fired her because she violated a district mandate to hide the stats on COVID cases. And so the community - again, a lot of Black families show up at the school board saying - Oh my God, this is terrible, you need to intervene. And the board in all these cases says - No, we're not going to do anything. And part of the reason they say no is they say - Well, we've decided we're stepping back from operations. We're not going to interfere with what the superintendent is doing. And this new model of Student Outcome Focused Governance, where we hand over more and more power and policy to the superintendent, is part of that push. And so it's just adopting this corporate mindset where your board of directors just rubber stamps everything and lets the CEO do what they want - that's not how a school district is supposed to operate.

And the nice thing about Seattle is we're not a place where we have Moms for Liberty showing up at the school board meetings wanting to ban books. Now, that is a problem in Kent and a problem in other places - you have to figure out how you manage that democratically. But here in Seattle, we need a board that is engaged - especially with $130 million budget deficit, especially with closing schools. And we're going to see at tonight's board meeting, some of this play out - where they're reviewing their goals and seeing that actually these goals they set out - of third graders achieving certain test score proficiency - aren't being met. In fact, they're pretty far from being met. And so the question is - All right, what are you going to do, board? Are you actually going to intervene on any of this, or are you just going to let it go?

And the last thing I want to mention on this front is the board is looking at, the district really, is looking at closing schools. They might announce this fall maybe as many as 20 schools they want to close, which will be a huge story, a bomb going off in communities when their core of their neighborhood, their school is closed. And people have been asking - Well, what's the board going to do to have public input? The superintendent's plan is to have a couple of public meetings in August, when people are either physically not here or are checked out for other reasons - they're not engaged in their school community - to have this conversation. And is the board going to do anything about that? Are they going to actually bring in the voices of the communities that are going to be most affected and impacted? Or are they just going to say - Eh, we've ceded all that power. We don't really want to do that work. We're just going to sit here and rubber stamp what the administration says. These are fundamental questions about community involvement and governance, small-d democracy - and the board is going off in the wrong direction with very little oversight from the public and certainly not from the media.

[00:37:30] Crystal Fincher: I'm really glad you wrote that because it's such a big problem. And what was striking to me was a couple of things - as you mentioned, just how frequently the voices of parents and students have just been ignored. Where problems - yes, they exist, yes, it's bad, but it's not our place to intervene, basically. And if it's not their place, then what are they doing? It just doesn't seem to make much sense. And in the context of this current election, where we have school board candidates talking about what they want to do, what their goals are, how things would change - that seems like that would be hard to do under this current structure. It seems like - in order to make any kind of progress, to have anything that they're talking about land in the realm of possibility - we have to change this way of doing things first. So it's a bleak situation currently, but it can be changed. And there just needs to be a focus. And I thank you for writing that to help provide that focus - on everyone saying - Wait a minute, this doesn't make any sense. And really just another thing that is bad for public governance.

[00:38:36] Robert Cruickshank: One of the reasons I wrote it is these are conversations happening among a lot of different parents in Seattle that - there's a whole network of people who are engaged and talking with each other about these concerns and growing increasingly frustrated that they're just not getting media coverage. And this is where I point out - yeah, there's so fewer reporters covering the schools these days. As we said, even earlier in this podcast, while we think it's bad in Seattle, it's so much worse once you get just a couple of miles outside of the City, where there are Moms for Liberty people out there pushing really hard to ban books, to attack trans kids, take down Pride flags. And that occasionally gets covered when it gets bad enough, but the constant drumbeat going on in some of these smaller school districts is just not getting the attention it needs to and it's a problem.

[00:39:26] Crystal Fincher: It's a big problem - in Kent, in Highline School District, in Tacoma. It is in our suburbs. And because it isn't getting much pressure and because information is so siloed, we're seeing alliances form - some people who endorse Democratic candidates falling into this trap and then just spiraling from there. And it's a big challenge, but we won't be able to get on top of it without taking action here. And by having those districts that aren't being afflicted with that set an example, policy-wise, for other districts. Seattle is in such a unique position, as a larger city with a progressive population, to be able to do that. And policies like this - you could almost say they were designed to prevent that, that's how it works on the ground. But it absolutely needs to be changed.

