Week in Review: September 17, 2021 - Erica Barnett

Week in Review: September 17, 2021 - Erica Barnett

This week Erica C. Barnett, editor of Publicola, joins Crystal to discuss the recent announcement that King County will soon require vaccination to go to restaurants and outdoor events, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes efforts to hurry through his last priorities before leaving office, the wild world of political polling, misogynistic attacks on the leader of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, accusations of interference in the strike by Councilmember Sawant, a new city department's attempt to reroute crisis calls away from the police, and why some unhoused folks don’t want to go to some government quarantine shelters.

About the Guest

Erica Barnett

Erica Barnett is a Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola.

Find Erica Barnett on Twitter/X at @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com.

Podcast Transcript

[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, and covering 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 guest. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett.

[00:00:53] Erica Barnett: Great to be here.

[00:00:55] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you here, once again - was just saying that I appreciate that not only do you cover Seattle political government with great depth and accuracy, but you also bring context from the past couple of decades that a lot of people don't have, or aren't familiar with. Definitely pleased to have you join us once again.

[00:01:19] Erica Barnett: Well, context is code for you're old, but I appreciate it.

[00:01:23] Crystal Fincher: Well, as a fellow old person, I appreciate that more with each year. I want to start out just talking about, Hey, we actually just got a new vaccine mandate. What is going to be required and how did this come about?

[00:01:42] Erica Barnett: Well, what I know about it is that, and this is something that the South Seattle Emerald and other publications have covered a little more than PubliCola, but there's going to be a new requirement. Outdoor events and indoor restaurants, which if you've gone out at all in recent weeks, it may feel like there already is a mandate, but it is going to be a real mandate for big outdoor events and for basically dining inside. It's pretty similar to what New York has already done. Some say it's overdue at this point, but I'm pretty excited. I'm hoping that King County will quickly roll out another component of this, which is a vaccine passport essentially - also like New York's, where you can just show it at the door. You don't have to fumble for your physical, crumpled up vaccine card or go through your photos to find a picture of it. It'll just be easy to show that you've been vaccinated and you can scoot right in the door.

[00:02:42] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense and we will link that South Seattle Emerald article that gives all of the detail about this - but the mask mandate came, but going one step further with vaccines. I know one thing that was said is, Hey, this is something that can give people a lot more confidence in sharing public space, especially indoor space, with others and viewed as really important to helping people get jobs back, recover jobs, helping businesses stay in business, and just important to the economy. People talk about mandates shutting things down - ultimately, as many states have had to reckon with - it's not the mandate, it's the fear. The very justified and realistic fear that people have of getting exposed to coronavirus, especially with the Delta variant, if they are in public spaces with unvaccinated people. Hopefully this is just an extra layer of protection that actually does make a difference and helps people get back to be able to do some public things without as much risk as it would be in other situations.

[00:03:58] Erica Barnett: Yeah. I hope it actually is an incentive. I mean, I'm a little flip about how easy and wonderful it's going to be, because that is going to be my own experience and the experience of some 80% of people in King County. There are still people out there who are not vaccinated. I mean, we've talked about this before - the carrot and the stick. I do think we have to have a little bit of a consequence, if you choose not to get vaccinated - there are certain things that you're not going to be able to access because vaccination is really necessary. Everybody needs to start figuring out a way that they can get on board and get that shot, because Seattle is doing a lot better than a lot of other places. King County is doing a lot better, but we still have people who aren't vaccinated. If there starts to be sort of consequences and I don't want to say penalties, I mean, but it's your choice whether you want to go out. And it's a business's choice, whether they want to admit you. And now the County is saying, This is our decision - these are the consequences and you can decide if you want to bear them, or if you just want to suck it up and get that shot.

