#BallotGuide Part 1 - King County

#BallotGuide Part 1 - King County

Hashtag is comprised of more than just the two writers you know and...well, "love" isn't the right word. There are actually five people regularly involved in some aspect or another on facts and research and the like. For our Ballot Guide, everyone chipped in on the writing. These are not personal endorsements of any individual, but are the recommendations of the majority of the #Fam. We purposely did not review any uncontested races. Enjoy!

Court of Appeals, Division 1, District 1, Position 5

That’s a lot of words. But here there is one clear choice: Michael Spearman. Judge Spearman brings a lifetime of experience – as a public defender, as a trial court judge, and as an appellate judge – to the bench that is unmatched. He writes clear and concise opinions, and his judicial philosophy leans in favor of civil liberties and consumer rights. Judge Spearman represents exactly what we want in a judge, and has earned re-election. Vote Spearman.

King County Proposition 1

Voters in King County have the opportunity to increase our investment in affordable housing across the county. Building on Seattle’s Housing Levy from 2016, this will expand that investment in homes for low-income families to all parts of our county, while sharing the taxation with all residents – not just Seattleites. This continuation and expansion of an expiring levy has been shown to help seniors and veterans, and with the added housing component, reaffirms our commitment to social housing in our region. Vote Yes.

King County Executive

This one is easy, and we’re not going to spill a lot of ink here. Vote Dow Constantine. Even if he wasn’t the only qualified candidate running, we’d still likely be on the “ConstanTeam” – he’s been doing some pretty phenomenal things, and working to make County government more effective and responsive to all members of the community. Vote Constantine.

King County Sheriff

It’s impossible to write about the current race for King County Sheriff, much less make a recommendation, without having to reckon with the present miasma around current King County Sheriff John Urquhart. Last year, Urquhart was accused of sexually assaulting a fellow deputy (before he became Sheriff). His administration has also been dogged by lawsuits from fired and frustrated deputies. It’s about as good a look for an elected as a pair of JNCO jeans at a funeral. However, on close inspection, Urquhart’s issues are much more disconcerting in aggregate than they are individually.

The alleged sexual assault in 2002 is, very tragically, just one part of a laundry list of claims made by an individual against Urquhart that include him hacking her computer to delete her emails, following her across the country and trying to run her over in Massachusetts, placing surveillance on her in different states, and breaking into her house to turn off the pilot light on her stove in order to kill her in an explosion. The Seattle Police Department investigated the claims (twice), as did the FBI, the King County prosecutor’s office, the Seattle Times, and lately the Seattle Weekly which, after posting a multi-page feature investigation of the claims still gave John Urquhart their endorsement for sheriff. While investigations have suggested that the allegations are without merit, the handling by Urquhart show a troubling lack of judgment.

Regarding the spate of lawsuits against the Department, particularly the latest payout of over $1 million to three deputies for discrimination claims, two of the deputies in question were fired for having been caught harassing a Metro bus driver (and then only because the driver had worn a bodycam). Another lawsuit against Urquhart for discrimination, after he fired an officer for failing to reveal that she’d been receiving extra pay, is ongoing. An independent arbitrator, however, has already found that she’d acted with deliberate dishonesty regarding the extra pay.

Urquhart also recently got nicked by The Stranger for comments made in a video they received of his meeting with the 45th Legislative District Republicans, specifically his chortling about arresting Kshama Sawant in 2013 and how, were OJ Simpson an undocumented person, he would have him deported. Urquhart responded that Council Member Sawant reached out to the sheriff’s department ahead of time to coordinate the arrest. As to the fate of hypothetical undocumented OJ Simpson, Urquhart only offered that individual deputies could use immigration status against violent criminals by having them deported (which, while not strictly being a punishment without a trial, seems like an awful lot of discretionary authority for every deputy on a beat to have). Also, affirming the bigotries of Republicans may secure votes, even for a progressive candidate, it doesn’t exactly do the community any favors to have bigoted white folks feel like the county’s top cop agrees with them.

