This is Part I of a new series of posts taking a look at Seattle City Council Member Candidates from the perspective of a Seattle moderate ho desperately seeks a more accountable government. Tweet to share.Shaun Scott is running for Seattle’s District 4 Council Member spot. I’ve had a chance to read Shaun Scott’s DSA Candidate Endorsement Questionnaire, and found it very informative.
I wanted to offer my reaction to each of his answers. The Endorsement Questionnaire is long, it’s clear and detailed, and that’s why this will be a multi-part series. Note that I have not yet met Shaun Scott at the time of this writing; my response is simply taking a look at his official filing with the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America, and I’m posting his answers verbatim via screenshots of that document.
But first, let’s talk about the job he’s running for: Seattle City Council.
Seattle City Council Member Responsibilities
The Seattle City Council is the lawmaking body of the city. The Council consists of nine members serving four-year terms, seven of which are elected by electoral districts. The City Council has the sole responsibility of approving the city’s budget, and develops laws and policies intended to promote the health and safety of Seattle’s residents. The Council passes all legislation related to the city’s police, firefighting, parks, libraries, and electricity, water supply, solid waste, and drainage utilities. It oversees major spending allocations with review and oversight.
It also sets the tone, if you will, for the city’s municipal conversation.
This November, 7 of 9 council spots are up for election.
What Makes a Good Seattle Council Member?
Everyone’s going to have a different answer to this, so let me be clear about mine. My posts on the Seattle City Council should give you a good idea of where I’m coming from.
Given the importance of this policy-making, resource allocating body, I’m looking for:
- fiscal responsibility of taxpayer dollars
- prudence of policy making
- compassion for all citizens both housed and unhoused
- keeping an open mind about what seems to work and what doesn’t
- a sense of urgency around our most pressing problems (homelessness, addiction, accountability), and
- effective listening
Seattle, a city I love, has been beset with numerous and huge blunders in spending and policy-making.
From the disasterous streetcar project to the pension fund underperforming nearly every other pension fund in the nation, wasting hundreds of millions that will now have to be borne by taxpayers, to mismanagement of the sea wall reconstruction, the failed Employee Head Tax, to ineffective, unaccountable homelessness spending, to lawsuits for defamation and slander when named police officers were cast as “murderers” before the facts were fully in, to massively expensive bike lanes, to misuse of city resources for non-city business, coverups of mayoral scandal and so much more. Our homelessness counts are increasing. We declared a homelessness emergency over three years ago, yet those numbers continue to climb. Regionally, we spend more than $1 billion, all tolled in the Puget Sound Region on homelessness (private, public, philanthropy), and in an era where other city’s homelessness (e.g., Boston, Houston) are falling with far less spent per capita, ours is increasing. (You can see some of my thoughts on Fixing the Homelessness Crisis here.)
That said, Seattle’s amazing. We’re innovative. We have progressive companies with intelligent, creative people that most cities would fall over themselves to get. We’re surrounded by natural beauty. We’re open to new ideas and approaches. We value diversity. We’re incredibly compassionate. We have record city revenues — they’ve never been higher. We have record city unemployment — it’s never been lower.
Yet the above problems in municipal management suggests that something is very wrong with the way our resource allocation and policy-setting has gone.
Shaun Scott’s DSA Questionnaire
It’s in that spirit that I take a look at Shaun Scott’s DSA endorsement questionnaire, to ask if his answers are aligned with my own top priorities for the city.
Q1: Shaun Scott’s Top Three Priorities
- First, notice what’s absent from the “Top Three Priorities” list.
- Nothing about establishing better fiscal oversight? Nothing? No specific top-line approach about the addiction crisis other than that it ought not center around jail? I’d like to know what he’s for in this area, rather than what he wants to end. No solutions are ideal, and it’s easy to say what’s wrong about an approach — what’s a better one, and has it been shown to be effective?
- I think the first and best step in fixing a leaky bathtub is to ensure that the stopper is properly seated, not to simply install a second faucet. Let’s stop the waste first, fix things in the culture and process that have caused it, and go from there. Maybe it can be done in parallel — I don’t know. But at least make it a top priority.
- Nothing about better spending of massive sums, like, say, transportation dollars?
- “Carceral” means “relating to jail or incarceration.” So note that in the coded language of today’s left, for #2, it appears that he’s really saying that he’s looking for solutions to crime that do not involve jail. (This relates to a new fad in criminal justice activism called Survival Crime: namely, that justice and law enforcement should be entirely different for those crimes that relate to “survival” versus others. I don’t think it’s wise to have such a two-tiered justice system — though of course each case should be reviewed and decided on its own merits.) I feel that simply looking the other way when low-level crimes (property crime, illegal camping or dumping, etc.) are perpetuated is not the best solution.
- His third priority, what he calls “ecosocialist policies,” need some kind of budget and specific plan to evaluate. I think achieving complete independence from fossil fuels by 2025 (that’s just 6 years from now) seems a tad unrealistic. America has made tremendous progress over the past decade, and now runs on 17% renewables. Is it in any way, shape or form realistic and cost-effective to fully switch out the fleet of all vehicles (presumably to either electric or natural gas) by that time? How? I’d like to see the math and the plan.
