Week in Review: October 29, 2021 - with Michael Charles

Week in Review: October 29, 2021 - with Michael Charles

Today Crystal is joined by Michael Charles, political consultant and managing partner at Upper Left Strategies. Elections are coming up next Tuesday, November 2nd, and Crystal and Michael break down spending in the Seattle City Attorney's race, how campaigns are spending their money and what the strategies may be behind it, races to watch all around the state, and the importance of paying attention to political races outside of Seattle.

About the Guest

Find Michael Charles on Twitter/X at @mikeychuck.


“The 2021 Seattle Mayor’s Race By The Numbers” by Erica C. Barnett from The South Seattle Emerald: https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/09/29/the-2021-seattle-mayors-race-by-the-numbers/

“PAC spending in Seattle elections tops $3 million with late surge in real estate, business money” by Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/pac-spending-in-seattle-elections-tops-3-million-with-late-surge-in-real-estate-business-money/

“Seattle mayoral race filled with ads, PAC money, and cash” by David Hyde and Gracie Todd from KUOW: https://www.kuow.org/stories/as-candidates-court-voters-with-campaign-ads-pac-cash-flows-into-seattle-s-mayoral-race

“Poll finds overwhelming support among Seattle voters for JumpStart tax” by Marc Stiles from the Puget Sound Business Journal: https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2021/09/10/seattle-voters-overwhelmingly-support-jumpstart.html

“Gap in strategy, fundraising opens up between Seattle City Attorney candidate” by Nick Bowman from MyNorthwest: https://mynorthwest.com/3096045/seattle-city-attorney-fundraising-gap/

“Fact Check: Ann Davison’s Mailer Is Misleading, Full of Inaccuracies, Dumb, and Disqualifying” by Rich Smith from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2021/07/27/59571999/fact-check-ann-davisons-mailer-is-misleading-full-of-inaccuracies-dumb-and-disqualifying

“Q&A with Kent City Council candidates Cawthorn, Troutner” by Steve Hunter from The Kent Reporter: https://www.kentreporter.com/news/qa-with-kent-city-council-candidates-cawthon-troutner/

“Q&A with Kent School Board candidates Clark, Franklin” by Steve Hunter from The Kent Reporter: https://www.kentreporter.com/news/qa-with-kent-school-board-candidates-clark-franklin/

“Will Local Governments Reflect the Changing Demographics of South King County?” by Phil Manzano from The South Seattle Emerald: https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/06/30/will-local-governments-reflect-the-changing-demographics-of-south-king-county/

“King County Conservatives Discredit Progressive POC Candidates as ‘Defund’ Extremists” by Nathalie Graham from The South Seattle Emerald: https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/10/28/king-county-conservatives-discredit-progressive-poc-candidates-as-defund-extremists/

“Outside campaign spending on Spokane City Council races grows to unprecedented level” by Adam Shanks from The Spokesman-Review: https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/oct/28/outside-campaign-spending-on-spokane-city-council-/

“Northeast Spokane candidates Sherazi, Bingle debate homelessness, public safety” by Adam Shanks at The Spokesman-Review: https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/oct/21/sherazi-bingle-debate-homelessness-public-safety/


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full 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 co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host, political consultant and managing partner of Upper Left Strategies, Michael Charles.

[00:00:52] Michael Charles: Thanks, Crystal - good to be here again. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:55] Crystal Fincher: Good to have you again. So it is the Friday before ballots are due - the election is November 2nd. That's next Tuesday. Make sure everyone listening - you get your ballots in, get them in early, do not wait. They're very important elections this year, but there's a lot going on - campaigns are getting out all the stops to get people out to vote, to make sure that voters who tuned in late are getting their messages and understanding what's at stake in these races. So I guess starting with the Seattle races, what are you seeing right now?

[00:01:33] Michael Charles: Well, it feels like we're in what feels to be potentially a correction back to the center on some of our issues with the Seattle City Council races, with the mayoral races. It's been a pretty clear divide between what we'd seen as traditionally the liberal establishment versus the more moderate establishment run against each other. It's interesting to see how it's all breaking down and where each camp is deciding to spend their energies - with the more moderate folks spending on traditional expenditures like mail and digital and TV. We're kind of seeing the more liberal candidates are taking a different approach, at least down ballot ones. The mayor's race seems to be pretty traditional, but the down ballot races seem to be taking a more non-traditional approach and time will tell to see how it turns out for folks. So we're in for a ride, I think, over the last four days, especially with only a quarter of the people that have voted thus far.

