By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The final candidate forum presented by a local organization brought the King County Executive candidates to the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s online meeting Thursday night.
It was a chance for one last look at three-term incumbent Executive Dow Constantine and first-term State Sen. Joe Nguyen, both West Seattle residents, before the voting deadline Tuesday night. WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd and board member Kate Wells facilitated. The questions – which, given the group’s mission, focused on transportation – and answers below are our summaries/paraphrasings, not exact quotes except for what’s within quotation marks. (Added Monday night – here’s the WSTC meeting video; the candidates’ forum starts 31 minutes in.)
****QUESTION: For Constantine – you’ve been King County Executive for 12 years – how would you describe your leadership style?
CONSTANTINE: Clear ability to collaborate … and get big things done. Inherited South Park Bridge dilemma, closure right after taking office. Got together the stakeholders, got fed help, opened the new bridge (four years later). Called for going to the ballot with Sound Transit 3, insisted that we finally bring light rail to West Seattle and Ballard, got it passed. Every time we’ve had a big challenge I’ve been able to unite disparate voices and move forward … same with pandemic … centered experts, saved lives.
****QUESTION: For Nguyen – you’ve been a state senator for 1 term, how would you describe. your style?
NGUYEN: Patty Murray was a first-term state senator when she ran for US Senator and has done a fantastic job. A lot of these problems have been problems for a long time. Need inclusion. I’ve been urgent but effective. Has brought coalitions together. We are at a once-in-a-lifetime moment where we can bring people together. A lot of my leadership style is from behind. Including the folks impacted by policy.
****QUESTION: How do we change the way Metro brings the public into the process? We’re told now changes can take two years
NGUYEN: Back in March 2016 there was an effort to slow down process. Now it’s a three-stage process. How can we make it faster? Maybe decisionmaking up front and not so cautious. Planners can do outreach.
CONSTANTINE: Always been committed to continuous improvement ,.. Metro is working to improve public process. We were saddled with a very political (process) over the years … moved away from that. All departments are directed to lead with equity in everything we do. We have increased translation. Hiring more diverse work force. Need to use data to be sure those who most need access get it. “Route planning does indeed take time.” Can’t shortcut the technical work either.
****QUESTION: Transit funding is regressive. How can we fund it through more progressive sources?
CONSTANTINE: We have limited options – state sets them. State underfunds transit. We need state Legislature to make tax system more progressive.
NGUYEN: We fought for capital gains tax last year. I’ve been in talks with some allies in this space because even large companies understand we need robust transit. Important discussion to be had with business community.
****QUESTION: Ridership and revenue for Metro plummeted during the pandemic. Joe has called for free bus service. Dow has made some free. Is that the best use of tax dollars? How can it be funded when there are so many public needs?
NGUYEN: He relied on transit when younger – the cost can add up really fast. More about “what the future of an equitable society can look like.” It’s a key to climate. It’s a key to economic opportunity. It’s about what it can unlock, We find ways to fund things like the legal system but talking about subsidized transit, people balk … This is an aggressive idea but can be driven at county level
CONSTANTINE: It’s all about priorities and trade-offs … what we have done is make transit affordable to everyone, so people who are truly low income can ride free … but it’s true that people making six figures don’t need free transit. If we just dropped fares it would blow a several hundred million dollar hole in the budget. The legislature could come up with a way to fund it. Otherwise it’s irresponsible for (his opponent) to just declare free transit for all.
NGUYEN: Rebuts by noting that about 60 percent of revenue covered by large companies … this is not as outlandish a it may seem. This is about a larger vision.
CONSTANTINE: Rebuts, asking, why didn’t you do something at the Legislature? If we want people making six figures to choose transit, it’s not a free ride, it has to be transit that’s better than riding in their cars.
****QUESTION: Dow’s been attacked for underinvesting in urban unincorporated areas. Where do you stand on the annexation issue?
CONSTANTINE: We have continually invested in White Center (nd Skyway) but we don’t have the taxing authority that cities have, to provide urban services. It would be better for WC to be part of Seattle or Burien. It would be better for Skyway to be part of Seattle or Renton. Unless state changes law for more taxing authority, tough to come up with as much as cities could. We’ve got a lot of investment going on in both these places.
NGUYEN: Leans toward annexation to Seattle because of the money, but it’s up to the people who live there. If exec’s been in elected office 25 years, he should have done something about this by now.
****BRIEF QUESTIONS: Do you ride transit when possible?
Both said yes.
Have you toured the West Seattle Bridge repairs?
CONSTANTINE: No, haven’t been invited to.
NGUYEN: Yes, a couple weeks ago.
Repeal bike helmet law?
CONSTANTINE: Supports suspending enforcement.
More enforcement cameras for blocking bus lanes?
Both say yes.
****QUESTION: Winner will sit on the Sound Transit board. How will you represent West Seattle in final route decisions?
NGUYEN: – Focus on how we ensure we get transit here on time or faster and set it up to continue southward.
