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Week in Review: October 13, 2023 - with Robert Cruickshank

Hacks & Wonks

Release Date: 10/13/2023

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More Episodes

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank!

Robert fills Crystal in on dismaying news about Seattle Public Schools - how the district provoked parent fury by removing teachers and splitting classes after they screwed up enrollment projections, as well as their proposal for an austerity plan that includes school closures and anti-union financial policies.

They then switch gears to discuss the conservative National Association of Realtors pouring money into the Seattle City Council races, Sara Nelson’s penchant for campaign stunts rather than governing, and right-wingers using high gas prices to take aim at carbon pricing.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.

Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today’s co-host, Robert Cruickshank, at @cruickshank.

 

Resources

ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 5” from Hacks & Wonks

 

Pete Hanning, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 6” from Hacks & Wonks

 

A ‘routine’ reconfiguration of Seattle schools brings tears, concerns” by Claire Bryan from The Seattle Times

 

‘Please don’t break our hearts,’ Seattle parents, teachers protest widespread classroom shuffles” by Sami West from KUOW

 

Seattle parents raise concerns over classroom size miscalculations by school district” by Denise Whitaker from KOMO

 

‘The board needs to make this right’; Parents concerned over SPS restructuring” by Dave Detling from Fox 13

 

Seattle Public Schools Unveil Plans for Sweeping Cuts and Lasting Austerity” by Robert Cruickshank from The Urbanist

 

National realtors group drops $659k in Seattle, Spokane elections” by Josh Cohen from Crosscut

 

Burien Mayor Sees No Issue With Distribution of Homeless People’s Private Info, Council Member Blames Her Colleague for Fentanyl Deaths” from PubliCola

 

Will high gas prices derail WA’s climate policy?” by Conrad Swanson from The Seattle Times

 

Don’t let the oil industry gaslight us about high prices at the pump” by Leah Missik for The Seattle Times

 

Find stories that Crystal is reading here

 

Listen on your favorite podcast app to all our episodes here

 

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 with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

If you missed this week's topical shows, we continued our series of Seattle City Council candidate interviews. All 14 candidates for 7 positions were invited, and we had in-depth conversations with many of them. This week, we presented District 5 candidate, ChrisTiana ObeySumner, and District 6 candidate, Pete Hanning. We did not talk with their opponents - Cathy Moore in D5 cancelled and Dan Strauss in D6 declined. Have a listen and stay tuned over the coming weeks - we hope these interviews will help you better understand who these candidates are and inform their choices for the November 7th general election.

Today, we're continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, and today's co-host: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank.

[00:01:46] Robert Cruickshank: Hey - thanks for having me back again, Crystal.

[00:01:48] Crystal Fincher: Hey, absolutely - thanks for being back. Well, there's a lot of news this week - a lot about everything. We're going to start off by talking about Seattle Public Schools and them really provoking parent fury, once again, by removing teachers and splitting up classes after the district screwed up enrollment projections. What's going on here?

[00:02:11] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, there was a board meeting last night that was packed with parents from across Seattle, and huge media turnout - all four TV stations were there, The Seattle Times was there, KUOW was there - covering this. And what happened is - over the summer, the school district administrators told principals at schools different ratios and rules and projections for enrollments they had to use in determining how many teachers they would have and how many students they could have to a teacher. And there are rules coming from the state about needing to have small class sizes at elementary schools - it's a good thing, we want that. And so the principals went forth with what the district told them, made the assignments, school began in early September - everything's going great. Then all of a sudden, at the beginning of October, just a week ago, the district realized - oops, they screwed up the calculation. And that if they don't fix it, they could lose a $3.6 million grant from the state. Now the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has said that Seattle's actually fine - we don't see an issue yet - but the district claims that they needed to take proactive steps. And so the district did - rather than say, Okay, here's some money to bring on additional teachers so we don't have to remove teachers from schools, so we don't have to take kids away from their classroom a month into the year - the district instead said, No, we're not gonna spend any extra money, we're just gonna move everyone around at 40 different schools, remove some teachers from the classroom entirely, create a bunch of split classes where a bunch of third graders now are gonna go into a room with a bunch of second graders, for example. And parents are furious, and they should be.

I can give you a personal story. I have a fourth grader at Adams Elementary in Ballard, and he was in kindergarten when the pandemic hit and schools closed. So he lost half of kindergarten, and then first grade was mostly online. By the time he and his classmates get to second grade, they had any number of problems in the classroom for the full year. Second grade was a disaster for my kid, who had a ton of behavioral issues, and a lot of other kids in the class. Get to third grade, and his teacher at Adams Elementary, Ms. Windus, is excellent and she puts in a ton of work with these kids to get them back on track - helping them get back not just academically, but socially, emotionally. Third grade was great - not just for my kid, but for all the others in the class. Fourth grade's been going great so far. Well, because of these district-mandated cuts, the school has to get rid of Ms. Windus who's like this excellent teacher.

