Monday, October 12, 2009

Constantine: "Flip-flopper Hutchison wrong for King Co."

Chris Grygiel (Strange
In a place where Barack Obama won 70 percent of last November's presidential vote, you'd think it would be relatively easy for a self-proclaimed liberal Democrat like Dow Constantine to win the county executive's race. But voters last year also approved a measure making county-wide offices officially non-partisan, which has added a new twist to the race between Constantine and Susan Hutchison.

Constantine, a long-time Democratic office holder, finds himself trailing Hutchison in a contest that has in many ways become a referendum on the way government functions in the state's largest county. But while there won't be a 'D' or an 'R' next to the candidates' names on the November ballot, partisan politics have still played a big part in the campaign. Constantine separated himself from the pack of other Democrats seeking the job in the primary by aggressively challenging Hutchison, labeling the former KIRO-TV broadcaster an "extremely conservative Republican." Hutchison, who has ties to Republicans and conservative causes, shot back that Constantine was trying to distract voters from the budget mess at King County he helped create in his eight years on the County Council. Hutchison says county government has grown bloated and arrogant and only an outsider can change that.

In an interview with last week at Seattle's Union Station, Constantine talked about why he believes his experience as a councilman and state lawmaker make him the right person to lead in a time of crisis. He spoke about the need for the region to stop viewing itself as many different cities but rather an integrated economy, why the county and the state need to change how they collect taxes and why unpaid furloughs for county workers are necessary to deal with next year's $56 million operating budget deficit. He also again challenged Hutchison, saying there's a "dramatic difference" in values between the two candidates, that Hutchison has flip-flopped on things like support for light rail and that she "opposes a woman's right to chose."

What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.

The next executive will take office facing the threat of severe flooding, a flu outbreak and big deficits stretching out for years. Beyond those crises, what should the county executive focus on to fix a county government that seems to be broken?

It is clear that these are unprecedented times. Both in the short term with the flood and flu, the budget deficit that needs to be closed, and over the long-term with the reforms that need to be put in place to put the county permanently on sound financial footing. It's very important at this point to have a level-headed, experienced local leader at the helm. The reason for that is the executive needs to bring this region together around a shared agenda. This is not a county issue, not a City of Seattle issue. This is 39 cities in King County and our neighbors in the central Puget Sound that need to agree on the answers to the question - what services will be provided, who will provide them and how will they be paid for? Of course, that necessarily involves the state as well, since they're able to assign responsibility for services.

I am in excellent position to be able to provide that leadership. It has been awhile since we've had a unified region. Frankly, not in my memory. But, with leadership in the City of Seattle and King County changing, there's an opportunity to get people on the same page around transit funding, around shared responsibility for services like jail space. And I'm proud to have the support of now nearly 50 non-partisan local elected officials across this county, who have worked with me, who don't always agree with me but recognize that I'm a person who has been willing and able to sit down, roll up his sleeves and help people create solutions. And, to have them be politically viable solutions so we can get through the legislative process. That doesn't happen by accident. That requires a combination of experience, and I think also a particular personality - one that's about conciliation and accommodation and finding common ground. I'm just thrilled that the people from the mayors of Shoreline, Bellevue, Issaquah and Enumclaw and Burien are all getting on board with the campaign and 'saying this is the person we want to have as our regional leader for the next four years.'

The County Council is trying to balance a 2010 budget that is $56 million in deficit. The current executive wants to have county workers take additional, unpaid furloughs next year as one way to deal with that. You've said those furloughs should be imposed if unions balk, as they so far have. A recent ruling suggests imposing furloughs would be difficult. What's your take on furloughs now?

First of all, I'm glad the executive has taken my recommendation to make further cuts to administrative expenses, at the council and the executive's office. I recommended a 10 percent further cut to the legislative branch and a 15 percent cut to the executive branch. He's come up with nearly that amount in his budget proposal - great. We need to do more. And, I think that, you know, the furloughs help us keep frontline services operating, they'll save about $6.5 million. We need to get our labor unions really focusing hard on what the consequences of not having a furlough will be. Which is more layoffs to their members and potentially significant reductions in frontline services for the people of King County. I don't think that's what anyone wants.

