Kshama Sawant

As most of you already know, despite us calling the election for Richard Conlin like all the other major outlets, Kshama Sawant overtook him in the late ballots to win a late, surprising victory. I’ve updated the original post.

I expect Ms. Sawant to focus largely on economic issues in office, and in keeping with our narrow issue focus I will spare you my thoughts on that. We are, however, losing a very strong legislator on land use and environmental issues, and it’s uncertain who will head the critical land use committee or serve on the Sound Transit Board. Mr. Conlin was always responsive to our concerns and seemed to share a lot of principles with most of the staff at STB. Richard Conlin, we will miss you.

In other news since we last discussed results, Nathan Schlicher has lost his bid for State Senate, giving the Republican-dominated majority a margin of 2. The only race that is still seriously in doubt is Bellevue City Council Seat 4, where incumbent Kevin Wallace leads our pick, Steve Kasner, by 217 votes (0.75%), as of Saturday evening, with no discernible trend. That contest appears headed for a recount.

100 Replies to “CORRECTION: Sawant Wins”

    1. I agree. Also for land use committee head. I’m not sure if either will happen, though. I’m not sure what the process is for picking either of the two positions. If it the fellow council members, I’m not sure what the internal politics are like.

    2. O’Brien would be my pick too. Unfortunately, his council district comprises much the same area as Larry Phillips’s county council district (NW Seattle). It seems like they’d want someone representing a different part of the city.

  1. Two social issues which Kshama Sawant needs to focus on are:
    – affordable housing: we need more units and solutions that work for the long term. Rent control is too little, too late; when the small affordable buildings are already being knocked down to make room for bigger and more expensive buildings
    – accessible and affordable transit: even on $15/hr ($30,000/yr if fulltime), running a car in the city is not affordable.

    1. This is one of the reasons why I have held out on how I view Sawant. In a way her issues are also our issues, she just has had different (not always viable) solutions that she proposed in the election.

      If she comes around to fighting for the same kinds of solutions we are fighting for it could be good for our cause… is still to early to know how this will turn out.

    2. Rent control is simply an unworkable solution to a problem of lack of supply. Hopefully, she’ll push for increasing the housing levy instead.

  2. Re: Bellevue City Council 4 (Wallace v Kasner):

    In its current status, this race would not go to an automatic recount. It easily meets the “within 2000 votes” criterion for numerical margin, but the percentage margin is greater than 0.5%. The numerical margin would have to be under 143 (28603 * 0.005 = 143.015) in order to force a recount.

    Even if the margin was that small, it would be completely unprecedented for a margin this large to be reversed in a recount.

    1. Oh, and before you cite the reversal of Gregoire-Rossi 2004, where the initial margin was 261, note that its electorate was more than two orders of magnitude larger than Bellevue in 2013.

    1. In addition to the call for an income tax and rent control, she will also order US troops out of Afghanistan. I hope she remembers she is a city councilwoman and none of the above is in her power…

  3. I will miss Richard Conlin. He’s been consistently thoughtful throughout his tenure on the council and that’s such a rare trait in an elected official.

  4. He’s done some nice work, but in his last term, the man froze money for transit multiple times. I see this as an even trade on the transit front. While mass transit is certainly low on her priority list, she is likely to be a consistent yes vote when transit comes before the council, even in tough votes that would involve new revenue.

    Seeing as rent control isn’t politically viable, I think if she truly supports housing affordability, she’ll have to work with density advocates. And she has no particular love for the preservation of expanses of expensive single family neighborhoods – her only opposition to upzones in general is short term gentrification concerns, and I doubt she would have those concerns in the case of more politically difficult wealthy-neighborhood North Seattle upzones (like the fight we had around Roosevelt station).

    1. Seeing as rent control isn’t politically viable, I think if she truly supports housing affordability, she’ll have to work with density advocates.

      The problem here is she now has a) a bunch of principles and b) a bunch of constituents. If she both a) followed her principles and b) got smarter about how to achieve them, she’ll become an advocate for density. However, give the role that the “stop the greedy developers” frozen-in-amber screw downtown neighborhood activist types play in her coalition (and, depending on who her opposition is, will likely play in the coalition she’ll need for re-election), I’m far from confident that’s the direction she’ll go.

      1. So far, her comments on housing indicate that she has fallen for the awful fallacy — common among anti-developer activists — that freezing the housing stock in amber means housing prices will also be frozen in amber.

        I hope those comments don’t reflect what she’ll actually do on the council, and that she’ll be willing to work with those seeking to increase the supply of housing.

      2. Sawant has a PhD. in economics and is college professor (signs of intelligent life?). It’s speculation what a $15/hr minimum wage would do to the local economy, but I don’t think housing the price of housing would magically drop. If anything, rents might increase at first due to more money chasing a stagnant supply of housing.

      3. As a PhD holder who works with and spends a lot of time around my fellow PhD holders, I find the “she can’t possibly believe something so obviously wrong because she has a PhD” line of argument highly unpersuasive. I very much hope you’re right this time, of course.

    2. This is the pragmatic take that I agree will prevail. Conlin had his time, but it’s passed. Sawant may not be the same strong voice for transit, but she should be a reliable yes vote on transit issue. Her priorities are all loosely-related or dependent upon transit issues (affordable housing, minimum wage, etc.), so strong advocacy on those issues should have residual positive effects on transit.

