Monday, February 15, 2021

The long history of anti-corporatism in Cascadia (again) and I wonder where that might take the Washington State Republican Party

 

Just some social media that I hung onto. But it tells a consistent tale. Not only government can be trusted, big business can't be either.

During the peak of the restaurant-centered protest wave during our COVID-19 winter, I started noticing a consistent talking point among speakers at protests and on social media posts. It was normally centered around a Costco on the Eastside of the state that had been able to stay open despite more than 150 employees testing positive with COVID-19. The logic was that the state government was favoring large corporations over small mom-and-pop stores. 

The actual details of the debate notwithstanding (even chain restaurants were closed for sit down service and mom-and-pop retail was open), the consistent beating of this drum is a reminder falls into what looks like a new theme for conservatives in our region. The most telling of these examples is a post on former gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp's website targeting Republican lawmakers that have taken money from "Big Pharma." 

While a Republican calling out corruption from big government may seem mind-bending, it really shouldn't be. We have a long history of anti-big business, anti-corporate tradition across our regional political identity.

I can point to a few historic episodes that can illustrate the evolution of this anti-corporate attitude, and where it might lead us still.

One of my favorite anecdotes about Cascadian history is the (lack) of effort by Willamette Valley farmers to successfully capitalize on the Gold Rush. While Puget Sound settlers spent zero time doing all they could to make as much money as they could by sending timber for the bustling Bay Area, Oregon farmers yawned.

Best told by David Alan Johnson in "Founding of the Far West," the failure to capture more of the California trade was deeply engrained in the Valley's ethos:
(The farmers') response to the California market -- their enterprise -- was motivated as much by a modest desire to improve their landholdings, assure their household's self-sufficiency, and enhance their families' material comfort as by a drive to command greater market share or increase production as an end in itself. 
Puget Sound settlers (that had a few years lost to production compared to the Willamette Valley) were more likely to be from capitalist New England. Oregon's farmers on the other hand were more likely to be from areas of Appalachia and the South that did not have large slave populations. In fact, you can trace anti-black laws in Oregon to the settlers' desire not to import the slave-based economy to Cascadia. But, not only slavery wasn't welcome, but also apparently large-scale agriculture.

I've covered this ground before, but the discussion at the founding of Oregon was in fact about how corporations would integrate into the state:

Many of the delegates entered the convention with a strong mistrust of corporations. They had seen abuses in the Midwest and elsewhere in which unscrupulous corporate operators had left innocent stockholders deep in debt and workers unpaid... Some of the debate would revolve around stereotypes of corporations as large and uncaring machines of the economy that routinely chewed up farmers and workers.

This is years before the Wobblies and the more institutional development of strong labor unions in Cascadia. But the anti-corporate attitudes of the decedents of the small Willamette farmers was baked in to the batter. You can see it in Washington's failed 1870s constitutional convention ("Some of the provisions adopted by the Walla Walla Convention reflected distrust of corporations and railroad"). And the proclamations of Senator Homer T. Bone against a nascent Boeing in the 1930s. 

If we dig deeper, we can see the clear settlement patterns of where this anti-corporatism comes from, the Appalachian settlers that at first came to the Willamette Valley, but also were dotted by settlements of New Englanders. This thesis is most clearly laid out in Woodard's "American Nations," but that work draws from Johnson's "Founding." What we are seeing now is the Appalachian anti-corporatism having a moment inside the nationally-favorable to business Republican Party.

And the criticisms seem to be correct. Democrats in Washington seem to fit comfortably dealing with corporations. Former Governor Gregoire famously worked the backrooms in the run-up to the COVID-19 lockdown almost a year ago:

Seattle is home to some major international companies, and two of them, Microsoft and Starbucks, have major operations in China, where COVID-19 started. They also had access to some modeling from medical research that raised concerns about the possible spread.

They quickly came to the conclusion the region needed to start preparing for a significant outbreak, Gregoire said. The executives decided they had to communicate the seriousness to their employees, about 250,000 total, but based on science, data and facts.

They began reaching out to other businesses and the rest of the community, trying to help increase the blood supply and acquire personal protective equipment.

“We have created a unique public-private partnership that is not just for Seattle but literally for the whole state,” Gregoire said.

The daily noon conference calls continued, and have grown to about 250 people, including business leaders from Spokane and experts from Washington State University. They get briefings from public health experts and from state and local officials who are about to make a public announcement about government action and want feedback.