I think that I am in a very good position to be able to work with these organizations to find common ground. Because ultimately they came to government to provide services to the people. And if we're laying off another 50 or 60 or 70 on top of the 300 some jobs that are being eliminated this means less services available and more instability and insecurity for our workers. Furloughs are the right way to go, and I'm actively working on pushing that conversation forward.

Some people think the labor-management relationship in King County has become skewed in favor of labor. They think labor has the upper hand. Do you agree with that?

I think that because this is all in the context of labor law, a strong executive can negotiate a fair deal on behalf of the people in King County and that is what I'll do. We cannot, as management, cancel or reopen contracts. But we can sit down with workers - not just in collective bargaining - but throughout the year and throughout the term of a contract to work on how we can do business better. How can we deliver services cheaper, faster?

In order for the public to get more bang for the buck and the public employee has more security so next year we won't have another budget shortage requiring us to have more layoffs. I think there is a ton of room for that kind of conversation. But it all starts with folks recognizing the seriousness of the budget situation and my emphasis on this furlough, and the layoffs that will happen if we don't get it, is a very clear example of that. There's no reserve available to cover for that. There's no reasonable way to raise additional revenues in this recession. These workers need to help the county tighten it's belt and be able to deliver more for less.

One thing seems to divide the regions of the county is allocation of bus service, whether it's 40-40-20 (a requirement that says Seattle gets only 20 percent of new service, while the county's east and south sub-areas would each get 40 percent) or Seattle's free ride zone. One area is always complaining that they're not getting enough or somebody else is getting too much. With something like that, something that contentious, how do you get the county to come together?

This goes back to my answer to the first question. I'll give you some examples. The political leaders of this region are stuck fighting the last war and the rest of the region has moved on. The people of the region have moved on. They're living in one, big economy. They're living in one, big city made up of many urban centers. They're not living in Seattle versus everywhere else. They're not living in Seattle versus bedroom communities. There are dozens of urban centers that are effectively the real city in which we live. Our political institutions need to catch up to that reality.

For example, last week I called in Sen. Fred Jarrett, my rival from the primary election and a leader on issues around transit. I called in Councilmember Fred Butler from Issaquah, who has been a leader on regional transit. He helped put together the package, along with me and others, that went on the ballot last year. Brought Grant Degginger, the mayor of Bellevue, brought in Sally Clark from the Seattle City Council. I said, 'look, when we're having to make cuts here, the question is coming up when money comes back and service is to be deployed on the street, will we restore based on the old 40-40-20 formula, will it be restored based on where the cuts happened, what is the reality going to be?' We're headed for another showdown over 40-40-20, a completely unproductive one, that doesn't get to the underlying shared values of providing the most mobility for people and serving this new economy I just described and getting us out of this recession.

So we worked on language that we hope all quarters will be able to agree to on how cuts will happen, and also on the values that we will take up, on the priorities that we will consider at a future date when there's new transit funding available. My hope is that by not having to have this empty argument again about 40-40-20 we can unite the region, unite our legislators, go to Olympia and seek real solutions for transit, which include backing off on this overdependence on the sales tax, which is so volatile and is thus causing the problem we have right now.

You talk about the funding mechanisms for King County, without some change, if you're elected, during your term the county could have to do things like eliminate all funding for public health, parks, cuts to public safety programs. Do you agree with that assessment, might the county have to jettison everything but public safety programs?

I don't agree with that assessment. I think we have the opportunity to rather radically retool the way the county does business. With a change at the helm, I'll be able to accomplish that. That's why I'm running for executive. I, and others, have been pushing for performance-based governance, for example, not just redoing last year's budget, adjusted for inflation. Having strong mechanisms in place that force us to consistently reexamine how each service is being delivered, and ask the question, 'how could it be better delivered. Could this dollar be better spent?' That will save money in the sense that it will get more bang for the buck. As circumstances change, institutions will change to meet those new circumstances.

