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State Supreme Court rules Sawant recall can move forward — UPDATE

(Image: Kshama Solidarity)

(Image: Kshama Solidarity)

The recall of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant can go forward, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. A spring and summer of signature gathering, rallying, and campaign flyers awaits.

Organizers outlined four acts they say that warranted sending the recall to the ballot. Most of the charges were from 2020 and relate to her response to protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

The court did not uphold all of the allegations made by the recall effort, arguing that one of the acts outlined was legally insufficient.

In September, the King County Superior Court certified a recall petition against the socialist council member on the four allegations, which was simply ruling on whether the charges outlined could be grounds for removal. That court was not ruling on whether or not the allegations were true. Two allegations from the original proposed petition relating to Sawant’s involvement in protests at the East Precinct and the formation of CHOP were dropped by the recall group’s attorneys.

With the court denying Sawant’s appeal, the recall proponents will have up to 180 days to gather a little over 10,000 signatures — or 25% of the nearly 43,000 votes cast in her November 2019 race — to send the issue to the ballot.

Sawant’s political fate will now move into the hands of District 3 voters.

“The recall law in Washington State is inherently undemocratic and well-suited for politicized use against working people’s representatives, because there is no requirement that the charges even be proven true,” Sawant said in a statement following the decision. “In effect, the courts have enormous leeway to use recall elections as a mechanism to defend the ruling class and capitalist system. It is no accident that Seattle’s last elected socialist, Anna Louise Strong, was driven out of office by a recall campaign for her links to the labor movement and opposition to World War I.”

“Big biz and the right wing are furious about the impact of socialist politics and social movements in Seattle & how we have inspired working people around the country,” the campaign formed to defend Sawant against recall posted on Twitter after the decision. “They are now trying to use the courts & their deep pockets to overturn Councilmember Sawant’s 2019 re-election and the historic victories she has spearheaded.”

After facing a deficit on Election Night 2019, Sawant clawed back to defeat Broadway Business Improvement Area leader Egan Orion by around 4% — or less than 2,000 votes — and now sits as the longest serving member of the city council.

The recall effort argues Sawant misused her office and flouted coronavirus social distancing restrictions in opening City Hall to hundreds of protesters one night last June.

They’re trying to recall Kshama Sawant — What happens next?

In arguing the court should dismiss the recall petition, Sawant’s lawyers with the Barnard Iglitzin and Lavitt law firm have said that gatherings such as the First Amendment-protected demonstration are exempt from Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation and that city council members can invite guests anytime.

The protesters occupied the entrance to City Hall for about an hour, chanting, making speeches, and even at one point singing that Mayor Jenny Durkan needed to resign from office.

The court, in a unanimous ruling, argues that while Sawant usually has discretion to admit members of the public to City Hall, this move to let protesters in was “not related to a city purpose.”

“By opening city hall when it was closed to the public in response to the governor’s Stay Home – Stay Healthy order, Councilmember Sawant arguably obstructed city business and placed people at risk by failing to ensure social distancing and sanitation measures established by the Washington State Department of Health guidelines,” the court writes.

Recall backers also argued Sawant similarly used her official position to lead a march to Durkan’s home in July, a confidential address protected because she had received threats during her tenure as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, showing what the original complainant in the recall and D3 resident Ernie Lou called a “reckless disregard for the safety of Mayor Durkan’s family and children” in a court filing last year.

Durkan accused Sawant of “using her official position” to lead the march to the mayor’s home “despite the fact that it was publicly known I was not there, and she and organizers knew that my address was protected under the state confidentiality program because of threats against me due largely to my work as U.S. Attorney.”

Opponents also say she relinquished the hiring and firing of office staffers to the political organization and in one case allegedly allowed the Socialist Alternative Executive Committee to decide to terminate an employee. An ethics complaint alleging Sawant misused her position on behalf of Socialist Alternative brought to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission last year by then-District 3 campaign opponent Logan Bowers was dismissed.

The supreme court found this allegation to be legally insufficient, writing “Councilmember Sawant was free to consult with Socialist Alternative and structure her internal office decisions as she saw fit.” The other three charges were upheld as legally sufficient, allowing the recall to move forward.

The final allegation is the use of city resources to support a Tax Amazon ballot initiative earlier this year that also failed to comply with public disclosure requirements. The SEEC fined the campaign $2,500 earlier this month over late filings on more than $100,000 in contributions.

Sawant says she did not need to publicly disclose the city resources used to support the initiative because it was not a ballot proposition at the time she did so. The court said the voters should decide.

This is not the only time the court has weighed in on a Seattle recall recently, as it tossed out a petition against Durkan in the wake of last summer’s protests.

As the two sides waited for the supreme court’s decision, they amassed hefty warchests now totaling over $720,000 combined, according to SEEC filings.

As the Kshama Solidarity campaign rallies to support the D3 leader, the well-financed Recall Sawant campaign now must gather the 10,000 or so signatures to send the issue to the voters. A basic yes/no recall vote would then head to the ballot.

Only signatures from District 3 residents count in the tally and only D3 voters will participate in the yes/no recall vote. If the majority of D3 voters choose yes on the recall, the council would select a temporary replacement until the next general election in the city. The winner in that vote would finish Sawant’s current term through the end of 2023.