Q2: Why are you a candidate for this office? What would you say to socialists who are skeptical of electoralism’s value?
First, let’s define “electoralism”: electoralism — “A state of partial transition from authoritarian rule toward democratic rule, in which the regime conducts the electoral aspects of democratic governance in a relatively free and fair manner.”
But in the question, it appears to get at the idea that some socialists are skeptical of elections themselves as the best way to enact change (presumably, the alternative is insurrection and overthrow.)
Shaun’s answer is telling, and calls out to “comrades” as he attempts to appeal to the more revolutionary-minded segments of the Democratic Socialists of America as well as the more moderate members. He appears to say that socialist base-building and achieving office via elections can exist side-by-side and reinforce each other.
This is where he and Kshama Sawant are likely to have lively conversations — by what method should we enact our change? Please read this enlightening piece and supporting material on Kshama Sawant and the Socialist Alternative in Seattle: Internal Socialist Alternative Documents Show It Runs Sawants Office and Controls Her Vote.
Q3: Why are you soliciting Seattle DSA’s Endorsement?
I appreciate him being very clear about his reasons for seeking the endorsement.
The Democratic Socialists of America platform can be found here. Among other things, it states that “We are socialists because we reject an international economic order sustained by private profit.”
This suggests pretty clearly they are intrinsically against private profit itself, namely people being able to keep and own private property like businesses, and privately invest in entities that produce and distribute goods. Personally, the reasons I vehemently oppose that philosophy are numerous. I think properly regulated (and yes, also redistributed) capitalism, while far from perfect, has done much better than any other economic system, particularly socialism whenever that’s been tried as an economic engine. And before you cite Canada, Denmark or Germany, read: Denmark is capitalist.
Capitalism, whether of the current American form or Canadian, German, Swedish or Dutch form, has lifted more people out of human poverty than any other economic system ever has. It has helped us innovate more than any other economic system. It has allows millions the pursuit of happiness (and yes, there are more who should be better served, with more regulation and redistribution — I am not saying we have done enough.) Capitalism is compatible with freedoms I hold very dear, like freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom to start and run a business, the ownership of private property and more. I am not anxious to give up those benefits. To be fair, DSA’s vision includes a nod to “market mechanisms”, but doesn’t explicitly say what those are that are OK and which are verboten. Generally, a socialist nation is one in which government owns the means of production and distribution of goods, and citizens have not fared well when they’ve been enacted. Not in Venezuela, Cuba, China, the Soviet Union or elsewhere.
Q4: Do you identify as a socialist? In American politics there’s a conflation between FDR/New-Deal and LBJ/Great Society type programs and Socialist ones, do you see yourself as seperate from these? If so, how?
“I’m a socialist.”
There was a time not too long ago when such a statement would be highly disqualifying for office in America to all but a very small fringe.
Yet in early polls, Scott appears to be in the lead. The term “socialist” has undergone a deliberate rebranding of late, is more popular to a certain extent among our youth than capitalism, but I think it’s been with a pernicious falsehood at its core.
We cannot both “abolish capitalism” and also try to become more like Canada, Denmark or Germany, because those nations are capitalist. You can either strive to be more like Canada or wish to “abolish capitalism”, not both, because it is capitalism that provides the wealth that is redistributed, allows the freedoms to exist (assembly, religion, press, etc.) that we so take for granted. This tweet from Michael Moore didn’t age well:
Hugo Chavez declared the oil belonged 2 the ppl. He used the oil $ 2 eliminate 75% of extreme poverty, provide free health & education 4 all
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) March 6, 2013
I’m clearly left with the impression that Shaun Scott feels that New Deal style social welfare within a capitalist system is not his true aim, but switching our economic engine from capitalism to socialism is. And I vehemently oppose that — I do not want us to become more like Venezuela. I’m happy to debate and discuss ways we could become more like Nordic successes, Canada, Germany and more — but “abolishing capitalism” is a terrible place to start, because that’s saying you want to be more like the socialist nations of Venezuela and Cuba, not more like the capitalist nations of Canada and Germany.
I’ve written a piece on the differences between those who wish to establish more welfare-state programs within a capitalist system versus those who wish to abolish capitalism and private property itself. It appears that even New Deal style redistributive programs within a capitalist system aren’t enough, nor are his true aims for the city or the movement.
There’s a ruse that hard-left socialists continue to propel. They’ll say on the one hand that they want to “abolish capitalism” but when asked for societies that do redistributive social welfare programs well, will point to Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Germany, or any number of capitalist nations. It is capitalism that generates the wealth and liberties that make these countries attractive societies. These benefits and programs that help their own citizens are possible because of capitalism, not in spite of it. When socialists say they want to “abolish capitalism”, they are NOT telling you they wish to be more like Germany or Denmark, although they’d like you to think that. They are telling you they want us to be more like socialist nations, and those are North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Vietnam and to a mixed extent, Russia and China. And it has never ended well for personal liberty, gay rights, those who care about private property (e.g., home or business) ownership, or more.
When they speak in the language above, it is wise for we voters to listen.
To Be Continued
We have only arrived at page 2 of his 18 page DSA Endorsement Questionnaire.
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