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Greg Nickels' rebel yell

Seattle's mayor waves the flag of secession. In so doing, he may have waved goodbye to a future in state politics.
Then-Mayor Greg Nickels at a CityClub forum. (Seattle Channel)

Then-Mayor Greg Nickels at a CityClub forum. (Seattle Channel)

It's not just the Rev. Jeramiah Wright who speaks in the "prophetic voice." When the region's politicians get frustrated, they use provocative language to declare they are going to save the people by leading them on a journey to the promised land.

When Eastern Washington legislators tire of being bullied in Olympia by big-city know-nothings, they rattle the sabers of secession and assert their right to split the state in two. When property rights activists get frustrated at the Growth Management Act, they seek to carve new counties from old, such as the sometime Cedar County rebellion of east King County. When greens freak out over environmental degradation, they point to that eco-Eden on the hill, Ecotopia, a fantasy land that takes more tangible form in the idea of a new nation named Cascadia made up of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Like a squabbling family, sometimes the only solution is getting away from each other.

The proposals are sometimes serious (here's a rundown). Commonly, however, they're overstatements that get at a prickly political conundrum. Usually, they are made by people who feel oppressed – a David struggling against a Goliath. But recently, we had the unusual spectacle of Washington's Goliath whining.

A couple of weeks ago, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels let loose at a panel of mayors speaking at CityClub. "Venting Nickels Suggests Secession" was the headline in The Seattle Times. Nickels criticized the Legislature and regional governance. He said he was tired of rural legislators weighing in on issues like the Alaskan Way Viaduct and gun control. He was frustrated that Seattle was being held back by the rest of the state and said that it was time to consider secession. According to the Times:

The Puget Sound regional economy makes up 67 percent of the state's economic activity, [Nickels] said. "If we were a country, [our economy] would be just a little smaller than Thailand. We would be larger than Colombia, Venezuela. We are held back because our state and federal government[s] still believe our economies are driven by wheat farms and timber logging."

Part of Nickels' frustration is local governance. The Puget Sound Regional Council, which guides planning and development in Pugetopolis, is both too weak and unwieldy, Nickels says. It needs fewer members and more power to get things done. Seattle is held back not only by rural rubes but by too much process and too much – what would you call it, democracy? – in its own backyard.

During the CityClub panel's Q&A session (you can see the event here), the mayor allowed as how he was born in Chicago, and that just may have influenced how he looks at effective governance. Which is no surprise to Nickels-watchers. His love of the strongman is well known and felt. And it's not lost on people in other parts of the state, either. In response to Nickels' comments, the conservative Palousitics blog in Eastern Washington saw a connection when Nickels cited Venezuela: If Nickels can't run the city, why not get a real socialist strongman to manage things – Hugo Chavez, perhaps?

If Nickels' neo-Confederate howl made headlines in Seattle, it was heard even more loudly all around the state. Newspaper editorial pages weighed in and the reviews haven't been flattering. Nickels hadn't exactly called on God to damn Eastern Washington, but he singlehandedly confirmed their worst fears about the arrogant "bittergate" wetsiders.

The Tri-City Herald wondered what the heck Nickels was complaining about, since his fellow Democrats run the state. "You don't need to be a political analyst to figure out Republicans aren't calling the shots," they wrote.

The Yakima Herald-Republic called Nickels' secession call "absurd" and wondered where Seattle would get its food if it lopped off its agricultural arm. Looking on the bright side, they opined that at least "we'll get out of our share of the billions needed to fix Puget Sound's traffic problems."


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Comments:

Posted Tue, May 6, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Political Future: I didn't realize that Nickels had a political future within the city of Seattle let alone a future that has him taking statewide office.

I wish that Seattle would get off of the high horse and realize that the problems that they have are their own creation. Ever try to take the Mercer exit from I-5? Seattle needs to get its own house in order before ANY King County official takes another statewide office.
keepkalm

Posted Tue, May 6, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Deep Economy?: I can't resist: I've been reading the two books you recommended in your New Year's post, and...

Considering McKibben's description of the international nature of the food economy in Deep Economy, how much of Eastern Washington's food do you think is actually eaten in Western Washington? I'm guessing not a whole lot.

Not that I'm advocating secession, but I don't think the impact on Puget Sound bellies would even be noticed if Eastern Washington growers refused to sell their food in metro Seattle. It's not like Sysco and others would stop selling the food they buy in Eastern Washington to the Seattle metro region. And most of our food is probably grown out of state (if not out of the country) anyway.