    3. It’s confusing to read “mass transit is certainly low on her priority list” when the campaign had posters plastered all over the city that declared “Tax the Rich – Fund Mass Transit” and during every candidate forum she raised the need for a tax on the super wealthy to pay for “mass transit” and education. She spoke about transit at a Transit Rider’s Union rally, at the Legislature’s Listening Tour, etc. She brought it up all the time. She was also featured recently on KIRO News discussing the Millionaire Tax to fund mass transit. What more evidence is necessary for transit advocates to understand that she is pro-transit?

      1. We are not short of votes on the Council to raise taxes for transit.

        That said, what happens when Olympia gives us a regressive source instead of millionaires’ tax? Does Ms. Sawant think transit is worthwhile even when real people have to pay for it, or will she hold out for utopia? I see no reason to be optimistic, though I hope I’m wrong.

      2. We do not have to wait for Olympia to enact a Millionaire’s tax. You can enact an excise tax on privilege (in this case, the privilege to bring in $1M or more in gross income). City council members have repeatedly passed the buck to state legislators, saying they don’t have the means to raise taxes on the wealthy. That is false.

        With that said, the question of whether she would “hold out for utopia” is missing the point and is a red herring. You are confusing her advocacy for things that people need with what you have been told is possible (by those who don’t want to advocate for those things). So, to you and some others, it seems like she is “holding out for utopia” when really she is just being honest about the situation people face and what is necessary to help make the city (and life) more affordable for the majority of working people.

        No other elected official besides Sawant is advocating for a tax on the super rich to fund transit. Do you want secure funding for transit or do you want to continue fighting to plug holes in transit’s budget? If you want the former, I would suggest that you take a closer look at what Sawant is really advocating and how she plans to get it done.

        Richard Conlin may have been a strong advocate for transit, but he lacked the political backbone necessary to ensure that transit was actually funded in a sustainable way. Sawant is a strong advocate for transit AND is a strong advocate for a secure funding source.

      3. Jess,

        I applaud her effort to make the tax code more progressive. However, in the short term she’s likely to deal with a Council majority that will not support the Millionaire tax. So to address the immediate problem of Metro cuts, will she vote with the rest of the Council for a regressive tax, or not?

    1. The charitable interpretation is that she was merely being a cynical yet canny politician; exploiting a potential electoral weakness of Conlin’s record. I fear otherwise, but it’s at least possible.

    2. Existing housing, like at the corner of 8th & Howell, where every mathematically-fraudulent conflation of “tall and new” with “dense and sustainable” was splayed across these comment threads.

  5. I don’t see how being a socialist and supporting supply side solutions to housing scarcity is incompatible… and fact it isn’t. In Sweden the Democratic Socialist Party implemented the Million Program in 1965 which built over a million homes to combat overcrowding across the country. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Programme)

    I would also like to point out that our current incentive zoning program is essentially a neo-liberal approach to the housing market. Let the market do its work but subsidies housing for those that can’t afford by it charging those that can. In this case as well, a supply side solution both results in less pricey market rate housing for everyone and more subsided housing for those people that need it.

    Regardless of what Sawant pushes for, either greater subsidy requirements or increase in publicly provided housing, I hope she always fights for increases in supply. I also hope she does this on a systematic and citywide level, rather than grandstanding over alley vacations.

    PS I’ll miss Conlin. He has been a very strong advocate for a NE 130th street station on the ST Board (among other things) and has done a very good job of bringing some rationality to the discussion around Apodments.

    1. I don’t think socialism is incompatible with supply-side housing affordability solutions at all. The real question is who will have that discussion with her?

      At this point, she’s been approached with anecdotes of how old cheap lowrise apartment buildings have been replaced with new expensive high-rise apartments. But what does would she think about a situation like around the Roosevelt station, where wealthy owners of expensive homes fought against replacing them with middle-class apartments?

      Reverse the class dynamic and you’ll get a whole different answer out of her.

    2. These are really good points. It’s too bad most commenters here don’t have a broader awareness of politics in places outside the USA. In Britain in the 1980s socialists like Sawant controlled local government in Liverpool and London. It’s worth looking at what they did there. In Liverpool the Militant councillors embarked upon a major expansion of government-owned housing. In London Ken Livingstone, as head of the Greater London Council, embarked upon the Fares Fair plan to increase transit ridership. That in particular is worth reading about.

      I think it’s naive for anyone on STB to expect Sawant to come around to the common line of thinking here. STB comments on urban land use issues are heavily neoliberal and market-oriented. You’ll never get Sawant to go down that path. Instead people here should be focused on finding common ground, just as she will likely work on figuring out what Socialist urban policy looks like in 21st century America. As Adam points out, just because she doesn’t like developers doesn’t mean she is anti-supply.

      1. It’s too bad most commenters here don’t have a broader awareness of politics in places outside the USA.

        Objection, assumes facts not in evidence. These sorts of policies, whatever we might think of them, are not on the table in Seattle in the short and medium term. We want Sawant to support policies that have a chance of being enacted that push in the direction of slowing or stopping the increase of rents. The Seattle city council isn’t a seminar on the history or urban policy around the world.

