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Progressive Incumbents Do Not Like Challengers Either
Notes on the 46th District Seattle Democrats Endorsement Process

May 20, 2019
by William P. Meyers

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Just 55 activists, mostly insiders, determine endorsements

I live in one of the most Democratic and progressive area in the United States. Call it north Seattle, the area of Seattle north of Lake Union and the ship canal. More specifically, the 46th Legislative District of Washington State. To a large extent this district coincides with Seattle City Council District 5, but it also includes Lake Forrest Park and Kenmore, plus some precincts of other city council districts, and leaves out some areas to the west.

The 46th State district is shown in yellow.
[Source: ] Washington State Legislature

I am a precinct coordinator for my precinct and volunteer on a couple of committees. I attend monthly meetings. I am pretty happy most of the time with our organization. Almost all activists are in the liberal to progressive spectrum. My people.


On Sunday May 19, 2019 I attended the Endorsement meeting for the 46th Democrats. This was for the coming local primary elections of 2019: city council, school board, county council, and lesser known seats like port commissioner.

Endorsements by the local Democratic Party organization are often all one needs to win an election. Republicans got 17% of the vote in the 2018 state legislative races here. The party has an extensive network of precinct organizers that distributes our recommendations to the voters of the district, walking door to door. We are so strong that many of us go to other areas in Washington State to help swing races. For instance, I spent a day handing out fliers for Kim Schrier, now representing her district in the U.S. Congress. I have not so far, but I know some locals make phone calls for crucial campaigns even when they are in other states.

In a district that had some 79 thousand citizens vote in the last Presidential election, all of 55 people showed up to vote on our endorsements. Progressive challengers to the progressive establishment were crushed. Young progressive challengers were defeated by old progressives clinging to power. Only one relatively young person (a white male whose mouth has been permanently sewed to the establishment tit got an endorsement). When necessary rules were bent (but not actually broken) to produce the outcome.

Two examples, then some analysis on why this happened and how it might have been prevented in the future.

Jeanne Kohl-Wells is the incumbent in King County Council seat 4. Generally, she is everything a progressive would want, except being a person of color: an environmentalist, pro-public transit, old-time feminist, etc. If re-elected Jeanne will be 77 years old.

Abigail Doerr is also a great progressive candidate. She has done great things as an activist, but this is her first run for political office. Think of her as AOC with blonde hair. If elected, Abigail will be thirty years old when she is sworn in.

So what is wrong with endorsing Jeanne? Wouldn't it be age discrimination to endorse Abigail just because she is young? I think the question should be: are you really serving the public, or yourself? Of course that could be asked of Abigail as well as Jeanne. I think society is best served by bringing young people into offices. Is there are learning curve? Sure, but young people often learn fast and adapt to change better than their elders. An elder should mentor, and then advise. If Jeanne were looking out for the citizens of King County, she would endorse Abigail and offer to help her through her learning curve on the council. [I can't vote for Abigail because I am in District 1]

Rod Dembowski, who represents King County District 1 (my district, overlaps largely with 46) and is also the County Council Chair, is not very old (likely about 45). He is not up for re-election this time. But he is well known in the 46th and pled the case for Kohl-Wells. And this kind of thing went on throughout the meeting: one office holder pleading our members to endorse another office holder. Incumbent endorsing incumbent. Don't break the chain, we might all go down! Did I mention Rod was appointed to a vacancy before being elected? When you are appointed, you owe those that appoint. A system used nationwide, by Republicans too, and hard to break. That said, I can't fault Rod on policy, he is progressive enough in theory, except that during his reign homelessness has increased, crime has increased, drug problems have increased, and rents have skyrocketed.

Which brings me to Debora Juarez, the incumbent Seattle City Council person, District 5. Talking to voters I hear their pain. Why can't the City Council in one of the richest cities in the world do more about homelessness, crime, and drug problems? Then there are the taxes ramping up with house prices, the high rents, the lack of public transportation. Throw the incumbents out is the common meme among the voters.

So why would the local Democrats want to run Debora again? Did she not have 4 years to solve the problems? Debora was busy working to bring the National Hockey League to Seattle. More money for the homeless? Sorry, could not find enough of it in the $6 billion annual budget.

Debora's two challengers, John Lombard and Ann Sattler, took different paths to deciding to run for office. Both are progressive Democrats. Ann's primary issue is homelessness. John started because neighborhood groups, he thought, we not being listened to by Debora. For a long time I took these accusations by John (and others) as perhaps exaggerated. Later her refusal to meet with me, no good excuse given, made me realize he was probably reporting the truth.

When a progressive politician fails to fix problems, progressives often go into denial. So instead of seeing legitimate criticism and endorsing a new candidate to represent the democrats, we went through a process. The power brokers pushed Debora, despite her failures. It takes 60% of our vote to get a nomination. In the first round, despite being the incumbent, Debora only got 50% of the vote, the rest going to 4 challengers. In the second round, with Ann knocked out, Deborah dropped to 48%. Under our rules we could have endorsed both John and Debora. But someone called to suspend the rules and go to a round between John and Debora. In the final round Debora did get over the 60% threshold. I think pleas based on gender and ethnic identity, plus the obvious panic of party leaders, got her past the threshold.

But what I want citizens to notice is this: there were 55 or less voters (I did not get the exact count on this particular ballot). So Debora was endorsed by about 36 Democratic Party members.

Maybe if there had been 300 people at the meeting, it would have gone the same. It would depend on which 300 people showed up.

And who is to blame? All of us?

You can't blame Debora for trying to keep her seat. She thinks she has done a good job. In normal times, her performance likely would have been at least adequate. It is a hard job, being on the Seattle City Council.

You can't blame the insiders for supporting each other. Seattle is part of King County, so insiders work together on a regular basis. They have to do that to solve our problems, or at least to try. Or at least divvy up the spending.

But would it have killed more people who don't hold office or hope to hold office to come to local Democratic Party meetings? Instead of just showing up once or twice in Presidential election years?

If you are in the 46th district of Washington State, all you have to do is go online to 46th Democrats. Register and pay your dues (which can be minimal). Check the calendar and show up at meetings, usually once a month. You can also pay dues in person at meetings. Later this year, after the primaries, we will have a meeting to make endorsements for the general election.

It is also up to challengers to understand how to get what they want. Ann Sattler is a bit of a novice, but John Lombard has been around government for at least a couple of decades. He might have done a better job getting more of his supporters to join the party and show up and vote at the meeting.

Voters should take more responsibility too. I have often informally polled ordinary (non-activist) voters. They seldom can even name who their representatives are, though they may recognize some names if prompted (except most know who the President is, most of the time). They vote most often on name recognition or party line, favoring incumbents.

I am writing off my local political endorsement meeting to experience. Everyone is on a learning curve. Even a T Rex does not live forever, so some day, new slots will open up, even in a circle-the-incumbents system. If I see a good candidate for local office, my first advice will be to get their friends to pay dues, the only thing necessary to qualify to engage in the endorsements [but you can't do that at the last minute. Dues must be paid well in advance of the endorsement meeting].

Thanks for reading this and hopefully thinking about it. Share it if you think that will help.

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