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Does Sawant's win signal an end to our gilded age?

Washington was a progressive hot bed at the turn of the 20th century. With gay marriage, legal pot, $15 an hour wages and Kshama Sawant, we may be poised to do it again.
When journalist James Fallows was in town a few weeks back to speak at the Crosscut Courage Awards, he had an optimistic message about our current political era. We are in a second Gilded Age, he said, with a wealth gap as bad as or worse than the robber baron era. But he reminded us that what followed that age was an incredible blossoming of citizen-led reform, from women's suffrage to the Progressive movement that reshaped our democracy for the better.
 
We still enjoy the benefits of those reforms, which included anti-trust laws, the vote for women, direct popular election of senators, the right of referendums, initiatives and recalls, conservation and protection of public lands, consumer protection laws, labor reforms, help for the poor, and much more. The reform era was one of tumult — the changes didn't come easy and the politics of the era were scrambled. Democrats bolted to support populists, Republicans bolted to support Progressives, labor unrest stirred the pot and Socialists gained traction. The main political parties morphed and shifted.
 
Here in Washington, we were a hot-bed of all of the above. We elected a Populist governor in 1896 who helped enshrine equal access to public education in our state. In 1910, Washington state elected its first Socialist mayor, W. B. Cook, in Edmonds. Spokane elected a Socialist city commissioner in 1911.
 
In 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt, who had abandoned his own party to run for president on a reform ticket, came to Seattle to speak at the Dreamland Pavilion to the state convention of the Bull Moose Progressive Party. He was greeted by a throng of red bandana-wearing Seattleites who heard him rail against the unfettered rich and powerful. Only a national government, he said, can regulate the national economy and keep Wall Street reined in.
 
That same year, Socialist Eugene V. Debs came to town and accused Roosevelt of co-opting his party's platform during a speech at the Moore Theater. That year, Socialist candidates had strong showings, though no victories, in Seattle's city council elections, but the turnout did help Democrat reformer George Cotterill win the mayor's office, according to the anti-Socialist, anti-Cotterill Seattle Times. Teddy Roosevelt carried the state. Another progressive victory in 1912: Seattle passed a minimum wage of $2.75 per day for laborers doing work for the city.
 
Flash forward to 2013, with Socialist city council candidate Kshama Sawant (below, right) unseating a four-term, progressive incumbent Richard Conlin on the strength of her aggressive campaign for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, taxes on millionaires and rent control — and the apparent eked-out victory for the $15-an-hour minimum wage measure in Sea-Tac. With her unexpected victory — Sawant began her campaign hoping only for a decent showing and a chance to steer the debate leftward — the new city council member found herself the subject of national stories, a poster child for her national party, Socialist Alternative.
 
Seattle is a Democrat's town, and even Democrats seemed pleased at the Socialist. At the 20th annual post-election fundraiser in the 36th District, hosted by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles last week, Sawant's victory was applauded by many Democrats in the crowd. It was a warm welcome to the return, small though it might be, to two-party politics in Seattle.
 
It is a ritual for candidates, even for non-partisan offices, to make the rounds of all the Democratic groups and prove their party credentials and loyalty. They fight fiercely for endorsements. Those candidates who have in the past demonstrated a lack of yellow-dog commitment have been deemed suspect: Tim Burgess for having once donated to John McCain, or Peter Steinbrueck for his flirtation with Ralph Nader and the Greens.
 
Those days are over. Now a genuine, capital-letter Socialist is welcomed with genuine enthusiasm into the political fold. Her appeal was broad enough to attract the likes of Crosscut columnist Ted Van Dyk, which aligned him with his critics at The Stranger. Sawant nearly tempted Bruce Ramsey, the Seattle Times' conservative libertarian editorial board member, to vote for her, and he wrote admiringly of her pluck and for her challenge of the Big D machine.
 
The conventional wisdom is that Sawant was helped by Mike McGinn's turnout efforts, even if those same efforts couldn't get the mayor out of the popularity hole he'd dug for himself. That could be true, but it is also true that there must have been a fair number of Murray-Sawant voters out there. One explanation is that people wanted change — in the mayor's office and on the council.
 