      2. Those policies aren’t on the table today. But Sawant could put them on the table tomorrow. You’re setting her up to fail by arguing that her only options are moderate neoliberal policies and if she tries to broaden the scope of policy solutions, she’s somehow failing. I think that’s wrong on the merits as well as unfair.

        Besides, people are questioning her on her urbanist policies. I’m pointing out there’s a long record of Socialist urban policies that are barely 30 years old that she can take right off the shelf and propose here in Seattle. One of them is oriented around transit and was one of the main political issues, as well as the top urban issue, in 1980s Britain. Surely that’s an appropriate subject of discussion in a thread on a Socialist Seattle City Councilmember.

  6. Ah. Let’s watch this experiment play out. The worst outcome is a slide towards Cali-fornication and the most likely is a bunch of 8-1 votes while she tilts towards windmills.

    Gonna be fun to watch the Seattle channel

    1. You don’t come this far without having/gaining enough political savvy to not simply tilt at windmills. My fear is that anything she proposes, no matter how mainstream, will be voted down 8-1 because she said it. The council has a history of being antagonistic to newcomers & outsiders – she is both.

      1. This Council, however, also faces re-election in just two years in a district system where each one of them can expect to face the kind of fierce political challenge they’ve not seen in some time. Yes, they are likely to be hostile to Sawant, but they also have to reckon with the popularity of the things she proposes. I don’t think they’ll be able to get away with the strategy they used against McGinn.

  7. Professional boxing should probably be illegal, but I wish the locker room discussion of this particular race could carry a little more of the spirit of the ring.

    A prize-fighter with a stellar fourteen-year career finally draws a capable younger challenger, who wins a clean and close fight by a decision. There are worse ways to end a boxing career.

    In Richard’s case, the career-duration decision is entirely his own, without the brain-damage. Kshama is scheduled for another match in four years. A 70-year-old challenger, in addition to being two years younger than me, will still be four years younger than George Benson was when he left the Council.

    My own take on the election is best summed up by a relative of mine:

    “The reason I’m glad Kshama won is that she’s so unlike anybody who’s on the Council, who are all pretty much like each other.”

    Which is most encouraging analysis possible for Richard and everyone else in Seattle politics, of any age: unlike boxing damage, debilitating habits and outlook are within one’s power to change.

    Mark Dublin

      1. Weren’t the current seats on a staggered term? It seems with the new law, they will all come up for election in 2015.

      2. Yes, city council seats are generally for a four-year term. The new district-based council amendment we passed this year makes it so that every council seat will be up for election in 2015. The at-large council members will serve an initial two-year term to set up staggered elections (mayor and at-large council members one year, district council members two years later). After that, everyone will have a four-year term.

    1. “The reason I’m glad Kshama won is that she’s so unlike anybody who’s on the Council, who are all pretty much like each other.”

      They are not always like each other on density issues, where it has been and will likely be the case that the Conlin/Sawant seat holds the potential 5th vote. (To say nothing of the potential influence of the land use committee). This treats the city council like an entertaining spectacle, rather than a body that makes important and consequential decisions. This is Goldy’s fundamental error: she’ll liven up meetings, make things more interesting for journalists, but in the end, will she deliver that 5th vote when we need it? I care a lot more about the latter than the former.

      1. I was quoting a voter whose opinion I respect.

        My own take on what the present council- and many other officials of similar age and background share in common is sense that while what happens to working people who are struggling is unfortunate, they and everyone they know personally will continue to be comfortable.

        Possibly fatal illness of present day liberalism: for present governing generation, work induced exhaustion and lifelong undeserved personal debt don’t count as civil rights issues.

        Resignation to other people’s deprivation is sensed even if left unsaid among voters. And fiercely resented at levels far deeper than reasoning.

        Mark

  8. From her stated positions, it seems she will be a reliable vote for mass transit and bike infrastructure. Of course, with McGinn out, I’m not sure that this matters much. I don’t imagine Ed Murray will be pushing legislation in these areas that will have the city council split.

    On housing and density she seems to fall into the all-to-large group of the counterproductive “left,” who think that restricting new housing is somehow restricting prices and who see displacement/gentrification as the cause, rather than the result, of the lack of affordable housing. Who knows? Maybe she will evolve. Conlin was once more of a NIMBY-advocate too.

    To see real change, I think the pro-density voices need to keep pushing louder on the affordability issue, until the public consciousness shifts and sees the John Fox paradigm as the delusion that it is.

    1. +1. Nothing frustrates me as a Dem more than the Stranger/Daily Kos faction who are just as unhelpful to us as the Tea Party is to my frustrated GOP friends (though they’re terrifying, not counterproductive)

    2. John Fox isn’t on the left. He exists to protect existing property values for white homeowners from the poor and people of color. A truly leftist urban vision would emphasize new supply, but owned by the public sector and with subsidized rather than market rents.

      1. Wow, I actually agree with most of your post! That’s got to be a first. :P

        You know what would be a lot cheaper than building lots of subsidized public housing? Building lots of unsubsidized public housing. When you make more of something, the price goes down. The more housing we build, the lower the price will go, even without subsidies. And while subsidies are expensive, unsubsidized public housing can potentially be self-financing, just like Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, or even the USPS. That’s important for the long-term sustainability of the program.