The reason I blockquoted a huge portion of that article is to emphasize that this coordination didn't come from thin air. The hand-in-glove relationship between big businesses and Democratic Party led government was not in the least strange bedfellows. At least for right now, Democrats occupy the political space that was created by city-based New England settlers. Comfortable with capitalism and comfortable with government. 

This isn't to say that many of these businesses wouldn't rather see regulation-wary Republicans in charge of the state. But that is a far cry from not being able to work with Democrats.

If the rhetoric from this last winter is just a convenient weapon to use against Democrats who happen to be in charge or less conservative Republicans who also happen to take Pharma money, that's one thing. But if this is a return to anti-corporatism defining one of the regional political parties, that is something completely different. I would be interested in seeing where that goes, policy-wise.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Olympia’s rising tax exempt skyline that will start paying off

One thing about Dan Leahy's analysis of the multifamily housing tax exemption that bothers me almost two years later is that he stopped at the eight-year life span of the tax exemption. 

He illustrated that over the life of the exemption, the tax-paying owners (for example) of the 123 4th would not pay the $2.2 million in taxes owed on the improvements they made to the three parcels they built on in downtown.

Dan's analysis didn't make obvious that they are still paying some taxes, but only on the value of the property as if it was still a parking lot. Which I think is pretty interesting, because now we can figure out the impact of taxes would be lost if the building stayed a parking lot instead.

So, this is an absolute back of the napkin analysis, but based on the most recent valuations, the subsidy would begin paying off in 2032, seven years after the exemption ends. It would take less time to "pay off" the exemption than its entire lifetime.

Over 40 years, the increased value of the property (again, back of the napkin) would net the city over $7 million in taxes.




The difference in the tax payments on a mixed-use apartment/commercial building and the tax payments of a parking lot would be about $200,000. So, over the 40-year time span, the taxes lost by not incurring the short term loss lost of $2.2 million that the tax exemption represents would be just under $8 million.

We'll never know if the 123 4th would have been built without the 8-year tax exemption. Even the most thoughtful analysis of the statewide program could not figure out if it actually increased development. What we can point to was the trajectory of downtown Olympia up until the point the exemption was available in 2007. New housing had not been coming downtown for years.

We can also see that given the decades of full-rate taxes these buildings will be paying, the so-called subsidy will be paid off sooner than earlier analysis would imply (even given my possibly rosy assumptions). Big buildings pay way more taxes than parking lots. That's my big takeaway.


Saturday, January 30, 2021

The ongoing legacy of Initiative 456 and why we should pass HB 1172

In Washington state law, there is a section that is unenforceable and takes a clear shot at tribal treaty rights. In addition to telling congress that steelhead should be a nationwide gamefish, RCW 77.110 declares that treaties should not be taken into consideration when managing natural resources. And now HB 1172 looks like after more than 30 years, the unlawful and racist language will be finally removed from state law.

The section of law was added in 1984 after a successful citizen's initiative campaign.

Looking at the history now, it is easy to look at Initiative 456 as a sort of temper tantrum on behalf of sports fishermen and allied anti-tribal groups. It was legally dead once it had passed, and it was opposed by the vast majority of Washington's institutional powers. By the time it was even proposed, the treaty tribes and the state of Washington had already started up a cooperative process to equally and legally share salmon harvest.

Washington had just completed a decade of final conflict between the state, the federal government and treaty tribes. After a violent police riot in Tacoma in 1970, the federal government filed suit on behalf of the tribes. U.S. v. Washington was decided in 1974, reaffirming the tribes' treaty rights to fish. After years of defiance by the state, the Supreme Court finally put the legal debate to bed in 1979.  And in 1983, the tribes and the state decided to finally get out of court and hash negotiate fishing seasons each year.

This dawn of cooperation, where tribes and the state would treat each others as equals, was the setting where Initiative 456 found itself. It advocated for conflict over cooperation. It attempted to turn the state back into the antagonist that drew a comparison between Washington State and Texas fighting desegregation orders.

It wasn't clear even on election night 1984 that no one knew if I-456 would ever have any impact, other than sending a message. And, it was a pretty clear message. All 39 counties in the state passed the initiative, but it wasn't even clear then if they were fully endorsing the message or just missing the point. From the Seattle Times:

On its face, it hardly sounds like an earthshaking notion. And it is quite possible that many who go to the polls next week will not connect the initiative with the controversial Boldt Decision.