[00:05:08] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. We had a conversation, I feel like it was a couple, few months back, maybe now - on this podcast about this very thing. You were suspicious about incentives for vaccination and thinking there needed to be more of a consequence behind them - that just trying to throw trinkets at people may not be the most effective thing. And that's what's turned out to be the case. In fact, now that we're seeing vaccine mandates, those seem to be pretty effective - was just reading this morning about an Indiana hospital system with 36,000 employees that implemented a vaccine mandate and less than 0.35% of them ended up resigning. Most of those were working full-time or less, or were already on leave. When you have 99.65% of people complying with the vaccine mandate in a state that certainly has a much lower percentage of vaccination than that, that is yet another hint that, Hey, these mandates seem to be working even when initially when they happen, people say they aren't happy with them, but compliance seems to follow without much of a loss of personnel - which is what a lot of people seem to be worried about. The existing data is promising so far. Hopefully we continue to see that. 

Also, wanted to talk about an issue here in Seattle government, where prostitution warrants were just cleared in the City of Seattle. How'd that come about?

[00:06:36] Erica Barnett: Well, City Attorney Pete Holmes basically said, We want to clear all these warrants and a Seattle Municipal Court judge agreed this week, on Thursday, to quash all outstanding warrants for misdemeanor prostitution. I think that the larger, meta-story about how it came about is Pete Holmes, the City Attorney who lost his reelection bid in August - he is no longer on the ballot for November. He's really trying to kind of rush through a lot of, I would say progressive to-do's before he leaves office next year.

There's two candidates - one on the left, one on the right - that are vying for this position. I think Holmes's view is that either one of them could result in sort of administrative chaos. I'm not saying this is my view - but Ann Davison is a Republican who ran for Lieutenant Governor last year, vowing to get rid of the office. She could credibly be called an anti-government Republican in some ways. And then Nicole Thomas-Kennedy is running from the left and she wants to essentially stop prosecuting all misdemeanors. There's more nuance to her position, but that's the sort of high-level summary. And I think Holmes believes that neither of them have sufficient experience doing the kind of legal work that is the bread and butter of the office, so he's kind of pushing through a lot of things before he leaves in December.

[00:08:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and interesting to see - this has certainly been something that has been an issue. You certainly covered the issue also from the perspective of how problematic SPD can be in these enforcement actions, and in policing prostitution, and in harassing and intimidating sex workers. I think this is encouraging to see - one of the things on the to-do list were not wanting to let this linger and have people who shouldn't be criminalized, who may need assistance in other areas if there are other issues - but just straight up criminalizing this sex work, seemingly in a vacuum, isn't effective and just seems pointless.

[00:09:12] Erica Barnett: And also, the buying of sex - I mean there was a big operation a couple of years ago where the City, I mean, literally just a couple of years ago - where the City said, we're not going to prosecute sex workers, we're going to prosecute sex buyers. I think in those two years, we've moved a long way toward saying, Well, maybe it's not the sex trade that is the problem and maybe prosecuting buyers is also problematic. I think that the City has really moved a long way in thinking about sex work and whether all aspects of sex work should be criminalized or not. We're definitely moving more in the direction of decriminalization on kind of all sides of that equation.

[00:09:59] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely and more familiarity with - a lot of people have conflated sex work and trafficking - and I think the conversation has progressed in understanding that those are two very different things. And so, to treat harmful activity as harmful and to treat sex work as sex work, which should be decriminalized in my opinion. But certainly I am gratified to see the City Attorney's office move in that direction and know that Nicole Thomas-Kennedy also plans on - is running on a platform of not continuing to criminalize poverty. Which again, sex work is for income. When people are just trying to make money or doing things for a lack of money, attaching criminality to that only makes the problem worse. 

One interesting thing - another interesting thing that came about this week - was some new polling. Interesting polling and more than one poll. What developed or what was out there in terms of polling in Seattle races this week?