      2. Fox is one of the lords of the “lifestyle left” in Seattle, that is those for whom politics is reducible to the emotional image one creates for oneself, rather than a rational analysis of how to achieve the ends you seek. Its ideology without reflection. Left-wing conservatism.

        All this populist energy is being spent against the greedy developers, who are the only ones providing some mitigation the affordable housing decline. Who the populists should be railing against are the slumlords, who lead most of the NIMBY campaigns.

        I consider myself a socialist, but I have to say it is just as silly to oppose market-based contributions to the housing supply problem as it would be to oppose any development of public housing or affordable mandates. It’s not an either/or situation. Whatever helps, helps. Clearly we are not anywhere near being able to address the real problems with all public housing and mandates, if that is even a desirable solution. Making it easier for more housing to be built is the most effective thing the city could do right now to help all of us who struggle to make it.

  9. She’ll be fine. Conlin’s not a loss. At the very least, it’s new blood and entertainment in a ward of hospice patients.

  10. Sure, STB, put on your Lycra shorts and helmet, because you have a lot of back peddling to do.

    For one, from what I read, Kshama does not support the same super urbanizing vision of transit as these pages propound, and instead believes in more widespread distribution of transportation and housing resources.

    So, better get those pencil erasers out…it’s time to rewrite the game plan.

      1. @Bailo: Living the dream, man. Livin’ the dream… Trails to nowhere and treadmill prisons. Yay, Kentville.

      2. “@Bailo: Living the dream, man. Livin’ the dream… Trails to nowhere and treadmill prisons. Yay, Kentville.”

        Actually, the trails are great, I commute on them every day, way quicker to get around on…. and far better maintained than Seattle’s bike infrastructure.
        I happen to live in the U-District and bike commute to Kent.
        I’d love to commute to downtown but unfortunately downtown Seattle doesn’t have a engineering job for me.
        So here I sit, straddling two areas wondering what this density has done for me?

      3. @Mr. Squirrel

        Density hasn’t done anything for you except raising your rent, and funneling your paycheck into robbers.

        Why would you ever continue to live in the U-District at sky high prices when you can get a huge apartment in Kent right near where you work is beyond me!

        Break out of the myth of Seattle, and see the reality of Kent!

      4. The point is whether you can walk to daily necessities like supermarkets and schools and libraries and gyms and bars, not whether you can walk on a trail that you may use a few times a year.

        10400 Kent-Kangley Road (south end of East Hill): walkscore 74, transit score 38. So good for walking if you live within 15 minutes of there.

        11600 Kent-Kangley Road (predominant residential area): walkscore 45, transit score 34. “Car-dependent.”

        24000 108th Ave SE (north end of East Hill): walkscore 58, transit score 38. “Somewhat walkable.”

        23909 94th Ave S (old small-house area off 240th/James St): walkscore 45, transit score 38. “Somewhat walkable.”

        11112 SE 116th St (off 108th): walkscore 54, transit score 39. “Somewhat walkable.”

        13211 SE 278th St (off 132nd, bus 164): walkscore 43, transit score 33. “Car-dependent.”

        So there are a few places in Kent with good walkability. But do most apartments in Kent have this? That’s the main issue. If only a few places are walkable, then you end up with the same price disparity as in Seattle: the apartments and houses in the most walkable areas are the most expensive, and the ones that are more affordable have shitty walkability.

      5. Andrew Squirrel: how long is your bike commute?

        When I lived in the northern part of the U-District, I would sometimes bike down to I-90 or Rainier Beach. But it took me an hour just to get to Mercer Street.

  11. The biggest problem is that she replaces Conlin, not that she is going to be terrible. We really don’t know what she will be like. But a board is a board. It is made up of many members. Conlin was the most aggressive proponent of density. It probably cost him his job (in a race this close, his looks probably cost him his job). But replacing him means a loss, even if Sawant is just as, or more aggressive on this issue. She is less likely to persuade other members of the council. It is like replacing McDermott with a Socialist or a Green — it might feel good, but it won’t move the country to the left. It is quite likely to have the opposite effect.

    Like everyone else, I’m guessing as to what she wants or what she plans on doing. Her campaign promises were ridiculous (as BigDonLives said). They just aren’t possible (even if the rest of the board and the mayor agreed with her). Does she actually believe they are possible or does she believe in miracles? If you read some of her other statements, then I think it is possible that she believes in miracles. She believes that she can protest her way out of anything (i. e. start a movement). Sounds like miracles to me.

    If I had to guess, I would say that she makes symbolic votes, or otherwise doesn’t involve herself with this aspect of public policy. She probably doesn’t want to start a zoning revolution when the answer is rent control, or public ownership of all buildings, or something else that isn’t possible. It is also possible that she will push for policies that deliver a little bit of extra low income housing in return for strict regulations that the more conservative preservationist board prefers. In other words, you can build your big building, but only if you provide parking, and only if we say how many units there are going to be, and only if you deliver 2 units of low income housing somewhere (thanks Sawant for the last part!). I really doubt she will push for an easing of regulations to enable rich developers to build more apartments and get wealthier in the process. That would pretty much invalidate her entire philosophy, and make her a pragmatist (like a lot of left leaning folks in this town, including Conlin). Somehow I don’t see her as a pragmatist.