And last night at the board meeting, we heard similar stories from across the city, including some really gut-wrenching stories from Southeast Seattle - Orca K-8 and Dunlap Elementaries - teachers of color, parents of color coming up and saying, Look, for the first time in years, I feel like there are teachers who get my kid and you're gonna remove them? One teacher got up and said, Tell me which student I should kick out of my class - the one who is homeless, the one who doesn't get enough to eat, the one who has behavioral issues that I've been able to help correct, the one who didn't think they could learn how to read but now they can?

People were furious and rightly so, because what is happening here is the district is trying to make kids pay the price for an adult screw-up, rather than the district figuring out how to make this right without disrupting classrooms in the middle of the year. They've just said - Eh, you all can deal with it, kids can suffer the consequences. And a lot of the kids are ones - like I said earlier, not just like mine - who suffered through the pandemic and all that disruption - but necessary disruption, to be honest - because of the public health needs. But now you wanna make sure that you've got stability for these kids, that once they're bonded to a teacher in a good classroom they stay there - that's the thing they need - is stability. And this district just doesn't care. There are deeper issues, which we should talk about in a moment, but what you saw last night was an outpouring of anger and frustration at a district administration that didn't care, and a school board that just kind of sat there and didn't really make any promises to fix it.

[00:06:20] Crystal Fincher: Well, and this seems to be a continuing problem, particularly with that feedback of not feeling like the district is as invested in the success of kids as a primary objective, and not really being responsive to the feedback that parents have. Does this feel like this is a continuation of this issue?

[00:06:41] Robert Cruickshank: It's exactly it. The district has made it very clear that they don't care about public feedback - they don't believe that they should be answerable to the public. They don't think that the needs of students is a priority - you see in the media coverage and in the superintendent's words last night - that financial responsibility is their top priority. Well, that sounds pretty neoliberal. This is - let's put money first ahead of the needs of kids. There were a number of teachers who were there last night - and parents said similar things - who were like, We're in the richest city in the richest country in the history of the world with some of the wealthiest billionaires here, some of the largest companies here. Surely we can figure out how to solve this by working with the Legislature to tax the rich rather than making kids pay the price. The point I made last night at the board meeting is - Even if we can't get legislative money right now because they're not in session, why don't we take money from something else, like Central Office? We should be taking money away from administrator salaries - and they can do with less - rather than decide the first way to take money is to take out of the classroom.

[00:07:51] Crystal Fincher: Well, and I guess that's a question that I have, that I've heard asked - what are the actual remedies here? Is this a situation where there are no good options or are there, is there a way to move forward without creating this type of disruption?

[00:08:05] Robert Cruickshank: So Seattle's kids are stuck between two bad actors. On the one hand, the school district, which is deeply mismanaged. And a number of candidates for the board, like Debbie Carlsen, and a number of parents last night have been calling for an independent forensic audit of the school - of the district - and its spending. I've heard similar things from legislators who say - Hey, we're giving the district money, we don't know where it goes. So an independent audit and management reforms are necessary. On the other hand, our kids are also being hurt by the State Legislature and a Democratic majority that has not made it a priority to fund our public schools. So what do you do in the meantime? Like I said, I think the answer has to be for the district to figure out - where can they pull money from right now? If you need to lay off administrators, highly-paid assistant superintendents or something in the middle of the year, do it. These folks make a fair amount of money - you save teachers here and there.

Parents have also raised questions about the new calculations that are being used to determine which schools lose teachers. In fact, a number of schools - including the one my kid attends - have seen enrollment go up. So this isn't a case of declining enrollment causing problems. At some of these schools, they've been adding kids back, which is great - you want to see that - and now they're getting punished for it. So you've got to take a look at - do we need to make mid-year cuts in the Central Office to free up money? Do we need to have some independent auditors come in and figure out what's going wrong? District administrators and most board members don't seem to want to do any of that, even though kids are paying the price.

[00:09:34] Crystal Fincher: And I guess that leads me into a question about the long-term finances and outlook of the district, which is troubling. They're looking at deficits, as are many districts in the state, and we've talked about that before. Seattle Public Schools is proposing an austerity plan. What does that mean, and what kind of impact will that have?

[00:09:57] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, so to be clear, districts across the state are facing financial problems because of the Legislature. In fact, there are at least three districts north of Everett that are under financial monitoring by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. So the question is - how do you respond to this? What Seattle Public Schools is proposing, and this came up last night after parents had vented their anger - the board went on to talk about a new financial policy that they're proposing, which is essentially permanent austerity. It would involve locking the district in at a budget level that is $200 million below where it was at last spring. They would have multi-year budget planning - an idea that was initially introduced to the State Legislature by Republicans - which would mean that you have a low baseline and you have very strict rules about how you can add money back. So if we succeed in getting the Legislature to pass a wealth tax, for example, and more money comes to the public schools, this financial policy would make it very hard for the district to go back and add because they could say - Oh, well, this isn't in our four-year fiscal plan, we don't know where we can put this money.

