Week In Review: May 13, 2022 - with EJ Juárez

Week In Review: May 13, 2022 - with EJ Juárez

On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by the former Director of Progressive Majority who has now transitioned into public service but remains involved in numerous political efforts across Washington, EJ Juarez. EJ and Crystal start off by discussing the Washington Supreme Court’s decision that driving while high can get you a DUI and the role that bias plays in situations of suspicion. Then, they discuss King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn’s lone vote against abortion rights that contradicts his previous position. News that Seattle parents are mobilizing against changes to school bell times sparks a conversation around whether the Seattle School Board is putting equity into practice and getting kids into school ready to learn. Crystal wraps up the show with a warning about “mutual termination agreements” that landlords are using to sign away renters’ rights and the two share enthusiasm for the prospect of moving elections to even-numbered years as the King County Council considers the change.

About the Guest

EJ Juárez

EJ Juárez is the former Director of Progressive Majority who has now transitioned into public service but remains involved in numerous political efforts across Washington.

Find EJ Juárez on Twitter/X at @EliseoJJuarez.


“WA drivers can get DUIs for driving while high, state Supreme Court finds” by David Kroman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/wa-drivers-can-get-duis-for-driving-while-high-state-supreme-court-finds/

“King County's Reagan Dunn votes against abortion rights in apparent about-face” by David Guttman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/after-years-of-supporting-abortion-rights-king-countys-reagan-dunn-votes-against-them/

“Seattle Families Mobilize Against Sweeping Change to School Bell Times” by Robert Cruickshank from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/05/04/seattle-families-mobilize-against-sweeping-change-to-school-bell-times-and-bus-schedules/

“Sign here to avoid eviction but beware: You might be signing away your rights” by Anna Boiko-Weyrauch from KUOW: https://www.kuow.org/stories/sign-here-to-avoid-eviction-but-beware-you-might-be-signing-away-your-rights

“King County Council to consider push to move elections to even-numbered years” by David Guttman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/king-county-looks-to-move-elections-to-even-numbered-years/


[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 who do the work, with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome to the program for the first time, today's co-host: the former Director of Progressive Majority who has now transitioned into public service - but remains involved in numerous political efforts across Washington - EJ Juarez.

[00:00:59] EJ Juarez: Hi Crystal - thanks for having me.

[00:01:01] Crystal Fincher: Hey, thanks for being here - pretty much if people have been involved in politics over the past decade, they have crossed paths with you, know of you - you have just had your hands in a lot of different efforts and I'm really excited to have you joining us today.

[00:01:18] EJ Juarez: I'm excited to be here.

[00:01:20] Crystal Fincher: Well it's been a funky week - we're still reeling from a lot of the news that we have received over the past couple of weeks and all of that falling out. But this week a few things did happen, including our State Supreme Court finding unanimously that Washington drivers can get DUIs for driving while high, which has been up for discussion since we legalized marijuana and people recognizing that the metrics for intoxication with alcohol are different than they are with cannabis. And that not being - there not being a really exact or precise way to determine how intoxicated someone is when they are using cannabis and how that interacts with how they're driving. How did you read this decision?

[00:02:19] EJ Juarez: My first thing was - one, it's about time that this was taken up. But two, incredible anxiety around how the application of this law has been playing out since voters approved our initiative and ultimately how law enforcement officials are going to be applying this across the state. And for folks, I think this opens up - and has opened up - an incredible amount of bias and an incredible amount of subjectivity to this process where it is really up to an individual to say, I believe you are high, right? Like I know when I'm high, it looks a lot different than when my buddy's high. And that process is a scary one when you are operating a vehicle, which you should not be doing if you are high - let's be clear, under no circumstances. But especially when we are applying a scientific metric to something that - the science just isn't there yet.