    This why I think this is a big mistake. Not only do we lose one of the most progressive members of the council, but Sawant is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Very few of the policies that could actually help the poor (like raising income taxes) are possible from her position, but she doesn’t want to compromise, and do the little bit of good that any city council member can do.

    On top of all that, you have a fractured council that may already be figuring out how best to protect its turf instead of doing what is best for the city as a whole. It doesn’t look good. As much as everyone doesn’t like the new mayor (or at least preferred the last guy) I think he is our best chance. In times like this, a strong, smart mayor can drive things in the right direction. I’m not sure he is smart and strong enough, but who knows?

    1. I don’t think Conlin lost the race because of his opinion on density, transit or really any other issue. My read on the election is he lost because voters wanted to mix up the council and get more diversity of make up and opinions.

  12. In my experience, legislators perform two functions. First, technical, which is about overseeing the bureaucracy, making sure different departments are communicating and marching in the same direction, and understanding the nuances of legislation in front of the council. Conlin was a master of this. (Remember when he pointed out that the stadium deal would, in fact, raise taxes slightly, contra the claims of its advocates? Would any other council member have bothered to read the fine print? Whether you supported the deal or not, it was good to know that someone on high actually had). Sawant seems to have zero interest in this role, which is a loss for the city whatever you thought of Conlin’s actual votes.

    Then there’s the votes an elected official takes, and the use they make of the profile of their office. While I’m sure Sawant is a slam-dunk on the issues I personally care about most (bus improvements), the few positions she’s really gone in to bat for on land use are awful. So for me this is a huge loss, although where you stand on this will depend on where you sit.

    So I have to agree will Martin — this is a real loss for the city. I wish she’d knocked off Burgess or some other council member with fewer technical chops.

    1. What Bruce said. The people who are very engaged at a technical level, in addition to fulfilling a critical oversight function, are also less likely to reach obviously wrongheaded answers on technical questions. Based on Sawant’s campaign, I see no reason for confidence that she will get into the technical details, and there is really no one else on the council who does that as well as Conlin.

      1. On the other hand, she probably won’t be the worst either. She’s smart and will probably do just fine with technical details when it’s an issue that matters to her. I can’t imagine her being any worse than, say, Harrell when it comes to not mastering the details.

      2. She’s obviously far smarter than Harrell, but what will interest her enough to engage? A core part of her campaign seems to be about starting a movement, which is pretty much the opposite of technical work, and her main interests seem to revolve around things which don’t even appear to be in the universe of things the Council would contemplate.

        But I could be wrong. She wouldn’t be the first fire-breathing radical to get elected, spend lots of time on TV for a few months, and then pivot to doing more technical, less revolutionary things.

  13. Let’s not lionize Conlin. He repeatedly obstructed or slowed good policy—much of it transit-related—simply because of a petty, tired tiff with the mayor.

  14. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it here. Despite the of late excellent stewardship of transit issues by Mr. Conlin, his mortal sin was to have participated in the city hall coup against the duly elected Mayor of this city. Mr. Conlin’s role as Council President to usurp the powers and prerogatives of the Mayor was unforgivable and a sign that he puts the petty politics of the council above good governance. Such behavior strongly indicates his willingness to participate in crony politics and at the direction of elite interests and not for the interests of people.

    Maybe all in all Conlin’s a good guy. He was certainly impressively gracious in his concession to Ms. Sawant even beautifully deflecting a callous question from King5 reporter Linda Brill about socialism (as if it were some pariah). But even good guys have to pay a price for perfidy.

    Mr. Conlin now has the opportunity to continue to be engaged in the community. To be as active a voice as say our own Ben Schiendelman.

  15. A little more insight into who you elected … from her appearance at a Boeing worker’s rally yesterday in downtown Seattle:

    “Sawant says after workers “take-over” the Everett Boeing plant; they could build things everyone can use.
    “We can re-tool the machines to produce mass transit like buses, instead of destructive, you know, war machines,”

    She believes if Boeing decides to build the 777X elsewhere, Boeing workers should take over the plant and build buses.

    At least I’m just being nutty in a blog’s comment section. This lady is actually is on the city council. Scary.

    The above was from the KIRO TV website.

      1. What Greg said. Besides, what’s so flawed about her idea? If Boeing does leave, why should we just let that factory space sit idle?

      2. Because, you know, the sanctity of private property. I don’t think Sawant was envisioning the workers buying the plant from Boeing.

        Although if Boeing does leave, it would presumably put its factories up for sale anyway.

      3. Mike, I don’t know how to tell you this… but socialists don’t exactly share your view on the sanctity of private property.

      4. “Besides, what’s so flawed about her idea?” OK, I’ll play along.