That change scenario is well supported by the passage of a hybrid system that will elect most council members by district and likely scramble the current council's make up. District elections had been rejected before, at one time seen as a right-wing conspiracy to get Republicans back into city politics. Now they are seen as precisely the opposite: an opportunity for grassroots candidates, perhaps even the launchpad for progressive slates.
 
If Sawant represents radical activism, Murray is the instinctual opposite. He's not Occupy Seattle's mayor. His transition team already shows the classic steady, inclusive Seattle approach of "pragmatic progressivism," meaning liberal yet business-friendly and insider-oriented. Those who represent the Democrat's "right," if it can be called that, were almost all in Murray's corner.

Sawant will be critical of the cozy alliance between Seattle Democrats and business. In an interview this week with Salon, Sawant laid out both an economic and generational critique. "In reality," she said, "what has become a dirty word is capitalism. Young people can see that the system does not offer any solutions. They can see that a two-party system is not working for them. But what is the alternative? We have to provide the alternative...."


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 12:39 p.m. Inappropriate

The trouble with a $15 minimum wage, isn't that the workers don't deserve to have a living wage, it's that those folks are still on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. All those rungs between the old minimum wage and new one will have been removed, assigned another monetary value greater then $15 and placed somewhere up the ladder above the bottom rung.

Sawant had better have more to offer then $15/hour to really have an impact. So far I haven't seen her plan for climbing the economic ladder, if indeed she has one. Just changing the value on the bottom rung, is in the long run is a waste of time and resources. After all, shift still flows downhill and no amount of money can overcome the smell or mess when it hits the bottom rung.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 3:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Indeed, wage-related conflict could establish losers alongside winners. When the law is challenged, make lemonade. King County would entirely appreciate fair wage laws enacted. Any flaw should be 1) not ignored and 2) remedied with open public meetings/hearings. Progressives do not communicate as well as they think amongst their own priviledged set. Who isn't tired of the know-it-all attitude?
Conservative highway, coal department ignoramuses?

The Tunnel and related traffic redistribution are the worst.
Say goodbye to Pioneer Square historic buildings. Over time, forced demolition,
in earthquake, suddenly with death toll in the 100s to 1000s.

Steer the DBTube at the Box Cut-cover/seawall to Pike Street portal.
Box Cut-cover/Seawall solidifies soils, deflects and contains earthquake damage. Proposed seawall technique indeed compounds the problem of unstable subsurface soils with high pressure water flow channels. The Box Cut-cover/Seawall best resolves that problem.

Mercer East is fine, Mercer West is a disaster,
AlaskanWay(as proposed) won't work. badda bing badda boom

Wells

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

I had a hard time believing my eyes when I read in the daily amongst the details the machinists turned down was that those who start at the starting wage of $15 PER HOUR having to live with it for X number of years. Some disconnect, somewhere or other, if true.

afreeman

Posted Mon, Nov 25, 7:14 p.m. Inappropriate

I was shocked at that also. I had no idea that anyone at Boeing made only $15 an hour. I think Boeing's proposal was that those new hires be stuck at $15/hr for about 10 years.

sarah90

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 3:08 p.m. Inappropriate

It would be interesting to see a map showing where Sawant's votes came from. I suspect she may have received a surprising number of votes across a wide range of neighborhoods--even single-family neighborhoods; if so, these may have been anti-Conlin votes, not pro-Sawant votes -- a point argued previously by Ted van Dyk.

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 9:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Anti-Conlin and pro-Sawant are not inconsistent. I'm one such vote and know many others. Including in SF zones. I too look forward to seeing the precinct level canvass.

louploup

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Sawant's little speech at the Machinists rally in Westlake is an indication of the direction of her upcoming tenure. Encouraging the workers to take over the plants, get rid of the executives and build mass transit vehicles instead of war machines is just what the Seattle economy needs...right Knute.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 7:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Sawant paid folks to doorbell for the $15 min wage.

She paid them $10 per hour.

Don't need another do as I say, not as I do person, do we?

The Geezer thinks not.

At least when I call it the Peoples Republic of Seattle, folks may take that seriously now.