"It kind of reads like Mom and apple pie and that's why we wrote it that way," said Dale Ward, with Steelhead and Salmon Protection Action for Washington Now... sponsor of the initiative.

Not being aware of the intent of the initiative isn't exactly an excuse. It just makes it more important to call out the racism behind it more important. 

Looking back now, it seems like a shrug of the shoulders. Salmon co-management survived. It is easy to argue that treaty tribes gotten more politically relevant and economically stronger since 1984. 

But it is still important to remove the unlawful laws from our books because the line of thinking that passed 456 in 1984 is still alive today.

1. The idea of 456 was well embedded in politics well after 1984

Both Bob Williams and Ken Eikenberry (the 1988 and 1992 Republican candidates for governor) insisted that they would enforce I-456. While Bob Williams drew less than 40 percent and was a state legislator when he ran, Eikenberry was already a statewide elected official, and he represented a completely different part of politics. He was the Republican chair before succeeding Slade Gorton as state attorney general. His endorsement of I-456 meant that anti-tribalism was still very much inside the conservative party.

2. I-456 was meant to be the start of a long play

Said anti-tribal organizer Barb Lindsay in 1985:

"I think the tide is turning our way,'' she said. "The treaty situation had to get to the point where abuses are so rampant large numbers of people are affected.''

...
"I think within 10 years we'll have from Congress a fairer, more equitable definition of treaty rights...

As soon as he could in 1985, Senator Slade Gorton took a shot at having congress answer the call of I-456. He introduced a bill to decommercialize steelhead in 1985. That effort didn't get very far. It even created a split between anti-tribal conservatives and conservatives that were more will to just move on. 

From the 1985 Seattle Times:

Sen. Slade Gorton's bill to bar Northwest treaty Indians from fishing for steelhead commercially  -- a bill that isn't expected to go anywhere in Congress -- drew a formidable array of opponents at a Senate hearing here this morning

The other Republican senator from Washington, Dan Evans, joined an unlikely alliance of the Reagan administration, the timber industry, environmentalists and Northwest tribes in denouncing the proposal.

3. Anti-tribal sentiment is still there 

We're still dealing with anti-tribal racism, and it is still centered around the sentiment of I-456, that the tribe's and the state negotiating as equals is not how it should work. This report draws on a lot of research to tell the story of what happened after a breakdown in negotiations in 2016. When negotiations shut down, both the state and the tribes were left off the water.

From the report:

In the wake of press coverage of the closures, anti-Indian bigotry reared its ugly head in comments posted in online news forums. Reminiscent of previous mobilizations against tribal members, comments ran the gamut from stereotypes, to advocating an end to tribal rights, to calls for violence against tribal members. Particularly troubling, a number of bigoted statements were made by people whose Facebook page “likes” indicate some level of support for far right paramilitary and racist causes. While the Coastal Conservation Association and Puget Sound Anglers have not expressed the kind of bigotry documented below, neither have they addressed or condemned the vicious nature of this response. By also distorting facts about treaty fishing, pushing for a greater share of tribally-allocated fish, and flirting with the language of the organized anti-Indian movement, the CCA’s actions can, in fact, promote such bigotry.

What happened next was an onslaught of violent rhetoric aimed at tribes. The report shows in stark detail how many of these online commenters were involved with far-right militaristic causes. Only five years later, we can see how the irresponsible behavior from organizations like CCA and Puget Sound Anglers could have easily spilled over into violence.

4. People are still suing to intervene in U.S. v. Washington

Just yesterday, Fish Northwest filed a 60-day intent to sue over the current cooperative state tribal fisheries negotiations. The lawsuit takes direct aim at the complicated relationship between the state and the tribes, the federal government and its trust responsibility, the Endangered Species Act and regional fisheries management. Bottom line of the lawsuit is, though, that when Fish Northwest disagrees with the results of the negotiations, it is the tribes' fault for not playing fair. The refrain of "treaty abuse" in the 1980s has turned into a new line in this lawsuit: "The Current Season Setting Process Is Weaponized Against the Citizens of Washington."

Or as the once relevant Salmon and Steelhead Journal puts it:

Our negotiators managed to win us some token fisheries, but let’s face it, there are enemy tanks on the Champs-Élysées. And the rationale, the casus belli, is exactly what you’d expect from an aggressor who is holding all the cards. This is because of poor runs, right? Climate change? The blob? Not really. What the tribes are saying is essentially, we’re going to screw you because you’re pussies and because you’re pussies, we can, and because we can, we will.