        – An airplane factory is many times bigger than a bus factory. A bus assembly line would drown in there, and the cost of operating that enormous building alone would swamp any potential profits from a bus building company.
        – Worker-owned industrial enterprises of more than tiny size have pretty much always ended in disaster.
        – The transit bus industry in North America is already in trouble, with only one player that is even sort of healthy (New Flyer). A new transit bus enterprise is a shaky business plan.
        – Unclear whether she intends the workers to buy the property (fine, if unrealistic) or to just take it from Boeing (very much not fine).
        – If Boeing left, the land would almost certainly be most efficiently used for residential or commercial, not industrial, purposes. We have a process in place for making those decisions, which will involve the governments of Snohomish County, Everett, and Mukilteo. Sawant can’t unilaterally change that process from her seat on the Seattle city council.

      5. Also, Greg and Will Douglas, the sort of “socialists” who get into power now (a category that includes everyone from Bernie Sanders to all sorts of center-left politicians in Europe and Asia) have typically gotten past seize-the-means-of-production revolutionary fervor. “Socialism” in government today almost always means a generous welfare state to reduce the risk to ordinary people that is inherent in a private enterprise system. (For the record, I am strongly in favor of a welfare state more generous than ours, provided it’s administered in a smart way.) People advocating outright nationalization of industry are very rare after the position was thoroughly discredited by the uniformly poor experience of places from the Eastern bloc to India to the UK to sub-Saharan Africa.

      6. David, you don’t need to condescend, I know perfectly well what you’re talking about. Yes, there’s the size of the plant. One could build buses, trains, and other similar things there and perhaps knock down parts of the building that aren’t being used.

        I think you need to prove the assertion that “worker-owned industrial enterprises of more than tiny size have pretty much always ended in disaster.” Numerous investor-owned industrial enterprises have also ended in disaster.

        A new transit production industry is a shaky proposition, yes, but for someone coming at this from a Socialist perspective they’re not interested in the business case, they’re willing to subsidize it as needed.

        She can’t unilaterally decide it from the Council, obviously, but as the state’s only elected Socialist she has a right to put the idea on the table.

        As to seizing the means of production, we live in a region that has done precisely that on several occasions. In 1951 the City bought out the remaining private electricity companies to unify them under Seattle City Light. Around the same time Washington State took over the Black Ball Ferries to operate it as a public enterprise. All the dams on the Columbia are operated by government agencies.

        I disagree that the experience was discredited. Maybe it was for you. But there were many state-owned industrial enterprises that succeeded in the past and were privatized for ideological purposes. Britain’s coal pits were very productive and most were profitable, but Conservatives privatized them anyway.

        The key point is that these are reasonable subjects of debate, with various pros and cons and tradeoffs to each option and path. Sawant’s proposal is quite reasonable and sensible, but it may come with cons and tradeoffs that you believe to be too high. That’s fair. But it shouldn’t be dismissed outright.

      7. David, as a point of contrast, consider Statoil. While it’s a private company, the Government of Norway controls 67% of its shares. As a consequence, everyone in Norway benefits from its natural wealth, rather than just a handful of shareholders.

        I don’t think that the state should go around taking control of all private enterprise. But I do think that there are a number of sectors where we would all be better off if the state took a more active role.

        As another, more relevant example, I would love to see the City of Seattle build large amounts of *unsubsidized* public housing. Simply by increasing supply (and by not taking a profit), we would be able to lower the price of housing throughout the city. I think that would be a much more effective way to spend money than on housing subsidies, which act as a regressive income tax on many of our poorest residents.

      8. Workers? Taking over a factory? Crazy talk, as if snot-nosed Socialists would invade our god-fearing America, and in one fell swoop declare–“this here land belongs to so and so for such and such reason”–all really quite incomprehensible. Land that was rightfully yours! Disagree? Off to the trail of tears for you–you’re in the way of us developing all that new land. A home for you? Well now. I do have some reservations about broaching that topic. Maybe our Japanese intern could look into–Oh, I’m sorry, you were saying something about the sanctity of private property in America? Do carry on.

      9. Will, I can’t think of a single large, worker-owned enterprise that has succeeded. The most recent example in the US was United Airlines’ attempt to become employee-owned… which led to an operational meltdown and bankruptcy. With small enterprises, the picture is entirely different. But a bus factory big enough to use even part of Boeing’s Paine Field facility would be many times bigger than the employee-owned businesses that succeed.

        As for state-owned enterprises, you may find one example that was working tolerably in the UK — but don’t forget that the UK at the time had many other nationalized industries, and most of them were failing. The UK in the late 1960s was a dismal place to live and an economic basket case. It was failing workers and everybody else.

        Sometimes a state owner (as in your Statoil example, Aleks, or as in the example of much of Qatari business) will be so hands-off that it doesn’t interfere with the business. But such an owner also will not fulfill the goals that socialists have for state ownership of enterprise.

        What matters to me is that the best economic results in history have been delivered not by nationalized industry (or, for that matter, by laissez-faire capitalism). They have been delivered by a system of appropriately regulated private industry coupled with a welfare state generous enough to reduce the risks of entrepreneurial activity. Do you want to live in Norway or Denmark, or do you want to live in East Germany circa 1980? I know how I would answer.

        City Light and the ferries are public infrastructure. (And the governments involved bought the component parts, rather than seizing them.) There is a big difference between public infrastructure and manufacturing concerns. Public infrastructure is a public good. It has to be accessible to everyone. If it is not either state-owned or heavily regulated (like all private electric utilities), the public will suffer. There is no comparable tragedy of the commons resulting from the private sale of most goods or services, provided that the business involved is subject to appropriate protections for workers and the environment.

