When Seattle politicians first talked about making the city the most progressive in the nation, it seemed like just talk. But the city’s increasingly liberal voters are making it a reality.
The goal for Seattle, as championed by both of its most recent mayors, is nothing short of making it the No. 1 most progressive city in America.
To that, city voters Tuesday once again said: Bring it on. More, please.
Everyone knows Seattle’s politicians are liberals trending ever leftward. But not as much talked about is how the city’s voters are every bit as left wing, if not more so, as the politicians.
Forget “tax fatigue” — voters Tuesday didn’t seem the least bit weary. In the city and King County, early returns showed voters approving all three new tax measures on the ballot — in total saying “yes” to a record $1.4 billion in new property taxes.
The big vote in Seattle was a mammoth $930 million roads levy. It’s 2½ times larger than the previous biggest city levy. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said it got so huge not because of spend-happy politicians, but because no residents ever asked for restraint — they kept demanding more projects and more spending.
The voters were willing to pay for it all, proving the mayor’s instincts were right. He took a big risk and just got an even bigger win.
It goes beyond taxes or road paving, too. The roads levy was pitched as the policy to usher Seattle into a new era of green urbanism. Its intent is to bring more transit-only road lanes, more bike lanes and more road diets for cars. All of this has been controversial but just got endorsed, big time, by city voters.
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“As the rest of the country says no,” a jubilant Murray said in a victory speech, “Seattle once again proves it says yes.”
Seattle also said yes to being a progressive laboratory on another issue. The campaign-financing measure, Initiative 122, is exactly the sort of experimental, boldly liberal type of measure the city is becoming known for. East Coast liberal groups poured nearly a million dollars into it for precisely that reason — they figured it would pass here if it could pass anywhere. And then it could be exported to other cities and states, just as with the $15 minimum wage.
It worked. Although the scheme of sending $100 in taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers” to every registered voter has never been tried before, Seattleites embraced the spirit of the experiment, passing it by more than 20 percentage points.
“Seattle leads the nation, first on $15/hour and now on campaign finance reform,” the Initiative 122 campaign crowed in a statement.
Voters also appeared to be sending the nation’s only socialist city council member back for another term. A few years ago it seemed improbable that even Seattle would elect a socialist. But today, in this left-veering city government, the socialist is essentially mainstream.
Kshama Sawant’s margin is too-close-to-call with ballots to be counted all week. But assuming she holds on, it means the new council next year almost assuredly will be talking about rent control and a slew of new tax increases — all issues she pushed at news conferences and events in the final weeks of her campaign.
“Socialist politics are here to stay!” was how Sawant put it to her supporters, and in this city at this time, she is right.
It’s interesting what the mayor said about the rest of the country saying no while Seattle says yes. It’s true, but it isn’t just the rest of the country. The rest of this state is approving Tim Eyman’s latest measure to require a two-thirds majority for state tax increases — a policy that would seriously hinder the state’s ability to raise new money for schools or other services. The positive vote for Eyman came even as he is under a cloud for alleged campaign-finance violations.
Republicans also picked up a state House seat, meaning Democrats now have the smallest majority there since 2002, just two votes. Republicans already control the state Senate.
So Seattle may well be on its way to becoming the most progressive city in America. But it’s also an island in its own state.