[00:02:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah - you raise a really good point. I mean, there certainly is - we'll see how these elections turn out. But when you look at the amount of money that is being spent, especially on behalf of the more moderate, or candidates to the right, in these races - occupying the lane furthest to the right. Man, they're spending a lot of money. Man, they're talking to a bunch of voters. My goodness! It's a lot. I was looking at spending in the Seattle City Attorney race - just on the campaign side, before you get to independent expenditures, for Ann Davison - $170,000 cable buy in mid-October. So, I mean that's not that much time, but basically all over the TV airwaves with commercials. 175,000 mail pieces - spending $105,000 on that. $11,000 on texting, just texting there. Another $5,000 on digital banner ads. That's a lot of communication. That's a lot of money and that's just coming directly from the campaign. You're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars on top of that with independent expenditures.

Comparing that to the spending from Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, it's nowhere close. We're talking orders of magnitude bigger here, and it's just a big challenge. I mean, just to give you perspective - in terms of mailers for Nicole Thomas-Kennedy - 40,000, compared to over 150k - $26,000 spent on mailers, $6,000 spent - it looks like on digital. And what you see is - in this campaign, a lot invested in canvassing, a lot invested in direct person-to-person conversations, which are the most effective way to win votes. The challenge is in a citywide election, when there're going to be over 215,000 people voting - I think last mayoral race was 217,000. That's a lot of voters that you have to communicate with and the only way to get to that many and speak to the majority of them is with some paid communication. So we'll see how far the canvassing efforts can get to them.

But overall, when you just look at the money that is coming into this race, other races like it - clearly the forces supporting the moderate candidates are very concerned, have been voicing their displeasure with the direction that the City Council has gone. And although that has been in line with what people voted for when they elected their City Council representatives - and when you look at polling for things like the JumpStart Tax, the Head Tax - those are popular in Seattle. But when you bombard people, who often are not tuned in to the daily news of politics and policy in Washington and Seattle, that repeated constant hammering communication wears a percentage of those people down. And so in a close race that can make the difference. We'll see what happens. I mean, certainly we saw it a couple years ago - there was a backlash to the amount of money spent certainly, with Amazon at the helm - lots of people were unhappy with that. Do you think that's possible in this race this year - to see a backlash to the kind of spending that we've seen in these races?

[00:06:50] Michael Charles: I would also mention just briefly that there's also almost over $350,000 spent against Nicole Thomas-Kennedy as well in independent expenditures. So I'd like to believe that there - I do think that voters out here are very smart. Voters out here like to make decisions independently, they're not easily swayed by arguments that are nonsensical. Some of the hysteria that I'd received in my own mailbox around "stop chaos in Seattle" - some of this feels like pretty prototypical Fox News coverage type efforts. So I believe that a lot of people can see through that. But like you said, it's about those small percentages when these races are close. I believe if there is any backlash - I unfortunately think that a lot of this message of hitting home has been more effective, but I've been proven wrong many times before and none of us are perfect at this. So it'd be interesting to see if there's one boogeyman putting money in like there was before that I thought contributed to with Amazon in particular. I don't foresee any of that this year, but who foresaw Amazon putting in millions. So we're kind of getting to crunch time here now. If there's not something big that's going to happen like that, it's going to be a long weekend.

[00:08:31] Crystal Fincher: It's going to be a long weekend. I mean, to your point, over $300,000 of independent expenditures - you're looking at $500,000, half a million spent, in attempting to take down Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. So one, wow, what kind of a threat are you and how formidable are you when someone is spending half a million dollars to take you down and people hadn't heard of you before this election - that's something. And speaks to the power that they believe Nicole Thomas-Kennedy has, and are afraid that she'll be able to use it on a larger platform. Those forces, I mean, it's no secret that Ann Davison declared herself to be a Republican in 2018, decided to run against - or excuse me, in 2020, my - time doesn't mean anything to me anymore, it's just all run together. In 2020 - basically just opting into Trump's Republican party with a lot of extreme views. A lot of her biggest donors are some of the biggest donors to Trump in this state. What they have been certainly trying to do is to paint her as a moderate, to paint her as reasonable, and to paint Nicole Thomas-Kennedy as extreme.