Posted Tue, May 6, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Political Future: (Telephone Rings)
Keepkalm: Hello?
Tim Ceis: Hello. This is Tim Ceis. I understand you questioned the political future of my boss.
Keepkalm: Who is this again?
Tim Ceis: What neighborhood do you live in?
Keepkalm: What? Why does that matter?
Tim Ceis: Never mind. I'm sure I can find out. We've needed to find a place for a sprawling new jail. Your neighborhood just volunteered.
Keepkalm: Wait. I'm sorry! I'll take it back!
Tim Ceis: Too late. I'll look in my rolodex and find the developers, construction firm owners, and big project architects who live or work in your area, put them on a focus group, and generate a report showing our community outreach detected no issues with a jail in your neighborhood.
Keepkalm: No, please. My neighborhood has no place for a jail!
Tim Ceis: Do you have trees there?
Keepkalm: Well, yes. We have a nice little park...
Tim Ceis: Perfect. Sounds like a good site.
Keepkalm: But what about the environmental harm of taking out the park?
Tim Ceis: Don't be such a NIMBY. Besides, we'll give it a green roof.
Keepkalm: But where will people play and congregate?
Tim Ceis: Good point. I'll tell the focus group to recommend putting in a community meeting room. I'm glad we could compromise to meet the needs of the neighborhood.
Keepkalm: Please oh please don't do this.
Tim Ceis: You should have thought about that before you questioned my boss.
(click)

Posted Tue, May 6, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

You still only have to be atop the Needle to see what votes you need: The Mayor was really reacting to a new report by the Brookings Institution which lays out rather effectively the outsize impact that metropolitan areas have on the national economy yet are given lukewarm reception from the Federal Government. The Mayor extended this thought to Seattle's metro area and how it is politically handled by Olympia; which is to say poorly. People such as Frank Chopp have spent so much time creating supermajorities they've forgotten why they wanted them in the first place.

Secession would be bad for both parts of the state, but I imagine worse for the Eastside. The financial impact that the Seattle area and the rest of Puget Sound has on the State's fiscal health is huge and removing those revenues would severely impact services east of the Cascades. I believe Nickels was impudently pointing out that the policies and politics of the Seattle metro region shouldn't have to rely on the permission and authority of Olympia to operate effectively. Seattle's tax revenues are levied on the authorization of Olympia and Speaker Chopp has not shied away from stripping away that authority to promote his own goals (see B&O; legislation HB 2030) to the detriment of Seattle.

Seattle needs to team up more effectively with King County and the other MSA jurisdictions to take advantage of economies of scale in providing infrastructure and human services and not be held back by the heavy handed nature of the State.
George

Posted Tue, May 6, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Good for Greg: Regardless of what Seattle says or does, the country mouse will always resent the city mouse as arrogant and elitist. We may as well live up to our reputation.

The flip side of the argument is why continue to impose our liberal money and values on the real Americans in this state when they've made it clear they want neither? Perhaps we should let the traitorous liberals in Seattle go their own way and become the destitute den of sin that the bible warns about, and leave the rest of the state, with it's abundance of common sense and conservative values, free to prosper.
Sean

Posted Tue, May 6, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: You still only have to be atop the Needle to see what votes you need: Well stated.

Sean

Posted Tue, May 6, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Poor Baby!: Nickels is upset because The Rest Of The State isn't bowing down in fealty enough to Imperial Seattle? Aren't two US Senators, the ill-gotten governorship and the state legislature enough power for Seattle to exercise its will upon the serfs in the outlying areas? I feel your pain, man. All my life, I've wanted a yacht, but nobody will give me one. Life is so unfair.

Or, to put it another way, here's a sympathy card from The Rest Of The State: Grow up, dumbass.
dbreneman

Posted Tue, May 6, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Poor Baby!: Actually, Nickel's is suggesting that "Imperial Seattle" release it's stranglehold on the rest of the state so that you are all free to flourish. It's a great deal for you, really.

Sean

Posted Tue, May 6, 11:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Thankfully, he's just a policy wonk...oh.: I thought the Hugo Chavez comparison apt.

Quimby must go.

Posted Tue, May 6, 1:06 p.m. Inappropriate

So Many Accurate Shots: Though, he does present a wide target.

Posted Tue, May 6, 4:57 p.m. Inappropriate

COMPARED TO?: Yeah, Nickels deserves a few razzberryies but people who throw the really sharp darts should identify just which past mayor exceeds Nickels in skill and effectiveness. No fair choosing Gordon Clinton.

kieth

Posted Tue, May 6, 6:50 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Political Future: FUNNY!!! How about you just chase my basketball team out of the city instead? Oh snap!!! you already did that.

I don't even live in Seattle, I used to live in West Seattle, Nickels neighborhood actually. ;) He's already unpopular in his own backyard (thanks mostly to the Viaduct) and his own arrogance and stupidity. He's just lucky that there isn't enough string in West Seattle to actually string him up.
keepkalm

Posted Tue, May 6, 8:04 p.m. Inappropriate

out of touch with reality: It's actually humorous how totally out of touch with realaity Seattle can be. Over the 52 years I've been in Seattle, not just central Puget SOund, but the city of Seattle almost always wins, is bailed out by the rest of the state, and imposes its values and laws on the rest of the state. Seattle has less than 10 percent of the population of the state, but exericses vastly disproportionate power.
But what really makers the secession idea preposterous are these two facts:
1 Greater Seattleis AT LEAST 95 percent dependent on the rest of the country and world for virtually all goods and for a large share of even services (Carless is right that we don't even get much from eastern Washington, most stuff comes from farther away!).
2 As much as 1/4 (possibly even more) of the gross product (income) of greater Seattle comes from our NET SURPLUS in exchange with the rest of the state-- folks have to come here for virtually everything - think medical! So secessrion might be what the rest of the state would love most!
I'm just thankful that the rest of the state is occasionally able to brake a few of our most dubious plans. Too bad they can't stop such insane ideas as the streetcar expansion!
DMorrill

Posted Tue, May 6, 9:46 p.m. Inappropriate

The Facts: The State Senate Majority Leader is from Spokane and the Senate Minority Leader is from Walla Walla - both represent districts closer to Idaho than Yakima, which is still about 150 miles east of Seattle.

The Speaker of the House is from Seattle, but owes his majority to middle of the road Democrats in the burbs and just beyond. The House Majority Leader is from Hoqium, about as far as you can get from Seattle going west, before you hit the ocean. The House Minority Leader is from Lewis County, about 100 miles south of Seattle.

The Governor is from Olympia. Painfully.

Senator Patty Murray is from Shoreline, just north of Seattle. Senator Maria Cantwell is from Edmonds, a burb. The state's most tenured and powerful member of the US House is from Bremerton and represents Tacoma too, along with most of the rest of the Olympic Peninsula.

The presumed most effective non-elected politician in the state for a few years was probably Tim Eyman, who runs winning campaigns against Seattle.

So much for feelings in the rest of the state about being consumed by Seattle powers.

The Mayor of Seattle dares to assert that rural legislators are holding Seattle and the rest of the surrounding metro area back and that maybe that metro area might want to face facts and reform the way is is governed, and editorial writers in Eastern Washington go bananas.

It is nutty. Perhaps just proof that we all deserve each other. What would all those hometown newspapers do if they could not pile on the Mayor of Seattle? They might consider thanking him for giving them another opportunity for easy repeats from the same old faded files.

But will they throw the same force at the next hometown stud legislator who drops another bill to create a new state of West Idaho?
Tarl

Posted Wed, May 7, 12:51 a.m. Inappropriate

It's grandstanding, and here's how I know: The fact that the mayor brings up gun control tells me that this is just intended as grandstanding. The two gun control measures he wants are 1) 'assault weapon' ban; 2) gun show restrictions. The 'assault weapon' ban is close to meaningless. The Cap Hill shooter had an 'assault weapon' and didn't even bother to use it, instead using his shotgun. Dittos for the gun show restrictions; they would do nothing to stop crime.

Gun control is a ploy used by big city mayors across the country to make it look like they are fighting crime. It is somewhat similar to the ever-popular miniumum wage ploy--purely window dressing. You can't tell me that most of these successful pols (like Nickels) are not smart enough to know it, too.
rasul

Posted Wed, May 7, 6:30 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: It's grandstanding, and here's how I know: Actually, the Mayor was refering to a proposed law to prevent people with histories of mental illness from purchasing guns in the state, His reference was to the shootings at the Jewish Federation.

Tarl

Posted Wed, May 7, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: It's grandstanding, and here's how I know: OK then, my bad. The article here does not give any details on what Nickels said about gun control. In the past his two big items have always been gun shows and 'assault weapons'

If he has now dropped those two useless measures and instead wants to look at better ways of keeping guns from mental patients, then more power to him.
rasul

Posted Thu, May 8, 6:37 a.m. Inappropriate

In even the delusional there is often some truth: Like with the Monorail Nickels and Co. just can't seem to get it right.

There is certainly no reason why the political lawn chairs on the deck of the ship can't be rearranged however we see fit - or for that matter in the pilothouse as well.

I personally think the rural folks of Eastern King County have a valid argument for seccession - and it is a shame it's gotten bowled over by domineering politicos. We do all still need to get along, but sometimes the differences are too great for the association to be that close. Mavericks have a place in our society and so to should their governments.

As to Seattle succeeding a more professional action would be to carve out downtown from the rest of the neighborhoods of the City. The neighborhood/downtown fights have been cancerous - Nickels himself is a product of those destructive battles.

Downtown is an important economic engine and it should be free to do so as it wishes - just so long as it pays for its impacts. The most likely agency to do this is the Port of Seattle and I'd imagine boundaries that extend into Ballard via Interbay, lower Queen Anne, Perhaps all of Lake Union, First Hill to Broadway, maybe Seattle University, and South in the Duwamish perhaps as far as Boeing.

The crucial thing here, irregardless of the political arrangement, is the businesses of this area taking responsibility for their impacts within the framework of a progressive tax structure.

That is every bit as essential as rural areas taking responsibility for the protection of the environment.

Posted Fri, May 9, 1:26 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: The Facts: Slight corrections to your post.

Gregoire is from Triallawyeria

Cantwell is from Techbubbleonia

Murray is from Converseallstarastan
NWotter

Posted Wed, May 28, 3:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Glass Houses: Aye aye, on the comments from the Space Needle. Further, as much as a number of people wish to see the last of Nickels, Steinbrueck or Licata would have a hard time beating him in the next mayoral election, since (a) Nickels will dominate in fundraising; and (b) he is generally, grudgingly acknowledged basically doing a good job. Everything of course depends on future performance--or revelations as Spitzer reminds us--and I too would prefer a fighting liberal, but it's truly shortsighted to suggest that everything Nickels has done has failed.

In fact, I have come to agree that being a bit headstrong is what the city needs in a mayor--although police accountability should be a no brainer. Nickels pushes and the Council and neighborhoods and interest groups bestir themselves to push back. Ultimately, everyone knows he is one of us (a Seattle liberal), but I have come to realize that someone has to be the loud guy to make discussions and activity go in the Northwest. Nickels is as good at being the loud, pushy guy as we can expect.

The fact of the matter, this state's governance is lugubrious, and Seattle is overly and dismissively chided in Olympia for its demands, despite the fact that the metropolitan area provides considerably money and more importantly social energy to the state. Having logged three years in Pittsburgh, I can assure you the last is no little benefit. In any case, the demands of Seattle as a whole--not of course every one of its various citizens--are usually pretty realistic, but the city's considerations are also much more long term than state wants to get away with. The fact that so much infrastructure is being replaced now suggests that the city has the right emphasis, not the state, which rarely has seen two pennies that it didn't want to rub together to see if it could get a third (and when the obvious solution of an income tax stares them in the face). Also the engineering and design intelligence in the Puget Sound is several orders of magnitude better than the rest of the state. Our perplexing geography has more than a little to do with that, but the reality is that Seattle plans for the future of the state much better than the state does. So what if being concerned makes the city occasionally sound whiny and demanding? Observers of Olympia know that that body is really not very good when it comes to thinking about the future, so someone has to do it.

Finally, while I do not want to address it because the discussion will never die, but why the ritual lament about Seattle being insular elitist, and whiny in the first place? First off, I can guaranteee you that every part of the state has its provinciality. Seattle has a hard time imagining where its food and beverage comes from, other parts of the state don't realize that Seattle tax dollars pay for, before Eyman at least, county services. For that matter, many of their industries would not have a place to go except for Seattle. More annoyingly, Seattle's navel gazing is termed "elitist," but ignorance, usually not as charmingly naive or utopian as ours, is trumpeted in bars and restaurants throughout the state that is the definition of provincial, let alone insular. Like Space Needle and others, though, I think Seattle has earned the right to be precious and pretentious every once in a while. It particularly has the right as long as journalists like Knute and others make a decent living out of mocking this tendency--or is their mockery that creates the idea that city has the tendency in the first place.
RobCrowe

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