So yeah, I-456 may itself be dead law. It never had any real legal impact and the effort to decommercialize steelhead never went anyway. But, the spirit of I-456 lives on. To this day, sport fishermen do not see tribes as partners in fisheries negotiations. Once there is a result they do not like, they try to end run around decades of negotiations and case law to get what they want. 

And, by spreading misinformation, they put lives at risk. So, when we look at removing the laws that I-456 put into place, I'm super in support of that. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Rural broadband and the policy cleave in Republican politics


Or, how did a socialist candidate win the most conservative precinct in Thurston County?

There is a lot of talk about the just now starting civil war within the ranks or Republicans. My favorite example of this is the King County Republican chair demanding the Mainstream Republicans remove "Republican" from their name. But however this personality driven battle ends up, there is at least one actual policy dispute that I think could also cleave the Republican Party, at least here in Washington.

The policy question about how to expand broadband internet into underserved rural areas has been an open question for (at the very least) ten years. I've been following the debate for at least that long. And a government sponsored solution seems to finally be getting a serious hearing in the legislature this year. HB 1336 would allow locally-based Public Utility Districts to offer direct retail broadband to customers. This is a major step in Washington, where currently PUDs are limited to only wholesale service. Leaving the last step of direct tie in from individual customers to the private market. 

This has led to some situations like Grant County, where the PUD has a strong background network and a strong stable of mom-and-pop internet providers that aren't Comcast or CenturyLink. But more of Washington is limited to the two major private and corporate providers. 

But what does this have to do with politics and the Republican Party specifically? 

I'll answer than in three parts:

First: Andrew Saturn was a deeply flawed candidate who had one good idea that I agreed with. He wanted to turn the Thurston County PUD into a broadband provider. A bit of house-cleaning, I ran against Saturn for Democratic Party PCO and spoke out against his problematic behavior back a few years ago. But that doesn't mean I didn't like the idea of providing internet access through the PUD.

Anyway, as both active in the Democratic Party and Socialist organizations, Saturn fell to the far left of politics in Thurston County. But after all the votes were counted, a weird pattern emerged. Saturn won only one precinct in Olympia, lost the county's most dependably left-leaning precinct (College), but he did win the opposite of College. The most dependably and extreme conservative precinct in Thurston County is Zenkner Valley, and Saturn won that precinct by an almost 2 to 1 vote. 

A few things fell into place for this to happen:

1. The PUD race was non-partisan. So, normal branding effects of a partisan label didn't apply. Saturn's opponent didn't run with a D next to her name and Saturn didn't run with a Democratic label or Socialist, so voters were able to judge on other things.

2.Saturn's opponent was an active member of the local Democratic Party and when his campaign did go sideways, it did in relation to how he worked with local Democrats (to put it lightly). 

3. Lastly, I think people in the rural areas really did want the good internet. Zenkner Valley wasn't the only rural precinct he won. In fact out of the 19 he did win, only two were inside Olympia or Lacey. And Zenkner Valley, the last precinct to the south before you hit Lewis County, is one of those remote places that likely isn't going to get a corporation beating down its door to provide broadband.

Let's move on to the next race. Just this last year, Bobby Jackson lost to Lindsey Pollock for one of the three Lewis County commissioner seats last November. On the surface, this race seemed to be about a forward thinking conservative that was concerned about good government and jobs (Pollock) vs. a conservative that thought God is the one pulling the strings on global warming (Jackson). But, Pollock also made broadband access part of her campaign.

Both new county commissioner's in Lewis County have made internet access into an economic development issue, but Pollock goes a lot further.

In a letter to the editor before she was an official candidate, Pollock pointed directly at the PUD as local internet provider solution:

I recently attended a Baw Faw Grange meeting in Boistfort where the topic was lack of rural access to high speed Internet.

This is a subject close to my heart as I experience the problem frequently in my Winlock community.

One of the attendees, Mary Mallonee, asked two of the best questions: “Isn’t Internet service a utility? Why can’t we have service like we get from the PUD?”


A representative from the PUD was present and explained that state law prevents our PUD from providing us “last mile” service.

