(photo by Dina Johnson)
If you still think the primary election – next Tuesday, or maybe you’ve voted by mail already – is a snoozer, last night’s 34th District Democrats meeting would have cured you of that notion. With sometimes-raucous debate and questioning, our area’s largest political organization settled on some endorsements and budgeting decisions, looking ahead to both the primary and general elections. Five of West Seattle’s own elected officials were there, along with one of the most controversial statewide politicians running for re-election, and a city leader – read on to say what was said, decided, and revealed, including their recommendation on the primary’s most convoluted ballot measure:
Compared to the typical orderly neighborhood-group meeting, the 34th DDs’ session was more like a big family gathering — some strong words, some interruptions, a lot of passionate discussion, a little occasional squabbling, and sometimes chair Ivan Weiss had to parentally tell some folks in the back to hush up and pay attention to the speakers.
That wasn’t the case, of course, during a couple of tonight’s headliners. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson (34dems.org photo at left), who’s going for a third term, made a pitch for the group’s support; long after her speech ended, the group voted narrowly (22 for, 28 against) against endorsing her, at least at this time, despite a pitch from West Seattle’s school board rep Steve Sundquist.
Bergeson’s harshest critics blame her for public schools’ perceived over-focus on the WASL standardized tests; she defended them, saying that skeptics thought last year would be a “graduation disaster” because students would not meet the requirements, yet 92 percent of them did. Sundquist, meantime, said he supports Bergeson in part because she has “the wisdom to know that when you are making progress, you don’t throw the tool out, you improve it.”
Another guest at the meeting, though he’s not up for re-election this year (and didn’t say anything about those occasional rumors he might run for mayor next year), was City Council President Richard Conlin (34dems.org photo at left). He hit a variety of topics, including the Parks and Green Spaces Levy that the council recently voted to put on the November ballot, and listed West Seattle highlights from the levy, including $1 million for Camp Long, $3 million for park development at the West Seattle (Westcrest) Reservoir site where lidding work is now under way, artificial turf at Delridge Playfield, and a skate dot at Myrtle Reservoir park.
During Q&A with attendees, Conlin affirmed support for health-insurance reform and public campaign financing, which he thinks might wind up on a city ballot next year. He didn’t have a quick answer when Weiss asked him about the seeming incongruence between accelerating development and previous statements that “neighborhoods (should be kept) in the driver’s seat of upcoming neighborhood plan updates”; Weiss specifically mentioned impending Junction development and the rampant expectation that it will lead to chain stores in the spaces where independent businesses are now. Conlin professed to be unfamiliar with the specifics on what’s on the drawing board out here, but stressed that he believes the city should not work “top down” when the time comes for neighborhood-plan updates starting next year.
He also was asked about the status of potential White Center annexation; before last night’s meeting was over, we posted his response on our partner site, White Center Now (see it here).
Much of the meeting focused on whether to endorse certain measures and candidates, following up on endorsements the group already had made. Most immediately, there’s a complicated measure on next Tuesday’s ballot involving potentially changing certain county offices (executive, assessor, councilmembers) to nonpartisan. West Seattle’s County Councilmember Dow Constantine called it “the Incumbent Protection Act,” but not in a good way; he called it “Republicans’ way to sneak back into power,” by hiding their candidates’ party affiliation.
(photo by Dina Johnson)
Constantine staffer and 34th DDs member Chris Arkills also spoke about this ballot issue, quoting former Nirvana musician turned Democratic activist Krist Novoselic: “The Republican brand isn’t very popular these days, so they want to do away with branding.”
This is a two-part vote that’s actually only a prelude to a potential vote in November. The first part of the question you’ll see on Tuesday’s ballot is whether to place this on the fall ballot at all; then if so, do you favor the original version or a council-supported alternative that would make the offices nonpartisan but give candidates the option of describing their party preferences on the ballot. You can see here exactly what’s on the ballot and what the official pro/con arguments are; the 34th DDs’ preferred actions would be to vote “no” on the first part and “council alternative” on the second part.
Looking at the fall ballot measures, Constantine again addressed the group to (successfully) urge support for the Sound Transit proposition, now branded as Mass Transit Now (with its own website at MassTransitNow.org). “When I was a kid, age 6 and then 8, the voters of this state turned down rail – we’re going to be paying for this decision forever,” Constantine said, “so let’s not repeat that mistake.” The proposition also got a plug from Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin, another of last night’s guests, who like Constantine is on the Sound Transit board. Both noted that the Sound Transit proposition includes money for studying the feasibility of a light-rail extension to West Seattle. Constantine also elaborated excitedly on the potential of the light-rail trains involved in the next phase of the project: “… trains (that) when fully operational can leave every four minutes with one
driver and 800 passengers — running on electricity.”
Turning to the car-focused side of the transportation coin, the 34th DDs decided to oppose Tim Eyman‘s I-985, which goes before voters in November, taking on a number of traffic-related issues such as carpool lanes and tolling; read it here.
However, they’re supporting I-1000, the so-called “death with dignity” measure sponsored by former Governor Booth Gardner; read its full text here.
It wasn’t all election talk last night. Leaders from the Highland Park Action Committee (see the group’s website here) were in attendance to brief the 34th DDs on their campaign against the city building a new jail in West Seattle. Chair Dorsol Plants says HPAC has met with all but two city councilmembers, and has a meeting set a week from today with one of them (Sally Clark). He says that the majority of those with whom they’ve spoken say they’re “completely opposed to a jail in the South End,” but HPAC’s position is that “we’re opposed to (a jail) being in any area of Seattle where it’s illegal; according to land-use codes, the only legal location is downtown.”
(photo by Dina Johnson)
HPAC vice chair Rory Denovan (pictured at left, with Plants) added that they want the city “to cooperate and negotiate in good faith with the county to expand the Regional Justice Center in Kent — if not there, it should go in one of the east or north side communities (that are potentially partnering with Seattle).”
Plants asked Council president Conlin about the jail issue during his Q&A period, and was told, “The jail is going to be one of the most challenging issues we’re going to have to deal with, and the ONLY reason we’re dealing with it is because King County is in a financial hole … We have told the (potential) partners we won’t join with them (in building a semi-regional jail) unless they put sites on the table. We know none of the (current) sites are great sites – it’s a tough decision and we’re going to take a lot of time before we come to a decision.”
Earlier in the meeting, which lasted more than two and a half hours, the group debated budgetary matters — including whether to spend down as much of their on-hand funds as possible on donations to key candidates (such as Governor Gregoire and Public Lands Commissioner candidate Peter Goldmark) and whether to send a sample ballot to all homes in the district. They also discussed reallocating money that had been earmarked for support of 34th District legislators (all of whom were in attendance — State Sen. Joe McDermott, State Rep. Eileen Cody, and State Rep. Sharon Nelson — all running unopposed this fall) to other races/issues that needed it.
WHAT’S NEXT: The 34th DDs plan to do some canvassing and phone-bank work this weekend, as well as in the month before the general election. Three Democrats from the district are going to the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month. The next monthly meeting of the 34th District Democrats will be Wednesday 9/10.
–Tracy Record, WSB editor