There are also some interesting parts of the policy - and this came up for heated debate last night among board members - that are pretty obviously anti-union. I had an article at the Urbanist yesterday about this - and there are provisions that are clearly trying to undo the Seattle Education Association's gains in the contract last year during the strike. And in fact, one board member, Chandra Hampson - very neoliberal board member - openly said, Well, maybe we should look at reopening the collective bargaining agreement. - which a lot of people's eyes went wide, and jaws dropped, and made it clear we can't really do that. Teachers were there last night also to protest against this. There are other provisions in there which seem designed to hold down teacher salaries - it's all pretty neoliberal austerity-type stuff.

And what's interesting to me is the contrast to what's going on at City Hall. I think a lot of our listeners probably saw an op-ed in The Seattle Times from about two weeks ago, by Rachel Smith of the Chamber of Commerce and Jon Scholes of the Downtown Seattle Association, saying that City Hall shouldn't raise taxes on corporations and the rich. Instead, you need to cut your spending and just focus on outcomes. And now you're seeing some of the conservative candidates, like Maritza Rivera and others, saying that same thing on the campaign trail now. Well, Seattle Public Schools is about to adopt that exact strategy - of slashing spending, saying - Oh, we're focusing on outcomes, even though the effects on kids are clearly devastating. What this is leading up to - and this is starting to get discussed among parents last night at the board meeting - the district has said for months now they want to close a bunch of schools in the district next year.

And if you think moving a couple of kids around and teachers around in the middle of October is disruptive, wait until you close an entire school. The effect of school closures is devastating on kids. People may remember 10 years ago in Chicago when Rahm Emanuel closed 50 schools there - it was devastating for the community. Research made it extremely clear that kids whose schools were closed did more poorly academically than kids whose schools remained open. I mentioned that to the board and the superintendent last night - we'll see if they paid any attention to it. But it's clear that the school district is on a trajectory where they are embracing huge cuts - they want to spend less on our kids, regardless of the consequences. And it's gonna take parents rising up against that here in the district, and also us going to Olympia and making sure the Democratic majority there finally takes its paramount duty responsibility under the Constitution seriously and fully funds our schools.

[00:13:38] Crystal Fincher: If the Legislature doesn't, is the district gonna have much of a choice but to close these schools?

[00:13:45] Robert Cruickshank: They do. I think what is happening is the district initially said earlier this year that they needed to close schools to save money. But in articles that have come out since, district leaders have been saying - Well, actually, it's not really about money. There is a article in The Seattle Times in late August where they quoted the superintendent, Brent Jones, who said - We're not gonna see any savings from closing schools next year when there's a $100 million budget deficit, we might see savings two to five years out. The district closed schools in the late 2000s, only to learn a few years later that they had completely missed their enrollment projections - and by the early 2010s, they had to spend $50 to $60 million to reopen schools they had just closed a few years earlier. So it's not clear that closing schools is gonna help them. Finally, there's the issue of - if you've been moving kids around and making clear that their needs aren't as important as meeting a couple of financial projections in the middle of school year and then you close their schools, parents aren't gonna sit for that. A lot of them are just gonna walk away - they might move to a suburban district, they may put their kids in some private school. So closing schools sets in motion potentially a spiral of declining enrollment, which means less money coming to the school district.

[00:15:05] Crystal Fincher: Now, it seems like that's a problem that they're destined to run into again, with as volatile as enrollment can be - but it does seem to be cyclical. There are lots of times - oh, enrollment is just down. Well, it doesn't ever seem to just stay down. It doesn't ever seem to just stay up. So it seems like the decision of opening and closing schools - and the tremendous expense that comes with opening and closing schools, in addition to the disruption that comes from it - is an extreme response to something that we know is likely to be, has always been a temporary condition. Has this been discussed at all from the board level? Have they responded to that?

[00:15:50] Robert Cruickshank: Not really. And I think what you saw last night and with this current issue of the class sizes and allocations in the elementary schools, it's not clear that the district really has a handle on an ability to project enrollment at all. Ultimately, there's no need for the school district to do anything just yet. The legislative session begins in January. Typically, a school district does not approve its budget until late in the spring or even early in the summer. The Legislature was very close to passing a wealth tax last year - there were 43 out of 58 Democrats in the House who co-sponsored the wealth tax bill, certainly more would have voted for it. 20 of 29 state senators voted for the wealth tax. And significantly, there's been major change in the state Senate Democratic caucus - the previous chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Christine Rolfes, a Democrat from Bainbridge Island, did not give the wealth tax a vote. She begrudgingly held a hearing on it in the 2023 session, but wouldn't bring it up for a vote - has blocked efforts to add more funding for our schools. Well, she left the Legislature over the summer to become a Kitsap County Commissioner. Her replacement as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which handles all the budget bills for the Senate, is June Robinson from Everett - much more progressive. She was a leader in getting the capital gains tax done. The new vice-chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee is Seattle's own Joe Nguyen from West Seattle, who is a champion of various wealth taxes - and has said he wants to fight to fund our schools. So I think there are real opportunities for our schools and for families in Olympia in January - we need to fight for those. We also need to make sure that the district doesn't prematurely embrace an austerity plan that will hurt our kids even further.