John Urquhart’s opponent, Mitzi Johanknecht, is an accomplished deputy. She was the first female leader of the King County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team, and while Urquhart has been endorsed by almost all the Democratic organizations in King County, she’s gotten a couple of crucial late endorsements from Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and former King County Executive Ron Sims. She’s lost some support she might otherwise have enjoyed, however, by her opposition to Community Health Engagement Centers (a/k/a safe consumption sites). She’s publicly opposed them in the midst of a wave of bans by city and county governments.

If this recommendation seems overlong and belabored by negotiating the accusations against Urquhart, it’s because the accusations are serious and warrant that kind of scrutiny. And if this recommendation belabors the following point, it’s because it’s also serious and warrant that kind of scrutiny: Community Health Engagement Centers save lives. Seattle’s perpetual film and TV stand in, Vancouver BC, recently experimented with safe consumption sites for IV drug users. The University of British Columbia study on the program showed that there were fewer overdose deaths, fewer cases of disease transmission, and more users getting treatment by virtue of the program.

Which brings us back to Urquhart. Should you ignore all the negatives that are swirling around his office? No. But those negatives ought to be weighed against accomplishment. Since being elected to head the department back in 2012, John Urquhart has taken a hard line against bent cops, firing 22 deputies for misconduct in four years -- more than his last two predecessors fired over the course of fifteen years. He changed departmental policy following the election of Donald Trump to prevent officers from responding or even assisting with ICE warrants and detainer orders. And, critically, he supports CHECs, a policy that will save lives.

What sums up the difference between the two candidates is a statement by Mitzi Johanknecht to Crosscut. Regarding why she was running, she said she was encouraged by fellow officers because: “People within the sheriff’s office are afraid of making mistakes.” Mitzi sees that fear as a bug instead of a feature, even at a time when local law enforcement is under scrutiny for use of force incidents and suspect interactions with the community. The question King County voters have regarding the sheriff’s office this cycle is whether a tarnished reputation outweighs a real record of holding cops accountable and making reform real, or whether a fresh face with a more traditional law enforcement agenda is what the department needs. And for liberal progressives, the question also includes whether the allegations against Urquhart personally bear enough scrutiny to override his record.

While the allegations and lawsuits make for a high hurdle, they don’t change that Urquhart has dramatically improved diversity in hiring, has shown a commitment to booting bent cops out of his department, and his support for safe consumption sites won't save lives, which kind of seems like what the Sheriff's Office should be about. The question then turns to the same we saw in 1996 with Clinton v. Dole – do we stick with the candidate whose actions align with our values, or do we hand over the keys to someone who has exhibited hostility toward police reform, CHECs, and has questionable positions on working with ICE.

We believe that here, the balance favors the incumbent, with reservations. Vote Urquhart. In light of recent reports, we are no longer comfortable making a recommendation in this race.

Dissent: You could go through everything written above, and come to the conclusion that either no recommendation is in order, or look more broadly at county elected officials and vote for Johanknecht. At the rate that CHECs are being banned across King County, Seattle is looking like the only place where they will be allowed. Sheriff deputies lack jurisdiction to harass public health workers in the city limits. Concerns about Johanknecht’s position on firing deputies who engage in bias policing, or potential to work with ICE, are valid, but the County Council can and should assert itself, and place limitations to prevent the Sheriff's office from acting outside the scope of our values. Yes, Johanknecht does not conform with our values on policy, but at the same time, we shouldn't be rewarding powerful men who abuse that power.

Port of Seattle –

Frankly, we don’t have the time to dive into why we are making these recommendations, but here they are:

Position 1 – Vote Calkins (with one dissent for Creighton) 

Position 3 – Vote Abdi (with one dissent for Bowman)

Position 4 – Vote Shridhar (with one abstention)

#BallotGuide Part 2 - Seattle

#BallotGuide Part 2 - Seattle