For King County Transportation District Proposition No. 1

This proposition pisses me off for two reasons. The first is that we have to even have to vote for it at all. The Washington State Legislature has failed for years to give King County the authority to fund Metro in a sustainable fashion. So now we’re stuck with two options: cut Metro service by huge amounts or use regressive sales and vehicle taxes to fund it. While the latter option sucks, it’s better than cutting bus service. The second reason is that we aren’t using 100% of the proceeds to pay for bus service. We’re using 40% of it for roads. Theoretically, road maintenance rather than construction. But still, Metro needs the money.

Metro bus on Rainier
Photo by Adam Fagen (CC By)

So here’s what happens if we pass it on the revenue side: a sales tax of 0.1% and $60 dollar vehicle tab fee ($20 more than current fees), with a $20 rebate for poor people. On the expense side: $80 million per year for Metro which will stave off cutting 5 dozen routes completely and reducing service on tens of others. $50 million goes toward maintaining roads and road safety.

The anti-proposition 1 side says Metro needs to cut costs first. Metro has already cut $130 million in annual costs. Really what these people are pissed about is that poor people who ride buses are getting a freebie. That’s what they think, that transit riders are getting a subsidy while respectable drivers aren’t etting one. Never mind that they already have huge road subsidies.

I have a car. I am happy to pay the $60, and I won’t get the subsidy. But I also ride the bus. Metro service is more convenient than driving much of the time, and necessary for many people. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions over driving. It reduces congestion for cars. There are all sorts of benefits from bus service. We need Metro. It’s as simple as that.

Vote YES on Proposition No. 1.

2013 Seattle Mayoral Race: Against Kate Martin

Kate Martin’s top priority for transportation is the following: Decongest bus and street car routes to improve reliability. The following blog post talks about how she intends to do that: Congestion Rx

Kate Martin
(Credit: King County voters’ pamphlet)

Do you see any solutions in that? I don’t. What I see is a cranky neighbor who’s mad that bus drivers are getting overtime. Please explain to me how reducing overtime will materially improve bus service.

She’s got a few other blog posts on transportation as well.

Less Road Rage, More Comprehensive Transportation Planning

Her solution to road rage? Take bikes off the roads and put them on “Greenways.” I love the idea in theory. In practice, this isn’t going to work for a number of reasons. First, Seattle’s geography means that there are number of choke points where bicycles and vehicles will have to share space. Second, given the realities of cranky car people, bicycle roads are going to be shunted to corridors that are a pain in the ass for bicyclists. Is she going to push to turn Roosevelt way or 15th Northwest from a car through-way to a bicycle through-way? I doubt it. Is she going to make it so that bicycle crossings have equal or higher priority at crossings with cars, or will it be like the Burke Gilman trail where every crossing means bicycles have to stop and wait for a cross-walk light? It’s going to be the latter, and that will make it impractical for bicyclists to commute on a greenway.

Regarding Sound Transit Planning for Lightrail to Ballard

Rather than extend Link to Ballard, Kate Martin wants to add a Sounder Commuter stop in West Ballard. Where those tracks go is nowhere near the population centers of Ballard, and people aren’t going to walk that far. This would mean that the station would need a large garage for Park-n-Riders. The train ride would also put commuters at the Amtrak station at the very south end of downtown. That makes sense for people commuting a long distance (the nearest stations are Longacres and Edmonds) where the distance to offices from the station, while a chunky amount, are but a fraction of the total commute. But for commuters from Ballard who need to get to Belltown or north downtown? They’re not going to want a walk that is as long as their train ride to downtown in the first place. A Link route with stops in Interbay, Ballard proper, Loyal Heights and Crown Hill is going to serve commuters a lot better than a Sounder stop.

Or take for instance her priority of “Rebuild the Seattle Police Department”. Here’s how she would do that: SPD: A Path Forward.

Yup, her main idea is to get a strong leader. Duh. Nothing about body cameras, or tracking race to see if the SPD is biased, or getting people who live in Seattle to be officers, or new training programs. Those are ideas from other candidates. They may or may not work, but they are pro-active ideas at least. Kate Martin? In her other blog post on crime wants to target “incivility”: Crime and public safety. What that amounts to is that she wants all the people that annoy and scare her out of downtown, the poor people, the homeless people, the crazy people. Then women will come downtown again!

Sorry Kate Martin, you are a no go for me. A good portion of your policy ideas are dog-whistle items for NIMBYists, not forward-thinking prescriptions for an urban city.