[00:17:34] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. We'll definitely keep an eye on this. And thank you for being so steadfast and following this - and advocating for not only your kid, but all of the kids in the district.

I wanna talk about investment in Seattle City Council races - these campaigns are running hot and heavy right now, less than a month until Election Day, ballots are going to be mailed next week. So we have a lot that's happening and a lot of outside spending is beginning to show itself, including a very large investment from the National Association of Realtors. What are they doing?

[00:18:13] Robert Cruickshank: So the National Association of Realtors has dumped about a quarter of a million dollars into campaigns to try to elect Tanya Woo in District 2, Joy Hollingsworth in District 3, Maritza Rivera in District 4, Bob Kettle in District 7. And there's been some good discussion online about this - well, why would the National Association of Realtors support candidates who are less friendly to building new housing in Seattle? And some speculation is that - oh, they wanna have less supply of housing so the price of housing stays high. That might be part of it. But if folks have been paying attention to either the National Association of Realtors or their Washington state arm, the nut of this is they're a right-wing conservative organization. They hate taxes. The fight for the capital gains tax in State Legislature involved strong, determined, long-term opposition from the realtors - they were some of the biggest opponents of a capital gains tax to fund our schools. The National Association of Realtors is in fact mired in scandal right now. Redfin, Seattle-based Redfin, recently left the National Association of Realtors because there are a series of sexual harassment allegations, antitrust lawsuits against the National Association of Realtors.

Similar spending has come in in some of these races in Seattle City Council as well, for the same candidates, from the Master Builders. And so again, people wondering why - people like Ron Davis or Alex Hudson are really strong supporters of building more housing. So is Andrew Lewis. But again, this is just conservative politics - they don't want higher taxes. These people who run these organizations are Sara Nelson types - law and order, crackdown on crime, darn the consequences, and by the way, don't raise taxes. That's what this is really about. In fact, they're willing to undermine their stated goals of building more housing, selling more homes in order to achieve their real objective, which is right-wing ideologies.

[00:20:18] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, this is a troubling trend, unfortunately. We have seen realtors engage in elections in Washington across the state in several previous cycles - and some very controversially. And to your point, usually they have been seen in these candidate races recently, engaging in ways that are very inflammatory, that are targeting candidates that are not conservative - usually running against conservatives - where issues such as taxes are on the ballot, but then being willing to use a number of social wedge issues to intervene here. So this is quite a significant investment in these races that they're making - not only Seattle City Council races, there is also a Spokane race - they have engaged in Spokane in this similar way before in prior cycles. In fact, I'm recalling one from 2021 right now - I think with Councilmember Zack Zappone out there. So it is not shocking to see them engage in this way, but once again, we're seeing the influence of big money in these elections. And this is something that Seattle has had a very negative reaction to before in these races. And so do you think this is gonna see the kind of reaction that we saw like in 2017 - when Amazon was so influential in spending money in those races?

[00:21:44] Robert Cruickshank: I don't know. I would like to think so, but I'm not sure. Amazon is the colossus of big corporations, especially here in Seattle. And everyone knows throughout the 2010s that Amazon grew dramatically, the city filled up with people working at Amazon - most of them are good progressive people who don't share the company's politics. But there's a sense that Amazon was distorting the way Seattle was growing and that Amazon was a bad corporate actor - in fact, the Biden administration just sued them over antitrust allegations a few weeks back. So everyone knows Amazon. Everyone knows Amazon is a villain - at least the corporate leadership. The National Association of Realtors and Master Builders are not nearly as well-known. They are right-wing interests, but the narrative isn't the same. It's interesting to me that Amazon is not playing overtly and publicly in these elections - I think they learned their lesson from 2019 when it blew up in their face. They're probably happy to see that burden, especially the financial burden, taken up by the Realtors and the Master Builders. But I think ultimately people are gonna wonder why all this money is coming in. Seattle is a city that supports clean elections - it's a city that pioneered the Democracy Voucher. It's a city that if we could, if the US Supreme Court would allow it, we'd probably ban all of these super PACs and corporate contributions - we can't because of federal rulings at the Supreme Court level. So I think while the Realtors and the Builders have a lower profile than Amazon, I think there is a chance the public will see this massive spending and think - Eh, I don't know if I like that. Seattle voters, especially those in the middle - that 20% of the electorate in the middle that can swing back and forth between a more conservative and a more progressive candidate - they don't like powerful, wealthy, private and corporate business interests telling them how to vote.

