Hasegawa: We were lied to.
CHS: So, this is about Sound Transit and the way it’s run? Not light rail?
Hasegawa: When it went to the ballot I said “I support ST3. Even though it’s $54 billion, we need it.”
CHS: It’s an interesting fine point, and it’s a big dollar fine point and it just…
“It’s about accountability from leadership. That’s what my whole campaign is about right now.”
Hasegawa: It’s a crucial fine point. If you’re not being told the truth, when we’re passing legislation that has the huge financial impact on people who are fixed income that are already being gentrified and priced out of the city, and mind you, we had the McCleary… We knew we had to find another $4.5 billion just to fund McCleary, so how likely are we going to be able to pass a revenue package now with all the email that I’m getting with people who are angry about the price of their car tabs and all this other taxes that they’re getting hit with.
CHS: But at the same time you said you wouldn’t have done anything different.
Hasegawa: No I wouldn’t have. I didn’t.
CHS: That’s, I think, the hard part.
Hasegawa: I just wanna be told the truth. If you are coming to us, don’t lie. Tell me the truth and let me make up my mind for myself.
CHS: Alright. Alright, well we will try…
Hasegawa: See that’s why I didn’t want to get into it, because it’s too fine…
CHS: You’re telling me it’s not about factual Sound Transit package, it’s about the agency.
Hasegawa: It’s about accountability from leadership. That’s what my whole campaign is about right now.
CHS: Alright. I wonder if people will care. I’m curious to see if people will care.
Hasegawa: I think people want to be told the truth.
CHS: Yeah? Well I wouldn’t wanna be told the truth. I wonder if people will care that it costs $54 instead of $15 billion.
Hasegawa: You don’t think so? [laughter]
This testy exchange was just the start of things in one of the feistiest conversations in CHS’s interviews with the mayoral candidates. State Sen. Bob Hasegawa didn’t like being labelled anti-transit — his issue is with the way the transit agency is run, he told CHS, not trains. We also talked with the longtime labor leader and 11th District senator about his push to create a municipal bank and his belief that the city needs a champion for South Seattle and underserved communities in City Hall. You can learn more at bobhasegawa.com.
Unchained by a damaging sex abuse scandal that removed incumbent Ed Murray from a powerful pole position, 21 candidates are vying this summer to be the next mayor of modern-day Pacific Northwest boomtown Seattle, Washington. Of those 21, only two will survive the first round cut from the August 1st primary. CHS may be on a summer news break but we couldn’t resist opportunities to talk with the candidates most likely to be on the mind of Capitol Hill voters in the coming weeks: Jenny Durkan, Nikkita Oliver, Cary Moon, Bob Hasegawa, Mike McGinn, and Jessyn Farrell. The interviews were conducted in recent weeks at locations across the city including coworking spaces, campaign offices, and a diner. The talks varied but revolved around a core set of Seattle issues: Black Lives Matter, affordability, addiction, and homelessness. We have edited the conversations for clarity and length.
CHS: I hear people sometimes say that we should put every penny we can towards…
CHS: Well education, or can we can move every penny we can to transit.
Hasegawa: See, and as the legislature we have to make those decisions.
CHS: Alright, let’s go to a bigger picture then. Seattle. What’s going on in the city? It’s doom and gloom, and yet these are good times.
“I see the face of my neighborhood changing in South Seattle, especially around light rail.”
Hasegawa: One percent is doing really well. The people who are a floor or two below the top floor are doing okay. The people who are on the floors below that, they’re all feeling like contingent workers. They may be doing really well today, but they don’t know that their job’s even going to be there tomorrow. And I’ve talked with Capitol Hill people who are saying they’ve had to move out of Capitol Hill because the rent’s just going up too high. I know that displacement is happening even here on Capitol Hill with the price of housing, cost of housing, and then you exacerbate that with the homelessness, the people who can’t afford to live even further out, who may have got displaced because their job went away or whatever, may need temporary assistance just to bridge to stay in their home can’t do it so they’re out… There’s so many different causes for the homelessness, so we… It is a good time for the economy generally, but if you believe in trickle-down economics, which is the theory that we’re operating under where the billionaires at the top or the hundred millionaires, the ones that are doing well, the 0.01%. If trickle-down economics worked so well we’d all be doing well, but we’re not. I see the face of my neighborhood changing in South Seattle, especially around light rail.