More phone banking

Thursday I participated in my third week of phone banking for Referendum 74. It was a very odd session.

My own dialer session called 141 people, but I actually had only 3 conversations with people and none of them were undecided. They were all strongly for marriage equality. With those folks, all we generally do is remind them that a vote to approve Referendum 74 is a vote for marriage equality. But not only were there no undecided people, there were no anti-marriage equality people. I had a lot of hang-ups, refused to answer, not homes, and wrong numbers. I think I had 3 people who were angry we had called them. Don’t you know my number is on the Do not call list? asked one lady. Nope, I don’t. See, lady, political calls don’t have to scrub people based on the do not call register. There’s this little thing called the First Amendment. Of course, I don’t tell them that or argue with them. I simply just ask Would you like me to put you on our do not call list? and then I do. Anyway, bummer about not talking with any undecided voters.

I also spent some time training a fellow next to me. He really had a hard time with it. In the role play before we started calling, I played an undecided callee. He really wanted to convince my character that marriage equality is a matter of civil rights and started to veer into trying to argue my character into voting for marriage equality. Which isn’t what we are trying to do. The phone bank script emphasizes the personal and emotional benefits of marriage for gays and lesbians. Rather than talk about fairness in hospital visitation rights, we’re supposed to talk about how visitation means a gay/lesbian family member gets to visit their loved one. It’s sometimes a subtle but important distinction. People sometimes think domestic partnerships are fair, for instance. We’ll tell them that no one dreams of a domestic partnership document signing, they dream of a wedding. The point, I think, is to make it personal and real. Even the prejudiced people, for the most part, don’t hate gays. They fear them, and we’re trying to make gay marriage just a bit less scary.

Anyway, dude to the left of me kept slipping into arguing. He also got off script early on too. Rather than tell people we’d like to talk with them about the freedom to marry, as the script notes, he started telling people we’d just like to ask a quick question about Referendum 74. Which doesn’t get the idea of the freedom to marry or even marriage equality burbling in callees’ heads at the beginning. Talking about a referendum tends to close off discussions before they start. And second, if they are leaning against, it’s gonna make them feel lied to when we do want to talk more than a quick question. Liked the kid, but he was making things hard for himself.

I won’t be doing the phone bank this week though. There’s a Sounders match on Thursday night. However, I’ll be participating in a training session on Wednesday so they can have me run future phone bank sessions. We’ll see how those go. I’m surprisingly good on the phone. I found this out when calling people on behalf of Ron Sims in 2004. I don’t know how good I’ll be at helping people do this though. As I’ve found out this summer, I’m not exactly a natural teacher.

Phone banking for Referendum 74

For the last two weeks I’ve spent 3 hours on Thursdays phone banking in support of Referendum 74. Washington United for Marriage has been running a pretty organized campaign to make sure marriage equality passes. They are doing phone banks at least 4 days a week. They’ve run some demographics to identify likely undecided voters. And then we call them. Find out what their concerns are about letting gay and lesbian people get married. Try to allay those concerns. Talk to them about how much marriage might mean to gay and lesbian families. It’s all persuasion rather than arguing.

My phone bank equipment has dialed almost 400 people in those 6 hours, and I’ve had about 35 actual conversations with people. We get a lot of people who don’t want to talk, and a lot of answering machines and wrong numbers and calls that just don’t connect. And out of those 35 conversations I maybe have nudged 2 people a bit more toward supporting Referendum 74. Just having the conversation that isn’t an argument gets most of them thinking about it in a way they haven’t previously. In the end, if we get only 1,000 people to support it who otherwise would have voted against it, that might be all the difference we need.

I kinda sorta think Referendum 74 will pass pretty easily, but that may just be optimism. I strongly support it, and live in an area where most everyone else also strongly supports it. I’m in a bubble that likely is inducing wishful thinking. But I kinda know that, so I’m working to get this thing passed anyway, just in case I am wrong.

Which reminds me, do you want to help out? Even if you only do one phone bank, that’s 20 people who have a conversation about marriage that won’t otherwise have that conversation. I’ll make you a pie or buy you a beer if you help out.

2012 Democratic precinct caucuses

Washington Democrats logo

Last Sunday I participated in the Democratic caucuses. I also participated in 2008, but that was a very different experience. In 2008, I lived in Ferndale for 5 days of the week, and was here on weekends. It was in the midst of the primary between Obama and Clinton, so TOPPS school was packed to overflowing with people there to participate. I had to be back in Whatcom county the day of the caucus, so I couldn’t stay for the whole thing. I stayed long enough to register my preference for Clinton, but couldn’t stay longer.