[00:23:40] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it'll be interesting - in my opinion - to see how this shakes out because this is not a situation like Amazon or where the Chamber essentially overplayed their hand and saying, Well, we're just gonna buy these elections. And you're right - Seattle typically doesn't have a - doesn't respond well to that. So I think in this situation, to your point, it is different in that we don't see the concentration of that spending coming from one source, but I think we are seeing it kind of trickling in from these different sources. And it'll be interesting to see at the end of the day what that amount of spending winds up being and how influential that is. Money is influential in politics, unfortunately. And Seattle has taken steps to try and equalize the playing field, allow more access to people running to be credible candidates - especially with the Democracy Voucher program - but there still is not a cap on spending in any kind of way when it comes to independent expenditures. And these big corporate-focused organizations who are spending in these races - know and understand that and aren't afraid to use it. And are feeling the heat right now because they're seeing popular sentiment - we keep seeing these polls of people in Seattle that they keep trying to explain away, but this is where the people are at. So this is really their recourse and they're fighting against the majority of people being in support of things like a wealth tax, like a capital gains tax, like an income tax, really. And so they're freaking out behind the scenes, realistically, and this is the manifestation of that. This is how they feel they can fight back - in these independent expenditures from corporate entities in these elections.

So it's a dynamic that they used to feel much more comfortable, I think, in knowing that - hey, especially citywide elections, these elections, we're gonna be able to get our person in. We know that we can spend enough to get them into the general and we can control the narrative. We know that a lot of times, the Times editorial board has a similar narrative to their interests - that that will carry the day. But between elections being districted now in Seattle, which that's a relatively recent development, and some more candidates having access to get on the ballot now, and that just the demographics and the impacts of income inequality and everything that we see flow from that being so present in our communities today - people are looking at that differently than they did, say, 10 years ago. So this is gonna be really interesting to see how this shakes out.

[00:26:32] Robert Cruickshank: I think that's right. And I think that the big spending matters - it helps drive a narrative and a conversation, but it has to resonate with people. And as you're explaining this, my mind immediately went back to Green Jacket Lady. If you remember from a couple of weeks ago, Fox News came to Seattle and tried to show that - oh, people are really worried about public safety - and they got a totally different response, including a woman in a green jacket who said, What are you talking about? Like, I don't feel unsafe in the city at all. You saw somebody using drugs from the safety of your car and you're scared? And that's a real response from real Seattleite voters. All this fear-mongering that The Seattle Times, and these corporate interests, and Sara Nelson and her crew are trying to stoke doesn't resonate. And if you look at the election outcomes from the primary, a lot of those candidates who were trying to run on those fears - they were trailing their more progressive opponents. We'll see what happens - ballots are in the mail next week - I don't wanna take anything for granted. At the same time, there's a substantial number of voters in Seattle who do not buy that narrative at all. They want smart solutions - doesn't mean they are totally happy with open public drug use, they're not concerned about break-ins - they are. But they also want smart solutions to those and they're not gonna be fear-mongered into actually not doing anything - they're not gonna be fear-mongered into supporting right-wing candidates as a result.

[00:28:02] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I think you're absolutely right about that. I think there's a misconception - it's just like, Well, some people just aren't concerned - but the majority of people are concerned. I think almost everybody is very concerned and unhappy with what they see out there - unhappy with what I see out there. Do I want people sleeping on the streets? Do I want people battling addiction and behavioral health issues that there's no one there to address? Absolutely not. But I think the misread is that - therefore we need to continue doing the same things that we've been talking about, for a decade really, and seeing things get worse while we do that. I think people have grown impatient with doing the same thing and getting the same failed result. And wanting meaningful investment in behavioral health treatment and addiction treatment, in housing, right - and really meaningfully solving these problems. And it seems like the issue here is that we have a number of candidates - candidates on one side - who seem like they want to continue largely with the status quo. And that status quo has been kind of a carceral focus - well, we can jail people, we can sweep them - but not doing the things that we know have been successful to really solve these problems in the longterm and not just move people from one area to another, have people go just in this revolving door in and out of jail - because jail can't address the problems that they're ultimately dealing with. I think people right now are saying - I'm fed up with this, but I actually want someone who will do something different that has a chance to fix this.

[00:29:41] Robert Cruickshank: That's exactly right. Polls continue to show several things consistently - Yes, the public is concerned about homelessness. Yes, the public is concerned about public safety. That doesn't mean they're concerned about it in the ways the right-wingers are, as you just explained. Those polls also show the public wants an alternative to armed policing - that is extremely popular across polls since 2020 - and they also want to tax the rich to fund it. That is incredibly strong, and that shows up in all the polls as well. And so these candidates who oppose those things are trying to stoke the fears and concerns, and the progressive candidates have to be smart about this - you don't dismiss public concerns, you explain why your answer is better. And that does resonate - that is resonating across the campaign trail, you see it at town halls, you see it when candidates are at the doors - their message gets a good response.