CHS: I just got off at Othello Station the other day. I was amazed that there’s no stairs. It was weird.
Hasegawa: Yeah. What about building at grade? That’s another problem. Why is it South End, all that grade done on the cheap and everybody else is grade separated?
CHS: Sure, sure. People dying along MLK all the time.
Hasegawa: And you see a picture of the firefighters having to jack the trolley up so that they can drag a body out from under it, that’s horrible.
CHS: Yeah. I guess part of the image here then, part of the picture of what’s wrong with Seattle is that Othello has no stairs.
Hasegawa: No, there’s no cultural sensitivity and economic sensitivity to what less prosperous neighborhoods are going through. You know about the parking issue, I’m sure?
CHS: Around light rail?
Hasegawa: How come it’s 60 bucks per vehicle for a permit to park in South Seattle, but there are free areas in North Seattle?
CHS: But there’s more to it than Sound Transit though.
Hasegawa: Well I know that there’s more to it.
CHS: Are there signs of hope? Are there things that are happening now that we should do more of that would fix it?
Hasegawa: Oh yeah, the economy’s booming. First off, growth should be forced to contribute to mitigate the costs of the growth, impact fees, those kinds of things.
CHS: Things like the Grand Bargain then?
“No, that’s not a Grand Bargain.”
Hasegawa: No, that’s not a Grand Bargain.
CHS: You don’t like it?
Hasegawa: There is no way that, that bargain is ever going to provide sufficient housing to house everybody, let alone even just keep costs down, so maybe it should be part of a Grand… That is a part of a Grand Bargain, if the set-asides were adequate, or the fee, the alternative fee that they pay were enough to build sufficient housing, but they’re not ever going to be anywhere near. Nobody’s talking about building more public housing. If the city got into the development business and started building public housing again, we could actually provide potentially enough units to house everybody, which would keep rents down and the costs of living in Seattle down. But the real costs, the problem is always financing. My plan to be able to finance… because everybody says we should do this, that and the other, but nobody has a financing chart for it. The financing mechanism I want to do is to create a publicly owned municipal bank. Are you familiar with how that works?
CHS: Why hasn’t it happened yet, and how could it happen here in Seattle?
Hasegawa: There’s one state in the country that has it, it’s North Dakota. It’s the only state. It just I think is symbolic of the power that banks and bond brokers have over the economy. Because public banking is standard practice around the world, just not in the United States with it’s Uber-capitalist underpinnings. They’ve been able to… Whenever something like this surfaces, I can’t remember now, there was examples of a couple of public banks, but they’ve forced them to privatize.
CHS: Do you feel like that’s something that’s productive for a mayor to get embroiled in? It would be a massive fight. You’re talking about…
Hasegawa: No. Why would it be a massive fight?
That’s why my campaign is about building the power of the people, not the moneyed interests. When the people feel like they’ve got power, they will be able to support tough decision making like this. And I don’t even think it’s a tough decision, I think it’s a no-brainer. I think you could talk with any person on the street and just say “Why do we let Bank of America use our money to make money for themselves and then we lose control of our own tax dollars?” And they say “Yeah, that ain’t right.”
CHS: Is there a simple way to explain how it would start?
Hasegawa: Well we’d have to probably put together a Blue Ribbon-type… I’ve got some people who are banking experts that are willing to put the plan together for us to implement, and so then it would just be on the City Council to approve it by ordinance.
CHS: I guess explaining something that doesn’t exist though is a pretty big challenge.
Hasegawa: Well it does exist. Look at the Bank of North Dakota, and that’s the model. The model is proven. It’s been around for almost 100 years. Did you know that it just declared its 12th consecutive year of record profit, it returned 19% ROI?
CHS: What would you compare it to? Is there anything that we have that’s like a public bank?
Hasegawa: We don’t have any… Bank of North Dakota’s the only one in the United States. Most other countries have them though.