Geezer

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 10:23 p.m. Inappropriate

True that?

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Geezer:

I contributed my time in the campaign in exchange for $0 per hour promoting a $15 per hour minimum wage. And, I was far from alone.

Presumably this makes me a ‘do as I say not as I do person.’

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 8:50 p.m. Inappropriate

One "socialist" does not a movement make. Nor, I suspect, did many of those who voted for her actually have the minimum wage - not to mention socialism - on their minds. What the pundits missed is simply that people tired of seeing Conlin's name on the ballot election after election. Most voters probably could not name his vote on five issues (nor even identify five issues requiring Council votes!) He just happened to get run over by the general peevishness of an electorate that was looking to shake things up....

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 6:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Unfortunately Conlin didn't respond to the message voters sent him in the primary. For a well-known incumbent to poll less than 50 percent in the primary election is a huge wake-up call, one that he didn't heed.

He may have dialed up the volume of his campaign, but his messaging went unchanged; mere repetition from years passed. Perhaps a sense of entitlement on his part?

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 8 a.m. Inappropriate

If 'incumbent fatigue' is why Conlin got booted, then why didn't the same thing happen to Licata? He's been on the Council for just as long, yet he's winning with a margin of 88%. And, yes, he has a living opponent.

Posted Mon, Nov 25, 7:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Because Licata actually does things, and talks about what he thinks and what he wants to do. Conlin didn't do anything or say anything. He simply expected to keep his office, because it was his. That arrogance finally got to be intolerable.

sarah90

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 7:11 a.m. Inappropriate

I tend to think Ms. Sawant's victory was at least as much a vote against an entrenched business-as-usual pol as it was for her own pluck (which she certainly has a lot of).

However, with politicians in general, campaigning is far removed from actually performing the job once in office. It'll be interesting to see how Ms. Sawant does now that throwing out feisty rhetoric won't be enough. As the old Seahawks commercials used to say, it's "now time." One wonders whether Boeing received her comments about workers taking over their factories with good cheer. Oh well, what are 20,000+ jobs paying an average of $80K a year really worth anyway?

If nothing else, this should be a very entertaining four years.

Posted Wed, Nov 27, 9:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Do you realize that cororate Boeing left Washington State years ago and doesn't care a whit about what anyone here says?

sarah90

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

There was a letter in the SEATTLE TIMES on November 19 (on page A13), also posted on the TIMES blog that argues that voters in neighborhoods voted for Sawant due to Council Member Conlin's actions as head of the Council's land-use committee; see:
http://blogs.seattletimes.com/northwestvoices/2013/11/19/kshama-sawant-brings-power-to-neighborhoods/

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 3:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Has the map been published yet? I haven't seen it, and who has faith in a blog entry?

simorgh

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

I contributed my time in the campaign in exchange for $0 per hour promoting a $15 per hour minimum wage. And, I was far from alone.

Posted Wed, Nov 20, 10:22 p.m. Inappropriate

I share Sawant's as it were aboriginal experience of poverty in Mumbai, in my instance the even greater destitution in Kalkotta. Though I don't believe that the redistribution of wealth, say, in Kalkotta would have made much of a difference in that city which lacked a meaninful middle or upper class, allowing a maximum of 10 million per family here in the USA and redistributing the rest equitably would do wonders for the economy and in a few generations for the deeply embedded culture of poverty.
Sawant does not, however, appear to have an understanding of the complicated workings of money in a money based capi5alist economy.

mikerol

Posted Sun, Nov 24, 10:56 p.m. Inappropriate

SEATTLE, Wash. -- The creators of the Webby Award-winning documentary "Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team" today announced their endorsement of Kshama Sawant for the Seattle City Council. Sawant is running against 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin for City Council Position 2 in the General Election on Nov. 5.
http://www.sonicsrising.com/2013/10/24/5024940/sonicsgate-endorses-kasham-sawant

Mr Baker

Posted Mon, Nov 25, 10:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Is it possible that Sawant will defer to her political backers and support the $731 MILLION subsidy for the billionaires? Does she believe in a Millionaire's Tax but a Billionaire's Subsidy?

simorgh

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