CONSTANTINE: Been a strong advocate for West Seattle on the board, obviously working with financial constraints but emphasis should be on funding to build what public approved. Thwarted the east-west Junction plan, that would have made White Center extension impossible. Needs to be some local funding.
****QUESTION: Both have expressed support for light rail to WC. Also tunneling to Junction. What will you do to help secure funding for that?
CONSTANTINE: Federal funding, local funding – city has robust economy – we gotta deal with financing part of this. ST is saddled with an artificial limit on amount they can borrow so that constrains what they can build. – been looking into whether we can bolster ST’s borrowing capacity – right now governments can borrow money for almost nothing, makes sense to borrow it now and get the system in place now
NGUYEN: 71 percent of Seattle voters would support new funding – in terms of bonding, I proposed public infrastructure bank that could help fund this and affordable housing.
****QUESTION: County plays a role in ensuring infrastructure corridors – how to bring planning groups together for shared vision?
NGUYEN: Progressive members wanted to include climate change as part of Growth Management Act – one of biggest things, get that in statute – these are all related, land use planning, transit, affordable housing, all interrelated.
CONSTANTINE: Been a leader on growth management whole time in office. We have a land conservation initiative, a forest plan, working every day to restore natural environment and farmland – but you can’t do that without making urban areas attractive places to live. Need to push cities to zone better.
****QUESTION: Both have called out state tax system. Voters repeatedly turned down income tax. What do we do?
CONSTANTINE: Need state to engage in a serious debate about it. Been cartoonish before. Get people engaged to talk seriously about what it means for progressive state with great economy to have worst tax system. We have to discuss what it would look like if you were taxed on what you make and what you have; we could do this fairly.
NGUYEN: Tax Structure Workgroup is thinking about how to restructure tax base in our state – broad group of people including Republicans – you’ll find that people are more aligned – take thoughtful engagement – progressive revenue also means lowering (the burden) for those who can least afford it – we get in trouble for discussing how we’re going to raise it but not (for some) lowering it. That’s the root cause. County Exec is a bully pulpit we can use to push that forward.
****QUESTION: If you had to choose between electrifying Metro and more service, which?
CONSTANTINE: Have had to grapple with that. Converting to all-electric is an extremely high priority. By 2035. It is critical we do that even as we deploy light rail system and then need to wring carbon out of everything.
NGUYEN: Among his first bills, car emissions and residential energy. It would be a tough call. I would advocate to be sure underserved communities had what they needed and then put $ toward electrification.
****QUESTION: Do you support having County Council look at expanding Water Taxi fleet like old Mosquito Fleet?
NGUYEN: Water Taxi is main way he gets downtown. Would support expanding it. Has seen Nordic systems with better-designed vessels.
CONSTANTINE: He created King County Ferry District to make West Seattle service permanent and take over Vashon run from state. Has always advocated expanding waterborne transit. Wants to look at electrification of vessels.
****QUESTION: Cars idling along the detour route – does bridge repair fund have tree-planting money?
CONSTANTINE: It’s a city thing but we’ve contributed.
NGUYEN: Appreciate city’s traffic-mitigation measures.
****QUESTION: West Seattle SkyLink gondola?
NGUYEN: Worth studying as an augmentation.
CONSTANTINE: Interesting idea but my concerns are, we’re bringing light rail to WS but not stopping here – it would preclude (continuing light rail southward). Peak capacity is also an issue. When Seahawks game lets out, how long’s the line? I’ve asked ST to engage in a study. Met with Peter Rogoff (ST CEO) the day before and told him they need to do something more than perfunctory.
****QUESTION: Should county workers keep working remotely or is bricks and mortar important?
CONSTANTINE: Both. Some services better provided in person, some people need to be together for creativity … My goal is to engage employees in what works best for them and for the service they provide to the people.
NGUYEN: Both. Maybe piloting the future of work. 4-day week, too?
NGUYEN: I’m not the typical kind of person you’d find in public office. Got involved because he wanted to make sure that marginalized people had a voice at the table. Legislature has passed progressive policies because so many are now at table. But many of these thigs need to be implemented at county level. Incumbent has done a great job but it’s time for change.
CONSTANTINE: We’ve been through quite a time. Led with science and reason when COVID hit. Saved lives. Best Starts for Kids. Health through Housing. Been regional leader on transit. ST2 lost the first time, he led bringing it back, this month opened Northgate. Has shepherded Water Taxi. Got South Park Bridge replaced. Took charge of Metro in a finance crisis – didn’t slash – worked our way back and won honors. Now converting to all electric. United region for ST3 with WS part of it. “Most ambitious transit expansion plan in the nation.”
The WSTC meeting also had a few other topics in addition to the Nguyen-Constantine forum; we’ll report those separately.
VOTING REMINDER: Get your ballot into a county dropbox by 8 pm Tuesday, or into the USPS system sooner to ensure it’s postmarked in timm.