[00:30:32] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and this reminds me of an ad that I saw this morning that is really - for Seattle - a really inflammatory ad. And it was an ad from Bob Kettle, who is the candidate running against Andrew Lewis in Seattle's District 7, which covers the downtown area. And it's Bob Kettle and one of his big supporters, Sara Nelson - the most conservative member on the city council, I think most would say. And in this ad, Bob basically says - Hey, I'm running because of crime, and because this problem has gotten bad, and we need to crack down, basically. And Sara Nelson explicitly saying - Hey, Andrew Lewis didn't vote for my drug bill, and he is responsible for the deaths of people from fentanyl overdose, which is a wild accusation - for a couple of reasons. One, Andrew actually ultimately ended up voting for that bill. Two, just to say that not cracking down on a carceral solution is responsible for people's deaths - flies in the face of data, flies in the face of all available evidence that we know and that we have here, especially since incarceration has proven to be extremely ineffective. And risk after incarceration of overdose is the highest there - because people haven't been using for a while, their tolerance has gone down, but they're going back into the same environment they were with no additional tools of support - and are most likely to overdose in that situation. What do you think of an accusation like this?

[00:32:12] Robert Cruickshank: I think it's absurd. And it shows the lengths to which - not just Bob Kettle, but Sara Nelson in particular, will go to try to defeat progressives. 'Cause that's what Sara Nelson's really about - you watch her on the council - she's not a data-driven elected official at all. Her positions are often inconsistent and certainly inconsistent with data. But what she really wants to do is defeat progressives - defeat progressive candidates and progressive ideas. And it's kind of shocking - you and I both worked in the McGinn administration 10 years ago, and Sara Nelson was a lead staffer for then-Council President Richard Conlin. And at the time, my interactions with Sara Nelson were great. She seemed - I don't know about progressive necessarily, but certainly left of center - really forward thinking, interested in sustainability, really smart, knowledgeable, thoughtful staffer. Somewhere in the 10 years since, she made a hard right turn. Now, a lot of people have done that, especially in the late 2010s in reaction to movements for Black lives and efforts to reform police. And as the city becomes more progressive, there's a certain type of Seattleite react really negatively to that. A small business owner like Sara Nelson, who owns Fremont Brewing, certainly seems to be one of those.

And the City Councilmember Sara Nelson - a totally different animal from the Council staffer Sara Nelson we saw 10 years ago - is primarily driven by a desire to beat progressives. And here she sees an opportunity not to solve the problem of fentanyl addiction, not to solve a problem of public safety, but to beat an enemy. And in order to do that, she's willing to go to just absurd lengths. To accuse Andrew Lewis of being personally responsible for the death of drug addicts is a really awful thing to say about one of your own colleagues. But Sara Nelson thinks she can get away with it because again, she's clearly uninterested in having good relations with someone who's highly likely to get reelected. If Andrew Lewis wins, she's gonna have to work with him. She doesn't seem to care about any of that - she's not interested in building a strong relationship with a colleague. She's willing to just, you know, scorch the earth to try to get him defeated. Now there is a type of voter in Seattle who will respond to that, but it's not a majority of the electorate by any means - certainly in District 7, it's not the majority.

[00:34:27] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it definitely doesn't appear to be the majority there. And this is not the first time that we have seen this come from Sara Nelson, or candidates that Sara Nelson supports. We saw a media stunt earlier in the cycle - it was about a month ago - where she was with the District 2 candidate there and in a really cynical response and really tried to turn it into a photo-op, talking about crime or public safety, something like that, saying - Where is Tammy Morales? Well, Tammy Morales was literally doing her job that the taxpayers pay her for - she was at a meeting of the city council where they were discussing the Transportation Plan - a meeting that Sara Nelson wasn't at, that she used as a stunt to call out her colleague actually doing the work that they're paid to do, that Sara Nelson wasn't doing. So it's just like - it seems like Sara Nelson is uninterested in the governing part of the job, which is the job, but very interested in these stunts and this inflammatory rhetoric and running against councilmembers, really regardless of ideology, but that disagree with her, right? Because I don't think many people are - you know, would say Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis are the same on every issue. I think it's fair to say most people consider Tammy Morales to be more progressive than Andrew Lewis, not that Andrew Lewis is not progressive. But it's - in that situation, it's just like - what are you even talking about? And are you working with these colleagues? Are you engaging with data? Are you working towards a solution? Are you just trying to inflame people with rhetoric, and these stunts, and going on conservative talk radio and doing this? And now we see this really inflammatory ad land. It just seems like Sara Nelson is really uninterested in governing.