[00:11:08] Erica Barnett: Boy, there were so many polls out in the field in the last week and a half. Last week, I counted four different polls that were out. This week, Stuart Elway and Crosscut released a poll, and Lorena González released a poll. These are the two mayoral candidates and they're all over the map. The Elway poll says that there's a lot of people undecided, but Harrell is leading among people who have made up their mind. The González poll says that González is slightly leading. I mean, I think that there's a couple things with all these polls. I mean, one is that the undecided vote is quite large, which is not super unexpected at this point - we're in September. But whenever you have a large 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent undecided, you're not really looking at what the actual electorate is going to do. You're looking at a whole lot of people who don't know enough to make up their minds yet, or who say they don't. 

The other thing is a lot of these polls that are done by the campaigns themselves have what I would consider somewhat leading questions. Bruce Harrell, or someone working on his behalf - there's a PAC that's doing supportive work for Harrell - put out a poll that was online and you could take it as many times as you wanted. That was distributed and went around on Twitter and probably other social media - it's like when you have a poll that's sort of so poorly designed for security purposes, and it's just an online Survey Monkey poll, like can you really trust those results?

[00:12:49] Crystal Fincher: That answer's no.

[00:12:52] Erica Barnett: Yeah. At this point, I don't know. I mean, I wouldn't read too much into any of these polls. I think this is a fairly close race. It's going to depend on turnout, it's going to depend on what happens in the debates, and what happens in the next couple months. We're just coming off the primary, we're just getting into election season. They're spending an awful lot of money on polls right now that I don't think necessarily are all that revealing.

[00:13:17] Crystal Fincher: One of the things I appreciate about the coverage of the Crosscut poll is that polls have different purposes at different times and can be useful in different ways. A lot of the coverage is strictly on the horse race - who is leading - but a lot of polls are not fielded with the purpose of just finding out who is leading. And a lot of what's happening right now, both in a legitimate way and as you just talked about - in several illegitimate ways, and there is also push poll, that was released by some entity friendly to the Harrell campaign, which had very - beyond leading - misleading questions. And it's basically just an attempt to get a message out instead of collecting any meaningful results. 

But this is a snapshot in time - this is not - we're early in the game. One of the things that I think was mentioned in that article is that - right now, people are just beginning to tune in, which means that a lot of people still haven't tuned in - hence the large percent of undecided people. And the campaigns are trying to figure out what their message is going to be - what's resonating with the public, where their big risks are. I know one of the things that came out in that Lorena González poll, which again, if you don't see all the data of the poll, you have to take it with a grain of salt. With that one, the candidates were very close - still a large percentage of undecided people, but they're looking to see the effect of messaging and how that boosts numbers - when messaging about Bruce Harrell's response to Ed Murray's situation and the accusations of molestation and some of his corporate support, that his support went down.

Some of them - the polling sent by his campaign - was testing positive and negative messaging, and some messages made his support go up, others made it go down. That's what they're trying to gauge, so that as they put together their messaging, their talking points, their mail and digital for - that people are going to be bombarded with in about a month - that they have some confidence that those messages are going to resonate with people. We can certainly expect to hear some of the messages that were tested make it through to what campaigns are actually using - but by all accounts, it seems to be a close race from all of the information. A lot of people still yet to decide. 

Another one of the interesting things was looking at how other candidates' voters from the primary split. From the Elway poll, it was saying that those who voted for Jessyn Farrell and Casey Sixkiller - appear to be splitting evenly between Harrell and González - which was interesting to me, because those you would think would predominantly go to Harrell. That would - it's going to be interesting to see how that shakes out. Most of Colleen Echohawk's voters were turning towards González and Art Langlie's were going towards Harrell - just curious to see how voters are landing, who did not vote for the two candidates who made it through the primary.

[00:16:34] Erica Barnett: I think too, I mean, this is just kind of a longstanding irritation with polls and how they're done - for me, I guess. When you do a poll, if you're Stuart Elway or whatever pollster, you have a list of issues, so you're testing out which issues people care about, but it's from a list. If you look at this Crosscut-Elway poll, the issues that were tested - among the issues were homelessness, police department crime, and then zoning and density, and then condition of downtown. Condition of downtown jumps out at me-

[00:17:12] Crystal Fincher: Yes.

[00:17:12] Erica Barnett: -as one of those issues that is definitely - people go downtown and see what downtown is like. I don't know if you asked an open-ended question, What are your top five issues? that people would necessarily say, "Oh my gosh, the condition of the however many square blocks comprise downtown Seattle is my number one issue." I find it not very credible. I think that what happens with polls often is - they kind of create the narrative, or they supplement the narrative - that downtown is the issue and crime is the issue. I mean, of course crime is always going to be an issue in voters' minds. If we had an open-ended question, I'm really curious what people would say are their top five issues once you get beyond homelessness, crime. I mean, if you asked about transportation and traffic - if you said, do you know where does traffic rank? I bet a lot of people would include that on their list. It's just kind of, maybe its unavoidable because you can't just ask people open-ended questions - it would cost so much money, but it just frustrates me the way that polls shape the narrative and the narrative shapes polls. It's just kind of this self-perpetuating monster.

[00:18:30] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I agree with that, and even closer beyond that - when asked about, Hey, what are your top issues? and you ask about homelessness and crime - I've talked about this before, but homelessness and crime are so broad. Someone can have a concern about homelessness and be like, "Hey, we should just arrest all of them and sweep all of them and just get them out of the City," which of course is a horrible solution, doesn't do anything to fix the problem and in fact makes it worse, but people feel that way. Those account for some of the answers, but also other people want to address the root causes and actually solve the issue and get people into homes, so when you say your concern is homelessness, that tells you that that's on people's minds, but it doesn't tell you the orientation of that concern.

[00:19:21] Erica Barnett: Right.

[00:19:21] Crystal Fincher: Crime is very similar. Do people want to treat the root causes, do they want to ultimately do things that keep people from committing crimes in the first place? Or have after the fact, criminalized interventions, that again, have failed to work - but it does not tell you the orientation. So often when those are covered, especially by larger media organizations, it's like, Oh, crime is a concern, people want crack downs and what are you going to do to - oftentimes, address visible things that people associate with crime oftentimes - homelessness and mental illness are lumped in with that, incorrectly, many times. It just doesn't get to that. Then the media goes, Well, the people want that addressed. They want someone who will crack down on it. Seattle repeatedly votes in the opposite direction. They want to, they've said, "Hey, we've looked at this and hasn't worked for so long, let's try something different," and then the media is like, "Whoa, how did that happen? That doesn't make any sense."

[00:20:30] Erica Barnett: Yeah.

[00:20:31] Crystal Fincher: I just wish there were more nuanced questions and coverage. And sometimes there are, and they don't make it into coverage, but I wish we would be more careful in the covering of that to say, This is an issue that is on people's minds, and they have a range of opinions with that. Which to be fair in that article covering that, it certainly expresses a variety of perspectives in there. There's some of that in the coverage, in the article that we will link in the show notes, but we will stay tuned on those. 

The next thing I wanted to talk about was a story that you worked on about the Carpenters Union strike that's happening right now, and accusations of interference by Councilmember Sawant - what is going on?

[00:21:16] Erica Barnett: Well, I will say right up top - these are accusations of interference that are happening, that are not accusations being made by me - but they are being made by a lot of folks in the Labor movement, including within the Carpenters Union itself, as well as King County Labor Council and others. So what's going on? The Carpenters Union is striking right now. They had a 54-46 vote, I believe, to not accept a contract with the Associated General Contractors last week. And now there are allegations that Sawant's office interfered by essentially promoting a no-vote on the balloting. People are saying that she supported a rally that was run by a group that formed to support a no-vote on the contract, that she has been sending workers - her own employees and members of her Socialist Alternative Party - out to sort of agitate and foment descent from within the union and from union members.

