Recall Yakov Smirnoff, the comedian who imported his jokes about communism to our shores 30 years ago. Gems like: “They pretended to pay us, and we pretended to work.” I want to invite him to Seattle to teach me how to laugh at this stuff.
It started with the City Council’s zoning fixers, who gathered on the morning of June 13 to break the promises they implied three weeks earlier. In the grand Soviet style, they call themselves the “Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee,” the sustainability part referring to the need to keep the cash flowing into their re-election committees. It’s something anyone in Moscow, or Chicago, would understand.
Hmm, I might be too harsh. Maybe Seattle isn’t Russia. Maybe we’re Argentina.
Or so I thought eight hours later, when seven candidates for the soon-to-be-vacant 36th District state representative seat embarrassed themselves and their audience at the Queen Anne Community Center by dancing a crude tango in front of a hundred of the most gullible Democrats since the Obama Girl fainted at all those rallies four years ago.
Sure, all but two of them said, we can spend half the state’s transportation money on bikes, transit, and crosswalks, rather than the current 7 percent. We ought to repair all the state’s roads too. And give every child a trip to Disney World. How will we pay for it? Put those calculators away!
So today’s column is about our fantasies, and the lies we allow to be told to us. As entertaining as it is to skewer our public servants, it’s worth remembering who hired them. Look in the mirror: You, me, and the man behind the tree. We do get the government we deserve.
Back to the City Council. On May 23, Richard Conlin, chair of the Re-Election Sustainability Committee, assured dozens of angry people from Capitol Hill that Council Bill 117430 was dead. So are vampires. Dead, that is. As this columnist suggested, Conlin and his cronies exhumed the legislation, set aside a provision or two for “further study,” and rubber-stamped the rest.
For now, Capitol Hill won’t have “bodegas,” and a state environmental exemption won’t be quite as outlandish. But everything else – parking carve-outs, the gutting of “temporary use” appeals, further expansion of mother-in-law units – remains. Bodegas? Mark my words, they’ll be back. The full Council will affix its chop in a couple of weeks. So much for citizen input. Just wait until they “deliberate” on the arena they know we don’t want to pay for. Any guesses?
The way to change this, of course, is to pay attention to what they’re doing, and to dis-employ the worst of them. But for all kinds of reasons, that’s easier said than done. So we get a city government that sees this city’s neighborhoods, and the people who populate them and pay the taxes, as marks to be conned, carnival style.
After attending the day’s second meeting, I could understand why Mr. Conlin, Mayor McGinn, and the rest of them behave as they do. If Seattle’s voters are as easy as those suckers who filled the Queen Anne Community Center to tango with the state legislative candidates, why not fleece us all?
Now, anyone who’s ever stayed awake in a statistics class knows about discarding the outliers. We can’t hold it against anyone that Sahir Fathi, an aide to city councilor Mike (the mayoral poodle) O’Brien, when asked how to deal with storm runoff into the Puget Sound, gave a lecture about contaminated water in India. Or when Linde Knighton, a kindly old “Progressive Party” lady, bared her Stalinist teeth and called for the forcible citywide imposition of car camping. Candidate Noel Frame, it brings me no joy to advise you not to give up your day job.
It ‘s the other four, especially the front-runners, who ought to worry us. In an intelligent district, Evan Cliffthorne, a young Democratic legislative aide, and Ryan Gabriel, the sacrificial Republican, would be duking it out for our votes. But that’s not what will happen. Gael Tarleton, who now sits on the port commission, and Brett Phillips, son of county councilman Larry Phillips, will win the primary and run against each other. Why? They’ll collect enough special-interest money to make sure we remember their names.
Consider the job these people want: a seat in a legislature that hasn’t passed a legitimate budget in years. In a state whose voters have (stupidly, but decisively) rejected an income tax. And which has been ordered by its highest court to increase education spending. They’ll be coming from a city that just trounced a $60 car tab increase.
So what did the front-runners endorse? A seven-fold increase in bike and transit spending, all while maintaining the state’s roads. How to finance it? Raise car tab fees without voter approval. By how much, $1,000 per car? That’s probably how much it would take to keep that promise. What about the downtown tunnel, or the Route 520 bridge?
A curmudgeon in the front row cornered the panderers, causing them to (briefly) admit what they were doing. But most of the audience ate it up instead of doing their duty as free Americans and tossing rotten fruit stage-ward. Maybe that’s because it’s impossible to grow a tomato in Seattle, rotten or otherwise. Or maybe it’s because we have this agreement: You’ll propose what can never happen, and we’ll pretend to take you seriously.
No matter that Mr. Gabriel, the Republican with no chance, and Mr. Cliffthorne, who actually seems to know where the rest rooms are located (and the bodies are buried?) in the state capitol, didn’t quite take the same bait. We are marks at the carnival, and every politician knows what fools we are.
Yakov Smirnoff, maybe we can kill two birds with one stone. Do you know the tango? What a country!
You can reach Magnolia Mencken at firstname.lastname@example.org.