This year, with only Obama on the ballot, participating was quite a bit lower. My precinct caucus was in the Montlake Community Center. Precinct 43-2001 had only three participants. Me and two women who had never participated in a caucus before. One had been working in France for a decade and had to vote absentee. The other was an Obama campaign volunteer whose parents were American and German, and she’d been living in Germany as a young girl during World War II.

They asked me to be precinct caucus chair, since this is my third caucus. So we all voted for Obama, and then had to select delegates to the county convention and the District 43 caucus. Due to votes in previous elections, 43-2001 had 7 delegates allocated to it. The other two participants could only attend the District 43 caucus. nevertheless, we voted all three of us as delegates.

We also got to propose resolutions that eventually could be made part of the Democratic platform. Those are not debated or voted on at the precinct caucus level. Every resolution proposed is forwarded to the county convention. I assume the organizers combine similar resolutions to avoid duplication at that level. The older woman had seen a resolution on auditing the Department of Defense, but had forgotten to bring it and couldn’t remember the lengthy wording (or any detail at all). So I proposed a short broadly worded resolution for her in the hopes that someone in another caucus was proposing the resolution the woman wanted, and the organizers would combine them. There was a global warming resolution being passed around, and we put it on our list too. I added a resolution that the Democratic party support marriage equality and the referendum on marriage equality that will likely be on the ballot this November.

The district caucuses and the King County Convention are next weekend at 10 a.m. (one event each day). At the point, I’m planning on attending both, if I can find out where they are. The locations were undetermined as of the caucuses last weekend.

Nothing Wrong With A Rich President

One of the current narratives that I see on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and all over a lot of blogs is that Mitt Romney is too rich to be voted into the office of the Presidency.

To which I call bullshit.

First off, we’re never going to have a poor President. At best, we’ll have someone who was poor at one point. But you don’t build a political base large enough to get into the presidency without having the skills to make enough money to live comfortably. The closest we got to poor might have been Harry Truman (a haberdasher) or Abraham Lincoln (who had a successful law practice). There are plenty of Presidents who weren’t rich, but all of them were at least comfortable before they became President.

The basis of this narrative is that a rich person cannot possibly be a force for the have-nots. That’s total crap. Franklin Roosevelt was very rich, but also enacted programs that are the basis for America’s modern welfare state. Not all kajillionaires are self-interested Koch brothers. Sure, many are, but the key thing isn’t that they are rich, but that they are self-interested assholes. And Mitt Romney has plenty of that in spades. I’d much rather that his lying, asshole nature be the focus.

Why does all this bother me? Remember when the media bought into John Kerry as a rich elitist out of touch with America because he wind-surfed? Instead, we got a second term of George Bush. He was folksy, but he was no less rich than John Kerry. But also, and this is the important part, he designed his policies unrepentantly to benefit rich people. But the media rarely talked about that.

Additionally, Mitt Romney, as bad as he will be for America if he’s elected, is a far cry better than some of the poorer Republican possibilities. Remember, Sarah Palin is only 6 years removed from being the mayor of a small podunk city in Alaska.

Sure, rich as an epithet might work at the moment, but it can also be used to tag our candidates unfairly. I’d much rather that the idiots be tarnished with brushes that can’t be used against us. Like his willingness to lie. Or the fact that he will cause the United States to descend into a fiery pit of hell. You know, things that matter.

Port of Seattle Commissioner: Gael Tarleton v. Richard Pope

For Port of Seattle Commissioner, Gael Tarleton is an incumbent and Richard Pope is a perennial gadfly candidate. I’m kind of torn on this race. Richard Pope is a little bit off, and he’s a one issue candidate. However, his issue is getting rid of the $73 million property tax levy the Port of Seattle gets from property owners. He’s totally right that there’s no reason for the Port to tax us rather than extract its fees from port traffic. Gael Tarleton is an intelligent candidate, and somewhat of a reformer. But most of her reforms are tinkering on the edges.

I’ll probably vote for Gael Tarleton, because I suspect Richard Pope will be an outlier on the commission and won’t be effective.

SJR 8206 – increasing the amount going into the state rainy day fund

SJR 8206 – A constitutional amendment on the budget stabilization account maintained by the state treasury.

This amendment would require the legislature to transfer additional moneys to the budget stabilization account in each fiscal biennium in which the state has received extraordinary revenue growth, as defined, with certain limitations.

There are two ways to smooth out revenue fluctuations from year to year. One of them is to borrow from the future, which is what the federal government does. However, the state constitution requires a balanced budget and getting that changed isn’t politically doable. The other way is to put money away, to be drawn down when times are bad. That’s how Washington State currently does it. (Some states don’t do it at all.)

The rainy day fund is currently about $300 million. The revenue shortfall is about $2 billion. In other words, the rainy day fund turned out to not be large enough. Not even close.

This amendment requires that, if the state has growth that is more than 33% above the 10 year growth rate, the amount above that be put into the rainy day fund. In other words, don’t spend as much money when times are really flush and story it away. We currently save 1% of our revenues, and this won’t change that. It only adds additional saving for flush times.

The no argument is that we should spend that money on needed services instead. And while that is an attractive argument, we’d have to cut off those programs a few years later during the next recession. I’d rather us have sustainable programs.

And it’s much preferable to save the money than rebate taxes. That doesn’t prepare us at all for the next recession.

I’ll be voting for this amendment.

SJR 8205 – Presidential voting residency requirements

SJR 8205 – removes Article VI, Section 1A of the Washington Constitution.

This amendment would remove an inoperative provision from the state constitution regarding the length of time a voter must reside in Washington to vote for president and vice-president.

This one is pretty much a no-brainer. But before I explain why, here’s the provision which will be removed if this passes:

SECTION 1A VOTER QUALIFICATIONS FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. In consideration of those citizens of the United States who become residents of the state of Washington during the year of a presidential election with the intention of making this state their permanent residence, this section is for the purpose of authorizing such persons who can meet all qualifications for voting as set forth in section 1 of this article, except for residence, to vote for presidential electors or for the office of President and Vice-President of the United States, as the case may be, but no other: Provided, That such persons have resided in the state at least sixty days immediately preceding the presidential election concerned.
The legislature shall establish the time, manner and place for such persons to cast such presidential ballots.

Basically the deal is that at the time, the 60 day requirement was much more lenient than the normal residency requirement for voting in Washington. However, the Supreme Court invalidated all laws that establish a residency requirement that’s greater than 30 days for presidential elections. And now we just have a 30 day requirement anyway. So why not clean this provision up?

I’ll be voting for it. Even if it wasn’t inoperative, I’m in favor of making voting easier.

Initiative 1183 – privatizing liquor sales and distribution

Initiative Measure No. 1183 concerns liquor: beer, wine, and spirits (hard liquor).

This measure would close state liquor stores and sell their assets; license private parties to sell and distribute spirits; set license fees based on sales; regulate licensees; and change regulation of wine distribution.

For the last few years, Costco has sponsored initiatives to privatize liquors sales and distribution. I’m generally in favor of the idea, but have opposed the specific measures in the past, and I oppose I-1183 as well. But it won’t break my heart if it passes either.

State Liquor Store
State Liquor Store, 1971

Right now beer and wine can be sold in private retail stores in Washington. Hard liquor is sold only from restaurants, bars, and retail stores run by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. I believe the hard liquor monopoly is a remnant of prohibition. I-1183 directs the state to sell any assets related to liquor sales or distribution. In practice this will mean that the stores will be closed, because another item in the measure limits sales to stores with 10,000 square feet. In other words, grocery stores and big box discount stores.

The measure does not eliminate the three tier system for distribution though; we’ll still have producers, distributors, and retailers. But some companies will be allowed to be their own distributors, bypassing the middle man. That means places like Costco can sell liquor more cheaply. Which is something I’d be fine with, but it will probably freeze out small producers from the largest sales channel in the state. Right now they have a better opening into the distribution system. I don’t know where I come down on that. I’d like small producers to survive, but I don’t agree with doing it by monopoly power and price fixing.

I-1183 will raise revenues for the state, from $5 million to $8 million in 2012, and $35 million to $42 million in 2017, depending on assumptions. Local government revenues increase as well. These are the numbers the state came up with. The No On 1183 campaign likes to portray this as a tax increase and therefore bad. People don’t have to buy hard liquor, so it doesn’t bother me much.

Where my opposition comes though is that liquor will more or less only be sold in grocery stores. My ideal privatization measure would sell off the stores to be operated privately. Or allow private companies to open competing liquor stores. But spreading liquor sales into groceries worries me.

So my vote is a weak no.