[00:03:12] Crystal Fincher: Science isn't there yet. There was just a post by David Kroman that I was reading yesterday and he's like, it's always interesting looking to see how police officers describe being high and things that just seem really weird - it's subjective. Their thing was - well, this person didn't have, wasn't able to correctly estimate time. And I'm sitting there like I am stone-cold sober and I doubt my ability to accurately estimate periods of time. That is something specific that doesn't seem like it would go right. And I just personally have this - a number of fears about being pulled over - justifiably fears about being pulled over - and being mistaken for being high. Or you drive through an area and you drive through an area where people have been smoking and you smell it in your car. And I'm so paranoid that at that moment, some police officer's going to be there and, you've been smoking. And I'm, no, no - I just drove through an area.

It's always been that thing, but even here - this specific case generated from someone who was pulled over by a Washington state trooper. The trooper said that the person was shaking, sweating, and had dark circles under his eyes - and that made him think he was under the influence. He also noticed he was wearing a name tag from a cannabis shop, and I'm sure that didn't influence anything at all. But the person had said that they hadn't smoked since the prior day, and were not currently under the influence of anything. And his blood was drawn, his THC levels were above the legally permissible levels there, and he appealed his conviction up to the Supreme Court who unanimously found - hey, basically, they acknowledged that the levels are arbitrary and vague. The standards for THC in the blood are arbitrary and vague, but that the correlation between THC levels and impairment is challenging to pinpoint. They found that blood measurement nevertheless provides a useful and constitutionally acceptable measurement. And also acknowledging that, especially since this came from an initiative passed by the people, the standard for finding it unconstitutional is even higher. And I'm referring right now to an article about this by David Kroman in the Seattle Times.

So it's just a really interesting situation. It does seem like the science isn't there for a lot of this, but really important for people to be cautious, to know where their legal liabilities lie, and that even if they aren't - they didn't just partake - we need to understand how long THC levels remain in the blood, what that looks like, because that can determine and be the difference in your legal liability in a DUI and not having one.

[00:06:18] EJ Juarez: Absolutely. And I think the lesson here is just don't do it. Don't drive when you're high, don't drive after you've consumed. But I definitely think - in that same article that you're referencing from the Seattle Times, there's this assumption around the law being able to push the public and promote some level of public interest in highway safety. And I think that is the key - is that it doesn't matter what the science ultimately is. Whatever that line is that's chosen, once there is enough body of work to determine it - this is not an activity that should be taking place, but furthermore, the law does not and should not allow this to be something currently that's measured against drivers.

[00:07:01] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And I do again want to just reiterate, it is so critical not to drive while impaired. One of the interesting things in this and that has played out in a lot of different conversations is that they also mentioned in this decision - that driving is not a right, and we do have a responsibility to be careful. We should not be driving while intoxicated in any kind of way, whether it's just having a drink, or doing any kind of substance, or even being really tired. Being really tired is very similar in terms of the impacts to your judgment, reaction times, and driving to being intoxicated. So just be really safe out there. I'm thinking about the fatality collision with the bicyclist on Seattle's Fourth Avenue just the other day. We've seen several of these throughout our region and we just need to be alert and paying attention and being aware of pedestrians and folks on bikes - everywhere we're going and through everything we're doing if we're driving. It really is the driver's responsibility - people in cars have the capacity to do tremendous harm and we need to be careful, just overall. Just wanted to throw that in.

I also wanted to talk about a vote that the King County Council took this week to reinforce their support of abortion rights in this week after the leaked Roe vs Wade decision - leaked decision - that overturns, seemingly would overturn, Roe vs Wade and the telegraphing that this is about to happen. Both the City of Seattle took a vote, affirming their support of abortion as a right. The King County Council did also - however, this time, Reagan Dunn, King County Councilmember, who is currently running for Congress against Kim Schrier, voted against it and voted against abortion rights. What did you think of this?

