June 28, 2010
By Don Smith
On the weekend of June 25 I attended the Washington State Democratic Convention, in Vancouver, WA. Here's a report of some of what I observed and learned.
::::::::On the weekend of June 25 I attended the Washington State Democratic
Convention, in Vancouver, WA. Here's a report of some of what I
observed and learned.
McDermott on Obama
I spoke for several minutes with Representative Jim McDermott, who looks
like a Hollywood version of a distinguished US Senator.
I asked McDermott if he has any sense for why President Obama has been
so centrist. I mentioned health care, war, and the bailouts as areas
where Obama has been a disappointment. McDermott said, "Oh, one could
list other areas as well." McDermott said that Obama probably should
have chosen a progressive economist like Paul Krugman as an economic
adviser. McDermott said he asked Rahm Emanuel about Obama's centrism.
McDermott thinks that Obama is by nature extremely careful and
methodical, and he is less ideological than most politicians. I said
that it surprises me that a black former community organizer, who is
smart and who obviously knows about injustice, could be so conservative.
McDermott said that often when you elect a politician you don't know
what you're getting.
People saw in Obama what they were hoping to see. McDermott said that
he had supported Hillary over Obama in the primaries.
"Obama's policies are --," and here McDermott moved his hands in a wavy
fashion, to indicate, I think, that Obama's policies are inconsistent or
McDermott said that he heard that Obama and his advisers were badly
scared by the loss of the Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to a Tea Party
candidate, Scott Brown. Others have claimed that the loss is due to the
weak campaign run by Brown's Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, and
that one can't blame Obama for the loss. But this
New York Times article and common sense suggest otherwise: Obama is
at least partly to blame, since Obama's policies have allowed populist
critics on the right to portray Democrats as the servants of Wall
Street, the military, and the corporatocracy.
McDermott predicts that the Dems will lose 10 or 12 seats in November's
election, though he doubts that the Republicans will win a majority. He
said that bad losses in November may be what it takes to turn Obama
around. I suggested that, to the contrary, it make push Obama further to
the right. McDermott nodded and said that that's possible.
I heard McDermott speak in person before a couple of times, including
his speech at a single-payer health care colloquium in Seattle. I am
impressed by his intelligence, humility, humor and humanity. At the
single-payer meeting he expressed considerable sympathy with
single-payer but said that it ain't gonna happen. McDermott came under
considerable criticism by the single-payer advocates, and it took guts for him to attend.
Progressives versus centrists
Friday afternoon I attended the progressive caucus meeting, chaired by
Judith Shattuck. The room was pretty packed, which both surprised and
pleased me. The meeting lasted but an hour.
Brian Gunn of the 31st Legislative District spoke on the Road Kill
Caucus of centrist Democrats, about whom I have written previously. (See
and Progressives Fight for Control of Washington State Democrats.)
Gunn said that many of the Road Killers actively work with Republicans
to kill progressive legislation. One of them, Christ Hurst, runs as an
"Independent Dem" -- the point being that "Independent" is spelled out
and "Dem" is abbreviated.
Separately, Brad Larsen of the 45th LD said that Road Kill members such
as Larry Springer, Deb Eddy, and Judy Clibborn, accept BIAW money and
vote to kill pro-labor bills in the legislature.
By the way, the name "Road Kill" comes from "middle of the road":
they're attacked by both the left and the right.
The Washington Federation of State Employees alleged that Ross Hunter is a member of the Road Kill Caucus,. (See this
article.) But Rep. Hunter says he is not a member. The Road Kill Caucus has a facebook
page, which lists their photos, and Hunter is not listed there. He apparently upset the WFSE with a difficult budget compromise. He got a 100%
rating from Washington Conservation Voters.
Most Road Killers are
progressive on social issues and education. So, people aren't
monolithic in their progressivism. They're mixed.
Several candidates spoke at the meeting. One of them, Bob Burr, is
running for US Senate against incumbent Senator Patty Murray. Burr's
says he's running "against corporate corruption of Congress." In
defense of his candidacy, Burr mentioned that Murray failed to sign on
to support the Fair Elections Now bill. According to his website,
"Patty was a good Senator before she became so entrenched in the
system." Burr has pledged to serve only one term. Not only will he not
accept PAC money, he will accept absolutely no money from any source. "I
will waste no effort raising funds and will owe no favors, concessions
or tax breaks to anyone."
This may be unrealistic and extreme. Burr has no experience in an
elected office. He was vice-chair of his legislative district Democratic
organization, and he is on the State Democratic Platform Committee. He
came to the caucus meeting wearing a tee-shirt.
Still, the caucus voted to endorse Burr over Murray. I'm not sure, but I
think the vote was close.
Burr had no chance of beating Murray in the primary, and this truth was
openly acknowledged at the caucus meeting. The progressives just
wanted to make a point.
There was a massive showing of support for Murray at the convention:
most of the speakers spoke highly of her, and she brought an entourage
of colorful, cheering mostly young people, who held signs, cheered
before she appeared on stage, and stood behind her during her speech.
During the Saturday morning vote to approve the nomination of Murray
for US Senate, only a couple of delegates voted "Nay."
Murray is not as progressive as, say, Maria Cantwell, who was has taken a
lead in pushing for financial reform and was selected by The Nation
earlier this year as the most effective (progressive) senator.
But Murray courageously and presciently voted in 2002 to opposed
invasion of Iraq. She said:
Mr. President, if we do take action in Iraq, there is no doubt that our
armed forces will prevail. We will win a war with Iraq decisively, and,
God willing, we will win it quickly. But what happens after the war?
That will have as big an impact on our future peace and security. Will
we be obligated to rebuild Iraq? If so, how? Our economy is reeling, our
budget is in deficit, and we have no estimate of the cost of
rebuilding. And with whom? As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman
points out, there's a retail store mentality that suggests to some -- if
"you break it, you buy it."
Murray recently voted to mandate a nonbinding timetable to end US
deployment in Afghanistan. (See this
That's My Congress
rates Murray as a weak progressive.
According to ElectoralVote.com,
Murray has been rated as more liberal than Maria Cantwell or Bernie
Sanders -- which seems inaccurate. News
Max says that the National Journal rated Murray as the most liberal
but Publicola makes a convincing
that the National Journal can't be trusted, since that's the same
publication that said that Obama was the most liberal senator in 2008.
It's been a truism among progressives that Murray has been too centrist.
Maybe so. On what issues?
Friday night from 9:00 PM til past midnight, there were "hospitality
suites" hosted by various candidates and groups. These were held in
hotel suites and involved food, booze, and loud music. As the evening
wore on, and people became drunker, the parties became noisier. Two
guys from hotel security came to one such party and demanded that the
participants quiet down or they'll have to shut down the party.
One benefit of these parties was that I was able to learn useful
I spoke with Gregory Scott Hoover, who is running for State
Representative in the 5th Legislative District, which encompasses North
Bend, Snoqualmie, Issaquah, and portions of unincorporated King County.
include the King County Democrats, 5th Legislative District Democrats,
Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle, and 41st LD progressive State
Senator Randy Gordon.
The issues section
of his website suggests that Hoover supports environmentalism,
education funding, a State Bank modeled after North Dakota's highly
successful and well-established State Bank, and green energy programs.
Yet Hoover told me he's in favor of second amendment rights.
Apparently, his district is very conservative, and he would never get
elected if he were too liberal. I asked him what he thought of the Road
Kill Caucus, and he said, "They got it right, man." They had advised
him on how to run. Due to the Tea Party influence and the rebellion
against Obama, voters are moving to the right, he said, and the Road
Killers suggested that Hoover do so too.
Progressives are upset about centrist Dems, but it's a fact that
in conservative districts -- and there are many such districts -- a
liberal Dem would get slaughtered in the polls. Those darn voters....
Hoover has a degree in taxation from the University of Washington and
suggests that the legislature consult with the tax specialists at UW.
Hoover isn't impressed with I-1098, which will establish an income tax for Washington State. (Washington has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country.)
He said it was too short: only 18 pages. I asked, "Isn't shorter better?
Shorter means simpler and fewer loopholes." He suggested taxing
dividends and wages above a cutoff, not income.
His website VoteHoover.com
Where initiative 1098 is a good message that we need to change our tax
system in Washington state, 1098 lacks substance to cover all issues of a
new tax code that our state desperately needs. Our current system is
regressive, unfair with too many special favors, and is not stable
enough for long term revenue goals of the state of Washington.
He opined that I-1098 won't pass; Washingtonians are committed to no
I'm curious to learn more about Hoover's stance on taxation. He is a
specialist in it, after all.
I chatted with Susan DelBene at her campaign's hospitality suite. She's
running for US Congress in the 8th Congressional District. Her Republican
opponent, Dave Reichert, twice defeated Democrat Darcy Burner in
closely fought races. This year Reichert seems more vulnerable, since
he made a huge gaffe. In an unguarded moment he admitted within earshot
of a reporter that his Yes votes for environmental proposals don't
reflect any inherent support for environmental issues. Rather he voted
for environmental bills only to get re-elected.
Furthermore, DelBene seems sharp and confident: she was a VP at
Microsoft, and she started several successful businesses, including
Drugstore.com. When talking with Darcy Burner, I often got the
impression that she was trying hard; DelBene seems more authentic and
confident. Her minuses include the fact that, like Burner, she has held
no public office; also, DelBene didn't vote in several elections. Her
opponent will no doubt try to capitalize on that.
I asked Dwight Pelz, Party Chair of the Washington State Democrats, why
Republicans seem to be so much better at working together than
Democrats. At first Pelz said that the Republicans and Democrats are the
same: humans often disagree and squabble. When I pointed out that
Republicans vote together in blocs and that they're better at coming up
with and marketing their talking points, Pelz gave some ground: "OK, the
Republicans are 5% better at working together." After thinking about
it for a moment, he went on: "The Democrats actually try to accomplish
something, and that means they disagree about how to do it. The
Republicans just want to prevent government from working, and that's
easier to agree upon." It was a good line and I think it contains a
considerable amount of truth.
A Korean American former mayor of Shoreline, Cindy Ruy discussed her
conflicts with a conservative Democrat on the Shoreline City Council.
Cindy said that Vietnamese and Korean Americans often tend to vote
Republican, since they think that the Republicans will be more likely to
oppose the Communism from which many of them fled. She said that it
takes work to convince them that the Democrats will better server their
Meeting with a sitting State Supreme Court Justice and two
Supreme Court candidates
At one point, an elderly, distinguished looking gentleman wearing a
business suit came into one of the hospitality suite parties.
On his lapel was a tag saying "Richard B. Sanders, Washington State
Supreme Court Justice." This was obviously for real, and it almost made
me burst out laughing. An image popped into my head of God appearing on
earth wearing a badge "God, King of the Universe."
I mentioned my surprise to him: "Wow, I'm surprised that you advertise
on your chest the fact that you're a Supreme Court Justice."
He replied, "Well, I have to run for office to get re-elected."
Later in the evening, at a different party, I met two slightly younger,
but still distinguished-looking, gentleman. I asked why they were
there, since they seemed official. They said that they're running for
the state Supreme Court but that they weren't running against one
another. (There's more than one position.) One of them handed me a
flier and said he's running against Richard Sanders. The flier contains
documentation about alleged judicial misconduct by Judge Sanders. The
documentation is quite convincing, and I found the
The document alleges that Sanders has ties to the conservative Building
Industry Association of Washington, which is much hated by progressives
and unions for its campaign contributions and lobbying. They tried to
buy Supreme Court Justices in 2008 but were unsuccessful.
I also found WA
Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders Authors Significant Gun Rights
Ruling. It says, "The Washington State Supreme Court has issued a
precedent-setting opinion in the case of State v. Christopher William
Sieyes which holds that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's
Bill of Rights applies to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment."
I told Wiggins (the author of the document) and the other Supreme Court
candidate that I thought that it would be better if judges were
appointed by the governor and shielded from the political and
fund-raising complications of running for office. They didn't seem to
agree -- I guess they're glad for the chance to challenge Sanders --
though they mentioned that in California judges are appointed by the
governor to twelve year terms, as it says here;
that seems like a good compromise: not for life, but still stable and
above the fray.
My last exchange about the Supreme Court was about pay. I said, "I bet
you'd have to take a pay cut to become a Supreme Court Justice." One
said, "Yes, and I have kids to send to college, but you don't become a
justice to make money."
Paul Richmond's Perspective on Sanders
Attorney Paul Richmond (a progressive) posted a Facebook comment critical of the WA
Dem's decision not to nominate Sanders to the Supreme Court. I showed
him the information above and here's what he wrote in defense of
Wiggins has run a campaign of ad hominen attacks and every time Sanders
has been given the opportunity, I've seen him respond to every one of
If you look at the cover of Washington Law and Politics you will see a
cover article on the states greatest living civil rights lawyer, Lem
Howell is also heading Sanders campaign. What does that tell you?