Now I also want to talk about some polling that we saw reported in The Seattle Times this week, that may have been surprising to some Seattle Times readers if they read past the headline. What did you see here?

[00:40:32] Robert Cruickshank: There's some fascinating results, including even in today's Times, where - just starting with the one that appeared today - the headline, "1 in 3 Seattle residents thinking about leaving the City." Okay - another "Seattle is Dying" narrative? Well, you read the actual article and look at the polling results - you see that about 30% of those people saying they want to leave are worried about housing costs - turns out they're renters who love Seattle, they feel safe here, they like the City a lot and they don't want to leave. But they feel like they're being priced out, so they're looking - Maybe I move to Tacoma, maybe I move to Montana, maybe I move to Texas - but they don't want to. Then there's another third of those people who are looking at leaving Seattle, who are the ones who say they're concerned about public safety - turns out, overwhelmingly, homeowners making more than $250,000 a year as a household - these are people who have no actual public safety worries. We have issues in Seattle, but this is a very, very safe city by any stretch of the imagination. And yet these are the people who have the most privilege, the most money and wealth in the City, who are being spooked by the coverage they're reading in The Times and thinking - Oh gosh, maybe I need to move out of here, it's become unsafe. No, it's not. But it's interesting to see who gets attention and who doesn't. The Times caters to that wealthy homeowner and stokes their fears about public safety. While the renter - usually younger, usually more progressive - The Times actually attacks what they need. The Times is notorious for opposing housing bills. The missing middle bill, the Times tried to kill earlier this year from the editorial side.

So it's interesting to see these results even pop up in The Times' own reporting. Earlier this week, they had something on public safety and police - shouldn't surprise any progressive that "defund the police" is now unpopular with pretty much most of the electorate. But what remains highly popular across the board - and this shows up in the Chamber's own polling as well - is standing up alternatives to police. That has huge support. People get it - that we need an alternative to sending an officer with a gun to a lot of these calls. We need to preserve that for violent crime or theft in progress - the things that you might want a cop for. Someone in mental health crisis needs a mental health counselor, not a cop. Suspicious person walking down the street - come on, someone else can respond to that who's not going to escalate that with a gun. And the public gets that. And yet that's not reflected in The Times editorializing. And as we know, City Hall, especially the mayor's office, really dragged its feet on setting up alternatives to policing, even though the public is making it clear in these polls that they want that.

[00:43:07] Crystal Fincher: And notable that - even on this program before - Monisha Harrell, former Senior Deputy Mayor, really wanted to stand those up. And unfortunately, she's not going to be with the administration much longer. And even in this and this public safety poll - it is so interesting how people view polls, approach polls, and how media entities are now using polls. One - now, you want to view the entire poll. And what we've seen increasingly from outlets, including The Seattle Times, is the kind of dripping of information. And okay, you drip information - still talk about your methodology, but they seem to be like - Oh, it's all about talking about this - so that's definitely one thing to note. I'm looking at the headlines on some of these things, which are curious. But when you look at the actual results - my goodness, when asked the question - How would you rate the job the Seattle police are doing in the City? - 60% of residents say it's not good. The choices are excellent, good, fair, and poor - 40% say fair, 20% say poor. If you have 60% of residents in your city saying you're not doing a good job - for everyone else, that gets breathless headlines from The Times saying that they're in trouble, maybe they're on their way out, but here it just seems to not factor into the narrative. And not that The Times is going to say - Okay well, disband - that's not going to happen.