[00:09:13] EJ Juarez: It seemed very on-brand for him to just take the contrarion, standing up for something that he thinks is right, but that is wildly off base and nonsensical. When I look at his career, he puts his finger into the air, sees which way the wind is blowing for who's going to be giving him money in his campaigns, and that's the way he votes. You can see here by his own history - it wasn't until he realized there was a base to activate, and I think that's really a shame. When you look at his colleagues, he's the lone vote there. I will say there is a definite sadness for me that this person represents King County and given who needs to see their local officials supporting a woman's right to choose, supporting body autonomy, and supporting basic human rights to control what happens to your own body - that is not something that an elected official in King County should ever have to question.

[00:10:11] Crystal Fincher: It really isn't and you referenced - we're looking at his prior statements. He has nearly two decades in public service. In 2005, in his first race for the position for the seat he holds now for County Council, he said, government shouldn't be involved in that process at all. Opposing government funding for abortion, but saying government shouldn't interfere with women's decisions. In 2012, as he ran in his failed attempt to be State Attorney General, he said similar, with abortion I take a libertarian perspective that it ought to be a choice of the individual and less about the government. But this past Tuesday with this vote to affirm support of abortion rights, he was the lone No vote. It's just really - looking at being so cavalier and being such an opportunist politically that you flip your vote because you think it's going to help you in your upcoming race - then well, I guess this is the place where the Republican party is now, so let me just go ahead and switch what I believe to match with that. It's just really gross and vile and it does have to do with body autonomy.

This isn't just about abortion, certainly starting there, and it's critical that we maintain abortion rights. It has everything to do with women being able to dictate the course of their lives, how they can participate in work and in the economy, absolutely being vital and critical to health, being - I have a couple of friends who are pregnant right now who have had really tough pregnancies and not everybody wants to be pregnant. And thinking pregnancy is just this easy thing that people go through - it can have lifelong consequences, it can debilitate you in ways for the rest of your life, there are complications that can kill you. And that people endure - not everybody wants to endure that, and people shouldn't have to. And to just ignore that fact because you don't personally happen to have to endure that is just really sad. Again, we talked last week about just where I stand on this issue. And it is just really infuriating and is definitely the start of a slippery slope to taking away so many rights, so many elements involved in women's healthcare that are just terrifying.

And especially in a week where we're dealing, where we're talking about our formula shortage - we are doing so little to protect life in our country, to protect babies and families, and putting them in jeopardy in so many ways. And to force someone to participate in this and to see this coming from someone in the King County Council, it just is a reinforcement that - one, we have to be vigilant against people who are doing this. There are a lot of people, even though we think of ourselves as a blue county and a blue state and, Hey, we're totally fine - there are people working to dismantle this. And lots of people thought Roe vs Wade was settled law and totally fine until it wasn't. Same applies to us, so we can't take our foot off of the gas, no matter how comfortable we think we are.

[00:13:50] EJ Juarez: Absolutely, and in the most disingenuous way is too - the justification that Councilmember Dunn gives here is basically - well, it's another government. It's another level of government that has to do this, which I think is so common for him. And so relevant to his governing style - whether it's transit, whether it's this, whether you pick the issue and Reagan Dunn is going to throw up his hands and say, it belongs in another jurisdiction. And it's disappointing because it's like, what kind of leadership is that actually giving? And ultimately, what are you voting for? If every stance you take is about pitching the issue to another level, nothing actually gets done because to truly change and defend or promote anything, it has to be layered, right? No level of government exists on its own.

And when you look at, especially the statement that's used, I think by many folks at every level of government who are trying to justify really terrible takes - the statements are typically rooted in this fantasy land of - we need to be focused on what we have to focus on. Well, when you drill that down and you ask folks what they need to be focused on, they're going to say things like jobs and mobility and all this stuff. But ultimately, having a person who can have a child make the decision of when they're going to have that child, how they're going to have that child - is an economic decision. It impacts their ability to work. It impacts their ability to plan financially for their own family. These are things that are tied to the economy, these are things that are tied to basic human rights. And it was just a shocking insight into the councilmember's brain there of - it is simple logic that ultimately doesn't pay off at the end.

[00:15:42] Crystal Fincher: It really doesn't and I completely agree with everything you just said - very well said. So we will leave that there for now. We'll continue to follow it.

