Wednesday, September 28, 2011

WA's New? Politics

I moved to Seattle a few months ago.  I love politics.  While there is plenty to occupy one on the national political stage these days, I know I have to dive in and figure out state and local politics in my new home. 

What have I figured out?

Before I moved to Seattle, I knew almost nothing about the political scene here other than it was somewhat liberal.  I thought I remembered a mayor named for a tasty national beer, but it turns out that was Portland.  I also remember something about a gay mayor having an underage relationship.  Also Portland.  Damn, did I know anything about Seattle?  I knew that either the state or the city had domestic partnership.  I was made well aware of the state’s medical marijuana laws by some concerned friends.  Seattle?  I did know about the big hole that was supposed to be bored under downtown.  I did not know that it was still so controversial.  Obviously, I knew almost nothing of Washington politics.

Now I have been here a couple of months.  To be fair, I have been mostly occupied with unpacking, finding where to buy groceries and beer, and looking for work.  I have not had time to delve deeply into the scene.  I am a long way from political geekdom, but I have observed a few things.  Women are quite successful in winning office in the state.  Maybe that is a national trend because North Carolina currently has women in many top state posts, as well as in Congress.

Of course the big local news is the giant tunnel underneath Seattle.  I can see why it is controversial, but it seems odd that people are fighting so hard against it now that it is so far along in the process of being built.  I find it hard to believe that it has taken so long to do something about that viaduct, and I do not see how such a thoroughfare can be replaced by just surface streets.  I expect to be schooled on all of this.

(And now a gratuitous shot of the state flag to break up all of the text.  
I know it is a little odd given that I have mostly just talked about city politics.)

For such a progressive city, it seems we are way behind on public transportation.  Yes, there are lots of buses, electric ones even.  But the routes are confusing, the buses too infrequent, and the trip planning website is clunky, to say the least.  Trying to plan trips from a smart phone is an exercise in self-torture.  For some reason, many people are more comfortable riding street cars than buses.  So most larger cities have way more of that than Seattle.  Hell, Portland is much smaller, and their system puts ours to shame.  You hardly need to travel more than a block downtown to run into some sort of light rail or street car track.  Yes, I know they are coming, but not quickly enough and not enough of them.

On the positive side, the city seems to really value public art.  There are some great larger projects.  City Hall itself is impressive, though I am not sure how much of the rest of it is publicly funded.  The crown jewel is the Olympic Sculpture Park, which seems to be the child of the Seattle Art Museum.  What is perhaps most impressive are the hundreds of various fountains, sculptures, and random bits of art that seem to hang out inside of or in front of buildings, parks, yards, streets, and alleys all over town.  The city has somehow fostered a culture of art appreciation.  It makes the city a joyful and magical place to live.  Maybe this is to compensate for the weather.

Speaking of parks, they are everywhere.  This may bug some people, but I think it is a wonderful thing.  I have no statistics to back this up, but I would say that there may be even more parks than Starbucks in this city.  And that is saying something.  It seems as if every time there is a vacant square inch of undeveloped land, someone decides to make it into a park.  In my neighborhood, they are making what could barely be called a lot into one right now.  Yes, it is slightly comical, but I love it.  And my dog loves it.

I don’t know much about Mayor McGinn except that he is all about bicycles and he is on his way out.  He seems to have quickly pissed a bunch people off who previously, presumably supported him.  I have no idea why except for his Quixotic fight against the tunnel and his obsession with bicycles.  I hear he does not talk to the press enough.  Maybe I am missing something.  His bicycle crusade seems like a good thing, both for his personal waistline and for the city.  I am not sure why that would inspire such hatred.

I have learned that all city council positions are “at large,” being elected by the entire city.  I have lived in much smaller cities with districts, so that seems a little odd.  The mail-in ballots for Washington ballots seems like a great idea, though I have recently learned that this has not increased voter turnout. 

It turns out that there is at least one similarity between my new and former homes.  Horse's Ass has taught me that commenters on political sites, even in liberal areas, are spirited.  Spirited?  That is the southern gentlemen in me.  “Spirited” could be read as passionate, jumpy, antagonistic, funny, crazy, or maybe even psychotic. 

I have also “learned” several things about the area not pertaining to politics.  Several people have told me that the people in Seattle are polite and friendly, but guarded.  They are all Scandinavian and difficult to befriend.  While I find such generalizations laughable, I have noticed that my best friends in town so far are from Idaho, Montana, California, North Carolina, Virginia, and Utah.  But a few locals are slowly opening up and letting me in.  I look forward to learning from them the intricacies of local customs and local politics.


  1. Hey, Art! Julie here. In a week I'll be able to sign in with my own URL so I won;t be under "Anonymous".

    This is SUCH a great post! So readable yet informative. Ihave to confess to spending years being bored by local politics down here in Raleigh, but that all changed with the school board stuff and now the proposed anti-gay marriage ban (which trust me, is going DOWN!)

    So hearing all this is fascinating, and I love your mostly-outsider/a-little-bit insider perspective. You won;t always have that, so it's good that you're writing it all down. Who knows, someday you might be all, "I can't BELIEVE I didn't lay my body down in front of that tunnel construction when I had the chance!"

    Or you might love it. That's the beauty.

    The art scene there sounds magnificent, and it strikes me that it's very European of them. When my son traveled to Italy two years ago, he was amazed at how much value they had put into public art for centuries, resulting in an experience now such that you could not walk half a block without seeing an astounding fountain, sculpture, frieze, or park.

    Btw, I still love those fish. Mesmerizing.

  2. You are right Julie about what I might think about all of this years from now. That will be interesting.

    You are also correct about the art and design. Most people do not think about it or see its importance, but it is one of the things that makes great cities great. It adds to the factors that you sometimes just cannot put your finger on. And yes, the longer you do it, the more of an impact it makes for generations. Chicago is another great place for public art, though there it is much more on a grand scale. Here it is sometimes just the smallest little details. I am sure I will write more on that in the future.