This edition of my weekly blog is being posted to coincide with the mailing of ballots for the August 5 primary. I am writing this blog to introduce my campaign to voters who are doing research into the candidates, perhaps for the first time, in order to make an informed voting decision.
I am a progressive, pragmatic and substantive candidate (indeed, these are the adjectives on my campaign yard signs). Below, I will briefly elaborate on each.
My political instincts are liberal. For example, I support a significant increase in spending on K-12 education, to comply with the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. A significant use of the added funding should be early learning programs (pre-kindergarten and kindergarten). This is a social justice issue, because it is predominantly lower-income, minority families who cannot afford early learning programs. Funding these programs will thus begin to address the education achievement gap. I also support the Affordable Care Act, and see it as a step in the ultimate transition to a Single Payer Health Care System. Although this would best be implemented at the national level, given that this is unrealistic in the current political environment, I support it at the state level as well (in the tradition of Vermont). I support the $15/hour minimum wage in Seattle, and a higher minimum wage statewide. And I support the introduction of a direct carbon tax into Washington State (patterned off of the highly successful British Columbia Carbon Tax). This carbon tax would be revenue neutral – proceeds from the tax would be returned to society via a reduction in other taxes. I am the only candidate in the race to offer a serious-minded proposal to address the reality of climate change. It is the combination of liberal political instincts coupled with a dynamic approach to policy formulation that makes me a progressive candidate.
I am also pragmatic. By this, I mean that I have a strong appreciation for the importance of business in our society. Many progressive candidates are anti-business; and vice-versa. In contrast, I am a pro-business, progressive candidate who sees the objectives of business and progressive values as being reinforcing rather than antagonistic. Businesses need a well-funded and effectively managed education system, strong transportation infrastructure, and transit networks to connect workers with their places of employment (all progressive values). In turn, the progressive agenda (universal health care, a higher minimum wage, early learning programs, etc.), requires a strong and vibrant business community to generate the jobs, economic growth and revenue needed to fund these initiatives. Yes, there are areas where there is divergence of interests between these camps. But viewing the progressive agenda and the business community as discrete, juxtaposed centers of interest, rather than as interrelated parts of a broader system is a grave mistake. In light of the pro-business nature of my candidacy, the Renton Chamber of Commerce gave me their sole endorsement in this race. This is highly unusual for a progressive candidate. However, during my candidate interview, the organization became convinced that I was supportive of both business and progressive policy. And indeed, I am.
Finally, I am a substantive candidate. I do not view public policy development as a process whereby one adopts an ideological viewpoint (liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, etc.), and then applies this in a top-down manner to each policy area to arrive at a position. Instead, I believe that each policy area is best addressed from the ground up, by asking the question: what actually makes sense for this specific area of policy? By adopting this approach, I often espouse policy positions that reflect different ideological influences (not just the liberal tradition). This leads to situations where I am willing to challenge the position of my party.
One such area is the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. I share the liberal view that there are many serious concerns with this concept. A teacher may have a highly motivated group of students one year, and very difficult students the next. Student test scores may make him/her appear to be an outstanding educator one year, and a terrible one the next, despite the fact that his/her efforts were the same in both years. This illustrates one of the primary dangers of using test scores to evaluate teachers. However, other approaches are possible that can mitigate this concern. For example, student test scores can be used to evaluate groups of teachers (e.g., the entire history department of a high school) rather than individual teachers, and the test scores can be used as a small input (say 10%) into the teachers’ performance evaluation. This approach encourages teacher cooperation, and ensures that student performance is included as a factor, without leaving individual teachers vulnerable to swings in the performance within their own classroom on a year-by-year basis. In the last legislative session, the Democratic Party refused to accept the federal stipulation that test scores be used in some manner for teacher evaluation, and thereby lost flexibility in how it spends $40 million in Title I funding. In my view, the education system was (mildly) damaged due to ideological intransigence. I believe that the state should have agreed to use test scores in a scaled down manner (as described above), and retained control over the $40 million in funding.
Another area where my policy position diverges from that of my party is in the implementation of the minimum wage increase. As noted above, I strongly support the $15/hour minimum wage, but I believe that implementation should be somewhat conservative (e.g., by not including franchises as big businesses, etc.). The reason for this is not to favor business over workers, but rather to increase the chances of success of the minimum wage increase, which will increase the chances of its adoption in other cities nationwide. In these and other areas, I seek to develop policy proposals based on the substantive reality of the issue; not based on the top down application of ideology. The Seattle Times’ Editorial Board interviewed the candidates in our race. In recognition of my substantive approach to policy, they wrote (7/11/14): “…in terms of substantive knowledge of policy, he is head and shoulders above the rest of the field.”
There are a range of major challenges that we confront as a district and as a state: massive income inequalities, inappropriate levels of corporate influence in the political system, an inadequate response to reality of climate change; inadequate funding for public education; a decline in the influence of unions, etc. My candidacy, with its progressive, pragmatic and substantive approach, is uniquely well-suited to address these challenges. I ask for your support in the primary election.
- John Stafford