[00:36:17] Robert Cruickshank: That's exactly right. And, you know, again, I think of Green Jacket Lady and Fox News because those are stunts that the national Republicans are really good at. You see it in Congress, right - the fight over the speakership - it's all about stunts to win the news cycle and defeat their opponents. Sara Nelson is engaging in the exact same stuff. She doesn't govern, she's not interested in data, very lightly interested in policy - it's all about stunts. That's all she knows how to do, that's all she really cares about because that's how she thinks she wins her actual objective, which is to defeat anyone she thinks as being progressive. We'll see what happens - like I said, there is a group of voters in Seattle that responds well to that. I don't think it's a majority of voters, even in District 7, but a lot of this comes down to turnout. We have elections here in Seattle in odd years - a lot of cities across the country have been moving their local elections to even-numbered years to make sure that more voters are participating in the process of choosing who represents them in City Hall. Seattle hasn't gone down that path yet - I think we should. We all know that there is much higher turnout in even-year elections in Seattle than odd-year elections. So this is not going to be so much a question of - can Sara Nelson convince more progressive Seattleites to turn on Andrew Lewis, and are more progressive Seattleites gonna show up and vote?

[00:37:38] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's challenging. The one thing that the people who love stunts - traditionally conservatives, Republicans - have done well for years is really, for their audience, connecting every single policy to a politician, to an issue at the ballot box. And really over the year, over the years in between these elections, really saying - This is the fault of this person. It was Kshama Sawant for a while while she was on the council, now they're trying to find a new person that they can blame this on. But that seems to be the MO there - it's the fault of this person - and they're constantly hearing that in their media ecosystems. It's not the same on the left - we don't talk about issues to that degree. Now there's more facts involved in a lot of these discussions than those - kind of in those right echo chambers - but still the connection isn't constantly being made. So when it comes time for people to turn out in these elections, you have a group that - based on, again, a lot of data that does not turn out to be true - that is missing tons of context, but they're eager to get voting. Which is why we see kind of in - because we do voting by mail - we can see those really eager voters, those getting their ballots in immediately, skew more conservative - they're ready to vote. Where people on the more progressive side need more information to vote - the communication does make a difference, which is part of the reason why you see spending on communication and them throwing so much money in there because they know that is influential and impactful in today's political world.

So the job is really for progressives to communicate about the stakes of this election, to communicate and share with your friends and family. There's a lot of people online - I am a chronically online person also - but it's like, I've seen people over the years kind of focus on advocacy online and skip their friends, their cousins, their family, all the people that they're surrounded with in their lives, people you talk to at work. Those are the people who most need to hear from you - Hey, you voting? You voting for this person? 'Cause like these policies that we've talked about, this issue that I know makes you upset, that I know you're frustrated about is really at stake in this election, especially in local elections that don't get the kind of national attention that our federal elections do. So I am just impressing upon everybody listening to make sure you talk about how important these local city council races are to people in your lives - and whether it's school board, city council - all of these positions are critically important. And it takes you getting engaged with people in your life to get the kind of turnout to win these elections.

[00:40:34] Robert Cruickshank: That's exactly right. I remember in 2019 - during that city council election that Amazon was trying to buy - being on the bus going downtown from my home in Greenwood, and just getting my phone out and going through my list of contacts - in text, Facebook Messenger, whatever it was - whatever the last communication I had with them, I went to that medium and sent them a message saying, Hey, have you voted yet? You got your ballot in? Here's a deadline, here's the nearest dropbox. And I was actually surprised the number of people who hadn't yet voted and were thankful for the reminder - and these are often people who are politically aware and engaged. So it makes a huge difference to talk to your networks, your friends, your family, your neighbors. Those are some of the people you can be the most influential with, and it is worth taking the time to do that when ballots arrive next week.

[00:41:25] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I wanna talk about something incredibly important that is happening right now that seems to consistently fly under the radar, but is tremendously impactful for all of our lives. And this situation taking shape - in that right-wingers really are trying to use gas prices to take aim at carbon pricing, especially here in our state. What's happening with this?

[00:41:51] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, so over the course of 2023, as gas prices rise - and they're rising across the country for many reasons, which we'll talk about in a moment - there's been a clear effort here in Washington State to blame that on the Climate Commitment Act, which the Legislature adopted in 2021, which creates a carbon pricing system. And has been raising more than a billion dollars a year to fund important projects to reduce carbon emissions. Their arguments are - and you see this in The Seattle Times all the time - that, Oh my gosh, gas prices in Washington are some of the nation's highest because we passed the Climate Commitment Act. This is not true. We all knew that going into this, passing the Climate Commitment Act could, as it did in California, add maybe five, seven cents a gallon to the price of gas - which would be dwarfed and has been by global trends. Gas prices are sky high right now in part because of demand for driving, in part because of oil company shenanigans with how they manage refineries to try to keep the price high. And in particular, the number one reason why gas prices are high is because of OPEC, geopolitics, and the Saudi government deliberately cutting production to try to squeeze Joe Biden to get what they want out of him or to help elect Trump. This has all been reported in the news, this is no secret. And yet these right-wingers - backed by the Western States Petroleum Association, the oil company lobbying arm - continue to try to put out a media narrative, and you saw it again in The Seattle Times over the weekend, trying to blame the Climate Commitment Act for high gas prices. This is not an idle threat. Tim Eyman has been defanged - he's gone bankrupt, he's pretty much out of the initiative business - but there are new people trying to take his place. Guy named Brian Heywood has raised a whole bunch of money to try and qualify six right-wing ballot initiatives for the state ballot in 2024 - one of which would repeal the capital gains tax, another which would repeal the Climate Commitment Act.

