Thursday, July 30, 2015

Seattle District Elections: Money Tries to Beat Back Kshama Sawant's Progressive Movement

On the job I will have conversations with the few coworkers who are able to conceive of a big picture. Where are we headed? Who is going to win it all in 2016? Can we imagine a future that isn't bleak and apocalyptic?

My usual contribution to the dialogue is to locate the nexus of our collective ills in the concentration of wealth and power in a tiny elite who are driven by insatiable greed and who feel themselves somehow invulnerable to the onrushing societal and ecological collapse.

Yesterday I was telling a coworker that if you are a Saudi royal who owns opulent estates on more than one continent, the possibility of genocide in Yemen or igniting a war with Iran must not mean what it does to your average person. The super-rich I believe always expect to be able to parachute somewhere to safety.

Another one of my mantras is that we -- "we" meaning the 99% -- can't win the money game; the super-rich have far more of it. If we try to compete by pooling our dollars and cents -- and try we must -- we almost always end up being buried.

The story of our present history -- Citizens United v. FEC -- is a story of a 1% who, freaked out by the success of Obama 2008 in raising millions online in small donations, rushed to equate money with free speech, clearing the way for unlimited independent expenditure campaigns and creating a brave new world of electioneering in the United States.

In the City of Seattle a law was passed in 2013 to create a district system for the city council. Of the nine council seats, seven would represent individual districts and two would be at-large.

The idea is that it takes a lot less money for yard signs and mailings to campaign in a couple of neighborhoods than it does citywide. I don't think that can be denied.

But what we are seeing in the midst of primary voting (election day is August 4) for the first district elections is that money in the form of independent expenditures is saturating the process as never before.

I am at ground zero, District 3, where superstar socialist Kshama Sawant is running for reelection. The Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) has backed a shill, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle President Pamela Banks, in an attempt to oust Sawant.

Banks' yard signs and hip, colorful, almost Avalon Ballroomesque posters are, if not everywhere, highly visible. It is a cynical effort made possible by developer deep-pockets that repackages the Urban League corporate toady as a multiracial, multicultural Hippie goddess. As Sawant wrote in a recent email, "So far over $70,000 from 160 top corporate executives, bankers, private equity managers, and developers have poured into our race."

Local captains of industry are banking that Banks can hoodwink enough voters, the ones who are obviously not paying attention, to fill in her bubble on the ballot.

The same thing is happening in other districts. In District 1 $74,000 has been dropped by a business PAC to make sure Lisa Herbold, a longtime legislative aide to Nick Licata, will not join Kshama on the council to push for rent control in the city.

What we are witnessing is the Democratic Party, which is terrified of a socialist rebirth at the local level thanks to the celebrity of Sawant, joined at the hip with the downtown power structure of the Seattle Times, developers and sundry capitalists drenching the primary election in gobs of cash in an effort to beat back a truly progressive uprising.

The issues are income inequality and exorbitant rents in a city that is rapidly, chiefly due to Amazon's ascent, becoming a San Francisco on the Sound. Kshama has proven herself time after time a fighter who will not go down, a rare almost unique politician who walks her radical talk and who cannot be bought. She is concatenating allies around her; and the fear of the power elite is that these allies will join her on city council. Hence, the gobs of cash.

We'll see what happens. I don't think Kshama can be beat. And as for the important District 1 race, the large independent expenditures will hopefully go the way of Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS effort in 2012: Lots of money which in the end bought next to nothing.

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