      10. I’m not a socialist (and so I guess I shouldn’t be speaking for socialists then :P), but I do think that Statoil is a really great model. The state is hands-off when it comes to the details, but by being a majority owner, the state can act at a very high level to ensure that the company’s actions (and profits) benefit everyone.

        If you look at organizations like BECU or Vanguard, it’s kind of the same. I’m a part-owner of both organizations, by virtue of having an account with them. Virtually all day-to-day decisions are made by appointed management, just like with a regular company. But because the managers of those companies know that their customers and owners are the same people, there isn’t the same “profit-taking” incentive that normal publicly-traded companies have.

        Now, maybe Sawant thinks that sovereign wealth funds and hands-off state ownership of private enterprise are just poor imitations of socialism. But in practice, I think that she’s more pragmatic than that. The existence of the minimum wage presupposes the existence of capitalistic employers who want to pay their employees as little as possible, and yet she’s proposing an incremental improvement to this system, rather than a complete overhaul.

      11. “…the machines are here, the workers are here, we will do the job, we don’t need the executives. The executives don’t do the work, the machinists do,” [Sawant] said.

        “We can re-tool the machines to produce mass transit like buses, instead of destructive, you know, war machines,” [Sawant] told KIRO 7.

        So…without executives, who will be negotiating the contracts to sell said buses to transit agencies? Or ensuring compliance with safety, environmental, etc. regulations? The idea that executives do valuable things for businesses (with exceptions, of course) is a critical concept that should not be dismissed. I’m embarrassed that Sawant regularly uses her PhD title as an automatic qualification to spout nonsense.

      12. “socialists don’t exactly share your view on the sanctity of private property”

        Of course not. A classic socialist would organize the workers to seize the factory, and have the government recognize them as the new owners, and Boeing would get nothing. I thought that’s what her rhetoric was advocating. However, I don’t want to presume what she’ll do in office or how pragmatic she’ll be.

        My own opinion on private property is somewhere in the middle. I’ll go along with sanctity or the opposite, whichever balance leads to a well-functioning society. But we can’t just let private groups purporting to be “the workers” seize everything they like. Because do they really speak for most workers? Are they hiding a motive of personal grudge or extreme ideology or looting?

        My main concern about a “bus factory” in Everett is that it’s so far out. Airplane factories may need to be far from the city and next to an airport, but bus/other factories don’t necessarily need to be. Putting a major non-airplane job center so far out reinforces sprawl and the exurbs.

  16. I’d be much less worried about Sawant if she was talking about say… what the city could do to help Metro implement a Low Income ORCA Card instead of spouting gibberish like taking over a Boeing Plant in different county and retooling the factory to build buses.

    One of those two could actually happen and would have a HUGE impact on the poor in Seattle and the entire county.

    The other gets your name in the paper.

    1. Everyone’s criticism of Sawant boils down to the same thing. Conlin campaigned (and legislated) as a technocrat and policy wonk. Sawant campaigned on big ideas.

      Sawant is responsible for what her campaign says on her behalf, of course. But I don’t think we should automatically assume that her campaigning style is the same as her governing style. She may prove to be wonkier than one might assume. She may also end up making real progress on the big issues that the city can actually do something about. Or she may end up being ineffectual. But frankly, if a candidate from the Socialist Alternative party was able to defeat a well-liked 4-term incumbent in a major US city, I think that she’s already proved herself to be pretty effective when she sets her mind to it.

      Anyway, the fact of the matter is that Sawant has been elected. And so has Murray. (And the SR-99 tunnel passed, and Snape killed Dumbledore.) So for now, let’s focus on helping all of them be as effective as possible.

      1. Snape killed Dumbledore??? Aleks, have you ever heard of a spoiler alert???

        Seriously, thanks for this. I’m happy to wait and see how Sawant turns out.

  17. I am a bit confused by the comments that demonstrate knee-jerk negativity to Sawant’s victory which I’ve read here, on a blog which seeks (in part) to advocate for public transportation. It would seem to me a good thing to have a member of the Socialist Alternative Party in office, since a key tenant of their philosophy is to put first the interests of the very demographic most directly impacted by public transportation; pulled from the Socialist Alternative Party’s mission statement: “We are community activists fighting against budget cuts in public services…to fight for the interests of the millions, not the millionaires.” I understand that having to make a retraction and concede the defeat of a favorite is both embarrassing and may even put some on the defensive – we’ve all been there. However, we might all remember that what is often at the heart of opposition to many progressive transportation solutions is an inability to be flexible to new ideas and open to change; it surprised me to see the same resistance put up by those who have also had to work against it. At this early stage of her victory, rather than putting our energy into rubbing our bruised egos, perhaps we could welcome Sawant into the fold, and entice her to embrace our ideas, rather than eyeing her with suspicion and doubt right off the bat.

    1. IB, there are a few reasons that some people here (myself definitely included) are feeling down about Sawant’s win. At least on my part, that’s not to say that I don’t wish her the best or hope that she becomes effective on transit issues. But my negative reaction isn’t “knee-jerk” — it’s grounded in a lot of real issues.