CHS: You’re going to have to arrange some field trips maybe.
Hasegawa: We are. There’s a bunch of senators going back there this summer.
CHS: Interesting. I’m trying to think what else North Dakota might be a model for.
Hasegawa: Well back in the day… It’s really interesting if you look at their history. Back in the early 1900s, they had a political revolution, too. They got angry with all the Democrats and Republicans, voted all the bastards out, and voted in this third party called the Nonpartisan League, and they’re the ones that implemented a lot of these progressive changes. One of the things they did was, they implemented the ban on corporate farms, and that still exists today.
CHS: Well it is interesting that the muni bank comes forward as a solution for lots of different things.
Hasegawa: It is.
CHS: Especially with a state without the income tax levers, and there isn’t the flow of revenue. And people ask me a lot like, “Oh, what can we do?” Maybe nothing. Maybe it is something about the muni-bank that has to be formed.
Hasegawa: A state bank. It’s starting to gain traction now. I actually got 26 votes in the Senate, so that’s a majority, to hang an amendment on the budget bill to do a task force to bring a set of recommendations back to the Senate, but the Senate Republicans felt safe in voting for that amendment because they changed the Senate rules to require a super majority to hang an amendment specifically on the budget bill. But I still got 26 votes. That’s like historic. That had never happened before.
CHS: With a municipal bank, then, I imagine you’re also a giant proponent of municipal broadband.
Hasegawa: Oh, yeah. I’ve been fighting for that for literally decades.
CHS: Why is it not easier? What’s stopping it? What’s your answer to that?
Hasegawa: Corporate telecom.
On Beacon Hill we never had reliable high-speed internet until very recently. We always had dial-up or DSL, which… Back on the east I’d go to NCSL, National Conference of State Legislatures and they were amazed that in Seattle they didn’t have high speed internet. There were pockets in Seattle that did not, and I had to raise such a stink, and I constantly proselytized about it. For that purpose I got on the Technology, Energy and Communications Committee in the House just so that I could point it out. Everybody always talks about rural broadband and rural internet service, but there are underserved areas in urban areas. I haven’t been on that committee for a while now, and our problem in Beacon Hill has actually been solved now with Qwest coming in and Wave providing higher speed service now, but I don’t know if there are still pockets that are underserved in our city now.
We should be able to pick who we want our providers to be and let them compete against each other rather than have a monopoly in an area. I think the public should own basic infrastructure, things like electricity, water, sewer. Internet is a basic… It has become elevated to the status of a utility in my mind, because all it does is provide the pipeline. Then, if you have commercial content providers or all this other stuff, let people pick and choose who they want to use, but at least they have a choice that way. Right now you don’t have a choice. You have to go with whoever has some monopoly in your area.
CHS: Do you oppose the new youth jail?
Hasegawa: I oppose it but, if it’s a junk facility that is hazardous… I haven’t looked at the specific issue that closely, to tell you the truth. My basic philosophy though is that we should not be incarcerating youth. We need to go through restorative justice practices.
CHS: Have you looked into what’s going on around the North Seattle Police Precinct, the fight against the North Precinct? How do you see curtailing the strength of policing in the budget?
Hasegawa: I would need to take a very close look at it, but I do not see a need for a North Precinct up there in the form that it is. It’s a beautiful facility to look at it, but I really think we need to get back to a more community-based policing style, where the police are not sitting, removed from the neighborhoods, and… That’s almost like your classic ivory tower, what it looked like to me. Let’s get the law enforcement in the communities, and basically living with the people, and get to know the people that they’re serving.
CHS: What do you think about rent control?
Hasegawa: I’ve heard pros and cons about the impacts of it, but I don’t think that we even need to do it if we build sufficient public housing to house everybody. It takes away the market incentive to keep driving rents up.
CHS: Okay. And so when you say public housing, you mentioned it earlier and I didn’t ask you about, what does that mean to you? Is it about the financing of it? Is it about the actual operation? What is public housing in this day and age?
“The city used to have public housing everywhere.”