But that's a lot of money invested - you look at the cost per vote - it's astronomical, right? The problem is when someone has super deep pockets, and a lot of these forces do, and are interested in maintaining their deep pockets and not having them taxed more, or being looked into for wage theft or anything like that. That you have these people donating to keep the status quo and to ensure that. Communication is effective to some degree and even bad communication, even if you're just changing the minds of 10% of people who you're communicating with - when that 10% equates to 10,000 or 20,000, that can make the difference in these races. And we've seen razor thin races in Seattle - we saw them in the primary and so-

[00:10:56] Michael Charles: Especially when it comes to these controversial candidates.

[00:10:56] Crystal Fincher: Yes. Yeah, so we'll see. But again, man, when you have to spend half a million dollars against someone, clearly their message has penetrated. Clearly their message is reaching a lot of people and there's fear around that getting out further. So kind of a David and Goliath situation, yet again. And the people have turned out for the Davids before in Seattle elections. So we will see what happens - I am notorious for disliking making predictions for that reason, because who knows and it really does taking people standing up and raising their voice, using their vote for the government that they want to see that reflects who they are. Certainly we have to do more than vote, right? We have to hold our leaders accountable, we have to act within our own communities. Voting is not the only tool in the tool belt that we need to use, but it is an essential and necessary one, in my opinion.

So I hope people - just talk to your friends and family, talk to people who you know, mention it at work. When you run into someone, "Hey, did you get your ballot in? Hey, this is who I'm voting for, and this is why." It makes a difference. Sometimes we get so caught up in talking online or to other people who are so plugged in, we forget to talk to those people who are close to us, who are in our family - who may not have all the information, who may not be as plugged in as probably the people listening to this podcast are. So I just encourage everyone to just talk to the people in your life who you are around. Send people a reminder to get their ballots in. The turnout projections are never excellent in an off-year, non-presidential, non-gubernatorial, odd-yeared race. So make sure you do your part to help your friends and family vote in an informed manner.

Now, we just talked about Seattle races. I want to talk about some of the other races going on. Obviously Kent, in my heart. Cliff Cawthon is running and has a great chance at beating a Republican incumbent, who is a very strong Blue Lives Matter, need law and order, increased police presence in our city. We just had situations where there have been a lack of interpreted documents, even in emergency notifications and notifications that can impact people's health and wellbeing. Sometimes those aren't even being translated. And in Kent, 40% of the residents in Kent speak a language other than English. So that's pretty critical. And so just some basic issues in dealing with a diverse modern population are at stake. Cliff Cawthon has certainly been a fighter for renter protections, for serving the entire community. I certainly hope people still do what they can to support him by making phone calls, volunteering, make a donation. But that's a big race that I have my eye on. Certainly Dawn Bennett is also running against the incumbent mayor - similar situation there. So lots of races in Kent.

In addition, we have Sara Franklin running for school board against Tim Clark - both consider themselves Democrats. Sara Franklin is a young - look, I would call her young - African American woman. Younger certainly than her opponent, but has been a member of unions, worked on behalf of unions, has been involved in a lot of work in the city of Kent and in the greater Seattle area. It would be great to see her serving the students on the school board. Who do you have your eye on, Michael?

[00:15:09] Michael Charles: I've been watching the Renton races - has been one of the more exciting juicy races, if you will, in that we have some interesting dynamics. Basically good old fashioned Democrat versus Republican races. One side being the labor-supported, from community - not that the other folks aren't from community - but from community organizing backgrounds where they're around issues that have been prominent in their communities - around policing, around just LGBT rights, around just several things that can be of the more liberal persuasion. And then up against what are seen as more traditionally conservative, business-friendly candidates - that the economic engine is the only thing that matters. So it's interesting to watch down there. I know both the liberal candidates did really well in the primary, so it's been interesting to see the consolidation around the other candidates that finished in second in those races. So we'll see how it turns out in the general election. But I know the Democratic candidates have been putting up a big fight down there, so it should be a really interesting race to see about the direction of our suburbs - because some of it, I feel like is a real reaction to what's going on in Seattle. Seattle feels like it's on the ballot in every one of these suburb areas as well. It's very traditional - you hear it from Bellevue to Kent to Federal Way - that we don't want to become Seattle. So that's definitely a battle cry on the right.