Other speakers said that they had spoken to legislators who advised them that the private communication companies would spend whatever it takes to lobby and litigate against having to serve underserved areas or allow public entities such as our PUD to provide such service.

That answer should not stand.

 

In fact, please click the link and read Pollock's entire letter. It is a populist political masterpiece. It clearly points on the direct economic role that broadband internet access serves today:


In the nineteenth century prosperity required access to railroads. In the twentieth century paved roads became a necessity.

Today the need is communication. Those who have it prosper. Those who don’t, wither.


She also presents a clear-eyed and cool-headed political analysis of how and why a coalition of pro-broadband activists would come together:


All across the state there are counties and communities just like us who are not being served creating a “Have, Have Not” dynamic.

However, we are not without options. The “Have Not” counties have commissioners, Legislators, and Congressional representatives. The need for high speed Internet extends beyond jurisdictional and political party lines. If we work together with our fellow “Have Nots,” we should be able solve this problem.

The point is not to take “no” for an answer.

 

This is a cogent, populist and policy-based vision that was based on the actual every day lives of rural people. I often see these rural policy debates in the frame of paying a premium in terms of transportation costs or lower level of services. I also am sensitive to the lower efficiencies of rural areas being able to actually pay for their own roads and fire service

I'm also reading a lot about density politics and how they've led us to where we are.

Which leads us back to today and the "Public Broadband Act." In the Republican intraparty debate, you have a sponsor from Grant County who sees the benefit of broadband in his rural community. Rep. Alex Ybarra is a Republican and an engineer and an advocate for bringing broadband to all of Washington:


We knew prior to (COVID) that most rural areas are in need of broadband. It’s just a matter of how you get it out there. For years and years, we’ve been hoping that the Comcasts of the world would get it out there, but it wasn’t feasible for them to do that.


A member of his own caucus, Rep Vicki Kraft, has other thoughts:


Those are some of the potential challenges with supply and demand if there’s only one provider, the supplier, they have the control over what the price is. So I recognize that. My other challenge though is subsidizing everything through the government, which is socialism. I’m not interested in that within an American economy. Our economy should be subsidized by all the taxpayers, and that is what we’re seeing in a very large way right now.

... 

This is probably back to your point about the terminology. It’s socialism. Subsidizing health care and broadband, or anything, the more you do it, even if it’s a good cause. That’s what socialism is; it’s when more taxpayer money goes to offset true supply and demand.


There is part of me that is quietly cheering Rep. Kraft's obstinacy. That is she wants to eschew good government that provides needed services to her taxpayers, then fine. That's what you get for moving out to the sticks. Feel free to eschew other things like libraries, schools, roads and public hospitals. It is pretty obvious, the more they stand in the way of reasonable policy to expand broadband into rural areas, the more they're dooming those rural areas economically. 

But, obviously I'm actually rooting for Rep. Ybarra and I hope he wins. There is an interesting discussion at the end of this podcast episode about political polarization and how density and economic health tends to determine politics in general. The nut of it is that counties that have voted Democratic for president are getting more dense in recent elections, but are also representing more of the economy. Conversely, Republican presidential counties are becoming more numerous, emptier and represent continually poorer communities. 

This has created, the theory goes, a much deeper divide in American politics than in the past. This is the divide that we've all been feeling in our social media feeds, but also the divide that I assume is being created in the Republican Party.

One solution mentioned in the podcast is investment in rural areas. Instead of assuming the richer/denser trend is determinative, doing small things to expand the economic base in rural areas. Things like making sure broadband access is available to everyone. 

The following discussion is about community colleges and branch campuses from the above linked podcast:



...the most important thing along these lines is just getting people to have more proximity, is one, making it easier for people in small towns to get post-secondary education. So I think there ought to be more community colleges. There ought to be a lot of them that are close to people. There ought to be more universities, more state universities, more branch campuses, right? Getting people to school.

...

And so if you make education a lot easier for rural, small town people, just the process of becoming educated opens you up a little bit to the world. It tends to make you a little bit more curious about the things you’ve learned about. “Maybe I do want to go on a trip to Chicago,” because it’s amazing how many people in, say, rural Illinois have never been to Chicago, and it’s two hours away, right? And that kind of thing is really, really, really important. And it’s not you’re trying to propagandize them into becoming critical race theorists at the big liberal university. It really is just the basic stuff. You’re teaching people about the world. You’re broadening their horizons a little bit.