      First, we are transit wonks, and we just lost most of the transit wonkery in the elected parts of the city government. Richard Conlin (whom she chose to run against for reasons still unclear to me) was the most effective technocratic leader in city government on transit and land use issues. Only the mayor, who also lost, even came close. Few of the remaining council members have shown interest in the details of effective transit service, and while they are interested in land use most of them are not friendly to pro-urban ideas on the subject. Sawant may yet dive into the details, but she did not do so or promise to do so during her campaign.

      Second, politicians who are very focused on poverty (which is of course an excellent thing in other respects!), while good on general support for transit, have not historically been good on the details of effective transit. They have tended in general to favor spaghetti service patterns that bring “a bus” to everyone’s front door, rather than networks that prioritize speed, frequency, and ease of use for the greatest number of riders. Again, perhaps she will buck this tendency, but the composition of her electoral coalition makes it seem unlikely.

      Third, she has made specific remarks (some referenced in comments in this thread) that show support for a housing agenda that many of us feel is deeply misguided. Many activists mistake correlation for causation and assume that the building of new housing causes prices to go up. In fact, new housing is usually a market response to other existing forces that cause rising housing prices, and preventing it from being built would just depress supply and force prices up even higher. By advocating “preservation of existing housing” as a cure for high housing prices, she is falling into this trap. (There is another alternate form of this agenda which is even worse — preserving all existing uses, not just housing, and forestalling any economic development. That does keep housing prices down, but only by keeping incomes even worse. That is the “John Fox” position.)

      Finally, it’s hard to see how someone who is out there making speeches suggesting expropriation of Paine Field (or rent control, or a government takeover of Amazon) can effectively make coalitions with the rest of city government. Although some commenters keep arguing that she is a pragmatist, there has been very little pragmatism in her rhetoric. The most pragmatic decision she has made was a campaign decision to lead her narrative with the $15 minimum wage.

      Again, none of this is to say before she even takes office that she will be horrible. I hope she will be better than the above factors would suggest. I just don’t have positive feelings at the moment.

  18. First, STB, like all of the other lame media outlets that prematurely and incorrectly called many races in this and other elections, owes us all an apology for screwing up and messing with our democracy. Maybe STB, Seattle Times, Stranger, SWeekly, etc should all STFU until we have real results. Maybe we need to pass a law that commands just that.

    Second, to all those who dislike Sawant for pushing for EXACTLY what this blog should be standing for -smart, sustainable, affordable development because she’s not down with your failed (time and again) capitalistic, developer-oriented, developer rewarding, every-person punishing ways, I laugh my ass off at your ignorant, dullard, brainwashed ways of thinking. This world is lost if even the ‘good guys’ on transit-oriented planning are too stupid to see when an opportunity when it lands at their feet. Sawant is a gift, not something to dread. She wants to create breakthroughs where cruddy, inexcusable gridlock exists. Are you neasayers for real?!!! Learn your history of the world and policies around these issues in cities outside of the failing USA.

    1. Your comment is laced with ad homs, but I’ll leave it up because it is a premium example of magical thinking. Who is exactly going to pay for all this wonderful development when Sawant has banished the false god of profit from our fair city?

      1. What have I said that’s falsely assumed? Martin, I’m sorry you feel that way, but only because of the implications on our greater society, when the moderator appears to lack the ability to see possibilities beyond the tired, again, FAILED mechanisms and policies that continue to be employed in our community. That you either ignore or fail to see that we need new ideas that go beyond incentivizing rich developers at the expense of the poor, the middle-incomers, the young and the creative and true progress itself boggles me. No problem with profit, where it’s reasonable. Ask yourself, are the regions developers part of the top 1% or 5%, or are they amongst the rest of us as members of our community, sharing the bounty and beauty, hardship and hard work with the rest of us? The consolidation of wealth in the USA and beyond has occurred very much because of these types of policies that favor further empowerment of land-grab developers over everyone else. Martin, I know a shite-ton about transit issues, development and successful versus failed policies. Dare I say, I just might know more than any/many of your STBers on these topics. It’s not just about how to build efficient transport. It’s about sustainable affordability that creates a real community, the kind of community that Seattle is starting to lose. Ask anyone on The Hill about the Amdroid invaders and they’ll echo what I’m saying, in one way or another. Any time you’d like to converse on these issues, I’d be happy to meet for a coffee or tea and explain what I’m talking about. In the meantime, maybe check out Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” for a tiny tad of perspective. Why do United Statesians fear anything related to socialism so much? Capitalism has been SO great for all of us? Maybe a blend is in order?

      2. I think it’s just plain wrong to pose the problem as rich developers vs. normal people. While they are indeed doing it for their own personal gain, the fact is that building new housing increases the number of people that can fulfill their wish to be here. I don’t emphasize the interests of current tenants that happen to be lucky to enough to live here over the interests of people who will never get to because we don’t build the housing.

        I don’t understand your hostility to “Amdroid invaders.” While a monoculture is generally not good, I think that an influx of well-educated and affluent citizens is really good for a city and its ability to fund social services. Your use of a derogatory term for people whose primary sin is to want to move here is a sign of a sort of reverse cultural snobbery and hostility to newcomers, which makes me think you aren’t much of an advocate for Seattle population growth after all.

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