[00:17:06] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely and you raise a really good point - we've talked about on the show before - that whole Seattle is Dying narrative is actually for the suburbs. It's not for Seattle. It consistently falls flat in Seattle because people in Seattle can - they look around their neighborhood. They don't feel that Seattle is Dying. Sure there are issues that are are urgent and that need to be addressed in Seattle. But the narrative that every street has been overrun and there's lawlessness and it - just all of that just is false. People in Seattle know it's false, which is why candidates that have run on that platform have never reached above 15% of the vote total.

However, that narrative has taken hold in suburban and rural races. Because people don't have their own eyes to use as a reference, and they see these things on TV. I mean, KOMO ran that whole series, they tried to run a part two on it. They take that as fact, especially if they're tied into these Facebook networks that love sharing misinformation, disinformation. So it's a challenge - you hear it in the rhetoric, especially when it comes to addressing the homelessness crisis, when it comes to addressing mental health issues. Basically if there's an issue that has a question as to whether a criminalized solution is appropriate, and overwhelmingly data says no to that, but there's people who find comfort in the thought of just, "Well, just arrest someone, throw them in jail. Just sweep them, tell them to get out of here." Their primary motivation isn't necessarily solving the problem - it's just moving the problem to a place where they can't see it. That has taken hold in suburbs.

[00:19:05] Michael Charles: Absolutely.

[00:19:06] Crystal Fincher: So we're having some stark conversations. If people think the conversations in Seattle and around Compassion Seattle were a challenge - I mean, you should hear how explicit some of these candidates in a number of these suburbs get about, "Just sweep them, lock them up. We got to get them out of here. They're making a choice to be on the streets." All of that, clearly not true, but they're saying it with confidence and people believe it. And they're citing a lot of stuff they hear in some of the Seattle is Dying groups and narratives. So it is a concern, a big concern.

To that, looking at the Burien and SeaTac races. In Burien, you have Hugo Garcia and Sarah Moore running. Hugo's running against a candidate who explicitly states he wants to bring a Christ-focused government back into place. He does not believe in the separation of church and state and is running directly opposed to it. All that flows from that, right? Sarah Moore is also running against a conservative candidate. It is critical that people engage in those races. I always encourage people who live in Seattle - I mean, there's so many people in Seattle compared to the suburbs - be active, support your own candidates, and adopt a candidate somewhere outside of Seattle. Volunteer, phone bank, make phone calls, knock on doors, donate, do something for a candidate outside of Seattle. Because when we talk about this regional response to homelessness, when we talk about our regional transportation network - we talk about how we handle, we're talking about a transportation package and whether it's going to be responsive to people's need for transit and addressing our climate crisis - we have to elect reasonable, responsible people on our suburban city councils, as mayors. We have to elect people to do that. So this is a huge opportunity. So Hugo Garcia and Sarah Moore in Burien. Iris Guzmán and Jake Simpson in SeaTac - huge, right? They have to get on those councils. That is really what progress in those cities is going to hinge upon.

[00:21:27] Michael Charles: I don't think - I didn't realize that SeaTac is a majority Republican council.

[00:21:32] Crystal Fincher: Yep. Majority Republican council in a majority-minority city.

[00:21:36] Michael Charles: By far majority minority city.

[00:21:40] Crystal Fincher: Yeah and Trump Republican council.

[00:21:44] Michael Charles: That's right.

[00:21:44] Crystal Fincher: Wearing hats with Trump and a crosshairs on them, and talking about Muslim registries, and passing policy hostile - purposely, antagonistically hostile - to immigrant populations.

[00:21:58] Michael Charles: Setting up Muslim registries of their own - working with the City Manager to do that.

[00:22:03] Crystal Fincher: Yes. Yes. I think sometimes people think - Washington is known as a progressive state, seattle is a progressive area - nothing like that could happen here. It is happening, present tense. It is happening and could happen more. I think people underestimate the backlash. You see the spending in the Seattle races - this energy is also behind conservative candidates in these suburbs. They're fighting, they feel the pressure, right? They feel that progressives have been making progress and they're putting everything that they can into stopping it. It's a lot that they're putting into it.

[00:22:49] Michael Charles: I mean, you see it countywide, you see it in all these races - Nathalie Graham in the South Seattle Emerald had a great piece yesterday on the conservative tactic countywide happening down from Dow Constantine to everybody else - to facing somebody - the right is to paint their opponents as Defund crazies, right? It is their go-to path of scare people into thinking that anything that might be different or is going to be change is putting their public safety at risk.