And while they're talking about community and state college branch campuses, they might as well be talking about equitable school funding, libraries and broadband internet. Each are vital for an equitable economy. And if Republicans are interested in expanding the economy for the people they represent, broadband seems like a good place to start. 

We've already seen that rural conservative voters will choose a closeted socialist over a mainstream Democrat if he talks about government-funded broadband. Rural county voters will also choose one Republican over an incumbent Republican if she says the same thing. Republican voters have already told use what they want. Now it is worth seeing now if Republicans can united behind one of their own to see if they can make a modest step to allow a small unit of government make a big different in their communities. 

Last point here on the nature of the policy solution Ybarra (and the socialist Saturn) is proposing: PUDs are small, local governments, no larger than a county. They sometimes provide electricity, but sometimes they provide a smattering of water services. Ybarra's solution is not a statewide broadband agency to act as a public option Comcast. It is for every community to choose to see if they want their PUD to act as a public option Comcast. If small government Republicans were to choose one solution, the closest to the people would seem like a good idea.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

The semi-rural breakwater in Thurston County politics

 I've oftentimes described the geographic nature of (mostly) partisan politics in Thurston County. 

If you are a Democrat or left of center, you try to drive up your margins in the areas close to downtown Olympia. Then you drive outwards in all directions and try to win as many other precincts as possible until you run out of time and money.

If you are a Republican or right of center, you start in South county and push in towards Olympia. 

There are exceptions to this rule. But these are usually non-partisan races where the typical left/right politics get subverted. Sue Gunn when she ran for port commission springs to mind.

In this simpler out from Olympia, in towards Olympia model, I have always wondered where the meeting point actually is. Where are the places where a normal liberal and Olympia-centered candidate could hope to win before they run out of steam?

It turns out, it is the corner of College and Yelm Highway in Lacey that acts as the lynch-pin to a series of dozens of precincts that are our true battleground. I came up with this by looking at how the two county commission races are finishing with such disparate results. Carolina Mejia is leading C Davis by a much larger lead than the difference in the Michael Steadman and Gary Edwards race. So, there are precincts that both Mejia (on the left and Olympia-centered) that Edwards (on the right and south county centered) are winning.

Below are the places they both won:


I also did a map showing the precincts that were both won by Republican Dusty Pierpoint and won by the two other Democratic legislative candidates, Sam Hunt and Laurie Dolan. There was about an eight-point difference between Pierpoint's loss and how the Republicans running against Hunt and Dolan.

So, starting from the Yelm Highway and College Street intersection, there is a wide band of precincts heading north all the way to Puget Sound. Then, along the south side of Yelm Highway, there is another line of precincts that stretch all the way to the Black Hills.

On first blush, these are largely incorporated precincts but are either close to or are in the cities' urban growth boundaries. They're also within the school district boundaries of the three large north county school districts. So culturally, these are not true rural "South County" areas. There are a couple (South Scott Lake and South Union) that probably qualify as South County.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Olympia's failed experiment with single-family zoning

I was not able to make it to the Housing Options hearing with the Planning Commission tonight. But here is what I sent them (and what I planned on saying).

I am asking for you to consider relegalizing housing types that have traditionally been allowed in Olympia.

Up until 1980, housing patterns in Olympia followed a fairly predictable path. For every 1,000 new residents, we would build an average of six 2 to 4 unit buildings. In the early 1980s, that changed. 

Egged on by a multi-year debate over the spread of so-called ghettos in Olympia, the City Council downzoned large portions of the city at several points since 1980. 

Since the downzones, the ratio of duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes dropped from 6 per 1,000 to only 1 per 1,000 new residents.

These downzones included neighborhoods where duplexes and quadplexes had already been built. This set up the ironic situation of it being illegal to replace affordable housing in a downzoned neighborhood but needing to replace it with more expensive single-family housing.

We are now reaping the harvest of these forty-year-old decisions. 

The neighborhoods we have built since the 1980s are car-dependent and not walkable. Instead of allowing the neighborhoods we already built to absorb growth, we have cut down trees, built new roads, and sprawled growth to the edges of our city.

The city we have become since 1980 is not equitable. Olympia is a largely segregated community. According to census data, the more single-family homes there are in a neighborhood, the whiter that neighborhood is. By only allowing more affordable housing types in specific parts of our city, we will continue this segregation.