But it is unacceptable for us to abandon public health, to abandon parks, to abandon environmental protection, to abandon the responsibilities the county has to protect the quality of life of the nearly 2 million people who live here. That's why county government was constituted. Public safety is critically important, top priority. That doesn't mean we can do without protecting the public health. That would lead to a precipitous decline in our quality of life. So, working to make absolutely the most of each tax dollar - which is not a one-time budget scrubbing exercise, it's putting in place new mechanisms - which Fred Jarrett is going to help me do, which Professor Steve Page from the University of Washington, performance measures expert, is willing to do, people who are currently in government, who used to be in government, who've never been in government, are rallying to around to help with, to remake this government. And then, working with Ross Hunter, another one of my former rivals and now an ally in this campaign, on fixing the state's revenue system so we don't have this horrible reliance on regressive taxes like sales taxes and property taxes.

What do you see as the biggest difference between yourself and your rival, Susan Hutchison?

I have strong local government experience that will allow me to get the job done. And there's dramatic difference in values between me and Susan Hutchison. You can run down a list of them, but just think about: environment, where I've been a public champion on protection of the sound, salmon restoration, open spaces and on and on. She is aligned with the BIAW (the lobbying arm of the state's building industry), which is dedicated to the dismantling of our environmental protection laws. She even gave them money, gave their PAC money as they were attacking progressive, pro-environment candidates like the governor.

I am unquestionably a champion with a strong track record on transportation choices for the people of King County. I've worked my tail off to get Sound Transit opened, to get that next measure on the ballot and get it passed, on Metro, which I've already described how I'm working to preserve existing service but set the new model to modernize our transit system. We put in place that audit last year, by the council, to figure out how we can make Metro more efficient.

My opponent said we shouldn't have built light rail to the airport, you could just take a cab. Was first opposed to light rail entirely, and to the Eastside, now she says she supports light rail. Has maximum contributions from a number of people from a number of people who are suing to try to kill light rail and keep it coming from the Eastside. It is not enough to wake up one day, realize the region supports rail, and change your position from against it to for it. I have been there in the trenches, making rail happen. I am going to be, as county executive, pushing forward to make sure we have a complete transit system, that includes roads, bus, rail. I supported the roads and transit measure, which failed. And there are projects there, both old, failing infrastructure and improvements to clear up choke points, that have to be an early priority. We're going to have to go back and look for funding to work on our road system, in light of the failure of that measure.

I am unequivocally pro-choice, and I have a strong record in the Legislature, where I was the leader of the Judiciary Committee, and at the County Council, where we've been fighting to maintain reproductive health services in our public health clinics, for a woman's right to chose. My opponent opposes a woman's right to chose. She refused to answer the NARAL PAC questionnaire. She withdrew from the endorsement process from the woman's political caucus. I'm endorsed by NARAL, I'm the only candidate in this race recommended by the woman's political caucus. That's just the tip of the iceberg, but there is a huge gulf in the values of the two candidates in this race. Mine are the values of the people of King County.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

Howie P.S.: "Gun rights advocate endorses Hutchison" seems to support Dow's message about a "dramatic difference in values.".
"This election is a game-changer for politics in Washington State...Dow Constantine is the type of Seattle liberal who has dominated the recent political scene. But if Susan can defeat him in November, it will open doors for numerous candidates in 2010 and in 2013 who will change the direction our state is headed."
"Constantine, Hutchison on environmental issues" has this, for example:
On environmental issues, voters face a clear choice in this race between Dow Constantine and Susan Hutchison for King County executive.

She supports the expansion of a gravel mine on Maury Island; he opposes it. He says climate change is a top priority for the executive, connected to local policies from land use to transportation. She says global warming takes a back seat to public safety and budget issues.

No comments: