Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Retail Politics And Chance Encounters

On the national level, campaigns and elections can be frustrating for liberals. There is the occasional race, like Lamont/Lieberman that will be decided today, where grass roots activists and ordinary people feel the power they have as voters and take the opportunity to make sweeping changes. But most of the time, liberals are stuck deciding between the lesser of two evils and rarely get to cast a positive vote for a candidate they really support. I’m lucky enough to live in Seattle, where the choices are somewhat better, but it’s local politics that provide the most joy, and I live in the best district for that.

In the 43rd legislative district in Seattle, we have a high-class problem. The state legislative races are not a Republican versus Democrat race, but rather a primary contest between six liberals, one of whom will get the job. As great as that is for a liberal like me, it’s still very difficult to choose. If we could send them all to Olympia, our state would be better for it, but alas, each district only gets one. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve figured it out and will happily be voting for and supporting Bill Sherman.

Since I started going to the Drinking Liberally gathering every Tuesday evening (at the Montlake Ale House at 7:30 if you’re in the area and so inclined), I have had the opportunity to meet several of the candidates for the 43rd LD seat, I even had the pleasure of doing the weekly podcast with Lynne Dodson a few months back. Local politics are great because there’s a certain sense of intimacy involved when candidates can realistically meet a large number of their constituents and are actually helped by making themselves accessible. Retail politics is only really doable on the local level, or every four years during Primary season if you live in Iowa or New Hampshire.

I had read up on the candidates, visited their websites and tracked down news articles that gave a bit of history on each, and talked to a few of them when they visited Drinking Liberally, but I still hadn’t made up my mind. That is, until I was cleaning my bathtub and the doorbell rang. I ran downstairs, ponytails askew and a little sweaty from all that scrubbing, and found on my doorstep, a candidate for the 43rd legislative district seat. Not my best moment, but hey, I take my opportunities where they come. Besides, I was bummed that my husband answered the door when Jaime Peterson stopped by the week before, now it was my turn.

At the moment I opened my front door for this chance encounter, I had narrowed the field down to two candidates, Dick Kelly, whom several of my fellow bloggers have decided to support, and Bill Sherman, a prosecutor and former assistant to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt during the Clinton administration. Besides the cleaning products smeared on my forearms and the disheveled hair, it was a perfect time for Bill Sherman to knock on my door. After he introduced himself, I knew this was my opportunity to ask my questions, listen and make up my mind.

One of the most striking things about Bill Sherman is his obvious ease with being a candidate. He didn’t give me a canned spiel, but instead, asked me questions and tried to engage me in conversation. I asked him what he thought about the state of public education in Seattle and he gave me an earful, including a promise to be a workhorse for public education. Not a sexy issue, but one that needs a strong advocate that is able to work through the numbers and with all levels of government to find a real solution that will make our schools financially sound while actually improving the quality of the education our children receive. Because he has two small children in public schools, I’m inclined to believe that he will do just that. I asked him about campaign finance reform and what he thought about publicly financed elections and he gave me an answer I didn’t expect. He explained that while he strongly supports publicly financed elections, he doesn’t think that it will solve all of the problems, especially when it comes to the access and influence political contributions too often buy. There may not be a constitutionally sound legal solution to that problem, but that he was willing to say so instead of hyping what might not be the end all solution simply because it’s what I wanted to hear, was refreshing.

After my front porch discussion with Bill Sherman, I had pretty much made up my mind to support him, but I had a few more questions. I sent him an email the next day, asking for clarification on some of the things he said and he happily indulged me and sent me a reply. It really was a great experience. Having a candidate take the time to explain his positions on the issues and even discuss the complicated details of each was more than I expected. He certainly didn’t have to, but that he did goes a long way with me.

Since then, I have run into Bill Sherman several times at Drinking Liberally. He clearly understands the importance of being seen and engaging with politically minded citizens and bloggers, but I also get the feeling that he just likes it. Whether he stays as the 43rd LD Rep for years to come or chooses to use this post as a stepping stone to higher office, our district and our state will be better for having Bill Sherman represent us. All of the candidates are great on progressive issues and we can hardly go wrong with any one of them. But what makes Bill Sherman stand out is that, while each candidate has one issue that they emphasize, Bill has made a point of highlighting them all. In my opinion, that makes him the best all around candidate and why I will cast an enthusiastic vote for him in the primary. Go Bill!

(Also running for this seat are Stephanie Pure and Jim Street. I couldn’t work them into the post, but they deserve links nonetheless.)


Anonymous geocrackr said...

Good post. Me and my honey went to the candidate forum a few weeks back so we could get a firsthand look at all the candidates and left with a Jim Street yard sign. He was the one who most articulately appealed to our wonkish little hearts, from his experience (I haven't verified this, but he claimed to have been the driver behind putting bicycle racks on the city busses, which rang a big "Fuck yeah!" gong in my head) to his plans to work on transportation issues in the Capitol (how 'bout that 520 bridge and the Viaduct, huh?) and his easy grasp of names and numbers for a wide variety of local issues.

I can see the appeal of Sherman -- he's a charmer. But during the forum he presented himself as a single-issue environmentalist candidate, and the fact that everytime he spoke he had to drop in somehow his "time in the Clinton administration" really soured me on him ("Betcha five bucks she mentions her Pulitzer").

But the bottom line is that the local level is the only playing field we have left to us, and where we should really focus our efforts if we want to rebuild our farm team so that our players can eventually make it back to the big leagues. I went to see David Broder when he was here recently, and he said flat out that the national-level Dems have been bought and paid for, and "training" our local level candidates to behave correctly while they're still young and impressionable, before they rise through the ranks, is the only way to get the party back on course. I couldn't agree more.

11:11 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

GeoCrackr--Thank you for sharing your experience, it is hard to "endorse" any one candidate in this race. I think it will come down to which candidate "reaches" the most voters, they are all great and I would be thrilled to have any one of them representing me in Olympia, and I love that we can all have different specific preferences and not be at odds at all. All that said, I still say, Go Bill!

12:24 AM  

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