Sawant is holding a rally at Cal Anderson Saturday “to build the Kshama Solidarity Campaign and defend against this attack on all working people,” supporters wrote on Twitter.

The full opinion from the court is below.


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slider292
slider292
10 days ago

Wonderful news.

MarciaX
MarciaX
10 days ago

Interesting that the only specific allegation against Sawant that I find genuinely concerning — that she allowed an outside organization to dictate her personnel choices — was the one the court threw out. The others may be technically sufficient to allow a recall, but to me they are woefully inadequate justification for one. In my view, recalls are for crooks, and Sawant, while she has apparently cut some legal and ethical corners here and there, is not a crook. Count me as a hard no on recall — but I am hoping for a primary challenger I can support in 2023.

slider292
slider292
10 days ago
Reply to  MarciaX

I agree with you about the charge that was thrown out; that was certainly the most concerning. But, while it may not be criminal, broadcasting the home address of a former federal attorney for such a trivial purpose (a protest) shows awful, awful judgement, given the risks (see: Tom Wales). And, it also constitutes a clear violation of her oath.

Yes on recall.

MarciaX
MarciaX
10 days ago
Reply to  slider292

Technically yes but no one really has a private address anymore. If I gave you my full birth name you could find mine online in ten seconds flat. Same with you, I imagine. In many cities, the mayor has a designated, taxpayer-furnished residence whose address is not only public but highly visible (see: Gracie Mansion). So again, perhaps a strict reading of state law qualifies this arguable lapse in judgment as recall material, but it doesn’t govern my personal sensibility.

slider292
slider292
10 days ago
Reply to  MarciaX

There are very strict, concerted efforts to protect the personal information of federal attorneys, for obvious reasons. Respectfully, your personal info and Durkan’s– or a typical mayor, for that matter– is not an apples to apples situation.

Latinas against Sawant
Latinas against Sawant
10 days ago

I’m a Hispanic liberal who lives in D3 and am elated by this news!! She absolutely must be removed from office. Yes!!!

Tick tock tick tock...
Tick tock tick tock...
10 days ago

The hour grows late for Sawant’s reign.

Brad Augustine
Brad Augustine
10 days ago

This was the right decision. She doesn’t represent District 3 very well and her agenda is really not about Seattle but more of a national agenda. She’s a demagogue and not a Socialist.

andy
andy
10 days ago

“Stop the Racist, Right-Wing Recall.” Putting that on a poster is enough to make me consider supporting her recall.

epwarp
epwarp
10 days ago
Reply to  andy

Yeah, everybody is a racist and everything is Amazon’s fault. Sawant’s approach is tired, untrue, and not working.

RWK
RWK
9 days ago
Reply to  andy

The fact that Sawant is playing the race card is evidence that she is desperate to hold on to power. It’s not racism that is driving the recall effort, it’s that many people are just plain fed up with her arrogance and incompetence.

JCW
JCW
10 days ago

Removal of Sawant will be the best thing to happen to the Hill in ages.

KinesthesiaAmnesia
KinesthesiaAmnesia
10 days ago

What irks me even more than not being able to participate in this petition or subsequent voting (I’m a few blocks away from D3) is the city of Seattle is paying Sawant’s legal fees. In September at a city council meeting the council voted 7-1 in favor, likening their decision to how everyone in the justice system gets legal representation guaranteed to them, and councilmember Andrew Lewis pretty much said we can’t begin to pick & choose who gets legal representation or not. I strongly disagree with the 7 in favor because Sawant isn’t a regular person tumbling through the cracks of the legal system, due a county public defender. She is one of the most powerful women in town and hired a top notch, nationally reknowned labor lawyer on our dime. We shouldn’t provide extraordinary legal aid for officials not acting within the bounds of roles as elected officials.

CH Resident
CH Resident
10 days ago

How can it be undemocratic if it’s left up to the voters?

I feel like it’s necessary to point out, too; that she’s pointing to the right/Republicans as her enemy in an attempt to have Democrats side with her, but if you were to ask her and if she were to answer honestly she would tell you that she is of course a Socialist and that Socialists view both Democrats and Republicans as the enemy as they both believe in the free market.She sure is quick to gloss that over when it’s politically expedient, though, in order to get sympathy from the Democrats.

I can’t wait to sign that petition.

En Broadway
En Broadway
10 days ago
Reply to  CH Resident

I mean, she doesn’t care about voters or democracy (which is saying something as someone who doesn’t feel democracy works all that well). After we recalled the head tax, she tried to slip sheet it back in as a measure that couldn’t be challenged by voters. Dictating things is her M.O.

McCloud
McCloud
10 days ago

April starting off with a bang! Defeat Trumpist-style populism!

James T
James T
9 days ago
Reply to  McCloud

False equivalency of the highest degree

Ellen Anderson
Ellen Anderson
10 days ago

I have supported Kshama for the past 5 years I have lived in Seattle and will fight hard to keep her in office, she is the only city council person who has continually stood with working people instead of big business. This recall is BS and I stand with Kshama.

antiwokeone
antiwokeone
10 days ago
Reply to  Ellen Anderson

Drain the Sawant!