Also want to talk about a major issue that impacts so many families in the Seattle area and families mobilizing against a sweeping change to school bell times. The Urbanist and Robert Cruickshank wrote about this this week - Seattle Public Schools is proposing to return to a three-tiered system for bell times and bus service, with some schools starting as early as 7:30 AM. That's the school start time - meaning that bus times need to be much earlier for that to get kids to school. And it's just such a disruptive change that seems to be contrary to all of the health guidelines for kids in these age groups. And families are looking at this and saying - one, this is just a really disruptive change, it's hard to sustain, I'm looking at having more challenges coordinating more than one child in schools with different start times and dealing with that. It's just really disruptive. As you see this, what do you look at? And is this the right thing to be doing?

[00:17:02] EJ Juarez: First of all, no. I don't think any kid should be starting school at 7:30 AM 'cause I know I wouldn't start work at 7:30 AM if I was given any kind of choice. But I will say, I'm mostly so - I guess - irritated. I'm irritated that for years now, we are still talking about buses, with Seattle Public Schools. We are still talking about the Seattle School Board not actually listening, not actually working in the best interest for the health of those children. And it is bang-your-head-against-the-wall insanity to continue to watch the Seattle School Board not do the nuts and bolts of governance of running this district. The leadership has willfully not addressed buses in a meaningful way. We should not, in 2022, be talking about bus issues and transportation, given what happened just a few years ago with the massive shortages in their hiring issues. And we should not be talking about and debating whether or not a kid should be in their seat in classrooms at 7:30 AM ready to learn. We know kids are not ready at 7:30 in the morning to talk about anything other than why they are awake.

[00:18:20] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's a fact. And just health-wise, there've been plenty of studies showing that kids need more sleep than what is realistic to expect when school starts that early - when they have to wake up at 6:00 AM to get ready for school, to catch the bus by - to get to school at 7:30. It just doesn't make any sense. And why Seattle Public Schools, why the district is so determined to not listen to the science and to not listen to parents. The current bell schedule came about - switching from the prior three-tier system - in 2015, with a parent task force that came up with recommendations regarding bell times that led to this current system. Showing that the three-tier system wasn't meeting student needs, it flew in the face of best practices for student health, and that this system often made buses late, and left few buses available for the day for field trips. They specifically moved away from this kind of system because it was so broken and not working for everyone. And so following the lead of medical professionals, they recommended that the district move elementary start times to 8:00 and high school start times to 8:45. Teens need to sleep in later for their health. And so that was following that guideline saying that, Hey, teens need extra time just for their development. This is not controversial, this is well-known - has been for quite some time.

But Seattle Public Schools staff continues to try and change the system, and go back to the three-tier system. And parents are just going, why - we moved away from this for a reason, you keep trying to do this. The school board took up a decision and they were going to basically allow the district to make its own decisions about start times. There has been a petition with over a thousand families signing up saying, no, we don't want this. So the school board has actually moved away from trying to fast track this through and it's going to take it up at a future meeting. So this is actually a very important time for parents to be communicating with their school board members and with the district to reinforce what they want to see from this bell schedule. And if you are not wanting to move back to a system that wasn't working for people basically, it's really important that people speak up because it - there isn't much time left to impact this decision.

[00:21:05] EJ Juarez: It makes me really curious as to - if only this were a proclamation, if only it were a resolution, then the school board would be really good at passing it because that's what they're good at. If it is equity related, if it is anything that they can put into a feel good statement that they can vote on without doing work, it is heralded and championed. But when it comes to actually changing policy for equity and putting equity into practice, especially around how we are getting kids related to their health into school ready to learn, it is a struggle. And the district has not proven, for the past few years now, that they are able to do more than performative equity and more than performative changes to get student achievement up. This in particular is troubling, and I think you said it really well is that - this three-tier model is not actually something that is based on what is best for students. It is based on an external pressure of shortage of bus drivers and this staff. So what has the district done? It has chosen to change how it operates to meet this crisis versus trying to actually solve that crisis. It is terrible and it is another notch in the belt of Seattle Public Schools really not living up to its own standards.