And so that's what the backstory is here - there is a effort backed by the right-wing to try to go after Washington State's effort to tackle the climate crisis. I think voters understand if you explain to them that - No, this is not why our gas prices are high. We can get rid of the Climate Commitment Act tomorrow and you're still gonna pay $5.50 a gallon for gas. We need to do other things to address transportation costs, including spending billions of dollars a year to give people the opportunity to get around their community without having to burn fossil fuel - that's what people want - that's our goal as environmentalists is not to make people pay a lot of money. Our goal is to give people alternatives that are affordable - that's a story, a message we can win with, but we have to fight a lot of oil company money and The Seattle Times, which is not as interested in telling the story. I will say a colleague of mine at the Sierra Club, Leah Missik, who also works for Climate Solutions, had an excellent op-ed - I think we can link it in the show notes - in the Seattle Times of all places over the summer, really just debunking all these arguments against the Climate Commitment Act, pointing out that the real reasons why gas prices are high, and pointing out that the oil companies are behind all of this.

[00:45:00] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And it's no secret - I have had my issues with the Climate Commitment Act, but one thing that is clear is that the revenue from the Climate Commitment Act is absolutely critical in addressing our infrastructure, and making the kinds of changes - and having the chance to make those changes in a just and equitable way - in order to make this transition to a clean energy future, to reduce fossil fuel emissions. And this is not an option that we have, right? We have to get this done. And the opportunity for progress, right, is here. And we're talking about the elimination of that opportunity for something that everyone but climate deniers understand is absolutely critical and necessary. And we're really seeing that element getting engaged here in this fight against the Climate Commitment Act - this is a chance for progress right here, and we need to move forward with this and several other things, right? But just blaming that for gas prices is completely disingenuous - it flies counter to facts. And it's always rich to me that people who are engaging in this conversation for gas prices, which absolutely do impact people's budgets and eat into their discretionary income if they have any, but that pales in comparison to the cost of housing, to the cost of childcare, to even the increasing cost of groceries, right? These things that we don't hear these conservative elements get engaged with in any kind of way, but something that they feel that they can use as a wedge issue here is one that we're seeing. So it's just very cynical - it is really unfortunate that they're not engaging in good faith with this. And I think we see most of the time voters reject these kinds of efforts, but it really is going to take a continued effort to explain that - No, this isn't the fault of gas prices and repealing the Climate Commitment Act isn't gonna do anything with gas prices, which by all accounts are going to get more volatile as we go on with time. So we need to stand up alternatives to just needing to purchase gas constantly all the time - whether it's through EVs, investing in transit, investing in safe, walkable, bikeable communities - we shouldn't force people to burn gas to earn a living and to build a life.

[00:47:33] Robert Cruickshank: I was talking with my wife about this and remembering in the 1970s, late 1970s, when Carter was president and there was another energy crisis. And Carter was trying to invest in getting us off of oil. Reagan becomes president, says - No, no, no, no, no. We're just gonna double down on oil and fossil fuels. For the 40 years since, anytime we have an opportunity to try to get off of dependence on fossil fuels, this country finds a way to not do it. And the only outcome has been gas prices get more and more expensive and we have no alternative but to pay it. Those of us who live in Seattle have some option for not having to pay for gas to drive - you can walk, you can bike more easily, you can take transit, more and more people have electric cars but those are expensive. But if you live outside Seattle, you have virtually no ability to get around, to get to school, to get to work, to get to shopping without paying for gas. It shouldn't have to be that way, and there are groups, environmentalists, who have been trying to fix this for decades. And we keep running into the same problems - oil companies like to make money off of this, they don't care about the consequences as long as the money keeps rolling in. We finally got a Climate Commitment Act. And as you say, it's not perfect. In fact, Sierra Club was neutral on it because of concerns about where the money would go. But we also believe that that can be fixed in a legislative process and certainly wouldn't support a repeal. And so this is where we can move forward and make sure this is done correctly. Or we just quit again, as we have every time for the last 45 years, and then we'll be complaining the gas prices are at $7 a gallon, $8 a gallon. We know that that's coming if we don't act now to give people the option to stop having to buy gas, stop having to spend so much money, and keep more of that money in their pocket and get around the communities sustainably.

[00:49:25] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, October 13th, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter @cruickshank. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me on Twitter and most other platforms - Robert also on other platforms - I'm @finchfrii with two I's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar - I love using Overcast for mine. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical shows delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. 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 - talk to you next time.