I'm not in the union. I've only talked to people who were familiar with what they say these discussions were, but there are some credible allegations out there. The head of the union, Evelyn Shapiro, said that she would appreciate elected officials like Sawant staying - sticking in their own lanes, essentially. King County Labor Council leader Nicole Grant and City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda made similar comments to me. These are the allegations that are out there. 

At the same time, there's the typical problem that you see online - which is that, in some of these groups - people who are opposed to Evelyn Shapiro, who's the first leader of the multi-state Carpenters Union in the union's history, who is a woman. You're seeing a lot of misogyny. You're seeing a lot of really gross attacks on her from people within the union itself on a couple of Facebook sites,and so I also reported on that. Those misogynistic attacks are generally coming from people who supported a strike and who feel that she has not been sufficiently supportive of the further left position on the contract, and that she supported the contract, and that that's bad, essentially.

[00:24:00] Crystal Fincher: Well, and what was notable to me in that is some of the people making those just straight up misogynistic comments, were people who had had leadership positions in that union.

[00:24:14] Erica Barnett: Oh yeah. I mean and these are union members. I mean, what's frustrating to me is every time - leaving aside whether you think the contract was good, whether you think the contract was bad, whether you think that Sawant was too involved and her office was too involved, or whether you think they weren't involved at all. No matter what happens, when a woman ascends to leadership positions for the first time - or in a union like the Carpenters, or organizations like the Carpenters, which is 98 percent men. The go-to for some people is going to be to call her the "C" word and to call her all kinds of names and to make sort of very thinly veiled, sexual threats against her, which is what is happening on these pages. I think that deserves to be called out every time it happens.

One thing that Nicole Grant of the King County Labor Council said to me that really struck me was, This is not the way that labor unions are supposed to deal, or labor union members are supposed to deal with each other, to deal with disagreements. You are supposed to have the debate, have the fierce debate, over contract and whichever side ends up prevailing, everybody falls in line and you get on board because that's what a union is. She said that she was incredibly disappointed to see, even if it's a tiny percentage, to see people being extremely vocal in this way. To just say these hateful, misogynistic, awful things about their union leader, she said, "This is just, this is not the way we act. I mean, we are all about solidarity and support and anti-racism and anti-misogyny and anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia." This is just not okay, wherever it's coming from.

[00:26:09] Crystal Fincher: It is not okay. We'll certainly keep our eyes peeled on that one too. They are currently striking. I mean, just a reminder, do not cross picket lines, wherever they're at, and we'll keep our eyes peeled on that. 

Another issue - another thing - event that happened this week is Seattle launched a new department to handle the City's response to crisis calls. What happened with that?

[00:26:34] Erica Barnett: Well, there is - the new department is a little bit of a shell right now. There's not a whole lot in it, but right now it's basically the 9-1-1 division. The idea is that it will eventually expand to include some of these new programs that the City is trying to stand up to respond to calls that are now 9-1-1 calls that don't require a police officer to intervene. The City has proposed sort of expanding or building on the Health One system, which is two vehicles that go out and respond to crisis calls that don't require a cop with a gun and that may actually be hindered by having police there. That's a fire department program. Now they're talking about doing this other program called Triage One, which is for slightly lower acuity calls. There's also a statewide 9-8-8 system. And so somehow, all of these mish-mash of programs and any other additional programs that get stood up, and hotlines, and things like that are supposed to go through this one new department that is currently housing 9-1-1. 

Personally, I think there's - I use the word mish-mash advisedly, because I think there's a lot of different programs that are being proposed sort of a little bit willy-nilly right now. I don't really understand what Triage One is and how it is superior to Health One for dealing with slightly lower acuity calls. It feels like just a little bit of a mess to me right now - but ultimately the goal is to have all those low acuity calls go through something that is not the police department and to eventually route some of that work away from SPD, so that some of SPD's funding can go into these non-police responses.