[00:22:23] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree. So just, again, lots of times we talk about what's happening, why it's happening - yes, they do have a bus driver shortage that they need to desperately address. Think this goes into conversations about, Hey, we're seeing lots of areas and sectors having challenges hiring people. I think in the private sector sometimes they are more agile and responsive to challenges like that - and hey, I guess we need to raise our prices, we need to take action now to do something to fix this. And sometimes the public sector is - sometimes because of barriers that they can't overcome, sometimes they aren't feeling the pressure to act - but saying, okay, we have a hiring problem that we need to solve here. What action do we need to take to solve it and let's get that implemented. To your point, it sounds like the district is just not engaging on how to adequately address that issue and moving in the direction that makes progress as opposed to saying, well, this is just a problem and we're just going to have to ask everyone else to accommodate it through these things that have been proven not to work. Just a big challenge there. We'll continue to follow along with that, to follow along with the proceedings, the meetings, and to engage and update you on what's happening there.

Also this week, there was coverage on KUOW about Mutual Termination Agreements, which are very interesting - elements that in some cases are helpful and help people avoid eviction. But in other cases are tools that landlords are using to eliminate rights of people, sometimes in coercive ways, to get them out of their properties. Have you heard of this? What's going on here, EJ?

[00:24:25] EJ Juarez: I think it is another example of landlords taking an opportunity and running with it. And especially while we are in a housing affordability crisis and ultimately a renter crisis here, we are watching these sneaky moves that are predatory by nature to take advantage of folks that otherwise are just trying to be made whole and live their lives with a good faith effort to remain where they are. And I think it's especially terrible when you look at - folks are looking at perhaps a 20-page rental agreement that's not written in layman's terms, that is definitely in legalese. And a landlord rolls up after perhaps an event in their own apartment or a renovation - they're like, look, we'll get this handled. We're going to get you moving on, just sign this away. And then that renter has simultaneously signed away 15 pages of protections in their original lease. So it is another example of landlords in this city - I think really being bad faith actors.

[00:25:32] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and compared to the formal eviction process, Mutual Termination Agreements are a quicker, easier way to get a renter out. Seattle law firms that represents property owners and eviction proceedings has a quick template that can be downloaded online and organizations who advocate for landlords are saying, this is good, and they're saying sometimes necessary. And because of the eviction moratoriums in place, things have become tougher for landlords and so they need it to perhaps get difficult people out of a unit, or a tenant who hasn't paid their rent, or who they want to get out for one reason or another. The reason why the eviction process exists is to protect the rights of everybody involved, just the fundamental rights that people have as renters, and to provide an appropriate remedy. These Mutual Termination Agreements are a shortcut and sometimes they're presented in situations where someone is behind on their rent and they're like, well, hey, I'll give you a few days extra to get out. We won't have to go through a formal eviction proceeding. Just sign this and it'll be fine. And people don't understand that that's not an agreement to extend for a couple of days - that's actually an agreement signing away all of the rights that they have. And even rights to be able to pay an owed balance in installments to catch up, to be able to have a right to their security deposit, which sometimes is signed away in agreements like this.

Just lots of different reasons and what bubbled up, and I think caught the eye of the writer of this story - looks like Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, is that this has been abused in a number of ways. Following some of these proceedings in eviction courts, there was a situation of a gentleman with a - it looked like a traumatic brain injury who was not able to read because of that injury, but signed this document. People whose primary language is not English signing this document. Folks who end up - wound up with a fire - and those situations being presented - well, there's a lot of property damage, you're getting out of here, here sign this - and signing away all of their rights sometimes, including the right to even speak about your landlord. This is functioning as an NDA that - wow, you can't even leave a negative Yelp review - that would be in opposition to the terms of these contracts.