Allowing low density, multifamily housing is the traditional way we have always grown as a city. We moved away from it because in an era after racial discrimination in housing became illegal, fears of crime and ghettos drove our zoning choices. We used to write racially restrictive covenants, but today we segregate our city with single-family zoning.

The downzones are a textbook example of institutional racism. While the downzones in the 1980s may have been born in a context of racism, I don’t think people who are trying to protect them are racists. But we can clearly see how they have terrible impacts.

We can see clearly that the experiment in exclusive single-family housing has failed. Allowing more housing options in all parts of Olympia is the right thing to do.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Book Review: Red Coast: Radicalism and Anti-Radicalism in Southwest Washington

The Red Coast is a rare book of Pacific Northwest history that unpacks a vital era. The labor, free speech, and political wars in the first third of the 20th century is an often misunderstood and glossed-over part of our heritage. Written by three authors, including two St. Martins Saints (I guess), the episodic nature of the book makes it interestingly readable. 

This book goes straight onto my shelf of classics of Pacific Northwest history. My criteria are generally works that are based on original research and primary sources, but also take a new perspective. Red Coast does both of these in spades. 

Other works I put on that shelf include Confederacy of Ambition, by William Lang, and the three statewide histories by Robert Ficken. Red Coast gives a clear view of a unique period in our history. Despite the well-known incidents, such as the Centralia Massacre, Red Coast ties these lowlights into a consistent narrative that redefines our understanding of regional history through the Depression. 

My primary insight, though, is on the second part of the subtitle of the book: Anti-Radicalism in the early 20th century. Or, what seems to be now the conservative re-radicalization of Southwest Washington.

Throughout my life, Southwest Washington has always been a stable, union-friendly Democratic bastion. In fact, this has been true since the re-alignment of politics in Washington after the 1932 election. Before the Roosevelt wave election in 1932, Washington was a Republican supermajority state. Democrats in 1932 swept the table and reestablished a new balance of power. Even after the parties again realigned in the late 1980s (King County voted for Reagan twice!), Southwest Washington Democrats held onto a seemingly genetic stranglehold on legislative and countywide seats in Grays Harbor, Pacific, and other Southwest communities. 

Obviously, since the 1980s it became plenty obvious to point out a Democrat from South Bend was not the same kind of Democrat from South Seattle. But the big Democratic Party tent was big enough to keep the Coastal Caucus happy and on the team.

The taste of the coastal voters seemed to change in recent years with less than stellar returns for top ticket Democrats. The election of Rep. Jim Walsh and how well Trump did the same year in Southwest Washington indicates that in a decade or so we'll be talking about how the region re-aligned, yet again.

After reading Red Coast, I'm not sure if this is a re-alignment or the end of an 80-year truce or a tapping into of a strong political tradition in the region. The echos between current conservative politics and the chapter on Rep. Albert Johnson are strong. Rep. Johnson served in the 3rd Congressional District for almost two decades and was a direct product of the anti-radical movement in Southwest Washington described in The Red Coast. While anti-radicalism is the second fiddle nemesis in The Red Coast, it seems to be the more lasting phenomenon worth studying. I don't want to spoil the book, but the Wobblies did not win.

Johnson's primary legacy was anti-immigrant politics and actual anti-immigrant legislation. I need to do more work on this, but there seems to be a direct tie-in from Johnson's political work to the specific Oregon brand of "Free Soil" politics that birthed the black exclusion laws. But that is for another day.

Johnson's anti-immigrant politics dove-tailed with the homegrown anti-radicalism in his district because Wobbly and Socialist politics largely rotated around ethnic lines. The socialist camps and community halls were also largely Norweigian cultural centers.

So, this brings us back to today in the post-2016 Southwest Washington. It may be too early to tell, but despite Washington being a safe state for Democrats statewide, we may see the cementing of a new conservative alignment in Southwest Washington this November. In fact, if Democrats can run the table everywhere else, but Republicans can keep the seats they've already won and possibly pick off an incumbent, I'd say that shift has happened. Also, I don't think its too much to say that the energy at the top of the ticket in 2016 and 2020, with barely hidden anti-immigrant sentiment, is one of the reasons why. 

There is a lot more to the regional political identity in Southwest Washington (and the broader Pacific Northwest) than anti-immigration politics.  But reading The Red Coast reminds us that this isn't a new evolution, but rather a part of the DNA that is just now finding new emphasis again.

I bought my copy at Browsers Books downtown. You should buy a copy locally as well.