Hasegawa: Financing, the ownership, and control over it. Yeah, it’s just owned and operated and constructed by the city.
CHS: And good examples of it may be happening now?
Hasegawa: Yesler Terrace before it was sold.
CHS: Oh, so way back to Yesler Terrace?
Hasegawa: Yeah, yeah. The city used to have public housing everywhere. They used to call them projects. They don’t have to be projects though. The city can build wherever it wants, whatever it wants, and we don’t have to put 150 row houses right in close proximity to each other with no quality of life, really, and in economically depressed areas. We can build it wherever we want it and charge whatever we want for it. We could say… If it’s all affordable, your rent is 30% of what you’re making. If you want a penthouse at the top and little coffin tubes in the bottom, [chuckle] I don’t know, whatever, but we do need to shelter everybody. There’s no doubt that we have to figure that out. There’s a bunch of different strategies we can… There’s a lot of different models. There’s a community land-trust model, where the ownership of the land is separated from the structure above it, so that you can buy the structure, but you can’t buy the land, and that way the structure would not appreciate nearly as fast. Somebody could buy into it and actually own this thing, and hopefully the price would not go through the roof, and then the property taxes wouldn’t go through the roof either. We could do transitional housing to move people, or… We need to do more emergency housing and shelter. Because there is a long-term housing need, but then there’s the immediate emergency housing needs too. We gotta get those 4,000 homeless kids, shelter, right now.
CHS: What more needs to be done besides housing, or do you really feel housing is the first plank and solve that first? Is housing the key to Seattle’s homelessness?
Hasegawa: No, there’s no monolithic explanation or solution. There’s substance abuse, mental health issues. They’re all under the behavioral health umbrella. People could lose their job, and then miss a couple of mortgage payments and then get evicted, or whatever. That person, that family might only need some bridge money to stay in their home.
CHS: What do you think of where Seattle ended up with its current homeless emergency? I was amazed to see even the camp down on Dearborn. All of a sudden, the garbage trucks and the backhoes…
31:35 Hasegawa: There was huge reaction. The International District, the Chinese community, they were fit to be tied.
They held the mayor’s feet to the fire, and finally something got done. It took forever though, and they were just so angry. That whole International District feels like they have no say in the process whatsoever. One of the things that I want to do… see, part of my background is, I come out of a Teamsters Union. I don’t know if you know that about me.
But, I was a union reformer for a long time, and our Teamsters Union… Do you know anything about the Teamsters?
CHS: Just Wikipedia. My dad was a Communication Worker of America, union member. My mom was a teacher. I’m from a two-union family, but Teamsters to me are always… Teamsters, they’re like super-union.
CHS: Yeah, right.
Hasegawa: Well, that’s true. That’s what happens when you get a leadership that gets separated from the people. People could not hold them accountable. There was no direct elections for these people. People would say “Why are you trying to reform the Teamsters Union? Why don’t you just get out of Teamsters and start a new union?” But, my gut feeling is, “That’s my union, damn it! And they stole it from us, the members. I’m going to fight to get it back.” And that’s what we did. I got elected to head the Teamsters. We had a reform movement that flipped that power paradigm upside down. We got direct elections for the top officers, and we got elected, and we’re held directly accountable and we turned it from a top-down union to a bottom-up union, where the leadership actually was doing what the members wanted not the vice versa. So you fast forward it to today…
That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing right now, because I feel like the Democratic Party has been taken away from us. Do I wanna start a third party? No. I’m a Democrat, damn it, and that is my party that has always represented working family values, and it’s been stolen from us. I’m going to win it back. That’s what my campaign is about. That’s why it’s so important for me to not take money. I wanna show the power of people can defeat money in a campaign. And I did this five years ago when I first went into the Senate. I ran a campaign with no money, and beat a multi-millionaire. We just ran a humongous community-based campaign. I think we can do it again this time, just on a larger scale.
CHS: Alright. Let’s talk about the money, then. Jenny Durkan has a huge fundraising lead.
Hasegawa: People are so cynical about politics though, for good reason. They feel like they don’t have any… that money has just predetermined the results, and so that’s what I’m fighting against.