[00:28:33] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. My sense is the same as yours at the moment - that it doesn't seem to be very clear and is still forming. Also, I do try and have a little grace in that - as things that were repurposed or reimagined take shape - whenever you're designing and creating something new, it's not always super linear, and clean, and perfect, and may take some refining. Hopefully this can be refined into something that is effective and helpful and useful, but we'll see, it is just beginning. Certainly we're going to be paying attention to it as it continues to take shape and roll out. 

But kind of on that subject and issue that could quite likely end up in some of these crisis calls where people who are unhoused, with certain issues, especially in this conversation where we talk about offering people services. The conversation about how appropriate and useful and helpful those services are has been robust and continues to be. Right now we're dealing with many - some people among the unhoused population that are feeling that the services offered can potentially be harmful. What is happening?

[00:30:01] Erica Barnett: Well, this is a story that I'm working on this week - it should go up in the next day or two on PubliCola.com. Just one little slice of the reluctance to "accept services among the unsheltered and the unhoused population" is going into isolation and quarantine when a Covid test comes back positive. What we are seeing and what outreach providers and public health are seeing on the streets right now, is that a lot of people, particularly unsheltered people, but also people living in shelters, are really reluctant or don't want to go into the isolation and quarantine sites that the county has set aside for this purpose. Those are sites where people go and stay for a week to 10 days to basically let their symptoms pass or to become not infectious anymore.

To some people living on the streets, it feels like a van shows up and they take you away to an unknown place and you have to stay there. There's rumors going around right now that - inaccurate rumors I should add - that people are not being allowed to leave isolation and quarantine. It is very much entirely a voluntary thing, but if you leave, they say that you're leaving against medical advice. And there's a lot of fear out there. Outreach workers and outreach groups are working to - and Public Health as well - are working to kind of dispel those fears, make it a little easier for people to go into isolation, quarantine - giving them whatever food they ask for, giving them - just sort of saying, What would it be, what would be helpful? What would help keep you here for the required period? Because the problem is if people leave, they potentially go to another shelter and don't disclose their Covid status and could infect other people. They potentially go back to an encampment and infect people there - and it's - Delta is out there. The prevalence of COVID among the unhoused population is going up. The more people that they can get into these isolation and quarantine sites, the better.

[00:32:17] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, no, absolutely. I just want to throw into this that - people get under the impression that things are going to happen - this is how misinformation and disinformation spreads. But what also helps spread that is a prevailing sense of hostility from the community towards this population, and that community feels and absorbs it. Some of the rhetoric, especially around compassion - the Compassion Seattle Charter Amendment 29 initiative, which is now dead - but incorporating that language into some of the mayoral campaigns, the City Attorney's - Republican Ann Davison's campaign - and hearing people talk about the unhoused population as if they're less than human, as if they're all criminals, and just a blight on society, and just wanting to kind of sweep them away - certainly does not present a welcoming feeling to people who are in that population. If you're setting up services and they're hearing these coming out of the institutions that are supposed to help them, that's going to create some suspicion. I certainly think that that does not help the overall situation when they hear hostility coming out of the places and institutions that are supposedly there to help.

[00:33:47] Erica Barnett: The hostility comes too from the fact that the City is sweeping encampments.

[00:33:51] Crystal Fincher: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:33:52] Erica Barnett: If you go into isolation and quarantine, there is a very real possibility and likelihood that when you come back, if you are living in an encampment, all your stuff's going to be gone. Public Health lets you, or DCHS of King County, lets you store some stuff, but not all your stuff. There's also worries about pets and they have to be boarded. There's a lot of very real concerns that are beyond the level of rumor. They're real, exigent concerns that people have, that aren't being addressed.

[00:34:24] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. There's a lot more that we could talk about, but we're at time today. I just want to thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, September 17th, 2021. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. Our wonderful co-host today was Seattle political reporter and founder of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter at @ericacbarnett, that's Erica with a "C" and on PubliCola.com, and you can buy her book Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery. You can find me on Twitter at @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I, and 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 our Friday almost-live show and our mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. While you're there, leave us a review - really helps us out. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. 

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