Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Anticipation, Or, I’m In Seattle, So It’s A Dennis Kucinich Story

It was a beautiful day in Seattle last Saturday, and at the unholy hour of 7:30 AM I was steering my car into the parking lot of Qwest Field, preparing to take advantage of the spectacular weather by descending into the showroom of The Comedy Underground – in order to spend the day surrounded by politics and politicians.

The only thing that could have made the irony more prefect…is if all the espresso shops had been closed.

Thank your favorite deity (or, perhaps, the power of serendipity) that they weren’t, or we might not been able to cover the events at NWroots 2011 at all.

We’ll have a lot to talk about over the next few days, and to lead things off I’ll tell you about the series of events that might – or might not – have to do with why I happened to bump into Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich as he came down from the sunlight into the same dark room as the rest of us.

Your emperor may be a great prince: I do not doubt it, seeing as he has sent his subjects so far across the waters; and I am willing to treat him as my brother. As for the pope of whom you speak, he must be mad to speak of giving away countries that do not belong to him.

--Atahualpa, the last Sapa Inca of Tahuantinsuyu, quoted in the book The Native Americans: An Illustrated History

So here are today’s “need to knows”: the Constitution mandates that the Census be used to determine how many Representatives each State sends to Congress; based on the last Census, Ohio’s losing two seats in the House, Washington’s gaining one.

In Ohio, the most significant population declines occurred in urban areas, particularly Dennis Kucinich’s 10th District (Cleveland’s western suburbs; Cleveland’s population today is more than 15% smaller than it was a decade ago.)

Combine that with the fact that the proudly liberal Kucinich has been a thorn in the side of Ohio Republicans, who, cycle after cycle, just can’t seem to knock him off when it comes time to count the votes, and you have a lot of rumors that all come to the same conclusion: if you can’t beat Kucinich in an election…why not just make his District disappear?

In the meantime, Washington is looking to have at least two open seats in the politically “purple” western half of the State: Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee is running for Governor, freeing up the 1st; there’s also going to be this new 10th District, the boundaries of which are as yet uncertain.

The odds are pretty good that the Redistricting Commission (two Republicans, two Democrats, and a fifth member appointed by the other four), will assemble a District from an “area of overpopulation” that would probably include parts of Thurston, Pierce, and King Counties:

--Thurston Country includes liberal, liberal, Olympia, the State Capitol, as well as suburbs for residents who work as far away as Seattle – but it also includes areas that are quite rural. Around the county there’s a wide range of incomes, but there’s also rising unemployment.

--Pierce Country (Tacoma is the big city in the County) has a healthy suburban and rural crime problem that has evolved over time as the methamphetamine business changed from a “local manufacturing” model to one based on imported Mexican drugs (there are fewer meth labs today, but meth possession and the associated auto thefts, burglaries, and family problems are still going strong…), and the street violence in Tacoma itself has been moderated. That said, the underlying economic causes of these problems are still there, which probably sounds familiar to a lot of readers around the country.

Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base are now “Joint Base Lewis McChord” and that large military presence is amplified throughout the region by the presence of dependants, retirees, and civilian workers. Because there’s a war on unemployment in the County is relatively low.

--King County is the place everyone thinks of when they think of Washington: Seattle’s here, and it appears, if the legends are to be believed, like a woodsy Upper West Side with high-tech campuses dotting the landscape and producing billionaires by the bucketful – and all that thanks to the gentle mists of espresso falling from the sky.

The reality’s a bit different: King County is surprisingly purple at election time, and about 2/3 of the population is located outside the city limits of reliably liberal Seattle. The 8th District, out in the eastern suburbs, has elected two Republicans to the House for almost 20 years in a row: the annoyingly effective Jennifer Dunn and the amazingly ineffectual Dave Reichert.

--Much of Inslee’s 1st District is located west of Seattle, and much of it is rural – but also included in his District are Seattle’s northern suburbs, including Everett, home to a giant Boeing assembly facility. The District is also one of the most military in the Nation; within the District or immediately next door are elements of Naval Base Kitsap (which is actually several facilities combined under one name) and Naval Station Everett (which homeports a Carrier Battle Group).

So with all that in mind, here’s the first couple of minutes of Kucinich’s speech, where he describes his connection with Seattle and his rejection of war as a concept:

Bonus Video: check out this little “Hey, how’s it goin’?” moment between Kucinich and the aforementioned Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott, who spoke just after Kucinich:

So the question now becomes: if Kucinich were to run for Congress in Washington…where and how?

To help answer that question, I’m going to fall back on the electoral results of 2009’s Referendum 71, which represents the most recent example of Washington voters making the “liberal” choice in a Statewide election (R-71 was enacted to protect certain rights of qualified domestic partners).

WA-01, Inslee’s current District, includes portions of Snohomish and Kitsap Counties; in 2009 R-71 passed in Snohomish County 53-47% with about 100,000 votes cast. More significantly, most cities with more than 2000 votes cast voted for the measure.

Kitsap County voted heavily in favor of the measure; the entire County voted 65-35% and cast about 24,000 votes.

What about a potential WA-10?

Let’s start up north and go south: for the most part, southern King County voted against R-71, for the most part, it was somewhere around 52-48%; if you were to cut off all of King County south of Seattle and plunk it in WA-10, there would be about 75,000 votes in play.

Pierce County voted exactly 50-50% on R-71, with 110,000 votes cast – but Tacoma accounted for 40,000 of those votes, and they went 58-42% in favor of the more liberal position.

Thurston County went very heavily for R-71 (63-37%; 33,000 votes), but 15,000 of those votes were cast in Olympia (73-27%); if Olympia’s not in the 10th the rest of the County looks more like 53-47% in favor of the liberal choice.

More Bonus Video: here’s Kucinich talking about Social Security:

So if those are the apparent numbers…who might show up to help a Kucinich campaign?

Let’s start with Labor: I had the impression that Jeff Johnson, who is President of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), might like to work with a (well-known Friend Of Labor) Kucinich – but I have been warned, more than once, that the WSLC can’t endorse anyone until the Union’s State Convention debates and votes on the matter. (This year’s Convention is in the first week of August; that could be an issue if Kucinich were to announce his intentions this Fall or Winter).

Seattle’s "Portlandia", for want of a better word, will come out to help Kucinich in a big way; that would probably be true whether he ran in the 1st or the 10th.

In Washington elections, “boots on the ground” become doorbellers and phone bankers - but 100% vote-by-mail means no driving voters to the polls, and that means ensuring turnout becomes more of a messaging issue. We can probably assume that the number of volunteers Inslee was able to pull last time is gonna be about what is required if a Kucinich WA-01 run were to occur.

Beyond that, there's a lot of out-of-state help available as well: for example, if Kucinich were to get public about repeal of the Washington State Defense of Marriage Act, it seems likely that LBGT money and help would come in from around the country.

There are groups like IAVA, the Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans' group, that might step up (and they do recognize Kucinich as an ally), which would be helpful (lots of active duty and their families, civilian contractors, vets, and retirees in both WA-01 and a likely WA-10). You could expect to see Progressive PAC money and virtual “phone bank” help from folks like MoveOn as well, just as there will likely be a ton of "Crossroads GPS"-like cash and Conservative volunteering coming to any opponent.

What about timing? The Ohio Redistricting Commission (three Republicans, two Democrats) will have the first say in what happens; that process has just begun with the first meeting of the Ohio Legislative Task Force on Redistricting, Reapportionment, and Demographic Research on June 16th.

(Wanna make some money? Draw The Line Ohio is sponsoring a competition to draw the best Districts, which they intend to present to the Commission, and they’re willing to pay cash prizes for the best work: check it out at the Draw The Line Midwest website.)

I told Kucinich that I’d love to see him come out and run in the 8th, against the ineffectual Dave Reichert; his response: “I’m not here as a candidate”.

I winked, he did not nudge.

Should Kucinich run, I would expect attacks to cover ground such as: “He’s a carpetbagger!” or “He’s too liberal for the (insert name here) District” or what might become my favorite: a variation of “Vote against Nancy Pelosi: Vote against Dennis Kucinich”.

So that’s what I know: Kucinich was in town to stir up the troops, and if things don’t go well in Ohio there are several scenarios that could place him here in Washington – and there are at least two Districts where he could have a shot at winning.

And with all that seen and said, I climbed the stairs from the darkened underground political comedy lair and returned to the world of light, where people do things like knit tree cozies – you know, the normal world.

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