But it can inform questions - like in the last municipal elections, we had a number of candidates running on police reform. Now, some with a more cynical view - myself included - when they saw, say, mailers from Sara Nelson saying that she was going to focus on police reform, didn't really believe that. But hey, everyone gets elected, they have a chance. Now, I don't know what Sara Nelson has done in this time on the council about police reform, but that seems to be the thing - just promise it and never get to it. Or that's basically the - You know, hey, we don't need to do any extreme stuff, but things do need to get better. Once again, if you don't talk about what those things are, what your actual plans are, it really commits you to nothing. And surprise, what we have gotten there is nothing - when the public is really saying - Please do something and we're getting increasingly dissatisfied by not doing something. You talked about how people desperately want alternatives to policing. There are few policy proposals in any issue area that are as popular as that. And so my goodness, stand that up, get the job done. And what this could really spur is an examination of why, when it's so popular, it's not happening and the mayor's office is dragging its feet. It's funded by the Seattle City Council, this is really in the mayor's lap. Why isn't this happening? But there just seems to be no curiosity here. And this, to me, is interesting in just how campaigns use polling. A lot of times it's not for horse race stuff - it's to inform where people are at on issues, how to bridge the gap between where people are at and where you are as a candidate, and where you'd like them to be. It's not a - Well, this is where people are at and this is all we can do about it. It's a piece of information, it's not a determining factor for what will happen. And we see that all the time, because polls move and polls change. And the more you talk about an issue, you see the numbers move on it. So it's not set in stone, but it is a piece of information and it just feels like we aren't using that information effectively.

[00:46:30] Robert Cruickshank: I think you can look at some of the progressive campaigns in Seattle that are being run this year, and I'm not sure in some cases what their overall strategy is. Because there's a clear path here - tax the rich, stand up alternatives to policing. And quickly get people housed without sweeping them, without being violent and destructive, but get our homeless neighbors into housing that is good and housing they want to be in - with a door that locks, for example. That's popular. All those things are super popular and they probably can run on that. And then The Seattle Times candidates are going to have a hard time saying - Oh yeah, me too - because their backers don't want that. But these polls are really fascinating because of what they show, and how they not just complicate but openly challenge the narrative that we're seeing from The Times, from the Chamber, and from some of these candidates, people like Sara Nelson and others. This is not a right-wing city. This is a city that sees some problems out there and wants them solved. And wants progressive solutions to them, as long as progressives are able to truly offer them.

[00:47:33] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And shows that everyone across the board is concerned about these problems. There's this narrative that progressives just don't care about crime. Statistically, we're victims more than anyone else. We're victims of this stuff. We are suffering from it - we don't want it, it's unacceptable. What is infuriating is seeing so much money and time devoted to things that have proven not to solve this and being told - But we don't have the money or resources to actually do the things that will. Well, if you would just stop wasting them on the things that won't - how many headlines do we have to see that community is upset because following this sweep, people came back to next door, right across town. Clearly, and literally I've seen four of those headlines in the past two weeks for our region. And yeah, it's so obvious that just saying - Go somewhere else - and violently imposing that and destroying people's property while telling them - Go somewhere else - just doesn't work. The problem is that they don't have homes. If we aren't doing anything to get them in homes, we are just perpetuating the problem and spending a lot of money to do it - it's just so incredibly wasteful, it's so fiscally irresponsible.

[00:48:46] Robert Cruickshank: What this shows is that candidates on the right, Seattle Times, Chamber of Commerce - people like that - are not actually interested in solving these problems. They're not really interested in housing the homeless. They're not really interested in dealing with people who are abusing drugs, addicted to drugs, and doing so in public. They're not really interested in solving the crime problem. What they're really interested in is taking those problems - blowing them up out of proportion, scaring people about them, and then using that fear to turn people against progressive elected officials and progressive candidates. Because as we talked about earlier in the show, what they really care about is cutting taxes for the wealthy and for big corporations. They know that those taxes are extremely popular, but if they can elect candidates who will roll those taxes back and elect them on other issues by stoking those fears - that's a winning political strategy. And it's worked. It's a strategy that exists for a reason - it's often successful. And so we, who are progressive, have to understand that. And we not only need to just point out that that's what the playbook the other team is using, we have to counter that with having the solutions that people really want. And fight hard and effectively get them. This is where Teresa Mosqueda, again, has been very, very good at this. She had, with the JumpStart Tax, tried to fund affordable housing. The council in 2020 had great efforts - great programs funded and approved to solve visible homelessness. And Jenny Durkan just undermined all of them for political reasons. And so that's the challenge that we face - is often progressives are going to get the blame for things that corporate Democrats and right wingers have blocked them from doing.

[00:50:24] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, could not agree more. And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, July 7th, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, one of the best political minds on the West Coast, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on one of the 11 platforms that people are on, probably, @cruickshank. You can follow Hacks & Wonks and me @finchfrii on all platforms. You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever 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 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 episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.