[00:23:27] Crystal Fincher: Yep. Absolutely. And I want to talk about our neighbors in Eastern Washington - in Spokane, because there are some huge races over there with Naghmana Sherazi and Zack Zappone running for City Council there against conservative opponents. There was an article about some of the tricks that the Realtors Association was using over there and all of the money that's pouring into oppose these progressive candidates, who are speaking for the regular people of Spokane, right? And not these entrenched monied interests who are used to having control there - and how they're hiding the positions of their preferred members while trying to put others on blast, and just holding double standards - using their deep, deep pockets to attack progressive candidates. Really, that turned ugly and they've been exposed for that. But one of the challenges and why you continue to see them spend money in these races is that - they don't make the wisest decisions when it comes to spending a lot of times. But they just spend so much - it's like they'll spend a dollar per voter. When you look at the amount of voter, it's a lot of money or more, just to get a small percent of them - because they know just that small percent, even if they spend $300,000 to do it, is going to yield them more money if they elect their candidates and get their tax breaks and allow them to continue with the same business practices that have lined their pockets to date.

So again, talking about adopt a candidate, make phone calls for them - you can phone bank remotely - it's really simple and easy. But Zack Zappone and Naghmana Sherazi - two excellent inspirational candidates who really are voices for the people - bringing a lot of lived experience and compassion, actual literal compassion to the table. So I hope people also support them.

Then you have candidates like Kiara Daniels in Tacoma - just a lot of great candidates running locally for a lot of positions that I hope people listening to this program support and encourage others to support.

[00:25:51] Michael Charles: I also - I mean, not to pivot too hard, but to think how do we fix this problem of money in politics - it's just such a daunting task. When we think about the role that - when you can just throw more money at a problem and politics, and we know in policy that doesn't work, why would we think that that's going to work just because we get people elected that way? I mean, I think you can think of a million examples of where that's frustrating. But I just think that you can think example after example of how money is really - plays an outsize role year after year in the outcomes of elections and the people voting in their own interests.

[00:26:37] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. When someone is spending half a million dollars in a race, when interests are spending half a million dollars in a race - you have to ask, why are they investing that much? They must be getting a return greater than their spending in that. Why are they making that investment? What kind of a return are they looking to see? It's really challenging. I think positive steps were taken with Honest Campaigns, Honest Elections with Democracy Vouchers. It certainly broadens the base that candidates speak to in terms of voters, right? I think that's a positive thing. I think allowing more people to be taken seriously and treated legitimately, since money is a marker of viability in our elections - that's a positive thing.

But that has nothing to do with spending caps, right? It doesn't prevent any of that at all. At the end of the day, we're coming again to - people who have the deepest pockets are blasting the loudest bullhorn. They're able to talk to more voters in the City of Seattle. I mean, when you're sending mailers to 170,000 people, just as a campaign, before your backup as an IE spends $300,000 almost $400,000 to have your back, right? I don't know how we address that without spending caps. I don't know how we address that without truly publicly-financed campaigns. This is a problem, it's a problem. I would like to solve it. Almost certainly any solution certainly takes money out of - all of this money that's being spent on this is going to different consulting firms like CN4, which was previously known as a Democratic consulting firm, but is now working for Republican Ann Davison. I mean just the commission on that cable buy was $30,000, right? So it's just - yes, any solution will necessarily cut the money that's coming to political consultants, particularly larger political consulting firms. But I think you and I are sitting here both as political consultants saying something's got to give - because if you can just spend your way to victory, which is where we're at now, not saying that's going to turn it out. But spend your way to competitiveness, spend your way to get through a primary, right? To be part of the conversation and to steer this conversation - they've spent their way into steering this conversation, and looking at the kind of rhetoric that they're using that you referenced is - it's really hyperbolic, it's not in line with data and facts, but everyone's getting it. They see that and that gives it an air of legitimacy. It is a problem and we need to figure out some way to address this in a more comprehensive manner.

[00:29:49] Michael Charles: I mean, we're saying that as political consultants that certainly benefit from these higher prices, no doubt. But at the same time, I feel like democracy is the one taking the big hit out of all this and the ability to fairly have conversations in the public realm.

[00:30:08] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree. I'll let you have that last word, wise as it is. And thank everybody for listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM this Friday, October 29th, 2021. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. Our wonderful insightful co-host today was Michael Charles, Managing Partner at Upper Left Strategies. You can find Michael on Twitter @mikeychuck, that's M-I-K-E-Y C-H-U-C-K. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, that's F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in. We'll talk to you next time.