And it just seems like they're a way to get around the protections that are - that tenants have and that we as a community and a society have agreed are appropriate to protect people from just being kicked out of the home that they have, after they have faithfully adhered to the terms of their agreements. It has been used in a predatory way, and I'm glad a light is being shined on this to help people understand that at least you have rights and you should understand them, and this may be a risk to them.

[00:28:47] EJ Juarez: I think what this is making me think of a lot is that as a country, we have allowed a person's right to profit off of an investment - that housing itself trumps a person's ability to have shelter. And this is a really - it is a tsunami of little things that are put together to make it very difficult to justify that landlords should not be susceptible to losses, that landlords should not be subject to the same kind of common knowledge, common wisdom that - when you make an investment, you may take a loss on that. When you make an investment, you will not be guaranteed profit. And things like Mutual Termination Agreements are a brick in that wall that says that's actually not true - they are guaranteed profit, they are guaranteed to have stable income, even though they are providing a service that is a basic human right. That tension, especially here in Seattle and King County, is one that's not being rectified. And so you have situations where a person's ability to make money is pitted against a person's ability to remain in their home. And every time the person's ability to make money wins. And it's not through huge pieces of legislation, it's not through landmark things that we're all gonna hear about in the news, it's through stories like this - and credit to the reporter - and tactics around Mutual Termination Agreements that make that possible and make that enshrined as a cultural norm for our country.

[00:30:21] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. So we of course will be linking this article in our show notes for you to read more about it, but certainly something to be aware of. The last thing I want to talk about today is what, to me, is an exciting event that we see at the King County Council. Not Reagan Dunn taking his horrible vote, but Councilmember Claudia Balducci introducing an effort to move elections to even-numbered years. We've talked about this on the show before - that turnout in elections in odd years, which here focuses on the most local positions usually, is really low. It's so much lower than it is for elections in even-numbered years. And it really is just disenfranchisement - we don't do a good job or anything associated with highlighting when these things happen broad and wide, how important local elections are, and we have the advantage in the even-numbered years of just very profile elections being covered and that turns out so many more people. So Councilmember Balducci has introduced a proposal to move elections on a countywide, for all county-wide positions, to even-numbered years starting in 2026. And all positions shifting to even-numbered years by 2028. What do you think about this proposal?

[00:31:45] EJ Juarez: Oh, I love it. I love it. I think this is the thing that all of us who have been working in politics for - whether it's one day or whether it's 10 or 20 years, this is what we know will work to turn up, to drive turnout, to make sure that folks are keyed in to what they need to be keyed in, and actually help voters navigate the process easier. There is no reason where we should force the general public to learn all of the jurisdictions and the cadences of elections. Our job as folks who do this work and the jobs that people that serve in elected office should be about removing those barriers and consolidating it to make participation the path of least resistance. And I think things like this absolutely do it.

Imagine the cost savings as well when you're not running consistent elections all throughout the year. I think the next - the natural progression of this is when you look at school bonds and special elections. Should we really be doing stuff in the middle of February? Should we really be doing another bond in April? Probably not. But if you know that we can get folks to expect about at a certain time - drive everybody towards that moment - folks are going to be ready to participate, and you're going to see more and more people participate.

[00:33:01] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely well said. And really the difference - King County has an average of 47% turnout in odd years and 77% in even-numbered years. Having fewer than half the people participate vs over three quarters, seems like, Hey, this is such an obvious, logical thing to do. More people voting and participating is always better - let's make that happen. With that, we will conclude the show today.

Thank you so much for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, May 13th, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer is Shannon Cheng, with assistance from Emma Mudd. Our insightful co-host today, as you heard - he's not that great at taking credit for things, he's usually not out in front of efforts, but you can hear why he has been so critical to so many of the great things that have happened in our state - former Director of Progressive Majority who has now transitioned into public service and still remains involved in numerous political efforts across Washington, EJ Juarez. You can find EJ on Twitter @EliseoJJuarez. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii - we'll link those both in the show notes. And now you can follow Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. 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.