Sanders has been the strongest consistent advocate for civil rights on
Recently in the Fry decision, 4 of 9 of the WA Supreme Court Justices
said that if a patient had medical marijuana authorization it was okay
for the police to come into their house upon smelling the marijuana,
seize it all, charge the person criminally and the most the person could
do was offer their authorization as a defense at trial. 4 of the other
justices found against this on a technicality. Sanders alone said, no
this is wrong.
Wiggins by contrast attacks these very sort of decisions. This is why he
is so favored by the prosecutors. Put him in place and we will likely
have the 5th vote on this and many others.
From a civil liberties perspective, a disaster.
I welcome more information and opinion on Sanders and his opponents.
Compared to the Hospitality Suite parties, the formal speeches were
I heard speeches by US Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), US Senator Ron Wyden
(D-OR), US Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), US Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), Rep.
Jay Inslee (D-WA), US Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), and Washington State
Governor Christine Gregoire. The speeches were almost without
exception smart, forceful, and inspiring. They touched on the correct,
populist, progressive talking points: regulating Wall Street, making BP
pay, the evils of Bush and the Republicans, the evils of the insurance
companies, banning drilling off the Pacific coast, extending
unemployment benefits, minimum wage, and a woman's right to choose.
Hearing the speeches, one is apt to think, Hey, the Dems are great, they
have our best interests at heart. Perhaps most of them do.
In her spech at the banquet, Governor Gregoire said that a 2 cent tax on
a can of pop is worth it in exchange for health care for the poor. And
28 cents for a pack of beer is worth it so that a three year old can go
to preschool. Yes, but far better would be to eliminate tax exemptions
for out-of-state banks, for TransAlta Power and for private aircraft.
In Senator Wyden's speech at the convention banquet, he claimed that
China is highly protectionist towards software. The US needs a smart
trade policy to stimulate exports.
We need real green energy. Windmills don't make toxic spills. America,
not Asia, should lead in green technology. We also need to eliminate
tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas.
Wyden thinks the financial reform bill is a good start. In contrast,
Thom Hartmann thinks it's another giveaway to powerful corporations.
Wyden said that he went to conservative Eastern Oregaon and said at a
townhall meeting, "If you don't like gay marriage, don't get one."
Wyden said that some people think Democrats will sit out this election,
in frustration at the slow pace of reform. But Wyden thinks the voters
should realize that even Obama can't solve all problems in 15 minutes.
According to Wikipedia's article, Wyden has
been liberal on tax policy (he opposed the Bush tax cuts and the bank
bailouts but he wants to eliminate the estate tax, for example); liberal
on environmental issues; and mixed on health care (he supported Bush's
Medicare Prescription Drug Act). He voted against authorizing the use of
military force in Iraq.
The WA State Constitution sucks, in some ways. It requires that all
taxes be flat (non-progressive), that all gas tax money be spent on
roads (not on, say, public transportation), and that the state
government not extend credit. (Hence, it may be difficult to establish a
State Bank, as in North Dakota, though perhaps the state can partner
with local banks and escape Wall Street fees and corruption). It seems
like the Washington State Constitution was written for special
There's a perennial heated debate on the (further) left about whether to
support the Democrats (which they consider the lesser of two evils) or
whether, on the other hand, to vote for a third-party candidate or just
not show up at the polls. Obama seems to be a particularly conservative
Democrat, and I'm not sure that it's fair to compare Gore or Kerry to
My insight, from attending the convention and hearing the candidates, is
that the Democrats are mixed, both individually and as a group. On
most issues most Democrats are significantly better than the
Republicans. But some Democrats are progressive on some issues and
conservative on others -- especially Democrats from conservative areas.
And due to campaign spending, too many Democrats compromise. (Heck,
they're human, and the system is broken.)
The problem is that the numbers just aren't there to pass progressive
legislation. You can blame the politicians (especially the
Republicans!), you can blame the press, you can blame Obama, you can
blame the system, you can blame human greed, and you can blame the often
stupid (or at least gullible) voters -- who sorely need to be educated
about the ways in which conservative policies harm them and the nation.
The Left needs to build a viable progressive media.
Submitters Website: http://waliberals.org
DFA organizer, Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See http://WALiberals.org and http://TruthSite.org for my writing, my musical creations, and my animations.