En Broadway
En Broadway
10 days ago
Reply to  Ellen Anderson

We can agree to disagree on that. That may be her brand, but the data of her results doesn’t reflect that. As a district rep, she isn’t doing her job. Her divisive, my way or the highway politics haven’t moved the needle at all except to make companies leave the city. The net result of her tenure has been increased homelessness, and the loss of 30-50k jobs. That’s hardly in the worker’s best interest.

I voted for Bernie twice. Sawant is not Bernie, not even close.

slider292
slider292
10 days ago
Reply to  Ellen Anderson

Even if you agree with all her policies, her conduct, and the normalization of toxic behavior in city hall is grounds for removing her. This isn’t about a difference in policy, for many Seattleites.

eastlake_guy
eastlake_guy
10 days ago

I moved into District 3 last year and look forward to booting her from office.

Edward
Edward
10 days ago

Where do I sign? If my dogs were registered to vote; they’d put their paw prints on the petition, too. Drain the Sawant

Russ
Russ
10 days ago

It’s sad to see the Sawant supporters dusting off republican talking points against the recall – it’s a constitutional and democratic process and the state supreme court has validated that it can move forward.

Evan
Evan
7 days ago
Reply to  Russ

I agree – their rhetoric is irritating.

Tom
Tom
10 days ago

If she does get removed from office, I hope her district will get someone whose platform is similar to hers but smarter politically. There are definitely enough voters in the area who love those in her spectrum. It is great to see the council move to the left even though most of her ideas didn’t have enough support in the council itself.

Eddddddd
Eddddddd
10 days ago
Reply to  Tom

I agree. Would love to see a candidate with roughly similar platform, but who’s realistic and willing to compromise a bit to actually get things done. Someone who listens and doesn’t demonize anyone who thinks different.

nochop
nochop
10 days ago

If you can only point to two times that the you think the recall petition was used successfully to “defend the ruling class”, and once was during World War I (which was 1914-1916) and the other is in 202, it’s probably time to put that argument away.

As a D5 resident that lives in a much more diverse neighborhood (economically and racially) than all the cosplay revolutionaries on the hill, I sincerely hope that the residents of D3 will finally come to their senses and stop holding the rest of the city hostage and subjecting us to the whims of this fringe lunatic. The results of her time on the council are having real impacts on real lives, the murders by Travis Berge and Jessie Puff being just the most egregious examples. But the racist comments being hurdled by drunken tent dwellers in the park this past winter as my kids and other neighborhood kids were teaching our Eritrean and other east African Muslim neighbor kids how to ride sled also sucked. And so do the constant car prowls. And so does the trauma of my local Northgate QFC worker who was in tears the other day crying to the police because the encampment dweller who pulled a knife on her was back in the store less than a week later. Its not a game any more, enough is enough with this Councilperson and her failed ideas.

It would be one thing if she had any real accomplishments to point to, but turning this city into a magnet for the worst kind of entitled brats that move here, pitch their tens and throw garbage wherever they damn well please, steal money from working tax paying families (of all colors) to feed their drug habit, and then shoplift our grocery stores with impunity to satisfy their nutritional needs, just isn’t working anymore. And that is before we even start to factor in the violence attacks and environmental damage.

Please D3, the rest of the city is BEGGING you, do better.

Chris
Chris
10 days ago

Not the biggest fan of Kshama, but I especially don’t like recall movements. Most of D3 also called Amazon’s bluff in 2019 when they bankrolled Orion. Simply put, recall movements subvert the democratic process. I will vote to keep her in office and hope for a better challenger in 2023.

Mimi
Mimi
10 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Recalls are part of the democratic process. It’s a measure put in place so that the voters can take action when their elected officials grossly abusive their power.

Touareg
Touareg
9 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Did you just state that you will vote in a process that subverts the democratic process? Interesting that you don’t abstain from a process you feel subverts Democracy. KS definitely abstained from the democratic process many times, flaunting her ability to not vote on matters of importance to us, her constituents.

+1 for Recall

McCloud
McCloud
9 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Simply put, recall movements subvert the democratic process.”

Did you feel that way about the Trump impeachments? This is essentially the same thing. Don’t let your own political biases cloud what is or isn’t democratic, when recalls and impeachments are all very much part of the democratic process.

James T
James T
9 days ago

I support Kshama. My roommates do too. This is unconstitutional and unfair.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
9 days ago
Reply to  James T

From the Washington State Constitution….
Article I, §33 of the Washington Constitution says that a recall can only occur if the targeted public official has engaged in the “commission of some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office, or who has violated his oath of office.”

So literally not unconstitutional… and it even went to the State Supreme Court, which has allowed it to proceed and affirmed, that it is indeed entirely constitutional.

As far as unfair goes… just not being what *you* want, doesn’t make something unfair. If you actually live in D3 and are over 18 you’ll have the same opportunity to vote as the rest of us.

RWK
RWK
8 days ago
Reply to  James T

It’s pretty arrogant of you, James, to think that you know better than our State Supreme Court as to what is constitutional and what is not.